Bristed Stream Circuit – Easter, 2012

It hadn’t rained for a while so it was an excellent time to do this trip. Bristed (Bastard) Stream has a reputation as being an unrelenting gorge-bash only for the stoic. Frank has entertained us with a tale of “Dayle’s Ledge” discovered on their ascent of the gorge in 1995. They’d encountered a rock pool with a strong current preventing upstream progress. Dayle had explored and exclaimed there was a ledge: it turned out to be a mere bead a few mm across and the rest of the party was skeptical of its usefulness for them as Dayle can scuttle across obstacles like a rat up a drainpipe. However each member of the party of 6 had been able to use it to reach across and bypass the pool. Without the ledge they would have been much challenged. Anyway Frank said gorges change with pools getting filled in by gravel and other places getting scoured out so I didn’t expect to see this famous ledge on our trip and he was right. It was gone but the story still does the rounds in the CTC.
In case of lingering patches of snow on White Col, we took our ice axes but only the 6 point crampons. Nothing worse than a sabotaged trip due to lack of essential equipment. We drove up to the Klondyke Corner road end on the true left on Easter Friday, a bit delayed by holiday traffic and set off at 11.30am. 10 other vehicles were parked there. I guess some of them were doing the 3 Passes Trip. Just as well we didn’t do the Pope Pass circuit we’d originally planned.
There wasn’t any water initially in the Waimak – a good portent for Bristed Stream. It was good to be in the Waimak again. I’ve been up and down this route at least 20 times so it’s like a dear friend to me. We stopped for lunch on an attractive patch of vegetation near where we crossed the Anti Crow. Further up this stream we could see a party of 3 also stopped for their lunch. They were using a much slower flood route so we passed them and left them behind further up the valley. After 3 ½ hours we got to Carrington Hut. There was a middle-aged guy with his daughter on the porch. I said hi and he just looked at me. Front country manners, I thought to myself and then he said “Honora Renwick”. It was an old tramping buddy, Mike Plug and his keen partner, Sheila. We have done some great trips with Mike. He had been on Frank’s foray up Bristed Stream. When he heard we were going there he chuckled and reminisced about “Dayle’s Ledge”.
We stopped for a snack and I enjoyed a coffee from Mike to help energise me to Barker Hut. Then we set off all together up the pretty bush track to the now devastated White Valley from the Arthurs Pass 1994 earthquake. Along the way at my request, Frank pointed out the side creek to take to climb to the access notch that gains entry to Camp Spur to climb Mt Harper. At the Taipoiti junction, Mike and Sheila crossed, heading for Harman Pass where a party of NZAC members where camped, doing the 3 Passes trip. Mike and Sheila were dropping down into the Julia to do a trip from there over Taipo’s Breast and Bijleveld Col into Hunts Creek.
It didn’t look far to the end of the White but in actual fact it took us 4 hours to get there so we didn’t make it there till after dark at 7.30pm. We wasted a bit of time pussyfooting around a spur overlooking the ravine that needs to be crossed below the outcrop that Barker Hut sits atop. I think there’s been a bit of zealous overcairning and in the gloom we missed the right ones that lead to the foot track. Never mind, we dropped down to the ravine, crossing it easily and then I led us up in the twilight directly to the track. Frank suspected very few people go this way!
As we gained the top of the outcrop, the basin was awash with an eerie glow of moonlight as the moon has just risen. Fortunately Barker Hut was empty so no-one to disturb. I’d been up here before in the dark with a party including 2 Himalayan women. One who had summitted Everest must have been a bit unfit as she collapsed near the hut. Our leader, Margaret Clark, had managed this wee crisis in a text book fashion, giving us all jobs to do. She and I stayed with Bahendri Pal, placing her on my thermorest with sleeping bags over her, snuggled up to protect her from heat loss. Her tiny colleague, who she regarded as her personal sherpani, plonked Bahendri’s pack on top of her own and trudged up to the hut. I’d never seen such a physical feat but these women start carrying close to their own body weight in slightly younger siblings from a very young age so it’s really no surprise. The 2 other members of the party were instructed to go to the hut (which was very near) and make a cup of tea for Bahendri. After this, she revived very nicely.
