Monday, 23 February 2015

St James Walkway: 18-21st February 2015 (Day 3-4)

Tramping the St James Walkway

Day three and four of my trip around the St James Walkway took me up the Anne river valley to Anne saddle, then down the Boyle River valley to the outdoor education centre at Boyle village.

Day Three: Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut (17.5 km's)

As usual I was up at the crack of dawn and on my way down the track, the distance to cover to Boyle Flat was 17.5 km's. For most of the day I was walking by myself,  around 11.30 several of the TaT walkers caught up to me and we walked the final 5-6 km's of the track together.
Dawn at Anne Hut
I was the first out of the hut, I really like to walk in the early morning as it is a lot cooler than walking in the blazing heat of the afternoon. I also find the light of the early morning very appealing.
Setting out towards Anne River bridge

View back towards Anne Hut
About 3 km's down the track you cross to the true left of the Anne river. I made the short side trip to visit Anne Cullers hut near this bridge but stupidly forgot to take a photo. This is another of the historic deer culler huts scattered along the walkway.
From the hut the track continues up the true left of the river.
Anne River from first bridge
Nice easy track up the Anne River valley for the first couple of hours, the track is mostly on river terraces with the occasional climb over intervening ridgelines.

Track up Anne Valley

View towards head of Anne River
The ridge below is the most strenuous part of the track along the river bottom, this climbs above a gorge in the Upper Anne River.

One of the ridges that must be climbed over

Last river flat before climb to Anne saddle
Eventually you reach the swampy head of the Anne River, this is where the real climb starts up to the saddle. As you get closer to the top the track becomes steep,  but nothing too strenuous.

Start of climb to Anne Saddle
As you can see in the photo below its not much of a saddle to climb, all things considered...
Anne Saddle in middle of photo

DOC Anne Saddle sign

Anne Saddle track

Anne Saddle track
Below is the steepest part of the track, this is over the last 200 meters before the saddle, it is steep and rocky and requires a bit of care.

Honestly, this is one of the easiest saddles I have ever walked over, bar Ada Pass!
Anne Saddle track

Anne Saddle 1136 meteres
Here I am goofing it up on the saddle, it took me about 2.5 hours to reach this spot from the hut and is roughly 1/3 of the way to Boyle Flat Hut.

Jon at Anne Saddle
The descent into the Boyle is a totally different proposition, it is steep, rocky, and slippery, it would be about a kilometer from the saddle to the bottom but took me over an hour to traverse due to the terrain. My walking stick was a god send on this section of the track as it gave me that all important third point of ground contact.

Take care through here!

Steep descent into Boyle
Eventually you break out into the Upper Boyle river valley, it is really beautiful up there and would certainly warrant another visit just to camp in the area. It's all river flats and small ridge climbs from here to Boyle Flat, about 9 km's down the valley.

Upper Boyle River valley

River flats in upper Boyle valley
That track is seared into the grass of the river flats, bisected at regular points by deer/pig tracks coming down from the hills.
Approaching Rokeby Hut
About half way along the track to Boyle Flat you pass the old Rokeby Hut, this is a small 2 bunk hut located inside a small finger of bush on one of the ridges along the valley. It is "rustic" in nature, dirt floor, sacking bunks but in quite good condition. There is even a classic corrugated iron dog box for the mustering dogs which were once used up the valley.
Rokeby Hut

Dog house at Rokeby Hut

Interior of Rokeby hut

About 3 kilometers down valley you arrive at the swing-bridge to Boyle Flat Hut, my final destination for the day. I've stayed at the hut previously (see trip report for Dec 2014) and it is very nice, well maintained and in a prime location.   

Boyle Flat Hut
The water source for the hut is normally piped from a nearby stream, but with the dry, hot weather this has dried up. If you are visiting the hut the alternate source of water is the very nice creek about 50 meters to the north of the hut. Follow the track which goes past the left hand side of the wood shed, it is easy to find.  

Approach to water source for hut
Nice clean looking water in the creek but I would still purify it as who knows what is lurking just upstream.

Unnamed side stream near Boyle Flat Hut

I spent the night at Boyle Flat hut with 2 Australian and 2 German TaT walkers, the other 10 legged it down the valley as they wanted to get to Hanmer for the night.
That would be a total of 31 km's of walking for the 10 of them!
Personally, I was more than happy to walk the 17.5km's and call it a day....

