Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Tramping Equipment: What type of tramping stove?

Equipment for back-country cookery: Tramping/Hiking stoves

 There are a variety of ways to heat water and cook food while pursuing your outdoor adventures. The most obvious is the use of an open fire but due to the environmental impact of fire this is now a discredited method. While open fires are not illegal they should only be used to cook food in an emergency.

Camp-fire old as humankind.
Instead there are a myriad variety of stoves specifically manufactured for back country use. I thought it might be useful to look at these various types and explain what I use and why.

  So many types of outdoor cooker...

To start let us look at the types of cookers available. Note that the terms stove and cooker are interchangeable, you call them stoves we call them cookers!

 Iso-butane or gas canister stoves

The most commonly used stoves are those using iso-butane cannisters, these are often refereed to as 'gas stoves'.  A gas stove will consist of the gas 'bottle' and a screw on cooker unit which you attach to it. If it is very cold the gas can freeze making the cooker useless. Please note that the older 'pierced' type of gas cannister is very difficult to find in New Zealand, we all use screw on cookers.

Kovea Titanium Tramping Stove

There are two main types of gas cooker, those that attach to the top of the bottle and those that are free standing. Above is a Kovea Titanium stove, this is typical of the top attached cooker. As you can see it has a perforated burner head, with a control mechanism on the side to control the gas flow. There are fold out pot supports above the burner head. The button next to the Kovea branding is the piezo spark actuator.

My top fitting Kovea gas canister tramping stove at Packhorse Hut, 2016

Below is the MSR Whisperlite, this is one of the free standing variety of outdoor cookers. These are much more stable as they usually have wider legs/pot supports arms and have a lower centre of gravity. The downside is the extra weight, these are normally 100-200 gms heavier than a top fixing stove.

MSR Windpro free standing gas stove for tramping

Here is a different version of a canister stove, the Jetboil. A Jetboil is an integrated cooking system with stand, cook pot, burner and canister all in one.  You use a Jetboil to heat cannot cook in these. These stoves are good for Alpinists as they are fast and pack into quite a small package. They are also expensive and heavy which is why more people don't use them.

The Jetboil outdoor 'cooking system'

Iso-butane gas cannisters are highly pressurised so the cannisters must be made of steel to contain the pressure. This means the cannisters are heavy. An empty 225ml cannister weighs 145gms so that is a lot of wasted weight you have to lug around.
Disposing of empty cannisters is problematic. The empty cannisters cannot be recycled unless they are punctured- they need a hole in them to allow any residual gas to escape. If not completely empty they are liable to explode during the recycling process.

Various sizes of iso-butane gas: 100gms, 225gms and 550gms canisters

Apart from weight gas canisters can also be expensive, currently they cost from $15-$20 for a medium cannister. They do not perform well in cold conditions, as the gas can freeze if it is sub zero. If using them in an alpine environment it is common for them to be kept warm in your sleeping bag overnight.

Pros:Easy to use, quick set up, fast heating ability, relatively cheap, moderate heat control, widely available, many different models/makes, three sizes of cannister available in New Zealand

Cons:Fuel canisters are heavy, quite expensive, disposal of empty canisters is problematic, top fixing versions are unstable, not good in high altitude or cold conditions

Multi-fuel stoves

As the name implies a multi-fuel stove can use a variety of different fuels, this ranges from gas canisters, stove specific fuel, kerosene and even gasoline in a pinch. Some will only use liquid fuels while others are able to use both liquid and gas.

The MSR Whisperlite multi fuel hiking stove: Both fuel bottle and gas canister shown
You fill the fuel bottle with your fuel of choice, then turn this into a pressurised gas by pumping the pressure handle. The fuel is then lit with a match, lighter or piezo spark actuator.

Multi-fuel stoves are excellent for Alpine conditions as the fuel is not affected by altitude or cold. Their ability to use a multitude of fuels also makes them practical: gasoline is available everywhere in the world while gas canisters are sometimes difficult to locate.

These stoves tend to be a lot heavier, 300-800 gms as opposed to a gas canister stove at 70-150 gms. They can also be a cast iron bitch to light as the burner unit is prone to soot blockages. You must use good quality fuel and carry a cleaning kit and use both for optimum performance.