Barker Hut is well-maintained by the CMC who have installed serious hinges on double doors. People often have to dig down so the double door facilitates entry to grab the shovel! It was built on a triangular base of girders that have stood the test of time. Not so much for the toilet but recently its door was replaced/rehung. The radio and solar light are functioning at the moment. Frank and I selected a double bunk each and after reading a bit of historic stuff, I settled to bed at 9.30pm. It as 16 degrees in the hut and when I woke in the morning, it had only dropped to 14 degrees.
We did the usual hut chores and I cleaned 2 dirty billies. One had quite a bit of mummified food that turned to powder when attacked with a goldilocks. Even though it takes 8 hours or so to get to the hut, it’s not safe from low-lifes…All the people who have been trapped here by bad weather and they never thought to tackle that billy. I was keen to ascend to White Col before the sun hit the slope but in the end, it wasn’t too bad as there was a bit of a breeze. We sidled round and kept to the true left of the gully taking advantage of a lead of bigger talus to avoid finer scree. Frank’s new boots (a xmas present from me) make him less footsure so I sat and waited a few times for him to catch up.
Eventually the lead petered out at the same level as the col so I sidled over and discovered a wide flat saddle. There were a couple of small patches of snow so I added the iced edges to my water bottle as it could have been a wee distance down to water. In the end, the way we went wasn’t as cruisy as Frank’s previous descent but at least the little gully provided a little water. In 1995 he’d diagonalled down to the left whereas this time we started on the right side down a small spur then taken to the scree-filled gully which led to a good stream in the sun. On the way down, I noticed a large animal far away amble over a small spur and leisurely sidle round, stopping frequently to look back at us. It seemed too large to be a chamois but with its golden coat and dark legs, the wrong color for a deer. A hunting guide at work assures me it was probably a tahr.
We put in about an hour’s walking downstream then stopped in a sheltered dip in Burnet Stream for lunch though I did appreciate a bit of breeze as it was yet another awesome cloudless day. All told, it took about 4 hours to descend the stream and get to the biv. Getting to the vegetated zone made the walking more attractive. We kept our feet dry until we had to cross a small side stream. Frank opined that it would be faster to go downstream to the end of the forest zone then travel up on the side of Weka Stream to the biv but I kept an eye out for cairns and sure enough, this and a large well-cut entrance signaled the start of a reasonable track across to the biv. The start was poorly marked but Frank went further downvalley a few metres and discovered the more direct entrance which was well-marked with pink cruise tape. There was a dead possum on the track and as this time of year is the best for the pelts, perhaps the track was kept open by a possumer.
We’d heard Weka Burnet biv wasn’t in good condition but it looked as though it had been receiving regular TLC and was sound. At some time, the fireplace had been closed off and a high table installed in its place. The lower bunk sported a thinnish foam mattress so I grabbed the upper bunk with its canvas hammock as poor 6ft 4 Frank would be compromised by the short length of his bunk anyway. I commandeered his thermorest though and folded it length-wide, partially inflated then I placed my thermorest on top of his. I padded the spaces at the edge between my opened out thermorest and his with spare clothing to stabilize the whole arrangement. That worked reasonably well. It was another warm night where I’d gone to bed overdressed and had to remove various bits of clothing as the night progressed.
In the morning, I explored back to the ambiguous entrances to put up a bit of cruise tape to help clarify things but we were very short of time to do this. I eventually caught up with Frank in the Wilberforce where he’d gone on ahead. An hour’s travel took us down to what was obviously Bristed Stream with its high gorged walls. Frank noted the brown slime and made pessimistic noises which I took to be his generic outlook on things. First of all we had to sidle out and climb a short way up a talused slope on the true right as what previously had been traversable was now an obstacle course of massive boulders. Luckily this slope wasn’t exposed and led back down to the stream easily.
The stream was challenging enough to make it interesting. At one stage Frank lent me a hand as a step up was beyond me but I could have merely gone around the other side of the stream then a long greasy chute had us figuring that crossing in the white water of a small waterfall would be the best option. We figured under the white water there would be no brown slime to slip on, only bedrock and this was the case. We linked up for most crossings as this makes it quicker as well as safer but the crossings wouldn’t have been problematic for a solo tramper as the current was reasonable due to the low flow.
