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A summer of (mostly) sensible hut bagging

A summer of (mostly) sensible hut bagging

With a sweltering summer in full force, Sharon Davis made the most of the intelligence that comes with age and implemented some heat-avoiding strategies in the hills, electing to bag a few huts and easier destinations.

Story: It all started with an invitation to join the Mt Somers Walkways Society just before Christmas. About ten volunteers were heading up Rhyolite Ridge to complete a boardwalk to save trampers from muddy boots and to prevent damage to the track and surrounds.

The day dawned clear and warm. It was already 24 degrees as I jumped into my car and by the time I pulled into the car park, just before 9am, it had hit 26 degrees.

It was clearly going to be a scorcher and I was already regretting not adding ice blocks to my hydration pack.

My previous encounter with Rhyolite Ridge had been in winter with a full pack, so I had an idea of the uphill slog I was in for. But the summer heat turned it into a slow, sweaty, red-faced mission.

The volunteers set off at a steady pace lugging posts, work tools, chemicals and other track maintenance gear uphill.

It wasn't long before the gradient got steeper, and I fell a little behind and then a little more.

My happy walking temperature is definitely below 15 degrees, so lack of fitness aside, I was way out of my happy walking zone and I decided to slow down and enjoy the journey.

I eventually topped the worst of the climb and started the traverse toward the Bus Stop. Not long after, I found a boardwalk being efficiently zipped together by a group of industrious volunteers. They were doing an impressive job under the near midday sun.

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer their free time to grind up a hill and build or improve a track for other hikers. It's definitely not a walk in the park and it's not done for recognition - just the quiet satisfaction of leaving a literal legacy trail.

I chatted about the project, snapped some photos, and headed back down the trail as the mist descended, cooling off the worst of the heat.

It was an enjoyable morning out of the office but also a reminder of just how much I hated uphill walks on hot days - and that shaped most of my walking plans for this summer.

The theory was to tackle huts and lists on my "bad weather" or "easy" list to avoid slogging uphill in the baking sun. With the benefit of hindsight, only one or two lived up to that promise.

The first was a trip up the Kowai River at the bottom of Porters Pass to the John Hayward Memorial Hut. The hut (and a few lofty peaks beyond) had been relegated toward the bottom of my list because the route wasn't dog-friendly - but summer is often too hot for a dog trip anyway.

I set off with two mates on a hot and wind-swept day. It was a short and easy walk following the river. We had a lazy lunch in the shade of a shed next to the hut, watched the swallows swooping and plotted routes up Mt Torlesse and The Gap while congratulating ourselves on picking a route that kept us out of gale battering the tops.

Another short walk out, and we'd ticked off an enjoyable and relaxing walk. It felt strange not feeling like I'd pushed the limits. This easy hut-walk lark could work, I thought.

The next weekend was another hot one with a forecast that promised less wind. Fanghill Hut won the toss on name appeal. This trip requires landowner permission to walk on a farm track or a trek on a rough 4WD drive track up the Wilberforce River for roughly 10km.

It was New Year's Day, and we opted not to bother Glenthorne Station and walk upriver. I nudged my Xtrail as far as I dared. We set off on foot before the start of the official start of the 4WD track and made our way around the base of Castle Hill.

After a few crossings of braids on the Wilberforce the vehicle track followed the true left up the hut with Scarcliffe dominating the valley as we moved upriver. We had lunch in a knee-high patch of grass and wildflowers before walking out again.

I loved the vastness of the valley. It made me feel insignificant among the large mountain folds that embraced the wide river valley.

That was another tick for the summer hut bagging mission. But it was not quite in the walk-in-the-park category of the first hut for summer.

The next trip was a drizzly day trip with dogs to Mystery Lake and the trip after was also a hut-bagging fail. We digressed from our hut mission for a summit on private land (after getting permission on course). It was a sweltering and I cursed all the way up and down the steep route, which put huts back on the trip options for the next trip.

Two of us headed into Tribulation Hut for a day trip on another killer hot day. We got to the top of Redcliffe Saddle before the worst of the heat hit, but the sun was relentless and the rest of the route was exposed.

I melted in the shade of the hut for lunch and cursed my life choices for the 10km trip back to the car.

For the next trip, I picked Ben More Hut thinking I'd have a lovely shaded walk through beech forest.

But when my hiking companion saw the sign for the Annavale Track - a trip she'd wanted to do for ages - we changed course and headed up Sugarloaf. And there I was cursing my way uphill on a sweltering day... say no more.

The 360-degree view from Mt Peel to the Torlesse range was worth it - but Ben More Hut is still on the to-do list.

Snow in February called for a change of plans and two of us drove as far as we could on the Mt Hutt access road and plugged steps up South Peak for a snow-covered summit day. The change in temperature was pure bliss. I'm looking forward to autumn and winter!

We were soon back to summer heat, and within a week or so the next trip was lined up. A day trip to A-Frame Hut from the Glenrock Station access was the goal.

I found myself muttering my way up Turtons Saddle and beyond before dropping down and making a beeline for the only shade in sight - the back of the tin tent-shaped hut.

Then we did it all in reverse on a blistering day - at which point I decided that hut bagging wasn't really saving me from the heat or from sweltering climbs. At least I managed to con myself into more adventures rather than hiding from the scorchers.

The good news is the cooler mornings are already here, and I will soon be free of trying to tailor my trip plans to beat the heat.

Hut Info

John Hayward Memorial Hut

This is a private 6-bunk hut in tidy condition at the bottom of Porters Pass. It is an easy walk in, but requires some river corssings. Bookings are through Brooksdale Station.

Fanghill Hut

This is a private rustic 6-bunk hut beyond Lake Coleridge. The cost is $5pppn. Bookings through Glenthorne Station. You can drive or walk up the Wilderforce River (harder) or arrange access through the station (easier, but there is a fee).

Tribulation Hut

This is a basic six-bunk DOC hut off Double Hill Run Road which runs along the Rakaia River. It is free and not bookable. The first half of the route is fairly rough, the second half is easy over open river plains. Cookies Hut is a another six-bunk basic hut another hour on from Tribulation Hut, following the river.

A-Frame Hut

This is a basic three-bunk DOC hut off Double Hill Run Road. It is free, not bookable and on the Te Araroa trail. The track is easy to follow but includes a steep climb over turYou can link this with a walk through to Comyns Hut, Double Hut and Manuka Hut in the Hakatere Conservation Park.

Ben More Hut

This is a basic four-bunk DOC between Springfield and Porters Pass. It is free and not bookable. Access is through farmland which is closed for June and July each winter.

Mt Somers huts

There are also two bookable DOC huts on the Mt Somers tacks. Woolshed Creek Hut is a serviced 26-bunk DOC hut. Pinnacles Hut is a 19-bed serviced DOC hut. Bookings are required with a premium for a Saturday night stay for both these huts.

By Sharon Davis