Casey Saddle/Turnbull Biv/Poulter Bridge Circuit
This variation of the classic Casey Saddle/Binser Saddle circuit turned into the above when a bit of rain transformed a previously easy ford into a no goer. We tramped into Casey Hut mostly in the dark as we are wont to do, arriving there after 9pm. The hut was full and everyone had gone to bed but a kind and very giggly young woman gave up her mattress for me on the floor while Frank wisely chose to put up the tent outside.
We eschewed an evening meal, opting for a hot drink and soup from the hot billy on the stove so we wouldn’t keep people awake. Just as the hut settled down, yet another party arrived. They had been anticipating staying at Pete Stream Hut but this had burnt down at least 20 years ago. They were also aware of a hut further upstream but as Turnbull Biv is on the other side of the Poulter Valley and a km from the river up on a terrace, of course they wouldn’t see this hut either. They were hoping to shoot something and didn’t do a lot of this stuff in recent years by the look of things.
I lent my thermorest to one of the guys and the other squeezed into a tiny eyrie of a bunk that is seldom used. In the morning, a couple got up at 6am, inflicting revenge by stomping around in boots. By 7am, the rest of the hut was up and chatting, except of course Frank, who was having an undisturbed sleep outside. Eventually he rose at a reasonable hour to enjoy a hot drink and breakfast as we were only going a short distance over to the Poulter and Turnbull Biv on this day via a recently cut 1½ km track we hadn’t traveled on before which served trampers, replacing an older, less direct track now used by MTB’s.
We set off in light drizzle through beech forest. Frank commented the track was very indirect but it was enjoyable traveling a track I hadn’t been on before in the park. I wondered if it had originated as 2 trapping lines joined into a track. After 20 minutes we encountered the original track and at this point I realized I’d left my 2 hats in the hut so took off to retrieve them. Frank trailed behind slowly, so he would keep warm rather than stopping. I found my hats under a table where I’d checked before I left. This diversion took us an hour and we were soon passing a picturesque tarn with resident parries. Frank took a photo as it was pretty with the different colored rushes and grasses.
We arrived at Rabbit Flat then round to Aeroplane Flat via what used to be a 4WD track. A stream full of watercress was over our knees but we figured the Poulter would probably be deeper so bowled across. Another QB w/e we had camped in the beech forest nearby as we’d realized Turnbull Biv was occupied when we’d seen torchlight as we’d popped our heads over the edge of the terrace. The river had been very cold, especially recrossing it but we’d had a great cranking fire to dry out and warm up by with wood from a dead tree close to the tent.
We walked along to Pete Stream alongside an electric fence. I wondered how we’d manage this vicious obstacle when Frank reminded me it would be clear down Pete Stream so we wandered down the stream to a river that was up a bit with plenty of current. We thought it might be worth traveling upstream towards the confluence with the East Poulter. Fortunately a long shingle bar had formed that eventually spanned the river so it was just a matter of traveling down that so we linked up loosely. It wasn’t even up to our knees, very easy-going. Frank pointed out the 4WD track leading to the high terrace where the hut sits so we made our way across to the bottom of it on a lower terrace. The track hadn’t been used by vehicles for a long time and was no longer adequately benched for a vehicle with head-high regenerating manuka which we pushed our way through.
We followed the increasingly subtle track around the edge of the beech forest with my eyes peeled for suitable firewood in light drizzle. I’d always approached the hut directly from the west but this old track meandered for a km from the north. Sure enough, red sleeved waratahs were eventually visible indicating the usual route back down to the river via a shingly, attractive gully. Then the hut was in sight and mercifully vacant.
Being only a few hours from the road, these huts are always treated with disrespect, full of rubbish and in this case graffiti. Frank tossed everything outside and swept the place clean of mouse shit, mouse confetti etc. Then he put back what was worth keeping and set aside the porn mags and other rubbish for burning. I salvaged the little box of “Trivial Pursuits” from his pile. We enjoyed a can of soup found in the hut and the evening meal intended for the night before as a late lunch. Then I set to, gathering a good amount of kindling for starting a fire as typically there’d been none left in the little adjoining woodshed but fortunately there was a bit of dry wood cut up and ready to be burnt.
The very light drizzle was temporarily at bay so I went down to the stream to fetch a pail of water and espied a manuka bush within the beech forest that had perished due to lack of light. I returned to rip out my bounty and carried it triumphantly to the hut and stacked it in a rain shadow against the eastern wall to dry out. Now for kindling…I drifted down to manuka bushes at the edge of the clearing where it is exposed to the wind and found some grey brash indicating dryness, at the base of one on the leeward side. Then I noticed thicker trunks with dry paperlike strands of bark on the lee side so I peeled off half a bucketful from these.