Our feet got very chilled and we were glad to have some relief on now sunny banks. I tried to keep my feet out of the water as much as possible to give them a chance to warm up. After a good stretch where the valley opens wide, the stream gorged up again and the feet got chilled once more. The pool with Dayle’s ledge was buried in gravel but overall that section was more scoured out than it had been on Frank’s previous trip. We emerged into the open valley and walked for half an hour or so to give the feet a chance to recover from being chilled so when we stopped for lunch it would be more pleasant. We studied the map, worked out where we were and where to start the ascent to Half Moon Saddle. A gentle rise of scrub on the true left looked like a good place to begin climbing up as the vegetated terrain would make for more stable footing.
We enjoyed lunch in a sheltered spot leaning against boulders, and facing south, sheltered from the zenith of the fierce ‘eye of heaven”. Short of the scrub I chose to leave the stream for a slop of stabilized gravel and low scrub which was easy travel to climb up. I diagonalled as the route to the saddle was still a bit up valley and this modified gradient suited me. Eventually I crossed leads of scree and got to the true right of the scree where there was a very pleasing patch of firm vegetated gravel leading to a continuous groove of larger and compressed i.e. stable talus. Frank stayed on the true left and was much slower going up but he carries a heavier pack. The pack alone weighs one and a half kg more than mine and he has it stuffed with heavy extras such as a bivvy bag, a small but solid extra billy, containers of biccies, heavy sandals and 200g cans of salmon for each day. I think there was probably 10kg difference in the total weight of our packs at the start of the trip.
At the 1500m contour, the gradient eased off and I sat for 25 minutes on a large boulder to catch the slight breeze and enjoy a drink and snack. Frank showed up and we resumed the ascent. My lovely compression zone petered out but fortunately I could use a slight blufflet for firmer footholds. The rock was as brittle as it could be so I kept close to the scree for a good landing if I needed to fall off what I was climbing up. Eventually the bluff became laid back enough to actually use and this became a gentle flat-topped spur that brought us to the last section of ascent to the saddle. This was very stable pink sandstone amid tussock. Frank led the way sidling and gradually climbing to the lowest point of the saddle. It was now 4.45pm. Time was ticking by so we went straight over and down into the shadow of Hanging Valley Creek which became less gloomy once I remembered to take off my sunglasses.
Fortunately, the descent was mainly via scree. Frank was in the lead and took us to the true right of the stream over talus slopes. I liked the look of the tussocked slopes on the true left. As long as there was a way to drop off them into the stream bed when the time came…The streambed itself  twisted and turned,  full of nasty sharp boulders . My feet were tender from smearing my way up to White Col the day before so I didn’t fancy those angular boulders so I crossed the stream and headed down on the tussock slopes, keeping close to the shoulder to stay in touch with the steeper slopes that dropped down to the stream. After a while I stopped until Frank came into view. He’d also crossed onto the tussock and told me to lead the way as he couldn’t remember any advantageous detail from his former trip. So we hoofed it down, found a nice slope to take us to the now nicely bouldered stream and got ourselves to the forest edge in one and a half hours.
En route, I spied a falcon which alit on a rock and was joined  by a equally silent kea. They sat 6 inches apart facing each other companionably. Frank told me to keep an eye out for a large cairn or something indicating the start of the track. I didn’t waste time foolishly following up possibilities in the edge of the scrub band where it abutted the forest. Shortly after we began travel along the forest edge, I saw the large DoC triangle and a cairn alerting us. The foot trail was very overgrown at times but the track was well marked with orange triangles. There were some fierce patches of windfall caused by the domino effect of heavy snowfall, causing us to leave the ground trail. There was very little opportunity to put of any of the 10 strips of cruise tape I’d brought along as by the time we had found the next marker we were well along from the dubious line we’d chosen.
We travelled along the edge of a precipice then had to leave it for a dark gully with the occasional patch of windfall. Eventually we came to areas of windfall that had been hacked at with an axe and the wielder (Jim Henderson of DoC, it transpired from reading the hut book) had even cut footsteps in logs lying across the track. We avoided using our torches to keep our night vision for spotting DoC triangles then put them on and realized some thoughtful person had stuck very effective patches of reflective tape on some markers that glowed back at us like red possum eyes.