A MSR multi-fuel cooker service kit

I have to say though, there is nothing like the sound of a multi fuel stove blasting away on a cold a lot of us older trampers it is the sound of tramping itself.

Pros: Can use many different fuels, much hotter flame, better flame/heat control, work well at altitude and in cold conditions, sound awesome when fired up

Cons: Much heavier, more difficult to operate, fuel must be pre warmed and pressurised before use, can be hard to light, more prone to stove blockages

  Methylated - Spirit stoves

  Methylated or spirit stoves have been around for a long time but are undergoing a resurgence in recent times. These can be commercially produced or home-made and consist of a burner unit with a series of holes in the top and sides. Once lit the flame will come out of these holes providing the cooking heat

A Trangia brand outdoor alcohol stove in action

As you can see in the photo below they are quite effective but with a number of limitations. The heat put out by methylated spirits is low, so cooking times are much longer. Once lit the flame cannot really be controlled so these are not ideal for simmering tasks. They are also easily extinguished by wind, you really need a wind shield if using a spirit cooker.

Home-made outdoor meths stoves made from aluminium cans

These stoves will use both methylated spirits and de natured alcohol, which is the American name for a similar product. "Meth's" comes in 1 litre bottles in New Zealand and cost from $6-$10 NZ dollars. Methylated spirits can be found in most service stations, hardware stores and supermarkets.

 De natured alcohol is usually only found in the larger outdoor equipment shops. It costs approximately $10-$20 NZ Dollars per 1 litre bottle. 

Methylated Spirits aka Denatured Alcohol
Pros: Fuel is cheap and widely available, stoves tend to be quite light

Cons: Not safe for use in huts, easily extinguished by the wind, often need a wind shield and stand for use, care needed when refilling, fuel only comes in 1 litre volumes so there is potential wastage.

Solid fuel tablets- Esbit Stoves

  Solid fuel stoves have been a mainstay of military forces worldwide for most of the 20th century. There are many firms producing both stoves and fuel including Sea and Summit, Coleman, MSR, Coghlans and cheap 'no brand' versions from China.

The most reknown brand of solid fuel stoves are made by the German company Esbit, so in Europe these cookers are called 'Esbit stoves'.

Classic Esbit stove from Germany
 The solid fuel tablets for an Esbit type stove are made of a compound called hexamide. Hexamide is  highly inflammable and relatively easy to light. It is basically a solid form of hydro carbon covered in wax to stop it evaporating. One if its downsides are the fumes it exudes: these are both poisonous and foul smelling. 

Classic Esbit fuel cubes

The beauty of solid fuel is that you need no stove, when I was in the military we just used a couple of rocks or sticks to prop our mess tins above the burning fuel cubes. My god... the smell of a 'hexie' tablet cooking some 'Spag and Snarlers' 'Corned Beef Hash' or 'Meat and Vegetables' is something every ex service person will remember...

An Esbit stove is bullet proof: it has no moving parts, requires no servicing and can be stored forever. That's why the military loved them.

An Esbit outdoor stove doing its thing...

Pros:No parts to break, can be stored till the end of time, need no cooker, slow steady heat, relatively light, can be lit when wet, fuel makes excellent fire starter so dual purpose, cheap (a stove and fuel is usually less that $10 NZ dollars.

Cons: Low heat output, noxious fumes, cannot be used indoors, not readily available except in outdoor stores, easily extinguished by wind

Portable wood stoves

One of the newer forms of stove are those that use wood as their fuel...much as our ancestors have done for the last 40 000 years. These are commonly aluminium or titanium and burn paper, sticks, leaves and small wood chips. 

There are many commercial versions but these can also be made by the outdoor hobbyist at home.
 These are most often used by survivalists, long trail hikers and in areas where other stove types are banned. I see very few people using them in New Zealand- it is wet here so no dry wood and there are often fire bans in place over summer.

Typical lightweight outdoor wood stove in action

 The beauty of these stoves is that fuel for them is all around you, all the time. They can burn paper, card, wood, coal, dry grasses, dry leaves....basically anything that burns and is dry. These stoves are most often used by survivalists, long trail hikers (especially in the US) and in areas where other stove types are banned.

