By Joe Todd, 13 July 2019
When tramping, it’s very easy to appreciate the warm dry safety of huts, but we often overlook just how important tramping boots are in allowing us to tramp in the first place. It was not until after Michael, David, Neil and I had caught the ferry and driven down past Hokitika to the Styx Valley carpark that we realised this. One of David’s boots was in fact still standing in the gear shed in Wellington. But thankfully not with his foot still in it. Neil stood up to the rescue and kindly sacrificed his trail runners, enabling us to actually start the tramp. Halleluyah! But nobody gets anywhere without a bit of faff from me. Finally with that off my chest and a nice heavy pack on my back, we left the car park.
Now equipped with one pair of trail runners and three and a half pairs of boots, the four of us set off on the DOC track up the Styx River. But who needs a DOC track when you have a Remote Hut on the other side of the river? The DOC track was in fact severely storm damaged anyway. And so our first night was spent in Mid Styx Hut, a quaint wee orange box with bunks made from actual tree branches.
The next morning we defrosted down the hill only to freeze again crossing back over the river and spend the next hour pleasantly thawing along the highway DOC track (or maybe that was just me). David, unlike me, was anxious to not waste time and found a very quick way down an eroding river bank accidentally, taking a spectacular but lucky fall. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking it easy at Grassy Flat Hut, basking in the 1 hour of sunlight of our day on the deck.
Our lack of suitable boots to fit crampons onto meant that we could no longer commit to our original Styx River - Lathrop Saddle - Zit Saddle - Cedar Flat Hotpools route, so we decided to continue up the Styx Valley to Harman Hut and exit via the Arahura Valley. But not without a day trip to Browning Biv and Lathrop Saddle. Leaving David to recuperate and play his harmonica sorrowfully, three of us set off up the hill in the rain. Michael led us a bit too far up the creek, so we had a very thick bush bash to relocate the track to Browning Biv.
Almost there, a very helpful sign told us that we were almost there. “Browning Biv. If you’re almost buggered, you’re almost there” it said in block letters. It spoke to me on a very spiritual level. Again almost buggered, we made it up to the snow and cloud-covered Lathrop Saddle where I was reminded that it’s kind of hard to walk with numb feet. When we got back to the hut, we were pleasantly surprised to find David had boiled us 3 dozen eggs.
Onward toward Harman Hut, we crossed over the very flat Styx Saddle on which the track seemed to be one very long strip of ice. We emerged into the Arahura Valley to find the track in unexpectedly good condition with enough time in the day for a quick little jaunt up to Lake Browning. As it transpired, we had enough time to almost get to Lake Browning before the weather suddenly turned for the worst. With Michael’s gloves still being back at the hut hanging to dry, we suddenly turned for the hut.
The prospect of hut days is very polarising. However the prospect of crossing the torrents in the storm the next day was not. Even trips to the long-drop were put off until the last minute to avoid torrential blizzard rain. What arose from this hut day was purely evil and sadistic. We’re all going to hell. What if, we thought, we put spirits in someone’s drink bottle? That would be sure to make them go out to the long-drop. What if we locked them in there? They’d be dry and we wouldn’t need to go out to the long-drop because it was occupied. What if we hid the track markers so that they couldn’t get back to the hut? More dinner for us! By now it’s probably apparent just how crazy one can get with cabin fever. Or it’s revealed just how horrible we are.
By now we had realised something was definitely wrong with our mountain radio. No one could hear us. What better an opportunity to swear violently into the radio? We could in fact hear the weather report from Wellington Base (JG) and Jackson’s midwinter group in Nelson Lakes (JG69) very clearly, so all was fine for us. However, they didn’t know that. Luckily, after a lot of speculations that we painstakingly overheard, they assumed correctly our radio must be broken so they didn’t alert Search and Rescue. It was a little disappointing that we couldn’t check in and tell JG69 that they were well positioned, but we did enjoy tuning into the conversations in Central North Island for some classic Kiwi banter.
With all four of us safe in the hut and no track markers touched, a new day dawned. The valley was golden and oozing of honey, to roughly paraphrase David. The beauty and grandeur of the Arahura Valley and Campbell Range was revealed. The forest and air itself hummed with the energy of the sun. Powered up by the sun ourselves, we thrust on down to Lower Arahura Hut where we had a full two course meal, became too bloated and fidgeted with candles.
At this stage our trip was nearing an end so two Whio decided to float by to say farewell on our way out. A local Hokitika bloke drove us back to the main road who told us about his time in Wellington, and that the “Massey chicks” were his favourite. Saving the day once again, Neil the champ ran all the way back to the car at the Styx to pick us up! Off into the sunset to Greymouth we drove in search of some filthy DnB and a cold one with the boys. Of all the unexpected things that happened during the trip, I never thought I would enjoy Maccas pancakes as much as I did afterward. The unexpected can be the make or break of tramps, but it never fails to make tramps interesting. On this occasion, the wild West certainly delivered.