Alpine again: Hawdon to Edwards

“We could walk in to Hawdon hut Friday night,” Jeremiah suggested early in the week.  I recoiled.  It’s autumn now, and nights are Cold.  And Dark.  River crossings would be in the cold dark….  Late entry to a cold, dark hut….  Ug.

“Um, that doesn’t sound like very much fun to me,” I grimaced.

“Ok then,” Jeremiah acquiesced, raising his eyebrows.  “But if you want to do that hike, it might be worth the three hour walk in the dark.”

And I really did want to do that hike.  I’ve been eyeing it for a couple years now, ever since I walked in to the hut by myself one warm summer evening and peaked up over the edge of the trees to the alpine meadow beyond.  It had been sunny and calm, idyllic conditions that rarely happen in the mountains, and the little tarn with the path wending through the tussocks had been so inviting….  The book said the route continued over a couple mountain passes and then down into a valley beyond.  It would entail two nights out and lots of climbing, and a hitch hike at the end.  It would be a good one to do with a capable mountain man like Jeremiah.

“Well, maybe if the weather for the next two days is perfect, then it would be worth the wretched Friday night walk in,” I consented.

We planned two other less ambitious routes, and I waited until Wednesday to look at the weekend forecast.  I was shocked to see a big fat high pressure system sitting over the whole of the Southern Alps.  Sunny and calm for three days straight.  Probably worth that three hour walk in the dark!

Jeremiah’s frozen breath shown in a ragged cloud in my head lamp. Cold dew drops sparkled on the grass, and the riverbed rocks clattered under our feet. We were looking for the four-wheel-drive track up the river bed, but more often than not we lost it. Not that it mattered….the hut was three hours up the river. We turned off our lights and the moon lit the world in silver and black. We tromped through the water, then turned and splashed through the winding river again. We heard a noise and stopped to listen. It was the chirpy chortle of a kiwi bird. “I’ve never heard one in the wild before!” I exclaimed.

“I smell smoke! The hut must be close!” Walking in the dark had been a lot more pleasant than I expected, but I was still ready to shuck the wet boots, and smoke held the promise of a warm hut. We clomped up the steps and a startled face peered out the window. Poor guy. It’s disconcerting to have newcomers show up during the night when you have been sound asleep. We apologized and moved our stuff quickly to the adjoining bunk room. It was cold, and I snuggled into my sleeping bag fully dressed, a wooly cap on my head.

The next morning we slept in until 7:30, cooked our oatmeal, and slid our feet into our wet boots. Just as the sun reached the hut, we set off.

Selfie! Jeremiah and Molly were here, Hawdon Hut, May 5th, 2017.

We climbed in the dappled sun through the beech trees until we reached the alpine zone. The hut would be somewhere on the right of the valley there.

It was frosty in the shadow of the mountain when we turned on to the alpine meadow this time, and the icy rocks were slippery.  We passed a couple picturesque tarns, but they were NOT enticing for a swim. This one had its first delicate coat of ice crusting the top.

We waited until rounding the next bend before we stopped to admire this view and have our morning tea (or morning hot tang, as Jeremiah chose), airing our damp socks in the sun.

It’s a good thing that the man has a sense of humor. He almost “stepped in a puddle up to his middle and never was seen again!” Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the patch of mud that looked solid turned out deeper than expected, and I couldn’t stop giggling. I never have
been a very sympathetic soul.

Soon after that the trail took a turn up another shady valley with a steep rocky stream, crisp with frost. We did eventually pop out into another alpine platueau, Walker’s Pass, where Jeremiah spotted the second chamois of the day.

What better thing to do in a pristine alpine meadow than a head stand? Well, a cart wheel would be better, but I’m rubbish at those. Those tough little mountain plants may look soft and inviting, but they’re actually quite prickly on the scalp.

At the end of the meadow the trail drops off abruptly to this massive scree field below. This is on the Divide, the watershed between the east coast and the west coast, and also the location of the biggest fault line in New Zealand. The scree slope we slid down is in front of the appropriately named Falling Mountain. The landscape is bizarre, like a gigantic pile of rubble in a war zone or maybe Mars. Not a lot of stability in the environment here.  It is ridiculously fun to slide/walk DOWN a scree slope, but punishing to traverse.  Thankfully, our route went down.

We paused for lunch out of the rock fall zone (we hoped), realizing that it would be an unfortunate place to be should another earthquake happen. The low autumn sun tucked behind the surrounding mountain peaks, and we spent the next two hours in the shade, poking around for the trail under overgrown tussocks and crossing the river repeatedly.

A cloud pushed ominously down the valley behind us as we walked.

Finally we saw trees ahead, and the hut just beyond some wonderfully constructed over-marsh walkways. There was smoke coming from the chimney–the promise of warmth.

That cloud never did extend all the way down the valley to the Edwards Hut where we spent the night, and the next morning was again blue sky. The hut was inhabited by two Frenchmen and an Irishman, all working in Christchurch. I like the company in the huts; it often has an international flavor, and the accents are as colorful as the opinions.

My phone battery died in the cold of the night, so I have no photos of the walk out down the Edwards valley.  It’s a shame, because the beech forest was green and inviting, and at the bottom we rounded a bend into an eerily frosted section of the river that never sees the sun at this time of the year.  A mist hung over the frozen rocks and I half expected to come across a kea picking at a dead deer or something even less savory and more haunting.  I was glad when we finally turned the last corner back into the sun and I could shake off the spooks.

The guys we had spent the night with at the hut had a car at the Edwards Valley end, and they generously offered to give us a lift back down to the Hawden.  No need to even hitch a ride.

We picked up the kids at Emma and Ian’s house, and it turns out that they had enjoyed their weekend in town as much as we had enjoyed ours in the mountains. Check out this cake decorating! Milo had picked up a book from the library all about elaborate Christmas cake designs with reign deer made from frosting and other such horrors. I advised him that I’m not good at cake decorating, least of all Christmas cake decorating, and he would have to consult with Emma for that skill. Thanks heaps, Emma!


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