Pros: No need to carry fuel, relatively lightweight, inexpensive if home-made, can be used in most outdoor situations, fold down versions take up little space, environmental impact slight

Cons: They require dry wood,  can get very sooty on the outside, fire risk- cannot be used if there is a fire ban, cannot be used in huts, bulky unless fold down design, commercial versions are expensive

Flameless ration heaters or FRH's

Flameless Ration Heaters or FRH's are a by-product of military style Meals Ready To Eat (MRE's).

US military FRH from a Meals Ready to Eat (MRE)

Flameless Ration Heater: the chemical heater pad in a FRH

An MRE (jokingly called Meals Rarely Eaten) is a thermo stabilised retort pouch of food, with the addition of various drinks, snacks and side dishes. They are a one meal item i.e. you would need to eat three a day. The FRH they contain uses a thermo-chemical reaction to warm the main meals and any hot drinks. Most of the military forces of the world are now using these.

A US military MRE: Beef Pasta with Tomato Sauce

FRH's were specific to military circles until about 10 years ago when a number of outdoor companies started to produce them for hikers and campers. Back Country Cuisine are the only indigenous manufacturer of FRH's. You have to be careful with an FRH, these can get really hot to the touch- don't leave them on an unprotected tent floor!


A Back Country Cuisine Flameless Ration Heater

In New Zealand the commercial food ranges these FRH's can be used with are Kaweka Meals (also used by the NZ Defence Forces), Sun Rice meals and the MTR range of Indian meals. All of these come in thermo stabilised pouches. Freeze dried meals can also be heated if the contents are rehydrated with cold water first. 

Pros: Very lightweight (less than 20gms each), easy to use, you require no stove/fuel or pot if not heating water, can be used in a well ventilated tent, not affected by cold/wet/windy conditions

Cons:Horrible environmental impact, very slow heating, expensive, limited uses- only good with thermo stabilised retort pouches, hard to source in New Zealand, need salt and a cup of clean water to work

 No heat-no cook tramping 

One way to deal with cooking while tramping is to simply go without. I have meet a number of people practising no cook (or stoveless) tramping. Instead of your traditional hot meal they only utilise cold foods that require no cooking.

Typical 'no cook' foods might include: cold meat, canned fish, cheese, jerky, wraps/tortillas/bread/crackers, various spreads, energy bars, cereals, dried fruit or it could be dehydrated meals reconstituted with cold water.

Basically the sort of stuff you eat for lunch!

Some no-cook menu items: cereals, scroggin, energy bars, tuna, salami, drink powders, dried fruit etc.
I've tried this on an multi night tramp and decided it is not for me.  I like a hot drink in the morning with breakfast and soup and a hot meal at night. In extremis I would go stove-less but not out of choice. That's just my personal opinion by the need to decide what works for you.

I meet a guy on the St James a couple of years ago who had scroggin, whiskey and 24 peanut butter sandwiches for food- he had six sarnies per day- two per meal. would keep you going, but....

Do you fancy this at every meal for four days....

Pros: Lightweight (no stove/pot/fuel/cutlery), cheaper option as not buying fuel, easy to sustain yourself for short periods this way

Cons: 24 peanut butter sandwiches......who wants to eat that for 4 days in a row! Will not sustain you properly for more than a couple of weeks, could be unsafe if tramping in adverse weather conditions (hot drinks save hypo-thermic trampers as they used to say...), packaging...there would be a lot of it!


My personal choice of tramping stove

I've used all of these various cooker types before but my primary cook stove is a Kovea Backpacker gas cannister stove. I have been using this light weight stove since 1993 and it is still going strong.

The Kovea Backpacker stove

I usually couple this stove with a medium size MSR cannister, this combination allows me to boil water for both breakfast and dinner for 4-6 days. This stove cools fast and has a larger diameter burner head which I find advantageous when heating speed is of the essence.

My Kovea Backpacker stove in use at Nina Hut in 2016

 Why gas....? I just find it more convenient to use a cannister stove. You can have it out and going in less than 1 minute. A good breakfast is a fast breakfast if you know what I mean...! Any other type of cooker involves too much buggering around to get it operational.

