"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

26 April 2015

St James Range - 9 August 2014

This was part of a day outing with a group of young boys from the ICONZ adventure group I help out with here in Oxford.

We had spent a few weeks making some sleds with the boys, and when done we took them to the snow to try them out. It's not been a great winter for the ski fields this year and the Hanmer Springs Ski Area we went to was officially closed. However, they were only too happy for us to have a play and with some fresh snow having fallen a couple of days before, we headed on up to check it out.

After ferrying the boys up in the one vehicle we had capable of negotiating the access road, we were all set for some fun by late morning. However, some of the boys weren't prepared for just how cold it can be up in an alpine environment. This, coupled with the fact that they'd ignored advice and gotten their 'dry' boots all wet playing in the creek at the foot of the access road, meant that within half an hour they were all tucked away in the lodge in front of the fire after having maybe 1 run each on their sleds!!

I wasn't about to miss the opportunity to explore the tops above the ski field so set off up to the crest of the main range with the expectation of grand views. Although I'd taken my ice axe and crampons they weren't necessary as the snow was fresh and soft, with only the axe coming off my pack just as a precautionary measure, and for balance in the soft snow.
It was only around a 200m height gain required to reach the top of the range and in an easy 20 minutes of climbing I was there, atop the St James Range. The views, as expected, were superb, looking north and west across much of the St James Conservation Area. It would have been fun, with more time, to have traversed the ridge top from here, as some points higher up would no doubt have commanded even better views - another day perhaps.

Exploring at the foot of the access road

Starting my climb up to the saddle, looking down to the ski lodge

Minimal snow cover made for an easy climb, the saddle at 1550m is at the right of image

Following an easy line up to the saddle

Gaining height, protruding rocks would have made skiing rather treacherous!

On the saddle looking north-east to the Crimea Range, Pt 1562m is the rocky point on the right

Wind-sculpted snow formations on the saddle
Looking north across to more peaks on the St James Range, Mt Willmer (1802m) and Pollock (1777m) in my line of view, with the Spenser Mountains in the far background

Descending back to the lodge, Hanmer Springs in behind the mountain range at rear

Looking back up to the saddle

Waiting for our ride back down the mountain

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: From Hanmer Springs, drive over Jacks Pass and turn left at the bottom of the pass towards St James Homestead. Follow signs up to the Amuri Ski Field. Chains & 4WD likely required in winter. Permission required to access the ski field.

Time: Lodge to saddle 1550m 20-30mins (depending on conditions)

Map: BT24 Ada Flat

Hut: None, although the ski field lodge can be hired and can accommodate around 40 (I think!, check with ski staff)

18 April 2015

Woolshed Creek Hut - 3-4 April 2015

After a successful recon trip in February, we made plans to take the kids in to Woolshed Creek Hut for a night over Easter. While the choice of weekend made it likely to be very busy, we were keen to go ahead, taking sleeping mats to spread the kids on if need be.

The tramp in is straight forward, and described more fully here, and for the most part the kids handled it well. They kept plugging up the steepish Miners Track, which carried us up from the valley floor onto the open tops and the site of the abandoned Blackburn Mine.
Due to the short nature of the route, we were able to take the time to explore, setting them free to poke around the site.
After this we struck out for the hut, following the vehicle track round the hillside, as opposed to the higher route over Trig R that we did in February. Along here our eldest struggled a little, not sure if he was slightly unwell or just tired, but we were at a point where it was easier to continue to the hut than to turn round and go back, so on we went. After arriving and scoffing down plenty of food he decided that he had just been hungry.

We arrived to the welcome news that we would have a bed for the night, and it seemed we arrived just in time, as within minutes another 2 parties arrived, and began the process of figuring out where they would sleep. This process repeated itself throughout the afternoon and early evening, with the final group arriving as darkness fell, bringing the number staying to around 50 (I lost count!).

We did a bit of exploring in the afternoon. The canyon just downstream from the hut is quite attractive, with lovely pools and a small waterfall. Rough foot trails lead down to them, and are easy to follow but care is needed with excited young children as the drop offs are vertical.

