Benmore Hut                                                                                                             23rd May, 2020


Frank broke a couple of ribs the weekend before when he slipped and fell on a rock. He thought he’d only bruised his kidney but because he wasn’t wearing a pack, he sustained a direct hit to his ribs. So he wasn’t looking for any tough trips. This meant we could do something easy so he suggested going up to have a look at the new Annavale track which enables a circuit from Benmore Hut up to the Russell Range.


We had a delay as he tried to buy a computer on-line but the firm decided to have a 2 day embargo on direct bank payments due to a sale. We left later in the day after packing and got to the road end around 4.30 pm after using the 4WD track which was uncharacteristically free of mud due to the minimal rainfall recently. There were 4 cars parked at the 2WD car park and we passed a group of 3 coming out.  A woman a bit older than I was going slowly but they were happy to chat with us.


On the way in, we had a look at the new Annavale Track junction. There was a notice informing that as the track was on private land, firearms and dogs were not permitted. We eschewed the DoC track crossings of the stream twice by taking a line through gorse, more as a look-see as the stream was low enough that we could have rock-hopped and kept our boots dry. At the entrance to the forest we crossed then recrossed the stream rather than using a route that we had cut on the true right in former times.


Once in the forest with the possibility of hunters being around in the roar we switched on our head torches in the approaching dusk. The track left the stream and  we began a stiff climb up a spur, keeping a look-out for a deer trail that we’d followed one time which had crossed the stream and gone up a spur to the Benmore Range. We failed to spot it though. The bush and track were nice and dry which is just as well as further on were muddy sections where we could mainly walk on the surface without sinking in.


We crossed a few little gullies with stops for water at some of them. Frank asked if I wanted to get water for the evening from one but I said we could get water at the hut. We were planning to camp on a spur overlooking a tributary of the Selwyn. We got to the hut which was occupied as expected and a couple were also camped nearby in the shelter of the forest on the western side of the hut. I went to enter the hut so as not to be snobbish and the door was tied shut but a young friendly woman embarrassedly untied it and invited me in.


I explained we were just going to get water from the ta)nk but she said the water was minimal and tainted from a recent paint job on the roof. She even offered me some of her water but I said we would need 4L. She said there was water 20 minutes down the track and I said it would be 10 minutes down. Anyway I looked at the map I had (as Frank didn’t think we would find water on our way to the spur and saw there was a stream marked between the hut and the spur so we would be sweet.


Next job was finding the track to the spur in the dark. I thought it went down from behind the toilet but couldn’t see any sign of it there. I sidled over to where Frank was and he had found it directly behind the hut. Perhaps it was another track I was thinking of that went east instead of west. We followed this well-defined track down and then it sidled west and got more narrow. Frank’s ribs didn’t like some big steps down. We came to a dampish spot and then another seep that had a small trickle over stones. But after this the track stopped as it had been cut off by windfall down a gully. I thought people had climbed up over the windfall so set off to check this route. Frank followed but soon began griping as his bone ends were rubbing together on this very rough going. I climbed around the head of the windfall and hoped the other end of the track was a bit downhill from there but couldn’t find any sign of it so I crossed through the windfall and to my surprise Frank followed me, grumbling.


I told him I was going to look for the track we had left and he informed me he would need to get into a comfortable situation to check the GPS but I was over his trying to make sense of the GPS in the dark as it only tells you stuff after you’ve been moving and is actually pretty useless at the task so I kept going with my hunch and voila, we were back on the track at the edge of the slip where we had left it.


We went to the seepage and got our water supply. It was a very feeble trickle and Frank couldn’t utilize his 2L milk bottle to collect it so I filled my 2L platypus and then tipped that into his bottle. Then I filled a smaller bottle and my platypus again. The water was a bit silty. I told Frank I’d meet him at the hut but while organizing myself, I noticed the bite valve had slipped off my drinking hose and some water ran out! So I filled the platypus up again…


Frank had gone up the hill and realized I was taking a while so came back and waited nearby. We climbed back up to the hut. It was only a 5 minute walk and from the near seepage, only a minute’s walk. But there was no flow in this closer seepage at this time of year, being so dry. We scouted around for a campsite by the hut, this being the only flat option in the vicinity and found one behind the new woodshed. It was a very mild night and we had a comfortable enough evening cooking and eating dinner.


I took no chances after a very cold night the previous weekend though and slept in my light duvet jacket. The ground sloped away a bit on my side but I put my pack there to level things out to good effect. Must remember that trick. I had my pack inside because there was a chance of opportunistic vermin raiding our food. We’d already seen a possum when we were coming back to the hut.