Fixing dinner with my Kovea tramping stove at Mid Robinson Hut, 2015

If you are going to be using a cannister stove you need a Crunchit. A Crunchit is basically a big can opener which allows you to safely puncture cannisters to vent any residual gas. The 'empties' can then be recycled. I leave mine at home and take to my empties after the trip.

The Jetboil Crunchit recycling tool
I carry two Esbit cubes with me as an emergency backup on every trip. As I said earlier these can be used without a stove and because they only weigh 5 gms each are a useful survival tool.

My Esbit cubes: firestarter and emergency cook tool

A gallery of other tramping stoves I own...

I have an Esbit methylated spirits cooker which I will be using when I do some of my longer Te Araroa Trail sections because it is ideal for that kind of tramping. The fuel is cheap and more readily available in out of the way places.

My Esbit cooker looks like this...

 I inherited a Kovea Hiker stove from one of my brothers who moved to the US, it is an older design but still works well. She is a bit hefty for tramping but folds up into a nifty hard plastic container.

Kovea Hiker stove, mine does not have a piezo
I also have an Outer Limits Huntsman stove, which I brought when I got back into tramping in 2010. I really like this stove but I just have a sentimental attachment to my Kovea Backpacker so this one doesn't get used very often. 

An Outer Limits Huntsman stand alone stove

I hope that gives you some ideas to consider when choosing a new tramping stove.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Tramping Literature: A bunk for the night: A guide to New Zealands best backcountry huts

More good tramping reading!

Some people are into cook books, some like books on  photography, sports or books on gardening. I like outdoor books...I don't care what the subject is so long as it features the outdoors. I currently have 60+ books on tramping, climbing, hunting, outdoor cookery, trail skills, the Te Araroa Trail etc. etc. 

I recently brought myself a new book: A Bunk for the Night: A Guide to New Zealand's Best Backcountry Huts. In a way this is a companion piece for an earlier work by the same authors, Shelter from the Storm also about our back country hut network.

A bunk for the night, new tramping literature

A Bunk for the Night is a photographic essay on the authors favourite huts, it explains what makes them special and includes historical information and trail notes. It is excellent and features many of those classic huts your average Kiwi tramper visits. There are huts here from the top of the North Island right down to Stewart Island in the deep south.

Pinnacles Hut is in the book... is John Tait Hut...

...and also Nina Hut.

If you know someone who tramps, this would be an excellent birthday or Christmas gift. Or buy it as a memento of your visit to our fair isles. I brought mine from Paper Plus a local book store chain, it cost me $39.50 NZD which I think is a reasonable price. I have seen copies in most of the larger book stores, it is also available direct from the publishers

The photos and general production values are great and the three authors are informative. They are all well known for their involvement in Kiwi tramping circles.

 Highly recommended!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Ongoing upgrade of older posts on this blog

I'm currently undertaking an overhaul of some of the older posts on my blog. When I first started out writing this blog I had no clear format so my posts could be a bit shambolic at times.

Updated post: I added maps, new headings and extra photos with captions

What I have been adding is supporting information such as:
  •  new/better maps, 
  • photo descriptive text, 
  • better hash-tags, 
  • track and hut information, and
  • any additional information that has occurred to me since writing the post.

Hopefully this will allow easier access to my content and clear up some of the conflicting/missing information I originally neglected to add. 


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Mountain Safety Council and their online resources

The Mountain Safety Council

I was recently looking for some tramping information and see that the MSC website has been re developed.

The re developed MSC website, June 2017
The Mountain Safety Council or MSC is the organisation tasked with coordinating outdoor education in New Zealand. They used to run specific safety courses for example Introductory Bushcraft, Firearms Safety or Outdoor First Aid but have moved out of training now. 

The MSC can provide a lot of informative on-line and paper pamphlets, articles, videos and webinars about safety in the outdoors. All are written with specific New Zealand conditions in mind.

The MSC resource page on their website

As you can see there is a wealth of useful information on the site, including some in different languages. Most of the MSC guides are also freely available in DOC visitor centres.