Eventually we began to see white permolat markers as well. The track stopped sidling and began to get very steep in places as it dropped more directly to the contour line that the hut was at. Then it resumed sidling and suddenly we popped out into a clearing that Frank quickly recognized as the clearing where the hut sits. It was 7.30pm but we have actually got to Avoca Hut a lot later and after a much harder day on one other occasion when we went via Greenlaw Creek and over Avoca Col. It was good to rustle up a quick meal and get to bed.
The following morning was yet another beautiful day. We’d chosen as our exit route Jordan Saddle, which is the easiest way to get back to Klondyke Corner. The CUTC looks to be currently in good heart, judging by the state of the hut. We noted the flash new water barrel with an outlet tap replacing the one that Fred de Zwartz had lugged over Jordan Saddle a few years back. The toilet had also been relocated and the potbelly stove was in good nick with a new grate. There had been windfall over the track down to the river but it was all taken care of now. We travelled down on the true right, Frank delaying the crossing of the Avoca as his waterproof boots hold water which is not to his liking. It eventually started to get a bit onerous so we crossed.
There were faint traces of recent tire marks on the true left which made Frank very cross. Further down valley there were some tents and a 4WD. Frank chose to avoid contact as he was tempted to use obscenities in conversation but I treacherously wandered over to have a chat with the young lads. They had heard plenty of roars but no luck so far. I told them about the big animal I’d seen in the head of Burnet Stream. I didn’t tell them about the virtual deer trail and a myriad of hoof prints on a grassy terrace on the true right just a bit upstream though…
I caught Frank up in Galilee Stream. He was obviously confident that I could recognize this stream but having camped near the junction one time with the PTC after coming over Fools Col, I’m very familiar with it. On that trip the lads were indeed erroneously heading for Gizeh Col until I called them over to the route to the right col! We carried on up the stream and had lunch in a verdant spot sheltered from the breeze, entranced by a little green spider on a beech branch. There was clover growing here as well.
To get to Jordan Saddle, we regularly use what used to be a narrow gut about 100m up valley of the junction of the 2 final tributaries, just beyond the beech forest. It has a black rotten bedrock and a couple of years ago it was widened by heavy rain. Now it is wider still so we explored, using it as a stair case. There was a tanalised post sitting in the stream which had come from Jordan Saddle at some stage, probably via an avalanche. We normally then enter the upper beech forest via tall tussocks and hebes which isn’t the easiest going. The soles of my feet were tender from smearing up to White Col and I know the forest route would require more smearing as it’s quite steep so I persevered with the stream until it came to the stage of needing to take to celmisia-clad slopes. This was a direct steep route to the summit which was fine by me but not so favorable with Frank as he informed me at the saddle.
We hastened down the at times boggy slopes on the true left of the lowest point heading towards the final tributary of Jordan Stream. Frank suggested we descend via this greasy steep stream but I couldn’t recall ever using it so dropped down via the familiar route of a fairly open tussocked face a few metres to the right and waited for Frank who I now realized wasn’t behind me. After a while, I went a bit downstream for a look and spotted him tentatively picking his way down some steep stuff at the bottom of his gully.
With the stream levels being so low we were able to keep pretty much in the stream and boulder hop. At times we could use the bottom of scree slopes on the true left as well. Jordan Stream was once quite attractive with lovely terraces but vicious flows after the 1994 earthquake have now scoured it out. I used as many remaining terraces as I could as it probably wouldn’t be too long before they too disappeared. We could find good descent paths off them all except one where we had to backtrack. Someone had lunched in Jordan Stream and left eggshells and paper and other scraps inexplicably trapped by placed rocks but in our haste we didn’t clean up the evidence of their selfishness. It was someone going upstream at Easter weekend and I would like to publicly shame them for their disgusting altar.
We arrived at the flat section of Jordan Stream and then passed the junction with Little Jordan Stream, trying to guess how long it would take us to cross Turkey Flat and the Waimak. The stones of Turkey Flat were unpleasant to walk on as they weren’t as consolidated in sand as the Waimak riverbed ones are. We headed straight for the vehicle, with boots dry as the river had percolated into the stones. I’d managed to keep my boots dry the whole way down Jordan Stream which would be a first. The trip had involved quite a bit of stony valley travel and a few climbs over saddles, making a perfect loop. It was satisfying to tick another trip off on my bucket list.