Day Four: Boyle Flat Hut to Boyle Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC) (14.5 km's)

Another early morning as the 5 of us staying in the hut over night headed down valley to the road end at Boyle Village. I've walked this part of the track numerous times now so was well aquainted with what lay in store.

Boyle Flat Hut

Travel through this section is easy, the track is benched from the hut to the first swing-bridge over the Boyle, although there are a number of new slips on the track to be tackled. I really like the Upper Boyle valley it is dense, much like a West Coast track.

Track between Boyle Flat and first swing-bridge

Lush track side growth, Boyle Flat track

Boyle River view South
Eventually you reach the old stile which separates the upper valley from the cattle flats around St Andrews. The swing bridge is about 100 meters further down the track from this spot.

The stile just before Boyle swing-bridge

Swing-bridge over Boyle river
I was surprised with how dry the normally muddy track is, no rain for a couple of months will do that I suppose. The dry probably shaved at least 40 minutes off the usual time between the two swing bridges over the Boyle River. Normally you have to carefully jump from log to log, you can plough through but you will end with mud up to your knees.
Nice dry conditions

Last major descent
I love catching my first view of the Boyle swing bridge, it means you are nearly home, only the last fairly easy walk out to the road end left.

Almost finished

 I and two of the TaT walkers reached the road end at Boyle Village together, we meet up with the other two walkers as we pulled out onto the Highway.  I dropped them all off in Hanmer as I was going there for some lunch.
 Best part of the tramp was the whole section from Lewis Pass to the Christopher Rivere, the Spencer Mountains are spectacular. I also really enjoyed interacting with the TaT trampers they are an eclectic and interesting group of people, and good value.

The worst was the 5 hours I spent walking around Mt Federation and up the Henry valley: it was hot, dry and windy, I was goddam happy to eventually reach the hut that day.

Why is this not a must do tramp for all New Zealanders?

Awesome trip, and much recommended to all you Kiwis out there, it is a relatively easy 4-5 day tramp so put your boots on and give it a go!

St James Walkway: 18-21st February 2015 (Day 1-2)

Tramping the St James Walkway

I spent 4 days tramping around the St James Walkway near Lewis Pass last week. The walkway is a near circular 67 km trip taking in the Maruia, Ada, Henry, Anne and Boyle river valley's. There are a number of good huts to stay in on the way, as well as some fine scenery especially the Poplar and Spencer Mountains.

Profile diagram of the St James Walkway: Source DOC website

Day One: Lewis Pass to Ada Pass Hut (12.4 km's)

I arranged for the staff at the Boyle Outdoor Education Centre to store my car for the length of the trip, as well as dropping me at the start of the track at Lewis Pass Tarns. A very valuable service as it is common for cars to be broken into at Lewis Pass, they cannot be safely left there for any period of time.

The St James Walkway starts with the scenic track around the Lewis Pass tarns and is clearly sign posted from there.

Lewis Pass tarns

Here I am looking fresh as a daisy before starting the long walk, I did not look so fresh by the end!

Start of the track
The start of the track is through some beautiful alpine bogs, very picturesque, before descending steeply to the Maruria River and the first swing bridge on the track. The track condition is generally good with plenty of signage and a mostly fine benched track to follow.

Scenic walk at tarns

Start of the Walkway

Descending towards Maruia River

Log jam in side stream
This is a mature area of beech as such there were some spectacular examples of Red Beech to be seen from the track. The tree below would have been at least 5 meters around the trunk.
Big Red beech tree
You eventually arrive at the first swing bridge across the Right Branch of the Maruia River, this is the first of 7 bridges you cross on the track. Generally all the major rivers are bridged although there are several side stream's (especially in the Cannibal Gorge section) that could be a problem if it was  raining heavily.

First swing-bridge (6 more to go)

Cannibal Gorge information

Typical up and down track
About 2 hours down the track you reach the point where a creek on the true left of the river leads up to the Zampa Tops. These tops are a continuous series of clearings from this point all the way along the range of mountains and is an excellent fine weather tramp.

Creek leading towards Zampa Tops

I had the usual progression of wrens and robins following me along the track, there is a goodly number of birds in the area I saw a number of Tui, Bellbirds, Robins, Kakariki and Keruru as I walked along.

Bush robin
There are a number of "no stop" avalanche zones along the track, the steep terrain combined with a lot of snow in winter makes avalanches fairly common.
Avalanche warning sign

Cannibal Gorge Track about 2 hours in
Here is a brand new addition to the track, the Cannibal Gorge  Hut bridge, built in December 2014, you could still smell the pine scent and feel the grease on the cables.

