We had 4 days off but with things needing to be done it ended up being 3 days in which to do a tramp as Frank didn’t want to stay at the insalubrious Fowler Hut on Friday night. We drove off and had lunch at Mumbles Café. My stuffed potato was excellent and filling. The Powerhouse Café was recommended but it’s extremely popular and deservedly so with most of the food being GF so another time perhaps.
We arrived outside Fowler Hut with a lovely clump of daffodils now past their best. I had a look inside the hut. Someone has rigged a tarp in the bedroom and there was a massive partially burnt log in the fireplace. It looked tidy enough with no bunks and we’ve slept in worse places but there’s always the risk of encountering characters already staying there.
We packed up and I moved off before Frank as I had no desire to go at any pace faster than ambling along in the heat up to the saddle on a gradual slope. I filled my bottle at the last side creek about halfway up to the saddle. Just before the saddle I stopped briefly and here Frank caught me up, having rushed to achieve this.
We descended a wee way down the zigzag and stopped for a small lunch before continuing down the very attractive and varied valley of Smyths Stream and crossed the Stanley River without getting wet boots until I slipped on one crossing. Approaching Stanley Vale Hut we could see smoke from a newly lit fire coming from the chimney. Frank expressed pessimism about it’s being worth staying in the occupied hut but I said it was worth checking it out.
I recognized the piebald horse belonging to Sean Jamison, a possum hunter who often stays at Stanley Vale. He has a friendly and social reputation. I entered and saw him sitting there with another guy of a similar vintage who turned out to be a very keen and effective pig hunter from Rotherham, John Hope, who regularly hunts there. Sean invited me to have a cup of tea from the newly boiled billy. Although the door was kept open, sandflies weren’t a problem.
Frank duly came in and we had a pleasant chatty evening although John Hope was a lot more quiet than Sean. I straightaway picked their brains about the route to Glenrae Saddle from the hut, having seen the remains of a vehicle track going towards Lookout Hill. They’d both been up to the saddle, and John recommended traveling along the ridge to drop down near the outlet of L.Guyon. They said it wasn’t scrubby and you could ride a mountain bike up there.
Our plan had been to travel in the other direction and drop down to the vehicle track but John’s option sounded a lot shorter as we wouldn’t have to trudge down the St James cycle trail. Frank said this would make it a very short day and we should at least recce to our previously planned drop off point, a scrubby spur which would take us to just south-east of Little Lake. Sean gave me a very thorough route description to gain the saddle from Glenrae Flat, advising me to sidle around the edge of the flat on the northern side to avoid scrub. So this is what we did, completely avoiding the flat.
It was a warm day and I was concerned about getting too hot in my long johns but with a slight breeze this wasn’t a problem and in fact I got a bit cold during our lunch stop on the saddle as I was inadvertently in the shade.
Sean had mentioned a final stream to cross before we started up the obvious spur which takes us to the ridge just north of Glenrae Saddle and we crossed this in a pretty patch of beech forest. We started up the ridge from a clearing just after emerging from the top end of the beech forest. There were constant animal tracks sidling across this spur from one beech clearing to another. Below I couldn’t see any sign of a vehicle track shown on my old version of Freshmap. The spur was easy travel with attractive outcrops and stunted beech trees. Near the top I deviated from the spur to sidle south towards the saddle.
We chose a lunch spot by the northern-most beech tree on the ridge-line on a small platform lee to the wind, leaving our packs there while we went for our recce south. I felt a bit nervous not having my life support system, including lunch though I carried a small bottle of water in my jacket pocket tied around my waist. We dropped down to the flat saddle and then Frank gained height up a small rise to reach our sidling altitude of 1270m on mainly scree, devoid of any vegetation. We crossed two dry defiles, having to look for the easiest point to climb out of them on crumbly clay.
Just short of the scree shown on the map, I looked back and pointed out to Frank that it looked possible to descend from our lunch spot to the valley floor via Danns Stream which was heavily populated with beech forest. This of course would be unattractive for equestrians but easy enough for pedestrians. So we wrapped up the recce and returned to our packs for lunch in the subtly approaching shade.
Then we climbed 230m along the ridgeline to the summit of Lake Hill. Along the way there was an outcrop with a green topped waratah. Silly me thought this was marking the summit but it must have been a marker keeping horse trekkers en route for the descent to Glenrae Saddle. We carried on to the summit proper where there was no pole and being flat, was pretty subtle.
