So it’s finally winter. Heavy snowfalls with avalanche danger, particularly east. Cold rivers, cold huts and short days. We needed a cosy hut which wouldn’t take too long to reach, close to the main divide but not so close that we would get the rain forecast for the west. Edwards Hut fitted the bill nicely.
On the drive up I stopped at Springfield to get a serving of vege tart from the Yello Shack to eat at the road end. The strategy being to avoid a prolonged stop for lunch in the short time we had available. Frank declined the offer of some food for him too. Although I’ve been up and down this road hundreds of times, the scenery this day justified the drive alone. Absolutely spectacular with the effects of snow, clouds and blue bodies of water.
Looking at the snow alongside the road, I realized my heart was racing with nervousness at the thought of crossing the rivers by Greyneys and trudging in the snow. As there was only one session of river crossing and I planned to wear my plastic alpine boots into the hut, I opted to wear sandals for the first 20 minutes until we had crossed to the start of the track to the Edwards Hut. I insulated them with the thickest pair of socks I could find and some ingenious cyclist’s gaiters to cut the wind chill factor. Frank went it hardcore with sandals and no socks!
Off we padded and the Bealey wasn’t too bad but soon my trotters were numbing up so I spent as much time down alongside the river where the warmth of the river had kept the snow at bay from the rocks. The Mingha and Edwards could be boulder-hopped. Once at the start of the track, I changed into the plastics and stashed my footwear under an overhang of the bank for the return journey. Frank was nowhere to be seen so I’d assumed he had stopped at the final crossing to change into his boots a.s.a.p. I strolled back to the river and confirmed this. There was a slight chilly breeze where he’d stopped as the air flowed downhill.
We started off up the track. It usually takes us around 3 hours but the sign said 5. It was now 2pm so we’d probably be doing some of it in the dark. The track had a bit of snow and ice over the rocks. The larger footpad of the plastic boots meant I had to take a bit of care. It was the first time I’d worn them even though I’d bought them 8 years before. The old second hand Koflachs had gone the distance!
We dropped down towards the river. On a previous trip Frank and I had done bits of track clearing. There were now 3 new small windfalls of no consequence but the snow had pulled the small beech trees down bowing over the track. Frank belted snow off to avoid it raining on his jacket, chilling him as it melted. In the open, permanently shaded valley there were coral-like ice flowers and hoar over stones and plants. I felt like a vandal but with the forecasted rain after the weekend we would likely be the only ones to see this sparkling display.
I followed an approximation of the hidden track, also using some of the numerous deer footprints as a guide. A large boulder from the 1994 quake indicated I needed to move closer to the forest again after using the river edge as a stony trail. Plugging steps wasn’t too onerous through the silken dry powder but we were a bit slower than usual. We took to the forest to avoid getting feet wet for a very short section which had only developed in the last decade or so.
After 2 hours traveling what normally took one, we reached the junction with the East Edwards and hopped across to where the track now climbed on the true left of the main river. The boulders were generally free of ice. I stopped for a drink and Frank had a snack so I munched on a hefty quarter of a OSM bar as it would be a while ‘till we got to the hut. Then it was off up the track, so a layer came off. I was now wearing a baselayer transition top and a light goretex parka.
The track wasn’t too bad. With the plastics there was no need to worry about getting socks wet in the soggy sections. The chained bluff only had a minor amount of snow. I gripped the chain I normally eschew. With plastics on greasy rock this was the wise option. I waited for Frank as we could only move 1 at a time along the chains and had a small drink of the cold water. We continued with snow getting a bit deeper in places but very easy to walk through as it was so dry and aerated from the repeated frosty days.
As it began to get darker around 5.30 pm we got out into the open by the river. Here it is normally a very narrow trenched track through the tussock. Instead I had to travel through knee-deep snow making sure I was following the line of the twisting track. Luckily I’ve done this track so much, I had a fair idea. We entered the forest again and I decided it would be a good idea to put my head torch on to spot the orange markers. As Frank was only following, he didn’t need his on. Then it got very tedious in the next prolonged snow-covered tussock section and I wasn’t sure where the track ran, started in one direction and decided it didn’t feel right as it was getting to be hard work so went for the other likely option. I suggested to Frank he take over the lead as he would be fresher (and 8 inches taller for the step plugging). The answer was a curt ’no’ so off I went. Nothing else for it.
