Labour Weekend Traverse of Black Hill Range


We had the typical pattern of north-west weather predominating, forcing us to scrutinize possibilities in the eastern foothills once again. My thoughts were of ranges to the east of Lake Hawea but Frank said this was too far to drive, leaving not much time for tramping. So the Dingle Burn will have to wait. I suggested Glenrae Hut via Cold Stream and he said it was too accessible for hunters thus wouldn’t be a desirable destination. So that’s on the backburner until I find someone else to go there with.


It was Frank’s turn to come up with an idea. He suggested a 3 day circuit of Chest Peak, Puketeraki Biv and Black Hill, a lot of which we’ve already covered. I wasn’t so keen and he came up with this titular circuit. It appealed because there were some attractive looking basins up there to navigate. I’m fond of Comyns Hut because there’s an open fire but Tribulation Hut has had the fireplace removed. Though at this time of year, it’s not so bleak without one…


He suggested we go in via Turtons Saddle to Comyns Hut which would give us a short day with a lunch stop at the A-frame Hut, three hours’ walk in. The second day looked as though the weather would be the dodgiest. This would be the day of our traverse so we hoped the rain would stay confined to the main divide and the third day when we would have an easy 3 hour walk out from Tribulation Hut looked as though it would be the day of the best weather.


He also thought it would be a good idea to stash bikes at the Redcliffe car park to bike back to where we would be leaving the car by Glenrock Stream. A glance at the map showed a fairly level 13km section of road which was a relief as for me MTBing is only a means to an end. Other trip planning considerations were the high river flows of spring and remnant snow in the upper basins, possibly requiring ice axes and crampons although the freezing level was forecasted to be 2600m.


We packed accordingly, just taking the lighter Korean 6 point crampons. I had a gas canister containing 115 g of gas and as I usually burn 60 g of gas in a weekend, figured this would be sufficient for the 2 days with Back Country Cuisine and a 100 g of starch per night to cook as a filler for the flavorsome but light meal. With the chance of rain, I also took 2 light parkas, my rain sombrero and a pair of over mitts.


We drove to Redcliffe car park and stashed the bikes. It was a warm day with a light breeze only. Then we drove on to Glenrock car park. The level road turned out to be undulating with some 30m climbs but picturesque in places. By the time we left the car, it was going on to half past two. There was another small vehicle parked there so we figured we may have company or perhaps they’d only stopped at the A-frame hut though being only 3 hours walk away, this would mean a very short day for them.


The easement through Glenrock Station is via very industrial pastoral land with plenty of cow shit, meaning undrinkable water until the approach to Turtons Saddle so I carried a bit of my own. Last time there had been mushrooms but it probably hadn’t rained recently enough to produce any this time round and proved to be so. We followed the stream and once we crossed it, we were now on conservation land so stopped to enjoy fresher water and have a snack. The 4WD track benches nicely to the saddle, then climbs a bit more to the east. We met up with 2 couples coming out, one of which I’d been on a couple of tramps with.


This time of year 2 years ago we’d gone in intending to go to Comyns Hut but there’d been a bitter wind and the track was covered in snow. I’d been wearing socks and sandals so when we reached the first hut, we’d decided that was enough misery and stopped there. Unhappily, we’d found the A-frame hut to be claustrophobic as the window facing north was glazed and the south window was up very high. Without a fire, it had been a bit chilly and we’d spent a long evening looking at the walls though I did get to read ‘the Cross and the Switchblade” (they’d had problems with porn way back then too).


Frank spotted the tardis-toilet well before the A-frame hut was seen. We stopped for a second lunch in the hut and had a brew as well. It was a good idea having a rest before the push on to the second hut, Comyns.  We checked out our spur to the tops for the next day and decided the gradual one on the true right of Mutton Gully was the best bet because as well as being more gentle, there were fewer rocky sections. However we would have more distance to cover once we got to the top of the ridge.


Turtons Stream wasn’t up at all which was just as well as we decided to take our boots off with this being the only stream crossing. I remembered that Frank had a mysterious artifact come up on his GPS, marking a peak on the flat. This indicated point 870 which is absolutely flat. 2 pairs of rusted shears were still there hanging on a fence post. This track is part of Te Araroa. A lot come through in autumn which of course is the best time to ford the big rivers up this way if they choose not to go round the long way via Lake Coleridge and unlimited food.


Comyns Hut has been tarted up by DoC. It’s unusual as it has a dexion meccano-like framing from the era of 1958, my vintage too. There’s enough flood debris coming from Round Hill stream to allow the fireplace to be retained. We offloaded our packs and I got water from a nearby seepage and started grabbing firewood. Someone had put some in the old derelict hut next door but I didn’t want to purloin from this cache. I just wanted enough to add atmosphere to a dark evening. There was a considerable amount further on by the stream itself.


Dinner was a new BCC item: venison risotto with extra rice and mushrooms, garnished with sprinkles of parmesan. It was quite tasty though I’m sure the ‘venison’ is the usual predominantly soy-based TVP, resembling biscats more than bambi. We turned in and slept comfortably though there was a bit of wind tapping the iron a little. My earplugs took the edge off that.