Pages from the MSC Outdoor Activity Guide: Day Walking

If you are a newbie tramper, international visitor or just need a refresher I recommend you study these guides as they will assist with planning successful trips to the New Zealand mountains and bush.

The 'Get Outdoors' video series

The MSC in partnership with DOC have made a series of short informative videos about different aspects of the New Zealand outdoors. They call these the 'Get Outdoors Series'

The MSC page on YouTube

The videos can be found on YouTube as well as on the main MSC website. You should check them out for a short refresher before going on a tramping, hunting or fishing trip. 

My 'take' on rising tourism numbers

How many is too many, or the tale of uncontrolled growth...

As you may (or may not) be aware New Zealand is in the midst of a massive tourism boom. In 2008 2.5 million people visited this country.  In 2016 that number was over 3.5 million, by 2020 it is forecast to reach 5 million!

Visitor arrivals by country of origin, Source from web

The vast majority of these people come to New Zealand for the scenic beauty we are world known for. Unfortunately this is causing severe strain on both our environment and infrastructure.

Example One: The Tongariro Crossing

A good example of this potential damage is the Tongariro Crossing. It is in a unique and very delicate eco system- yet is jammed to the rafters with people. 

When I walked the crossing back in the 1990s the only people on the track were me and the 6 guys with me. We didn't see another party for the whole day. Now 1000 people typically walk the track on a fine summer day.  Last year the total number of visitors was over 120 000.

Tongariro Crossing: The image...

The overseas media image of this track (and New Zealand as a whole) is of an largely empty unspoiled wilderness, yet in reality you will be surrounded by a crowd for most of the time. Tongariro is an extreme example but many other places (The Coromandel Peninsula, Mt Cook, Fiordland, Abel Tasman NP, Mt Taranaki, small SI rural townships) face similar problems.

Tongariro Crossing: the Reality...!

Example two: Milford Sound

Milford Sound is considered by many to be the premier scenic destination in New Zealand. Unfortunately it is basically inaccessible to the majority of New Zealanders due to crowding.  There are crowds; on the roads, on the tracks and at the Sound itself.

When the bookings for the 2017-2018 Milford Track season opened recently 99% of possible places from November-April were gone within 4 hours! 

Crowds mean waste, which means money- DOC spent over $250 000 emptying the toilets on the Milford Track in 2016. That is the cost of a new 12 bunk hut, or maintaining 10-20 existing huts..spent on moving excrement!

Buses at Milford Sound, from twogotikitouring

I talked to a German tourist last year who had visited Milford Sound while in Fiordland. He said that he counted 36 buses as well as over 50 camper vans on the day he was there. He said all you could hear were planes, helicopters, vehicles and people. 
How is that scenic?

 What I think about this...

Firstly, I'm not against tourism- I love inter-acting with overseas visitors when I tramp. I also realise how important tourism is to our economy but something has to change. Clearly these numbers are unsustainable in our environment and damage our international reputation.

 Hey I have already had overseas trampers tell me they hate the crowds- and they are telling their friends, family etc not to come here.

My main problem is the current lack of a strategic plan to tackle this: all I hear are schemes to garner more $$$ from tourists not deal with the underlying issue of numbers. Raising the price of Great Walks (for example) will not deter international visitors. It will just make it even more difficult for Kiwis to visit their own iconic locations because it is unaffordable.

The solution: a range of  things including spreading the load, border taxes, preferential charges, more/higher charges for services and unfortunately limiting numbers in the worst affected places. 

Here is one solution: fund DOC at a realistic level so they can actually do the stuff they are supposed to be doing. The creep towards commercialism in DOC is dangerous. They are the gate keepers of our outdoors, if their sole reason for being is to raise money why do we need them? Perhaps this is actually the governments DOC,  just Tourism Inc. in charge.

Fancy a visit to New Zealand World anyone...?

You can help!

 We have an election this year- use your vote to send a clear message that you do not agree with what is happening. Take one for Team New Zealand folks- forget about what goodies YOU are being offered and vote for the party that sounds like they actually want to do something about this idiocy.