The rain had ceased for some time so I checked out a dead broom plant in the middle of the clearing where it catches the wind. There were plenty of almost dry branches to snap off. Finally I fossicked in the woodpile under the bigger stuff and unearthed various twigs and larger firewood from within the thick layer of beech leaves on the floor. The axe had been there for only 2 years but typically morons had snapped off the head. It had been left in the rain and subsequent swelling and shrinking had loosened the axe head.
I noted dead standing stuff near the edge of the terrace leading to the stream and pushed over a couple of these expired saplings. Using the axe head as a handheld adze, I trimmed off rotten sodden bits to enable a little log to dry out more quickly. The edge of the axe was very sharp and I was surprised to cut myself when it accidently came in contact lightly with my skin. Throughout all this Frank was doing a sterling job with a broken handled saw, cutting a pile from some dead horizontal branches nearby.
I lit the fire and didn’t even need paper to get it going then we enjoyed a great fire while I cooked tea. We had a cozy evening and a reasonably comfortable night on the butyl upholstered bunks without mattresses. My trick with these sagging bunks is to fold my thermorest lengthwise and not inflate it too much for a leveling, soft mattress in the dip. During the evening, the drizzle resumed and developed into rain. All night we had noisy dripping on the roof and were very surprised to see there’d been a light snowfall. The dripping was from thawing snow falling from the branches above the hut.
We tidied up and stocked up the woodshed completely with cut wood and kindling then wandered down to the river through shallow snow. From the high terrace, we were disconcerted to note the Poulter was now discolored with a faster current. After a bit of a discussion we came up with a plan. It was to check the East Poulter to see if there was any possibility of crossing the 2 braids and to see how the shingle bar on our previous day’s ford had fared. Then if all else failed to make our way down to the bridge 12 km downstream via the true left and hopefully hitch a ride back to the car 17 km from there.
Frank was making noises about staying at the hut for another night as we still had plenty of food and there was also spare food at the hut but I wasn’t keen as this would mean that for the first time I wouldn’t arrive back for work on time so I was very keen to see if we could attempt to travel down the river if all else failed. Bluffs were evident on the map and nasty scrub grew thickly along the terraces so we psyched ourselves up for a slow tortured journey to the bridge. Frank gloomily prophesied we would have insufficient time to assess the river crossings and travel to the bridge but I preferred to do this, traveling late into the night if necessary if it meant I would be at work on time.
We checked the crossings but there was too much current and depth. A testing of the waters had us retreating after a few metres. Anyway if we’d crossed the first braid, what about the second braid and then the main Poulter? What if we’d made it across the first braid, then got trapped between the first and second braid if the return journey were more challenging so off down the river it was. Luckily the morning’s drizzle had ceased.
We came to our first bluffs but we knew from a previous trip that it was possible to travel on the river’s edge. Then we crossed the DoC posted route which leads to the hut via the shingly gully. A second set of bluffs looked as though the edge was steeper and more unstable but Frank was able to consolidate footsteps in the fine but collapsing shingle easily enough. Then we saw the 2 hunters opposite us on the true right downstream of the track to Binser Saddle. I voiced a hope that we would beat them to their car so we could bum a ride to ours. Frank doubted this were possible but I pointed out they had a big climb ahead of them whereas so far we’d managed to stay at the water’s edge.
We came to a section where the full Poulter cut up against the bank forcing us to climb 3 metres up onto a heavy scrubbed terrace. I was delighted to see cattle had shoved their way along here forming a track through a tunnel of low vegetation. I entertained more charitable thoughts about cattle on recreational land. After removing my pack which was ensnared by supplejack, I cut strands of it with my pruning saw to ensure Frank wouldn’t endure the same trap. This was our last potential obstacle and now I saw to my glee, the other party had stopped high on a debris flow for a breather so we raced on, striding it out onto a 4WD track on tussocked escarpment. We were pleased to see the river forming a short gorge which was the obvious place for the Poulter Bridge. The other party were long behind, nowhere in sight. We hastened to the bridge and a car that Frank had noticed stopped and enjoying the magnificent post-glacial vistas came from behind us. This was the time to extend the thumb and gesture desperately that Frank needed a ride for a short distance.
They were very kind to squeeze one of us in the back between a middle-aged chap and a squat muffin-like child so I was the logical choice being slightly smaller. I left my pack with Frank, and we set off getting acquainted with each other’s doings. They were from Auckland, being shown the sights by a friend from Christchurch and had explored up the road to Mt White as far as the public were allowed to go which wasn’t far from the bridge. The child turned out to be an adopted disabled girl who enjoyed traveling across the fords very much.
An hour after leaving him I was back with the car to pick Frank up. The others had got out half an hour after us and gave me a wave was we passed each other. We changed at the Andrews Shelter and set off for the Bealey Hotel and delicious quiche with a pot of tea to celebrate our early completion of the trip.