New swingbridge (2014) across Maruia
Eventually you reach Cannibal Gorge Hut, a 20 bunker about 3.5 hours in, it is a good looking hut and would certainly warrant a stay if you started the tramp late in the day. Personally, I was bound for Ada Pass Hut another 2 hours up the track.

Cannibal Gorge Hut

Cannibal Gorge Hut

Interior Cannibal Gorge Hut
Past Cannibal Gorge hut the track is generally within view of the ever decreasing Maruia River, it was very cool and pleasant on such a hot & sunny day.

Mid reaches of the Maruia

Mid Maruia Valley
The views get progressively better as you move towards the head of the valley, gradually the mountains get steeper and more alpine in nature. There are some beautiful high alpine cirques and U- valleys that would not look out of place in Mt Cook or Aspiring NP.
High cirque basin

Avalanche route on track
About 20 minutes from Ada Pass hut you cross the Billy Goats Gruff bridge, if you are wanting to have a wash this is the closest stream to the hut. Gentle travel across flats and the hut will soon come into view.

Billy Goats Gruff bridge
Ada Pass hut is a standard ex FS 6 bunker, it is really nice, well maintained, and has both coal and wood for the fire. It is on a small river terrace with plenty of open space around the hut for a small village of tents if required.
The tent in the photo belonged to a pair of German trampers who had gone for a daytrip up to 3 Tarn Pass. They left to walk out to Lewis Pass when they arrived back at 5 pm.

Ada Pass Hut
Right across the valley is the route up to 3 Tarn Pass, this is one of several routes into Nelson Lakes NP but is steep, difficult and would require ice axe and crampons if snow was present.

View from the Ada Pass hut porch

Interior of Ada Pass Hut
Good view of the flat area in front of the hut, the stream was only a trickle given the hot conditions but drift wood piles would indicate that it carries a good load of water in wetter conditions. If water was required it would need to be fetched from the larger stream 10 minutes down the valley.

Route towards Three Tarn Pass
I had a very restful night at the hut, the only other occupant was an Australian tramper who was walking the St James in a counter clockwise direction. I got some good info from him about track conditions further along the walkway.

Day Two: Ada Pass Hut to Anne Hut (25.1km's)

As is my norm I was packed up and on the trail by 7am, my intention being to walk to Christopher hut and stay for the night, thus giving myself a good long rest day as it is only 3-4 hours between the huts.

More about that plan later!
The track to Ada Pass starts right outside the door of the hut, it is a very gentle ascent up the last 200 meters to the pass. As you can see from the photos below, Ada Pass hardly deserves the name, it is basically a flat track on top of a flat plateau.

Track between Ada Pass-Christopher River

Ada Pass sign

Ada Pass 1008 meters
This Pass is basically a flat track, if the signs weren't there would you recognize it as a pass?
What Ada Pass actually looks like
On the far side you begin the very gentle descent into the headwaters of the Christopher river, the track alternates between grass flats and bush fingers, it is very pleasant walking.

Descending from Ada Pass

On the way towards Christopher Hut

View back towards Ada Pass

Ever onwards
The further down the valley you travel the more spectacular the view of The Faerie Queene becomes until it dominates the whole left side of the valley.

Faerie Queene

Great forest tracks

Near junction of Christopher and Ada Rivers
This photo really doesn't do the peak justice, it is enormous and totally dominates the valley, this is most obvious once you reach Christopher hut and can see it on the horizon.

Side view of Faerie Queene

Bush track between Ada Pass and Christopher
Eventually you reach the Ada/Christopher confluence and start walking down valley towards Christopher hut. The river is very close to the track at this point but progressively moves further way the further down valley you travel.
View South towards Christopher Hut

View North to up Christopher River valley
As you can see the immensity of the Fairy Queene becomes more obvious from the Waiau river valley.
Faerie Queene in all its splendor
You pass Ada Cullers hut near the confluence, it is a historic hold over from the deer shooting days and would once have been home to a team of cullers clearing deer from the area.
Ada Cullers Hut
About 20 minutes further down the valley you arrive at Christopher Hut. The hut would be the first real shelter for TaT walkers coming over Waiau Pass, there is a small 2 person bivy (Caroline) at the head of this valley but from discussions with TaT walkers it sounds like it is in poor condition. Christopher hut is not on the direct line between the Waiau and Anne Hut, but river conditions sometimes force TAT walkers to venture this far up valley to find a passable ford.
Christopher Hut
It is quite a nice hut, 20 bunks, with plenty of space, water and lots of wood for the fire. The problem would be the mice: when I opened the door 3 ran off across the floor, sign of them was everywhere and I could hear them running around in the walls. I think DOC need to do a major poisoning program to eradicate them here.