Come on people stop complaining and act before it is too late. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Magdalen Hut: 5-7 May 2017

Return to Magdalen Hut, 2017 style

I was once again looking for a tramping location, my first thought was back to Nelson Lakes NP, but a bit of an iffy weather forecast did not bode well. A peruse of this blog showed that I haven't been into Magdalen Hut since 2013. I love this hut, is is relatively new (2008) and is a very nice 6 bunk hut about 3.5 hours along the Boyle River section of the St James Walkway.

So that was the destination I chose to visit, this marks my fourth visit to this hut.

I did something unusual for me, I stayed in the hut for 2 consecutive nights. I've never deliberately done this before, I have been hut bound by bad weather a couple of times though.  

Sunrise from just west of Waipara,SH1

Day One: Boyle Outdoor Education Centre to Magdalen Hut

Because it is such a short trip into the hut I left a bit later than normal: 7 am as opposed to 4 am. It was a beautiful sunny day, the same weather I experienced for the next couple of days.

On SH 7 just past Hanmer Springs
Map of the Boyle end of the St James Walkway

I left my car parked at the Boyle Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC), they offer a variety of services to trampers including secure parking, accommodation and a track shuttle service (in your own vehicle). Parking here is a much safer options than at the track end.  There has been a 200% increase in car break-ins up here since the Kaikoura earthquakes re routed all the Christchurch - Picton traffic over Lewis Pass. 

The Silver Surfer parked at Boyle Education Centre

Boyle Outdoor Education Centre buildings
First part of the trip is up the St Andrews access road, about 2 km's up the road there is an obvious junction down to the St James Walkway. I always use this route as the official start of the St James has a lot of irritating up and down.

The St Andrews access road
Be aware that DOC land ends at this track junction- do not go further up this access road as it is private property.

Entrance to St James Walkway from the St Andrews access road

Frosty grass, St James Walkway
The St James Walkway is easy walking for the most part, it is occasionally muddy but generally it is easy and safe in all weathers. From the access road it is about a kilometre to the first swing bridge over the Boyle River.

Moving through Manuka/Kanuka regrowth, St James Walkway

Descending down to the first Boyle River swing-bridge

First swing bridge over the Boyle, St James Walkway
The Boyle is a well known trout fishery, in season you will often see anglers trolling the pools of the river, especially around the swing bridge. Once over the bridge you are on the true right of the river for the next two hours.

Boyle River gorge from the St James Walkway

NZ Wren on the St James Walkway

Jon en-route to Magdalen Hut

This could use some board walk...St James Walkway
I see that there is now a horse trek concession up this part of the St James, through to Anne Hut and then out via St James Recreation land. There is a bit of horse manure to avoid but so far it hasn't impacted the track to any great extent.

Horse Trek route sign, St James Walkway
The walkway is a succession of forest, grass plain and short rocky sidle sections always just within the forest line. There are a number of side streams to cross on the way, but at this time of the year they were either totally dry or almost dry.

Boyle River from the St James Walkway

View east towards St Andrews Station

View west towards SH 7 through Lewis Pass

Crossing unnamed stream, St James Walkway

Crossing a patch of forest, St James Walkway

St Andrews Station Flats, St James Walkway

View East towards St Andrews Station, St James Walkway
Eventually you reach the terraced ridge at the end of the valley, the walkway goes up and over this ridge but it is very gentle travel as the track is nicely benched along here. The top of the ridge is a different story. It is muddy - this is a section that is crying out for a set of board walks to protect the swamp that occupies the terrace.

Starting the climb over the last ridge

High point for this tramp about 860 metres a.s.l, St James Walkway
Below is an example of the mud you encounter- its not to bad at this time of year but in the Spring it can be knee deep in some places. A set of board walks would stop the track getting any bigger, in places it is 20 meters wide as people try to avoid the mud. The whole top of this terrace is a very poorly draining swamp.

The ubiquitous mud- St James Walkway

Muritana Stream, Magdalen Hut is down there...

Heading back down to the Boyle, St James Walkway

Approaching the Mid Boyle Swing bridge
You reach the second Boyle River swing bridge after 3-3.5 hours, from here it is right turn, then down river to Magdalen Hut about 20-30 minutes away.

