The majority of the party set off around 6.15pm on the Friday night, expecting to arrive at the hut around 9pm. Two of us, myself included, did the car shuffle down to the Mingha/Edwards layby shortly before Arthurs Pass village so were about an hour behind the main group. This was no major problem, it simply meant we spent more time in the dark.
The route up the Hawdon is more fully described here and for the first half travel was good. We crossed the East Hawdon Stream in fading light, so stopped on the bank to don headtorches. Being familiar with the tramp was of great assistance, as route finding in the dark became more difficult as we reached the more rugged sections of the upper Hawdon - those orange triangles are hard to see in the dark! Nevertheless we reached the hut without trouble after around 3hrs, arriving at 10pm.
Hawdon Hut (20 bunks) was unchanged from our visit a little over a year ago - it's still palatial, and suprisingly we had it to ourselves...again! After a quick dinner and chat we turned in as the weather started to batter the hut.
By morning the wind was whistling in the trees and although the cloud hung low there was little rain. We made plans over breakfast, again taking the 'go and see' approach, and decided to head on up to Walker Pass to get a look at conditions ahead. We set off early, hoping we might just sneak through the passes before the really bad weather hit. The track starts off easily, crossing Twin Fall Stream after about 10 minutes, then begins to climb steeply through the bush to get around the twin waterfalls in the stream which bar the way up the streambed. It is a rough but well-formed trail, rocky in places, with marker triangles just in case you stray off route (very unlikely!). As we started to gain height the bush thinned, allowing views back down the Hawdon valley, across to the Polar Range, and of the peaks in the Hawdon headwaters - all of which were hidden by cloud.
After about an hour of constant ascent we broke out of the bush onto an open knoll, and into the full force of the approaching storm. Stepping onto the top of the knoll we were hit by gale force winds funneling through the gap ahead which was Walker Pass. The rain stung like needles, horizontal as it was carried along on the wind. The route we were to follow was to take us directly into the wind for the next 4-6 hours, with the chance that snow may have been falling on or around Tarn Col, which sits around 300m higher than our current position. We retreated below the ridgetop to discuss options, although there was only one sensible choice. The younger (and less experienced) members of our party were keen to go on, but the decision was made to return back to the hut and out to the car. Down we went and, having left our new intentions in the hut logbook, made our way back down the Hawdon, racing the storm as it filled the valley behind us. Steady rain caught up with us mid-valley but the cars were reached without incident, and as it turned out our decision proved a good one as heavy rain fell for the next 2 days which would have meant a long stay stranded in the valley by the swollen river. Such are the joys of tramping in New Zealand's mountains.
|Sunset over the Craigieburn Range as we set off up the Hawdon|
|Ominous weather at dawn on the day of our intended crossing of Walker Pass and Tarn Col|
|Definitely something not right with this gas cooker - burnt offerings for breakfast?|
|Looking a little brighter after breakfast, promising enough to venture up to Walker Pass|
|View back down the Hawdon from the steep route leading up to Walker Pass|
|Mt Hunt and peaks of the upper Hawdon...they're there somewhere|
|Decision time as we reach the knoll, and wild weather, at the top of the climb to Walker Pass|
|Un-named peaks on the Polar Range briefly show themselves|
|Walker Pass and the route ahead - looks nasty|
|Packing down to face the wind full on|
|Decision made, time to descend to the valley floor and out to the car|
|Escaping the storm and the rising Hawdon River - Walker Pass is in the gap to the left|