Interior of Christopher Hut
I was at the hut by 10.15, the early arrival time combined with the mouse problem made me decide to keep walking: I would set off on the 13 km, 4 hour trek to Anne Hut, skirting the base of Mt Federation. I ate an early lunch and started the boo-go-loo!

Bunkroom at Christopher Hut

Wild St James Horses
I passed some of the wild St James horses just near the hut, there were about 10-15 of them herding together in a patch of bush. These are descendants of ex farm animals released in the early 20th century to provide a supply of hardy animals for St James Station. It must be a hard life up here for them in winter as they sometimes get 3 meter snowfalls in this area .

Wild St James Horses
The start of the track is easy travel across expansive grasslands, this turns into a miserable rock grovel around the lower slopes of Mt Federation.
Heading towards Mt Federation

Faerie Queene
This is the end of the easy travel for the next hour or so: from this point the track precariously runs up and down the lower slopes of Mt Federation, you are never more than 100 meters from the river but because it is mostly swampy you cant walk on the river terraces.

Ada Homestead
There is Ada Homestead in the distance on the true left of the river, this used to be a working sheep and cattle station, I believe it is now DOC land and provides a link between the Spencer Mountains and St James Station.

The track from Waiau Pass joins the St James near Ada Homestead, often TaT walkers need to walk some distance up the Christopher valley to cross the river. I could see several easy points to cross the Christopher but then it has been a long dry summer.
Ada Homestead
Once around Mt Federation there is a 2 hour walk up the Henry River valley to contend with. Take LOT'S of water with you from Christopher/Anne Hut as this section is exposed, hot and bone dry: there is no potable water at all.

It is a massive valley, the far side at the mouth would be 5-6 km's away.
Track around Mt Federation

Hot and bothered (not in a good way)

Entering Henry River valley
Eventually you hook up with an old 4 W/D track half way up the valley, you follow this for most of the way to the hut and makes for much faster travel. Looking at the topo map, there appears to be a side track connecting the walkway with this 4 W/D track, but I didn't see it myself while walking there. If you can find it use it as it would probably save you 30-40 min's walking time.
Henry River valley
Eventually you reach the Henry Swing bridge, it was quite sporty as the wind had come up and it was swaying back and forth alarmingly. You need to cross this bridge as the 4 W/D ford further up the valley looked deep and swift: far better to play it safe here and follow the track instead.

Swing-bridge over the Henry River
After the swing-bridge you ascent one last hill on the 4 W/D track, it is then a 2 km trip across a plateau to Anne Hut sitting temptingly out on the open plain.

Anne Hut (2014), St James Conservation area

Anne Hut, detail of one of the bunkrooms

Anne Hut, the fire and bunkrooms

Anne Hut, living space, cooking bench

View down valley from Anne Hut
Look at that view, awesome!
I noted with interest that the hut was connected to the ground with massive concrete piles, which leads me to believe that it must be bloody windy up here sometimes. Also, they must get some shockingly deep snow as the plateau was probably at 800-900 meters in the middle of a plateau.

The hut is brand new (2012) the old Anne Hut burnt down: it is warm (well insulated), well appointed with a big wood shed (full) and multiple rainfall water tanks. Very nice.
View up valley from Anne Hut
As the day wore on various trampers turned up at the hut, all of them TaT walkers from other countries. Most of them had walked all the way from Caroline Bivy to Anne Hut that day: a distance of 30-40 km's! I was suitably impressed as my 25 km trip had left me totally stuffed, I don't know if I could have walked another 10-15 km's.

Eventually there were 14 of us in the hut and it made for a great atmosphere. We had Swiss, German, French, Australian, Canadian, Czech and New Zealand trampers there that night. I had several good conversations with people about tramping, New Zealand, their home countries & food (of course, always a good topic of conversation: bacon and cheese burgers, wedges and ice cold coke or beer:), steak was also popular).

Nightfall Anne Hut

Nightfall Anne Hut

So two full and interesting days of tramping  with 2 more to follow, the next section would take me from Anne Hut to Boyle Flat Hut and then out to Boyle Village.