Here we paused for views of the Spenser Range and all 3 mountains we’ve climbed up there plus St Mary (we’d done a horrible and tiring descent from it in the dark one time) and I realized I’d forgotten to look out for a tarn mentioned by Sean on the way from the saddle to Lake Hill. He said it was on the Waiau side, about 50m down from the ridgeline. But we’d traveedl hard on the eastern side in shelter from the breeze. Sean said the tarn might have dried up or been used as a wallow anyway but it would have been good to have checked it out.
We descended to the lake via fairly open short scrub as promised. The flats bordering the lake had areas of manuka but we found leads through them after hopping across a narrow swampy patch. We crossed the bridge and Frank stopped for water but I had my hut boots on and continued until near a Fish and Game sign then stopped to have a good drink and wait for Frank. We entered lovely beech forest but noted the vehicle gate was wide open to bogans and other undesirables traveling in vehicles. Mercifully, being a Sunday evening, Lake Guyon Hut was unoccupied. I wasted no time in having a sponge-down and freshen up in the hut while it was still warm from the western sun. I cooked dinner and went to bed around 9pm, planning to light the fire in the morning to clean a greasy pot I’d noticed.
Alas, I was woken by a vehicle sometime after 2am. They stopped outside the door and came in, apologizing for having woken us then drove off to check Stanley Vale Hut I supposed. They were back again around 2.45am and came into the hut talking at an inconsiderate volume so I advised them to just silently go to bed without ‘chitchat’. Only one of them spoke and when I asked if they had a tent, he immediately asked us if we had one and then suggested we sleep in it, emphasizing they had the right to stay in the hut.
However I suspect they were there to illegally hunt i.e. without a permit, spotlighting or hunting with thermal imaging from the road. One of them bunked on the floor without any mattress. Despite having 2 quad bikes they hadn’t provisioned for any eventuality except sleeping on bunks. If they’d been civil, I would’ve let him sleep on my inflatable mattress. The bolshie spokesperson made some speech about clearing the air and then claimed the Stanley Vale Hut was full. I expressed surprise which was well-founded. Frank said not a word during this interchange but got up to clear his stuff off the top bunk. The spokesperson also said they’d provide us some breakfast but I got up early and set off to Stanley Vale with Frank woken to follow on as I went out the door after modeling considerate behaviour.
Trying not to ruminate on the lousy disturbance which is almost inevitable when these undesirables can drive to particular huts, I focused on the tranquil beauty of walking alongside the lake which had barely a ripple on its surface. I climbed from the lake noting the abundant growths of gooseberries and blackcurrant bushes. Sean was up and invited me in for breakfast and a freshly boiled billy. There had been only 3 of them there, but having 4 horses in total in the paddock as Mary who turned out to be the proprietress of the famed Powerhouse Café had a colt she found one time by the Waiau, being trained alongside her own more placid and smaller horse. She’d come to clear broom and gorse on the open area in front of the hut.
John had killed 3 pigs the day before and had already set off over Fowler Pass. Sean and Mary hadn’t heard any vehicles so I assume the undesirables had checked to see if the highly visible piebald was there i.e. if Sean was in residence and seeing “No-name” had, alas, come back to disturb us instead. He and Mary encouraged us to notify DoC of our experience for their statistics they compile on these events.
Frank arrived and said the 3 occupants of the hut had kept silent while he was packing up but once he was out the door, standing outside to activate his GPS, they’d began talking. We finished breakfast and retraced our steps to the river crossing. DoC had marked the crossing but I figured out a more shallow place and noticed other footprints going there. I sat down to take off my boots and cross in bare feet. When I stood up, I noticed a Garmin Vivofit watch and picked that up. There had been no last names in the hutbook for the two women staying there the night before we’d arrived at Stanley Vale, otherwise I would have attempted to return it.
We crossed and then Frank also found a pig dog repair kit including a stapler so we dropped that off at the police station in Hanmer, with my telling the cop that it might belong to John Hope of Rotherham. We had lunch in a sheltered and sunny spot along Smyths Stream and ascended the zigzag to the pass and down to Fowler Hut. Sean’s car was there which explains his ability to gad about all over the South Island doing volunteer horse track creating and John’s horse float was gone. We’d met some exemplary people and unluckily some from the other end of the spectrum of folks that go into the outdoors.