A while back we’d hoped to do this circuit but poor time management had us staying at Carroll Hut instead of Hunts Ck Hut. This meant on the second day we spent a heinous 1 hour descending to upper Kelly Ck though initially leatherwood, then neinei. Unfortunately Frank turned the trip around once we were in sight of where we climb from Hunts Ck to go up and cross over into Dry Ck as it was getting too late to descend to the Taipo.
So we returned to Hunts Ck Hut and the next day did an ascent to the Kelly Tops via a good route involving a stretch of mature ribbonwood forest and neinei. I recall an angle of 37 degrees through that stuff which took a total of 2 hours to climb from creek to open tops.
This time we stayed at Avalanche Creek campground in Arthurs Pass to ensure an earlier start when the days are longer. We managed to drive all the way to 7 Mile Ck thanks to a chap who has bought the land around 7 Mile Hut, occupying it for some of the time. He has improved the road and the Taipo has swung over to the true left enabling fords in the remaining small braids on that side.
It was a very hot day so I wet my head in anticipation of a toil up the 7 Mile Ck track to the Kelly Tops. Frank and I have cut a short bypass track where the big slip has nibbled away the original track but we see the same thing is happening further up and unless DoC beats us to it, we will have to cut another bypass track sometime before that section of now narrow track disappears into the abyss.
We arrived at the scrubline but the obvious knoll to have lunch on was hot and airless so we continued, hoping for a breeze and some shade. After a while we settled for just a breeze as the vegetation was too short to provide shade. We halted in a small patch near a marker pole and were comfortable enough. I spied an ancient pair of rusted up and ablating scissors but left them there on our lunch rock for others to notice.
We carried on up through verdant slopes with little tarns, passing up the chance for a swim in the larger ones. Then we traveled along the ridge to the high points. We are so used to dropping down to the lower level above the scrub line but instead continued to the end of the ridge looking for cairns along the way without success. Eventually we came close to the scrubline and resigned ourselves to a scrub bash down to the swampy area below.
Frank put me in front. I had a sneaking suspicion that we were meant to be much further to the west (and so it turned out) but thought what the hell, we may as well just drop down through this horrible stuff. After a while I decided a wee spur interspersed with tussock would be easier travel and diagonaled over to it. It was good for a while but wasn’t traveling directly to the swampy area so Frank had us dropping down directly again through more evil stuff. I started to feel a bit upset at the unfairness of more of this dreadful vegetation. However unlike some scrub bashes, this one wasn’t punctuated by frequent pain from rigid plants coming up against rigid bones.
Eventually we broke out into the swampy area and enjoyed a drink and rest. Then we traveled along the true left of a tiny stream that drains down to Kellys Creek. I was surprised to see no tape or snipping to indicate this was the route marked by Alan Jemison a few years ago until we spotted a wee bit of snipping now and again. Frank voiced his disgust at this very indirect route compared with the one we had used a few years prior.
We crossed the little stream for the final time and then encountered our short section that we’d cleared from Kelly Ck a few years ago. I placed strips of white shopping bags with red reflective discs glued on around a few bits of scrubs to help establish this was the start of the track to the tops – or at least to the swampy area. We had another break for a snack and then hurried on to Hunts Creek hut. We could see a man’s boot prints now and again in the muddy sections warning us bunks mightn’t be available and indeed it turned out to be so we camped in a clearing by rocks.
In the morning after I’d trimmed tussock growing alongside the track to the toilet, we set off over the scrubby moraine towards the head of Hunts Creek. The party of 3 staying at the hut had left early for a day trip to Lake Florence. We were surprised that they hadn’t taken their packs but it was a very warm day. We traveled up the stream a bit, finding leads via old stream beds and alongside the creek to avoid the very tall tussocks and stopped for lunch just before leaving the creek to climb up to the ridge line. Frank had suggested heading for the saddle north of point 1555. We could see 2 little outcrops right at the saddle resembling 2 sentries.
We reccied the route and I ventured a gradual ascending sidle to the final scree. This proved to be straightforward. I found a benched animal trail to cross the first patch of scree but the final patch of scree was slow going. I traversed to a defined arête of vegetated spur and began an easy pleasant climb up this. Frank persevered on the scree and elected to gain height gradually on that. Seemed like too much hard work to me. When I got higher I could see an animal trail below, crossing the scree from the top of the highest vegetated lead. This was instructive. I waited 5 minutes or so for him to catch me up before the last hike to the saddle proper.
I greeted the rock sentries and then found out we had an 1100m descent into the Taipo involving a bouldery stream bed. This was going to be hard-going for my knees so Frank suggested I go ahead and pick terrain favouring them. Initially there was low tussock and screes to use so we could avoid a staircase of boulders but this soon disappeared at the junction of the 2 tributaries at the head of Dry Creek. There seemed to be campsite possibilities around here so I thought on our previous attempt we could have gone over the saddle and camped after all.
I took it slowly. It was very hot and for a short while the creek did disappear but soon resurged. The downwards travel was straightforward but sustained and pretty much involved traveling at the edge of the creek, rather than being able to use scrub or screes. I was cursing having chosen to wear boots rather than sandals as one of my toes became very tender. However sandals would have been nasty in the previous day’s scrub bash and I would have had no protection for my shins. I carried on down the unrelenting valley and was glad to finally spot the Taipo though it appeared closer than it was.
The Taipo valley was in shadow when we got there. The track was surprisingly wide and had traps for whio protection. I had been this far up the Taipo on another occasion when I’d come downstream from Julia Hut one time on a CTC trip but for Frank this was his first time. We hurried to the hut and as we did, I realized that the next day I could purloin Frank’s hut sandals for our last day out. We hoped that there would be room in the hut for us that night and surprisingly for a long weekend, there was no one else there. It was very warm but the windows were covered in mesh against the sandflies so we could ventilate adequately.
I was looking forward to seeing the changes in the valley since the floods took away part of the track a few years ago. We choose to cross the Taipo rather than use the cableway. I was surprised that Frank didn’t want to go and inspect the slip on the approach to the true left side of the cableway but he was keen to get home a bit earlier than usual and I was lazy so we found a good place to cross the river between Dunns and Hunts Creeks and stopped for lunch leaning against a log just upstream of the cableway.
The river was low enough for us to travel along the true right bank at times and at the cableway we scrambled up a steep and partly exposed track that had a new ladder installed leading to the top terrace track. This track then dropped in a series of new switchbacks down to the side creek that flows from point 1313 up on the Kelly Range. From here on we followed old and new tracks and marker poles to the newer hut near the Dillon Homestead. It was too hot for Frank to loiter in the heat of the hut so I put our names in the hut book as passing through and followed him on to the old homestead where he’d noted some improvements e.g. a nice dining table installed between the bunks.
We crossed 7 Mile Creek, got to our very hot car and I braved the creek for a freshen up, bellowing like a bull as I immersed myself in the cold water. It was good to finally see what Dry Creek was like and the changes in the valley.