Styx River – Lathrop Saddle – Kokatahi – Zit Saddle – Cedar Flat Tramp

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.

Styx River

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.

Typical section of track. Sometimes there is water on it, but little mud.

Waterfall from a side stream.

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.

Streambash goes for about 150m of vertical gain

After this there is a very steep climb for another 100m vertically.

Final section

Then you see this sign

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.

Le biv

2 bunks, but only 1 proper mattress.

To give you an idea about the amount of space inside (or possibly how much crap I carry)

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.

View from the biv the next morning

The next morning I set off up to Lathrop Saddle.  It was typical alpine ridge travel.  The markers were visible and frequent enough.

It is rockier further up

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.

The photo doesn't do it justice - the rocks are huge. Note the far track marker on the right for scale.

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.

World's biggest cairn! Stay to the right of it.

Then I came to the first of many points where I looked at the track and thought, “Seriously?!”

Descend across this, in your own time, go on.

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.

It was not long after this. The track breaks to the right across a stream.

Eventually I descended below the cloud and met that most awful of optical illusions – the hut that never appears any closer.

Top Crawford Hut - it's the white dot.

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.

Top Crawford Hut

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.

Still plenty of ankletraps to catch the unwary

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.

Typical section

It comes out to the river about 2km up from the hut.

Then there is a bit of boulder hopping

It took me 4 hours from Top Crawford to Crawford Junction

Crawford Junction Hut

View 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.

Whee!!!!!!!!!! You swing across in this little cage - big enough for one person and pack.

I made it upriver at about 1-1.5 km/h.The track alternates between boulder hopping on the river bank and bush travel.  About 2/3 of the way up you reach the Top Kokatahi swingbridge.

Shiny but useless!

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 did manage to cross here, but only just.

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.

Oh great. Now what?!

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.

Top Kokatahi Hut the next morning

View down from the hut

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.

View back down to Kokatahi

View on the other side of the ridge. You can just see Adventure biv on the small flat clearing.

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.

You come down this on the right hand ridge

The descent is nearly vertical through this bush section

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!

This was one of the less steep sections. It's well cut and marked the whole way

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.

Cedar Flat

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.

Historic hut

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.

Looking back up the river

Morning light finally made it in to the valley about 9.30am

The track descends to the river and you have the options of following the river or taking a flood route.

The flood route follows the ridge on the right

The tracks rejoin not far from here.

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.

Looking back up the river

I then had a 5km road section to take me back to the car.

Looking up the Kokatahi River

Looking up the Styx River

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.

4 thoughts on “Styx River – Lathrop Saddle – Kokatahi – Zit Saddle – Cedar Flat Tramp

  1. Probably the tramp was quicker than writing the notes!Well written,we`ve got it on the list to do.Your river crossing under pressure looked interesting….& i like the pics you`ve interspersed.I hear a book coming on.Keep up the pills & ointment.Cheers.

  2. Cheers for the great trip notes. After reading the epic tale I almost didn’t do it but then noticed a bit of a break in the weather and said what the heck so took off on 10th May and got out on 13th. Totally agree with everything you said. An awesome walk but very demanding. I got the full treatment with snow, rain and dense fog on Zit so had my epic days as well. Came back totally exhausted and every leg muscle complaining but the trip was so worth it.

  3. Pingback: Harper Pass | Get Back to Work!

  4. Just tried this loop last week. Had 3 days of heavy rain at Crawford Junction, the next clear day I was off for top Kokatahi. Got to the first ford and thought NO WAY. back to the shiny but useless swingbridge I tried bashing my way up but remembered your blog and how you had to cross again to get to the hut so I gave up. Backtracked all the way. Still a good trip though. Had clear days twice while crossing Lahtrop saddle, it’s a beauty!

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