We woke to a strong nor'wester, forecast to bring rain with it, so we decided to pack up and head out earlier while it was still dry. As we climbed to the high point of the vehicle track we were met with the sight of rain sweeping across the Rangitata Valley, heading our way, but thankfully we managed to stay dry except for the odd flurry blowing in on the wind.
Our return leg was most pleasant, the gradual downhill gradient suiting everyone, and the only blemish was a wasp sting to our youngest who sat down to get a stone from his shoe and had the nasty surprise of a sting.

Another fun family tramp, following on from the success of Lake Daniell - a little more sleep next time would make it even better!

Start of the tramp to Woolshed Creek Hut

Working our way up the Miners Track

Rest stop on the Miners Track

Exploring at the mine site

Heading across the tops past the mine

Excitement as the hut comes into view - all downhill from here!

Descending down the track to the hut

First experience on a swingbridge as we explore the area

Exploring just downstream from the hut

Fun in the creek

Waterfall just down from Woolshed Creek Hut

The waterfall in Woolshed Creek

Towering rock walls enclose Woolshed Creek

The waterfall in its' setting

Dawn breaks at Woolshed Creek Hut

A happy bunch, about to leave Woolshed Creek Hut

Route to Woolshed Creek Hut - we took the left option where it forks, with the high route over Trig R (Pt 934m) marked (see the trip report and photos here)
Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Follow Inland Scenic Route 72 to Mt Somers village, then turn inland onto Ashburton Gorge Rd. Look for the signposted turnoff to the carpark, it's not an obvious road, and follow it for about 3.5km to the carpark.

Time: Carpark to mine 45mins, carpark to Woolshed Creek Hut via vehicle track 2hr 20min, return via vehicle track 1hr 45mins (all times given here are those we took with the kids, includes frequent stops!)

Map: BX19 Hakatere

Hut: Woolshed Creek Hut (28 bunks)

6 April 2015

Magdalen Hut, Lake Sumner Forest Park - 21-22 March 2015

For those looking for an easy valley trip on a well formed track, with a night in a comfortable, relatively new hut, then a trip to Magdalen Hut could be just what you're looking for.
Located just off the popular St James Walkway, Magdalen Hut doesn't get the volume of traffic that the huts on the walkway receive, making it an attractive option if you're hoping to avoid the crowds, and, despite its' proximity to the popular trail, it has a lovely, remote feel to it, being nicely sited in a large bush clearing which allows visitors to experience the space of the open valley, and grants good views across to the Poplars Range, rising 1200m above the valley floor.

The tramp in to the hut is a straight forward affair, following the well maintained St James Walkway from the Boyle Village end.
From the carpark the track heads almost immediately into the bush, climbing above a small gorge in the Boyle River before dropping down to the river to cross on a swingbridge. Most of this bush section can be avoided by walking up the road from the carpark, then joining the track at a small signpost at the road edge. This, for me, is certainly a less attractive option, one in which you miss some of the joys of tramping through bush.

We reached the swingbridge across the Boyle after 30 minutes and quickly set about crossing. Set well above the river, the bridge has quite an airy feel to it, especially out in the middle, but for those who've done this sort of thing before should hold no fears.
After crossing the bridge, we followed along the true right bank of the Boyle, at times quite close beside the river, at others a little higher up. It was easy and very pleasant travel, the sound of the water engaging the senses as we made our way through the landscape. As we got further up the valley it began to open out, with wide views of the open country ahead of us spurring us on, although we were in no great hurry.
As the valley opened out, travel became a mix of track just within the bush edge and across open grassy flats. These flats are still grazed, and we caught the attention of the cattle as we trekked past.
Ahead of these flats the Boyle River swings north, while straight ahead the open Magdalen Valley leads off into the distance. This valley is on private land, and to venture east of the Boyle requires permission.
Re-entering the bush, the track then took us up onto a terrace within the bush, climbing reasonably high (perhaps 60m) above the valley floor, cutting the corner to rejoin the Boyle further upstream. A short descent saw us reaching another swingbridge. Once across, you can either turn left and follow up the Boyle on the St James Walkway to reach Boyle Flats Hut, or, if visiting Magdalen Hut, turn right and follow a decent foot trail for about 15 minutes downstream.

