Quiet in the woods

Miles upon miles of beech forest.  Quiet trail.   My own pace.  Space to think.   Cass trail in Arthur's Pass had all for me this past weekend.

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.

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.

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 names for Jeremiah relating to this feature.  "Beech Beard Alehouse"?  "Treebeard's Grog"?

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 30+ 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.

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.

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.

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 while.  If I wanted to stop and brew a cup of tea, or climb and extra peak, no one else's needs had to be considered.

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!

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5 thoughts on “Quiet in the woods

  1. Well done Molly! That looked like great fun. Except the part about being alone in the hut all night. I would have freaked out. Especially after the police had been there scouring the hills for a missing young female tramper. My little mind would have concocted all sorts of crazy murderous scenarios. I would have been up all night worrying and listening and waiting. I probably wouldn’t have slept at all then been so exhausted the next day that I’d be miserable and hike straight home to bed. Just saying, our a braver women then I.

  2. What an adventure! Enjoy this time, it will forever mark your spirits! Precious memories and grand adventures…awesome! We still miss you guys tho and someday I can’t wait to see your babies 😊

  3. Molly wonderful get away for you before the family holiday away & folks from the states descending for a week. This looks exactly like the kind of hike we’d like to do while we’re there – “Minus the bridge for both of us” – we better buy horse blinders to wear! Lovely time away to clear your mind, body and soul. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Hi Molly and Jeremiah, Lovely shots of a lovely walk! I like the way you have some closeups of the interesting plant-life (with diagnoses, as could be expected of a botanist!) as well as the obligatory vistas. We like the Waimakariri-Bealey confluence area and went a couple of hours along the Bealey Spur track once, which was very pleasant although it took a while to emerge from the bush and offer us views. We’re on the lookout for a good snowy winter walk: easy walking, dry feet, great views of snow-capped mountains and nice huts (yes, we want to have our cake and eat it). Do you think the Cass walk fits the bill?
    I’ve recently started working on our Milford Track video. It’s time consuming but a lot of fun! We got some great footage (esp of Mackinnon’s Pass with the drone), and putting together the best shots with music and narrative etc sure shows it off beautifully. I’ve completed about 4 minutes (of an anticipated total of 15 mins). You’ll love it when it’s finished… Enjoy yourself in the USA, see you when you get back. Cheers Graham

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