Mid Boyle Swing bridge from true right
Jon at the Mid Boyle Swing bridge

Mid Boyle Swing bridge

Start of the Magdalen Hut Track

On the Magdalen Hut Track
Below is the ford the horse trekking company uses, they don't go over the ridge, rather they follow the course of the Boyle River. Once past this point they follow the old benched track leading to Boyle Flat Hut and Anne Saddle further up the valley. 

The horse ford near the second Boyle bridge

Snow on the distant Libretto Range...

Quite a lot of snow...

Looking towards the Poplar Range on the Magdalen Track
They obvious get some big floods up this valley as I was walking through flood debris a good 30+ metres away from the river itself on this section. 

Flood debris next to the Boyle River

After 20 minutes you arrive at Muritana Stream which is the last obstacle before reaching the hut. The stream is generally not a problem, although I have heard of people getting stuck on the wrong side here it when it really pours with rain. On this trip it was only 4-5 cm's deep.

Magdalen Hut and Muritana Stream

Libretto Range from Magdalen Hut

Snow on Mt Muritana from the Magdalen hut veranda

Magdalen Hut is very nice: it is a 6 bunker and has a firebox, brand new water tank and a full woodshed (at this time). The hut was built in 2008 to replace a much older NZFS6 from the late 1950's, it gets a lot of use through the year and is an excellent winter trip destination.

Magdalen Hut, Lake Sumner Forest Park

The wood shed was full this visit but if it is empty check out the scrub surrounding the hut- there is a LOT of dry wood there (I had a look around, lots of standing dry and wind fall wood).

Awesome sight- full woodshed at Magdalen Hut

Thats a nice touch...thanks Olivier!

Interior of Magdalen Hut- the table and benches

Jon inside Magdalen Hut
The inside of the hut is very tidy, I was lucky the previous visitor a TA trekker called Olivier had cut up a nice pile of firewood when he was stuck here in the rain for a couple of days. He was heading NOBO for St Arnaud according to the DOC hut book, I hope he got there because there was a snow dump up on Waiau Pass that week. 

Thanks're a legend!

Someone left me some firewood...thanks again Olivier!

Well done drawing of a Weta in the hut book

Interior Magdalen Hut- fire-box and bench

Interior Magdalen Hut- bunk area

Inside Magdalen Hut: Map of the area

Inside Magdalen Hut: Fire notice
I basically spent the rest of the day cutting firewood and cleaning the hut, inter spaced with eating and copious cups of tea. Lots of good reading material in the hut ranging from some women's magazines right up to three volumes of an encyclopaedia.   

Surprisingly I had the hut to myself for two days- it was a surprise because the weather was glorious the whole time. In fact I didn't see another person during the whole course of this tramp.

Mt Maritana (1641)  from near Magdalen Hut

Dinner One: BCC Roast Lamb and Vegetables

Moody lighting in the hut at dusk

The other end of the hut at Dusk

I'm glad there was wood because it was perishingly cold once the sun went behind the mountains, there is a bit of snow up on the high points and the Katabolic wind brings that cold down at night-time.

Day Two: Zero Day

Day two was a pit day: I slept in till about 9 am, got up lit the fire because of the frost outside and basically spent the rest of the day reading, cutting wood, cleaning the hut and relaxing. It was so cold the hut water tank froze overnight, but having experienced this before I made sure I was fully stocked with water before the frost settled on the Friday night.

Sign on the outside of Magdalen Hut

Setting the fire in Magdalen Hut on the Saturday morning

Lunch on Saturday; onion soup with added ramen noodles!

I cut me some wood....!

I cut me some more wood....!

My main occupations- reading the hut literature, drinking tea...

...and eating kind of tramping trip!
About 3 pm I went for a wander to the Boyle River and followed it till it turned down the valley towards State Highway 7. It was already starting to get cold as the sun falls behind the mountains at about 2 pm hereabouts. 

Jon with the Poplar Range in the background

Mons Sex Millia (1835) and DOC Mark I removable dunny!

Your classic back country toilet...noice!

South: Boyle River and the Poplar Range

If the Boyle is low enough you can just cross here and meet up with the St James Walkway at the point where it starts to climb that last ridge. However, be aware that there is a bit of swampy ground to traverse to get there. 

