Miles upon miles of beech forest. Quiet trail. My own pace. Space to think, and time in which to do it. Cass trail in Arthur’s Pass held all this last weekend.
Cass trail is usually hiked as a one-way, but since I was a solo tramper (that’s right! First night away from both kids since Naomi was born!) I just planned to walk in to Hamilton Hut one day and back out the same way the following day. I started (and ended) at the northern end, near Bealey Hut.
Weather on the way in had low cloud covering the mountaintops, with occasional mist making it down to ground level in the river valleys, but no actual rain. Perfect conditions for photos. This moss with the droopy heads is on a gnarled beech tree right next to the trail.
I haven’t hiked with a light backpack (no child riding) for so long that I forgot how easy it can be to stop, drop the pack, dig out the camera or cooker for a cup of tea, heft it again, and resume walking. Such flexibility. The beeches are all draped with lichen, and I amused myself for a while trying to think up beer/brewery names for Jeremiah relating to this feature. “Beech Beard Alehouse”? “Treebeard’s Grog”?
Even the understory beeches had the start of their beards growing. Early on the trail cut through a pine plantation, and going from the airy light beech understory to the dark barren twilight under the pines felt sinister. I was definitely glad to re-emerge into the friendly beech greenery.
Baby beech leaves! They’re already getting nibbled, by a caterpillar I think.
I expected this to be a wet-boot hike, but the river level was so low that my gaiters and new boots saw me through just vaguely damp. The last two crossings were bridged, to my delight. The hut had a photo of this river in flood, a nasty scary sight when it’s between you and home.
I climbed a little bluff to look out over the Harper river valley. My trail split off just above here, but the Te Araroa trail goes down that valley on its 3,000 kilometer trek from tip to tail of the south island. It was grassy and looked little-used, but I could sense Bilbo’s adventure-lust, the allure of the path that goes ever, ever on.
Here’s Hamilton hut, well built on a shelf above the river. I trotted up at 4:30 and was surprised to find no one else in residence. Cass trail is less than 2 hours from Christchurch and while the weather wasn’t stunning on Saturday, the weekend overall looked pretty decent. I figured someone else would turn up later, but the evening wore on in eerie silence.
Silence….until the thunder of a chopper boomed down the valley! They landed right at the front door and POLICE piled out. By a strange twist of fate, I even knew one of them. Turns out they were looking for a missing tramper, a French woman named Celine, who was expected to return to her lodging to pick up her stuff but hadn’t shown up. They hardly stayed 5 minutes, just long enough to photograph the hut book (where trampers sign in and leave their intentions, along with comments varying in ripeness), and verify that no one was hiding under the bunks. Silence again descended.
It’s strange, staying in a 20 bunk hut alone. I decided that as much as I enjoyed having the trail to myself, I’d like company in the evening. I went to bed early, slept soundly, and woke when fully rested. Wow, haven’t done that in a while.
There’s a tussocky bit of trail where I ate lunch on the walk out, looking up at Mt. Bruce. Clear walking, a beautiful sunny day, and if I continued on my trajectory homeward on the path I’d get there early enough to be responsible for dinner….. I decided to detour. The wind was at my back down below but up on top the clouds were moving the opposite direction–maybe there’d be a bit of calm air in the change-over zone? I’d have to climb the peak to find out. Part way up were these funny kettle ponds full of clear water with very squishy bottoms. No bathing for me, thanks.
Stunted alpine plants picking a meager living out of the scanty soil.
Perched atop Mt. Bruce. Down below is the Waimakariri river valley, and beyond that the snow still on the rest of the Southern Alps. It was so refreshing to have no responsibility for any other person’s well-being for a little while. Stop any time to brew a cup of tea, air my tummy in the sun, or climb an extra peak–no one cared!