We approached the last stand of forest. I searched for the track rising from the open tussock and seeing none carried on, crossing a small stream. This was unfamiliar so I backtracked, and encouraged by Frank, plodded off in a likely direction to find the large orange triangle marking the start of this section of track. We scooted along to the final cessation of forest. From there the hut was pretty close but which way? Once again memory served to guide me in the right direction, reassured by the smooth surface under the snow and absence of scrub. I could see the snowy outline of the hut roof and then the relief of seeing a fully stocked woodshed, albeit covered in a bit of snow over copious leafy kindling.
Right, I checked the tap of the water tank to make sure it was running. It was. So I went inside and got a saucepan while the going was good and filled this plus Frank’s 2L milk bottle. I selected branches of dry kindling and damper ones for the morning’s fire and then thicker stuff. Next it was time to change into dry clothes and dry footwear. Frank was doing the same though his hands were a bit chilled so less functional. He unearthed the cooker from my pack so I took the hint and made a brew then tackled the fire.
The woodstove had completely dry balls of newspaper in it. I took this out, rescrewed it a bit looser then put it back, re-laying progressively larger fuel from the terminal leafy ends of beech to forearm thick lengths of wood I’d purloined from the woodshed, until the stove was full. Then I screwed the damper fully open and placed a candle stub under the newspaper and fine kindling. All I needed to do was leave the fire to it and away it went. 5 minutes later it needed more fuel so Frank began sawing lengths with his bowsaw he’d foreseen the need for.
I set to to create a Nigella Lawson pasta meal. The gluten-free pasta began dissolving as I’d cooled it down too much topping up the boiled water. I added a pre-prepared sauce of blended green olives, pine nuts, anchovies, lemon zest and juice, garlic and olive oil to the resultant glug. This delicious concoction made the glug very enjoyable. We dried out our gear and both managed to burn a bit of stuff as the stove was so hot. My brand new ($40) overtrousers as I brushed the fierce woodstove, and the finger of a woollen glove. Frank cooked one of his mitts and the heels of his sandals but reckoned none of this was of any consequence.
There was a moment when I realized I’d have to plug my way to the toilet. Frank kindly donated a shopping bag to put over my crocs and I used a spare bag too. I soon shuffled off to bed in the cosy hut. Neither of us had opened the doors to the bunkrooms. We both had a warm and comfortable night with Frank hearing the calling of whio down in the river. In the morning, I relit the fire to take the chill off the air. There had been no frost so the tap hadn’t frozen. Sometimes when it does, stoic Frank thaws it out with his hands but I cheat and use the gas stove!
We breakfasted, packed, Frank took photos, we cleaned and then I got as much snow as I could off the woodpile and unearthed larger stuff to put on top from where it was buried. I brushed the snow off bigger logs and transferred them to the porch where they would be guaranteed to be snow-free and dry for the next visitors.
By now it was 11.30 am so we took off back through the snow, this time Frank in the lead. He’d declined to take over the step-plugging on the way in as he’d had no lunch and the snack was a sesame seed brittle that had given him low blood sugar. Despite the back being broken with my step-plugging the day before, we took an hour longer as we stopped for quite some time at the confluence while I created a mediocre fire with damp wood to warm us for our lunch stop and take the chill off my buckwheat and corn patties. I’d suggested a possie upriver from the crossing near a couple of very dead and dry fallen trees but Frank had thought it would be warmer under the trees. Well with that pathetic fire not so, I’m sure and with limitless dry fuel we could have had a mighty bonfire. Perhaps next time…
We spent quite a bit of time knocking snow off the overhanging branches to avoid it spilling on us. A bit did anyway, - Frank copped it and cursed, removing his pack to brush it off before it began to melt. We reached the start of the track at 5pm and managed to rock hop across the Bealey upstream from where we’d crossed the day before so the boots stayed dry. We changed and took off for the Bealey Hotel and one of their splendid restorative dinners.