Not having been tramping ALL TERM I needed to get out, and had a few criteria:
– 3 days+
– Not busy
– Must have huts
– Loop track so I don’t need to be picked up
After reading about a few tracks I decided on the loop from Styx River, around Lathrop and Zit Saddles and back. I even took up the new lightweight tramping trend and slimmed my pack down to a featherweight 19kg!
Before we start: don’t do this trip unless you will have good weather for all of it! And you are fit! And you can use a map and compass properly!
You can start at either end, as there is a 5km road section between the two ends. There is a carpark at the Styx end, but take you car down the vehicle track if you can. My car sits just above the legal minimum 10cm above ground level so that wasn’t an option for me.
The track follows the river. Don’t bother crossing unless you have to, since you stay on the true right until you’re nearly at the hut. It starts with a bit of a streambash but then goes on to a track. The track is well defined and in good condition.
It took me 4 hrs to get to the intersection. You can go to Grassy Flats hut, or continue up like I did. The track starts with a bit of marsh but then goes up a ridge. Part of it is a streambash.
After this there is a very steep climb for another 100m vertically.
And it’s true! The biv is only about 20m from the sign. It took me 2 hours from the Grassy Flats turnoff.
When I arrived the cloud had descended so I had a perfect view of NOTHING except some fat weka that was trying to eat a flax bush, or something. Browning Biv is a very well appointed little hut. I would call it a luxury biv since the reading material consisted of Physics Today magazine, Chekov and Somerset Maugham.
I wouldn’t want to sleep 2 in here unless 1 person is very short. Anyhow it was a nice place to spend the night, and wasn’t too cold – but then again I was using my new Snugpak Artic Warfare sleeping bag.
It took me 2 hours to reach the saddle. It is very flat and surprisingly sheltered – a nice spot to stop. I didn’t because it was cloudy and I couldn’t see anything.
Across the other side the markers are much less frequent and it helps to keep an eye on your map. I took a bearing to get me started. There are some cairns but the lakes are a good waypoint.
Then I came to the first of many points where I looked at the track and thought, “Seriously?!”
Eventually, after a very long section trying not to fall to my doom on loose rocks, I came to the subalpine tussock. This was slippery with dew so I still had to keep my wits about. The track markers were infrequent and I had to go back once after following the wrong spur for 100m.
Eventually I descended below the cloud and met that most awful of optical illusions – the hut that never appears any closer.
I found a track marker hanging over a precipice and couldn’t see the next, so I found the only way down was a near-vertical streambed. After that I just made a direct line to the hut, swearing and bashing through the scrub. It took me 2 hours to make the descent.
I would very much liked to have stayed here – it’s a new 6 bunk hut, with longdrop. However I knew it was forecast to rain the next day, so I pushed on. The next section of track has very recently been recut.
The terrain is not too bad. After 1.5 hours I came to the site of the old hut, which is now just a clearing. A sign says that it is 2 hours from there back to the saddle, but that must be if you are ON STERIODS. I would estimate at least 3 hours. Not far after the clearing the track is much less well cut, but is still easy to follow.
It comes out to the river about 2km up from the hut.
The huts here are seldom used, with the result being that they are in excellent condition and clean. There is a stove here and a pile of Reader’s Digest magazines. Through the night something was running around on the roof making a terrible noise, and wouldn’t go away even after I had thrown things at the ceiling and banged on the walls. It went on until something else fell on the roof with a soft whump, and there were sounds of a scuffle. After that I could sleep in peace.
It rained all night and was still raining the next morning. The track has recently been re-marked and trimmed. Although it was a bit narrow and precarious in places it wasn’t too bad. The highlight was the cableway.
If you have the new BV19 map it shows the track crossing here to the true right of the river. IT’S A LIE!! If you cross here there are old white permolats leading to the old hut site. Don’t cross – stay on the true left. From here the marked track cross the river several times. In good weather this would probably not be a problem, but even with a steady rain it soon became impassable.
I stayed on the true right, with much bushbashing. The DOC blurb says this is the flood route but it’s extremely difficult – steep and with very thick bush. I made the last 1.6km from the swing bridge to the hut in 4.5 hours (8.5 hours total). Normally the track takes about 4.5 hours for the whole thing, apparently. I was exhausted when I came to the hut – but it was on the other side of the river.
I had 3 options – return to Crawford, by bushbashing – but I only had 1.5 hours of daylight left, so that was out. Next option would have been to camp out on this side, in the pouring rain. The last option was to cross. I sealed everything up and made a go of it. I WILL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. Somehow I came out of it about 50m downstream, minus my pack cover and one jandal, but it was a damn close run thing. It took me about 10 min to walk the last 200m to the hut, and once inside I could only think ‘dryclothesdryclothesdryclothesfirefirefirefire’. I couldn’t sleep that night.
It was still raining a bit the next morning – enough to make the ascent up the stream bed to Zit Saddle just a bit more dangerous. It’s quite steep and slippery. I lost the track markers about half way up and just aimed for the saddle, which is quite distinctive, then followed the ridge north. There’s a big triangle marker where the track crosses the ridge, and then it’s clearly marked on the way down.
The track down may be marked but it’s not formed for mst of the way – I just slid down most of the tussock after falling over for most of the way. The descent to the stream is well cut but steep, and then there’s a bit of up and down before reaching the biv. It took me 4 hours from Top Kokatahi to Adventure Biv.
Adventure Biv only has 2 foam bedrolls for matresses and only 1 bunk. I pushed on down to Cedar Flat. The track follws the ridge and descends steeply down a root staircase. My knees!
After about 1.5 hours I came out to the river. There’s a swingbridge not much further on, but there are tracks on both sides of the river. If you stay on the true right you will go past the hot pools. They are signposted. When I was there the rain had made them a bit colder than usual, but still warm enough that I could sit in a pool washing my knees. You need a shovel to dig a big pool out of the sand. The track on the other side is flatter but very boggy.
The hut here has just been upgraded (April 2012) to a 12 bunk hut. It’s flash! You need a hut ticket to use it, or you can use the historic NZFS hut next door.
For once I had made it to a hut before 5pm so I made pancakes. Finally!
The next morning I set off early. The track is very well cut here and starts with a gradual ascent.
The track descends to the river and you have the options of following the river or taking a flood route.
The final section would have been boggy but duckboards have recently been installed so it’s not bad at all.
The track then comes out in to farmland. There are some markers to take you back tot he road end.
I then had a 5km road section to take me back to the car.
Overall I would say the first and last sections were ok, but the middle section was HELL – maybe if the weather had been better I would think differently, but it was a bit too insane to be fun.