The next day looked good with some cloud cover and enough breeze to provide cooling for our approximate total of 1500m’s ascent. We crossed back over Turtons Stream, flushing out a couple of pigs from the scrub and stopped at Mutton Gully where Frank took on water. I had some left from the hut but it had an unpleasant muddy flavor probably from the dust which comes from under the floorboards when the hut is swept. We moseyed up the spur, taking our first break for a drink and a snack at point 1673 in the lee of an outcrop. Frank chivvied me into putting on an extra layer as we were now more exposed to the wind. Not sure I needed it. Black Hill was on our left to the north. From here the going was gentler. At point 1959 we dropped down to the saddle across a band of soft snow for lunch east of yet another small outcrop. We both put on our down jackets as there was still a slight breeze but it was sunny.


Point 2109 beckoned ahead but I stopped on the edge of the ridge and pointed out the head of Cascade Glen which looked like a pleasant shortcut if anyone wanted to do this as a weekend trip. I couldn’t see the cascade itself, perhaps there was a bit of a lip just before the matagouri on the southern branch of this stream, another possible obstacle before getting onto the 4WD track that leads to an old musterers’ hut hidden on the western side of the plateau above Redcliffe Stream.


From this vantage point it was now apparent we wouldn’t need to climb all the way to the summit, as the scree looked easily traversable to the low saddle south-east of point 2109. Once at this saddle we dropped down to the basins below, sighting an attractive kingfisher-blue tarn further up the hill. We then dropped into the basin below, with my using patches of snow to glissade alongside a gentle sloping spur. We lingered by a stream that had melted its way through the snow. Tiny pale buttercups flourished on its sodden banks. Frank stretched out in the tawny tussocks – his high point of the trip. I ditched my muddy water.


Up over a slight rise and down to the tarn lying at the foot of the rounded spur we would take to go over Shingle Hill. Another pretty tarn, half covered in snow still. We discussed how high to go up the hill. Too low and it would be a tedious traverse on scree so we climbed to where the slope lays back a bit and crossed over to the face to descend to the drop off point into the Swift Valley. The scree looked friendly with patches of earth among tussock to speed up passage. We orientated ourselves to the flattened ridge to select which point to aim for by point 1402 to drop down via a curving spur which would give a more gradual descent on less vegetated (scrubby) ground.


I hate travelling in tussock but fortunately there were plenty of shingly gaps to tread on as we descended to the drop-off point. I diagonalled round to the defined spur, losing height as well as sidling and began the descent. There was quite a bit of scrub and the odd rocky outcrop on the spur but we shifted more onto the face where leads of scree made the going more pleasant. After 500m or so my knees were feeling a bit strained. By this time we were on mainly celmisia and most importantly there was no matagouri except in the dry stream we were following. Eventually we crossed this where it was more open and headed for a very green patch where the fledgling stream incised. Time for another drink here on Cookies Flat and then onto the 4WD track that leads to Tribulation Hut.


Down valley we could see creamy shapes which may have been open patches in the tussock. Then sheep and finally Angus cattle were grazing, even beyond a fence which meant there was plenty of cow shit round the hut. We dropped off from the terrace to the river bed itself and Frank found a good place to boulder hop across the Swift to keep the boots fairly dry. The hut was now in shade but no matter as it was a very mild evening. It had been a 9 hour day.


We got ourselves comfortable and had a surprisingly tastier dinner – nasi goreng with added tofu, soy sauce and bean vermicelli. After this, a lone tramper approached and hesitated once he realized the hut was already occupied. Frank got up and opened the door to observe he had actually gone past the door, heading down valley. We reassured him he wasn’t intruding! Frank and he had a good chat about various trips and options in the hills. Yet another Rebuild engineer who knew the last pleasant lot we’d encountered at Isolation Hut a month before.


Frank offered him a cup of tea as he was travelling minimalist. But I kept impressing that we had very little gas left. I figure if a man is prepared to travel without a stove then he’s one of those folks who can take or leave hot drinks – the opposite of me. We settled in eventually after reading the hutbook and poring over the map, identifying recounted routes and future possibilities. We had a reasonable night in the overcast mild weather. During the night the wind changed to the south and in the morning mist hung around the tops. We’d crossed over on the better day.


Our gas container fizzled out so I built a little fireplace on a patch of shingle in the lee of the hut. As I was doing this, pig hunters drove through on their quad bikes loaded up with pigs with gaping throats and cute, curious dog noses sniffing through the gaps of their confinement in the box below. I told one hunter about the 2 pigs we’d seen by Turtons Stream. He sounded surprised but pleased. I guess they’d been staying at the private Cookies Hut further downstream. The billy was soon boiling on my tiny fire of dead matagouri twigs. Our hut companion declined hot water.


We packed up and headed north. The tramping track leaves the 4WD track at some point (which we failed to notice) to hug the contours of the slopes. We skirted an ephemeral pond complete with Canada geese and came onto the official track which undulated until the gully that evolves into Redcliffe Stream was reached. Here we travelled on the edge, then took to a spur that takes you down to the stream and various spurs to negotiate. Marking was intermittent in places but we got there. At one point the track had been washed out and replaced by a flood bed. This valley was filled with lovely kowhai trees.


We stopped for lunch at a view point and reached our stashed bikes by the bridge to head away around 2 o’clock. The bike ride wasn’t so bad as there was no head wind to contend with. On the drive home we diverted to Methven for a small but delicious meal at Café 131 then drove to Rakaia via the Methven Barrhill Rd, a first for us both. All in all a satisfying piece of wandering with some decent height gain. The CTC however were delayed by rising rivers on the coast.