Liz got keen to bag both huts after the threat of undermining of Lake Alexander Hut was publicized on FB. Frank and I had gone in recently to Lake Alexander Hut and up to Wild Sheep Saddle as well. Bernie Mason is happy to allow access as long as there's no one else staying at L.A. Hut and has developed the area with 2 private hunting huts and numerous tracks which DoC maintains as well.
The Marlborough branch of NZDA have taken on the two DoC huts and done a lovely job but unfortunately the side stream draining into L. A. has come up in flash floods and backwashed very close to the hut. I'm not sure what their plans will be: whether to move the hut back up into the manuka behind it or as I suggested, construct chicken wire gabions and fill them with rocks.
Liz, hubby Ian, Peter Umbers and we two squeezed into her hybrid Rav 4. She'd instructed us  to try and limit the amount of stuff to put in the car. We drove to Bernie's and she uplifted the key for the two gates. The Rav 4 didn't have much ground clearance so there were a few scrapes to the tow bar on the way in which Liz found unnerving. We kept our previous time of 1hr 45mins travel to L.A. to ourselves as I didn't want Liz to try and better it. so it took us 2hr 15mins to walk there from the car as Ian was recovering from a nasty cold, thank goodness as he's normally very fast.
He was very impressed with the condition and cleanliness of L. A. Hut and I was impressed at the rapidity with which he lit the fire. We settled in for an early night and I rose at 6am. Liz  had been awake since 3am and was waiting for someone to make the first move. We were out the door just after 7am and with the rush, Frank forgot to take his prepared water bottle. It took us less than an hour to get to Wild Sheep Saddle with plenty of impassioned conversation about various outdoor organisations on the way.
Onwards to the main ridge which took us another hour via a lovely scenic spur in a light cool wind. Here Bernie had predicted it would take us 20 minutes to the cairn on the ridge, indicating the point to drop down to Penk via a defined spur. I read the map wrong and we moved further up along the ridge to recce the route. Here I realized my error and we could see the route from the cairn was a good one so back there and down we went.
There was a skerrick of frozen snow over tussocks which got some of us moving with great caution. Liz and Ian had no poles but despite this moved more quickly with great balance and leg strength for the careful step downs. We passed through an attractive region of beech and rocks, onto harder snow amid low scrub and eventually onto a animal trail over Pt 956, continuing down the very defined ridge from where we could now see the green roof of the hut.
We reccied possible routes more directly to the hut but could see a drop off wouldn't be possible until nearly at the confluence as route instructions on the net had indicated. Eventually there was an opening on the spur and we moved down on easy terrain to the confluence, pausing for welcome drinks before going up a well-indicated and steep track to the golden flat where the hut stood. It was another well-maintained 6 bunker but with no water tank. It had taken us less than 5 hours to get there with very pleasant travel aside from the skerricks of snow.
We had a leisurely lunch and some of us relieved the hut's extensive stockpile of food a bit by nabbing 3 army rations of muesli. Frank filled up a water bottle at the confluence and we replenished our supply. I ended up in front after Ian stepped aside. He was slower than his normal speed which indicates how fit he normally is. I was dreading the climb out but with my steady methodical pace and occasional breaks to allow regroupings, it was no hardship at all, especially as the face was now in the shade. We reached the main ridge before 4pm and continued down to the junction with the side spur to Wild Sheep Saddle which was now out of the wind and in the sun. It was 5pm and I estimated we'd be back at L.A. hut by 6.15pm.
I managed to negotiate the gloomy and subtly marked track down to the stream by 6pm and we arrived back at the hut with some collecting of firewood along the way to enable Ian to crank up that woodstove immediately after arrival. He feels the cold as much as I do and we'd both accidentally left a layer at the roadend. We were really chuffed that we'd been to Penk. It had taken us just over 11 hours as we'd had quite a few breaks on the way there and back plus a bit of head scratching, picking the right routes.
Frank was up at 6.30am and got us going. Liz had had another unwelcome 3am wake up but we were all a bit dry so there was less coming and going during the night. We were away by 8.40am with me being the slowest to get ready as it took me a while to take on my big breakfast. The others went down to admire the ever-diminishing lake. It used to have a resident blue duck and has a little island. Magic spot. The NZDA are talking of cutting a track from here over into the Teme. It would make a good circuit with 2 private huts to check out sometime. We walked out and some of us were not so brisk with the occasional uphill sections as we'd been on the way in.
Liz got us to walk the rocky sections of the 7km track, removing possible trouble rocks occasionally. I scored a ride with her across the creek to keep my socks dry though as I was light. We revisited Bernie's to drop off the key and had a chat with the dog-minder. Then we had a break at Blenheim New World cafe and the only non-sweet GF was an raw onion-laced broccoli and bacon salad until I realized I could have wedges with them so ordered that as well.
Liz allowed us to have another break at Cheviot. She and Ian are still working so they'd need to arrive home at a reasonable hour. We'd all enjoyed the trip very much with the perfect weather, route conditions and companionship and we were impressed how Ian had taken on this challenge and accomplished it when he'd spent the last 4 days in bed.