North: Mt Martha (1409) and the Boyle River

The open area surrounding Magdalen Hut

Rear of Magdalen Hut, fire pit
I took Back-country freeze dried meals on this trip, two of my personal favourites Roast Lamb with Vegetables and Moroccan Lamb (Tagine). I was going for the light and fast approach...

Dinner two: BCC Moroccan Lamb with added onions & cashews

Mood lighting on the Saturday night, I just need some red wine
I went to sleep early on Saturday (around 8 pm) so I got nearly 11 hours sleep that night...

Day three: Heading for the BOEC and home...

Sunday opened bright and sunny with just a little mist on the higher ranges. It was frosty which was fine but meant I need to wear my merino's for only the second time in two years. I kept them on until I reached the lower Boyle bridge as it was cold walking in the lee of the mountains. 

A frosty Magdalen Hut, Sunday morning

DOC track sign near the hut

My path lays that way....

Au revoir Magdalen....see you again soon.
I was off and walking by 8 am, this is late for me.  Part of winter tramping is the later dawn and earlier dusk you have to contend with, it is a bit difficult to tramp in the dark! The sun didn't fully rise over the ranges until I was walking down the access road to the BOEC around 11:30 am. 

Heading up the Boyle to the second bridge

On the Magdalen Hut Track

Approaching the Mid Boyle swing bridge

Nice track on the true right of the Boyle
Below you can see how the side streams are all dry, there has been very little rainfall the last couple of months so things are a bit dry up in North Canterbury.

One of the dry side streams on the St James Walkway

View East to head of the Boyle River Valley

Jon on his way home, Mon Sex Millia in the background
You can see how frosty it was, this grass was frozen so hard you could break sections off.  I imagine it gets no real sun for most of the winter months. 

Early morning frost on the St James Walkway

Still frozen at 10 am in the morning...

St James Walkway skirting the bush line

St Andrews Station access road

I saw a lot of deer sign up this valley, both prints and scat. The roar has just finished and with the colder weather the Red Deer will be coming down to the valley floor to take advantage of the grass still on offer. 

Deer hoof print on the track

Climbing the last rise before the lower swing bridge

Back at the first Boyle River bridge
When you get to the junction shown below you have two options: one is to go up on the access road and follow it down to the BOEC, this takes 20 minutes. The other is to keep following the track out to the end of the St James Walkway, this takes 30 minutes.

 I would recommend following the Walkway if this is your first experience of the St James, otherwise get on that access road and boogie on easy travel!

Left for the access road, right for the Walkway

St Andrews access road heading to the BOEC

Sylvia Stream and Tops from the access road

Official end of the St James Walkway: carpark, toilets etc.
Note you are not allowed to camp next to the end of the St James Walkway (there are DOC signs about not doing this). However, if you head about 200-300 metres up valley from the track end there is a nice flat space where you could raise a heap of tents.

A 2013 photo of the flat area in question...
 Alternately, go talk to the Outdoor Education Centre as they also have tramper accommodation available.

Entrance to the BOEC...

...Boyle Outdoor Education Centre

It was a nice trip and even though it was to a hut I have visited before the pleasure was in having that hut to myself for three days and the joy of being outdoors. 

My main question: Where were all the people? The weather was fantastic on all three days. I felt sure that I would end up with 16 people in the hut with me on Saturday night but I saw not a soul the whole trip...weird!

BTW, I stopped off in Culverden (as is my norm) for a big arsed plate of bacon and eggs at the tearooms. The Culverden Tearooms are near the public toilet block on the main strip.

Main drag Culverden: the tearooms on the left of photo!

If you are ever passing through get in there: for $16 I got two big sausages, about six strips of bacon, two hash browns, a tomato, mushrooms and toast. The bacon is superb; smoky, crispy...really beautiful.  It must be some local supplier because it is NOT your usual commercially produced junk.

Access: Via the St James Walkway, from the Boyle River Settlement off SH 7, Lewis Pass
Track Times: 3-4 hours from Boyle Settlement
Hut Details: Magdalen Hut; standard, 6 bunks, wood burner, water tank
Miscellaneous: Muritana Stream can be a problem in heavy rain