Frank was obviously a bit sore when turning over during the night. I was monopolizing the space as my pack pushed me over the midline. At one point my feet got hot so I took my 2 pairs of socks off and poked my bare feet out of the sleeping bag. Of course eventually they got cold though the rest of me was very cozy. I woke early and no one was stirring so I dozed on a bit and got up at the reasonable hour of 8 am. It seemed that the rest of them had the same idea as I could hear sounds of moving and conversation starting around then.


I put the gas canister down the front of my clothes to warm it up a bit as I dressed and packed up a few things while I was still inside the tent. When I’d made us a hot drink I announced the fact to Frank who took a bit of waking up. We breakfasted in the mild air. We were both nice and warm in all our layers. Then I finished packing and removed cut firewood and brash that had been dumped at the entrance to the track we’d used the night before so I could make it clear where the track started. I told Frank I was going to see if I could sort out and mark where the track went from the slip’s edge.


I walked to the spot and saw that as well as going up where we’d gone the night before there were signs of people going down through the debris of fallen trees. It was reasonable going and met up with the track after a few metres. So I cleared as much as I could and put up a few strips of pink cruise tape. I carried on to the stream and half-filled my platypus as I was going to be carrying it back up the hill without a pack. I use a detergent bottle cap and that fits the bill.


I carried on to the spur where we’d been planning to camp. The track was still in good nick. Perhaps the deer were helping to keep it open. The old guy, Les Schenkel, who’d cut it, was no longer coming in but his clothes-line knotted ropes were still intact in some places. I’m sure he was the only one who had ever used them! As I went I did a bit of track clearing. Where the track comes onto the spur was a really lovely tent-site. Maybe Les had camped here – close to the stream for water and that’s why he’d cut this track. In the past there had been a higher track leading to the spur from the hut.


It was great to reach the spur again where we hadn’t been for 6 years. I carried on to a clearing, removing anything off the track that I could as I went, but thought I’d better not continue as Frank would be concerned if I was away too long. So I retraced my steps and picked up the water bottle, ensconcing it in my jacket. Not long after this I met Frank at the edge of the slip. He was happy to carry on with me so we did a bit more clearing through the slip and went to the spur, continuing on from where I’d left until the track degraded into numerous deer trails going all over the show.


Frank was content to leave the exploring at that so we went back to the hut and had lunch inside as it was a bit warmer with the weak sunlight coming through the skylights. He said DoC must have rolled their eyes when they’d seen how the Malvern DSA had put the skylight under the corrugated iron in one section so the water would track down underneath the corrugated iron – a no-no. The water tank (which was nearly empty) had a tap at the top which was used to pump water out, instead of its being at the bottom of the tank so any organic matter would be drained out as well. Instead it would be trapped in the bottom of the tank except now where water was having to be bailed out, only to find it wasn’t drinkable due to the taint from the roof paint-job.


We now set off up the link track to the bushline and beyond through tussocks and sparse scrub to the Annavale track.  In former times there had been a “secret” hunters track this way. It had been cut a few metres from the Benmore Hut track so you couldn’t see the start of it. Of course anyone going that way would have come across it as it was in the logical place on the spur. Although it was an overcast late autumn day we were very happy to be up above the forest with great views all around of the Torlesse and Benmore Ranges and Mt Oxford beyond. We reached the industrial grade 4WD road but noted that stock hadn’t been grazing the area. We forewent going to the summit of Sugarloaf, whichever that was, for another day – maybe a clear day in the winter for marvelous views?


We descended via the road, taking in the vistas. It was good to get a clear view of the spurs running down into 13 Mile Stream from the range. We’d been up and down a few of these so retraced our routes and pondered on the possibility of yet another way down off the ridge sometime. After going through a gate, it was obvious that sheep had been grazing the area. We dropped down and I saw a spur in the forest that may have been the saddle that the track to the hut passes though as there is higher ground on the northern side of the spur.


We linked back up with the track that goes to Benmore Hut. A quad bike could be heard somewhere on Annavale. When we got to the car, 2 vehicles came out from the Benmore slopes. Frank wondered if they’d been building something up the hill as there was a trailer in tow. Maybe contractors? Rural types anyhow. We set off. The rain had still not come, thank goodness, as the drive out was nice and dry. We took another route that avoided potentially greasy ruts for one short section.


I persuaded Frank to stop at the store at Springfield that is under new management. He had opined that it had never really been a café but when I recaledl stopping there with Dad, who drank the first part of his tea from his saucer to cool it down, he consented to trying it out. We had GF cheese toasted sandwiches which were OK and weak cups of tea from a pot. The service was attentive and pleasant and the refurbishing cozy with cushiony nooks as well as chairs and tables. I stationed us in front of the heat pump and we enjoyed their copy of the Press with our snack. Home to the mewing unsettled cat who had enjoyed the lockdown and Frank’s company and now has her nose out of joint with our going back to the usual routine of absences from home.