3am Monday - Poulter Hut.
The rain has been hammering down on the roof non-stop for the past 9 hours. Coming down the valley in great waves, easing slightly every now and then. When it does ease the sound of the rain on the corrugated iron roof is replaced with the roar from the river. The river we rock hopped across yesterday trying to keep our feet dry. The only way home. The forecast was for 20mm of rain overnight - we probably got twice that in the first hour. Shit.
3:30pm Saturday (two days earlier) - Mt White Road car park.
We were blessed with an absolute stunner of an afternoon as we started to mountain bike up the 4WD track alongside the true right of the Poulter River through Mt White Station towards the national park boundary. The track climbs gradually (and sometimes less gradually) all the way up the valley and it wasn’t long before I felt that perhaps I had left my legs and/or fitness back in Christchurch. Just over 2 hours saw us pedaling over Rabbit Flat in fading light before the obligatory stop to don our head torches. With the temperature beginning to drop off and the kilometres starting to take their toll we were well pleased to hear the lads who had started earlier that morning yelling from the Trust-Poulter Hut. The fire was cranking and the beer waiting for us was cold. Legends.
The next morning dawned overcast but dry and we ditched the bikes and commenced the short wander roughly 2km upstream to the Poulter Hut. Having decamped our remaining gear here we took a 45 minute side trip up to Lake Minchin for a gander. We were well rewarded with stunning views further up the valley to the snowy peaks above. Once we returned to the Poulter we went for a cheeky run up river to check out the rather spacious Worsley Biv, still shedding snow off its roof from the falls earlier in the week. By this stage the cloud was building up thick and fast on the main divide so we retired back to the warmth of Poulter Hut and waited for the arrival of the forecast 20mm of rain.
The river is in flood. I get drenched in the ten minutes it takes me to get to the river edge and see the torrent that the river has become. Definitely not crossable. Back to bed.
We send another person out to scout the river. Not a chance.
It has stopped raining but the sky is still threatening. We put our packs on and attempt to ford the river higher up the valley but we are stopped almost immediately by Minchin Stream. Yesterday it was almost dry. Today it has grade 3 rapids. One of our party was meant to start work at 1pm. We are now overdue.
Our last roll of the dice before it gets dark. We slowly head downstream for almost 2 kilometres, checking every braid as we make our way down river. Nothing looks crossable. We are getting very close to the confluence of the Poulter river and Thompson Stream when finally we find an area where the river has four braids. If we can ford the second braid we should be okay. The river is swift and brown and we spend some time planning our intended route and ensuring everybody knows the plan.
The first braid is crossed simply enough. The second braid - the one I’m worried about - is carrying a lot of water. We begin to make our way out into the flow as the water creeps up towards my thighs. We are stepping calmly and in time. We pass the worst of the flow and can feel the weight being lifted off our shoulders as we hit dry land and the first round of congratulations start up. We have made it roughly 50 metres from the true left bank to where we are standing and yet I don’t think I have ever been more thankful for having made it such a small distance. The following two braids are swift but now easily manageable and 10 minutes later, having crossed roughly 300m from bank to bank we are having a cookup in the Trust-Poulter hut. Noodles - the first thing I had eaten for the day. I managed to knock them off my stove and onto the table. Meh. I’m just happy that we found a spot to cross.
The ride out was dark but considerably quicker that the ride in. Funny that. Damn gravity. As we dropped to the river flats just before the car park we were greeted with the sight of the Poulter River in full flood - easily 100m of bank to bank swiftly flowing water. Imagine what the Waimakariri looked like.
We reach the cars, drive back to civilisation and the world of vibrating cell phones, missed calls and mild panic. Thankfully everyone at home remained calm and had expected delays in light of the weather.The 20mm of forecast rain had turned out to be more than 100mm overnight alone (Carrington hut got more than 200mm). And all this in the part of Arthurs Pass generally considered to be one of the driest areas of the park.
Information to know:
The track up the Poulter River starts at a car park just before the Mt White Bridge Road crosses the Poulter River - about 25kms from the SH73 across on the true left side of the Waimakariri River.
The journey up the river to Trust Poulter Hut covers roughly 27km and took us just over 4 hours (the last 1.5 hours in the dark). From the Trust-Poulter it is only a further 2kms up river to Poulter hut although mountain bike access is only allowed as far as the Trust-Poulter.
From Poulter hut easy 45 minute side trips can be made to Lake Minchin or Worsley Biv.