Magdalen Hut is a relatively new hut, built in 2008. It has 6 bunks, a cosy looking fire with plenty of wood on hand, double glazing, and insect screens - pretty nice! It's the third version of a hut on the site, each just an update of the previous.

We arrived to find we had the hut to ourselves...almost! Before she was even through the door Julia spied a mouse, and it turned out 2 were in residence. They were in fact rather cute and entertaining, poking their little heads above the fire screen, and scurrying all over the hut.
We decided to try and catch them, which proved easy enough using chip crumbs in an old fitted bed sheet that had been left in the hut. Catch and release was our preference, so we set them free outside, and waited to see if they would return! The hut book suggested their possible entry point, so we jammed that up, but come evening time they were back...and can they sure make noise at night!! It seemed we had actually jammed up their exit point, so they were now trapped inside for the night...not so cute anymore!

Aside from the mice we had a lovely evening, lying out on the grass in front of the hut watching the stars and satellites whirl past overhead, a simple pleasure but one that is lost on many who never venture out of the city.

Morning had us agreeing on a short cut home. Instead of heading back upstream to cross the swingbridge, we decided to ford the river directly from the hut then cross the nice looking grass flats to rejoin the track where we had seen the cattle the previous day. While not strictly in accordance with the negotiated land access, a check on a mapping website I often use revealed that we were still on conservation land the whole way except for where we forded the Boyle, and it is generally considered acceptable to follow flowing water. I've seen many reports of other parties doing the same, and we were on the same section of land as the track...just not on the track.
There were a few moments of apprehension as we encountered a swampy section on the flats, with flash backs of crossing the "nice grassy flat" heading to Thompsons Flat Hut coming to mind, but there were really only small pockets of swampy stuff, easily avoided, and we linked back up with the main track in quick time, saving ourselves probably around 45 minutes.
As we made our way down valley, thicker clouds were starting to spill over the Poplars Range, looking ominous enough to keep us moving at a decent pace. That, and the fact that you're generally walking slightly downhill most of the way, saw us reaching the car in around 2hr 30mins, where we quickly changed before the ever present Boyle Village sandflies found us.

Early days in the tramp to Magdalen Hut

The first swingbridge across the Boyle River

Julia crossing the swingbridge

Boyle River, with the Poplars Range behind

Crossing an obliterated stream bed

Caught on the wrong side of the lens!

Nice spot for a snack stop

The open expanse of the mid-valley, Magdalen Valley straight ahead, the Boyle turns hard left this side of the bush covered hill left centre

Crossing the bridge to nowhere

Second swingbridge across the Boyle River

Not your typical selfie, looking down the Boyle River

Heading downstream to Magdalen Hut

Alongside the Boyle on our way down to Magdalen Hut

Boyle River, with Mons Sex Millia (1835m) behind

Negotiating a bluff on the way down to the hut

Arriving at Magdalen Hut, with Mons Sex Millia and the Poplars Range providing the backdrop

Magdalen Hut

Magdalen Hut, and the view up Maritana Stream to the Opera Range, Maritana (1815m) at rear

Mt Schiehallion (1636m) and hut toilet, from the clearing around the hut

The entertainment has arrived

Friendly - this is taken at a focal length of 40mm, was only carrying the wide angle lens

Fording the Boyle River as we set off for the car

Mt Schiehallion (left), and Poplars Range 

Easy travel along the track

Flats next to the Boyle, with the Poplars Range rising up behind

Looking across the Boyle towards Mons Sex Millia

Same place, same idea - time for a snack

Back across the swingbridge, almost done

Looking up the Boyle from the middle of the swingbridge

Looking down the Boyle from the swingbridge

Attractive small side stream - these things are there if you're looking

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Take SH7 towards Lewis Pass and turn at the signposted road at Boyle Village.

Time: Carpark to Magdalen Hut 3hr 30mins, return 2hr 30mins

Map: BU23 Boyle Village

Hut: Magdalen Hut (6 bunks)