St James

19 -23 September 2017

 The St James Walkway had been on my mind for some time, one of those must do Canterbury tramps which I had not previously completed.September seemed like a good month, after mid-winter and before the NW season. But the weather leading up to departure date had been constant bands of heavy rain across the alps so surely there would be a break in the weather for us?

 Monday afternoon the Lewis Pass Rd was closed for snow but the forecast predicted a day without rain on our departure day Tuesday. As we crossed the big rivers heading inland we were somewhat surprised to see all the rivers brown and in flood, there had been a huge amount of rain in the alps in the preceding days. It was wet heading to the pass and we expected to see the promised clearing weather around every corner but at the Boyle Lodge it was raining steadily. Furthermore, a check on the rain radar indicated a big fall of rain due Thursday. The Lodge Manager warned us that if we were to get stuck anywhere, it would be the uncrossable side streams in Cannibal Gorge. So we decided to start from the Lodge end (from which it would be easier to return to) and set-out in full wet weather gear, not the way we would normally want to start a tramp.

The Boyle was in flood but down at least 1.5m from its recent height. Rain, water, mud and swamp were the order of the day.Boyle Flat hut was welcome and we lit the fire ate and drank, while Bill scouted the next hour of the track. That afternoon after much discussion we decided that the next day we would push through to Anne Hut – the longest leg of the trip. Plan was if there was a deluge on Thursday, we would have a hut day Friday and return the way we had come.

Wednesday morning was a bit wet but good tramping conditions. A short climb through the Anne Saddle was rewarded with a herd of about 30 wild horses which were wary but not afraid of the intruders. The Anne River was running high but had been very high. The wooden bridge about a km before the hut had driftwood wrapped around the hand rail stanchions. At the Anne Hut the weather was clear but firewood scarce so we had a few runs to the beech forest to get wood to warm the hut up. Built 2011 it still actually looked pretty new. And a bonus, a mountain radio in the hut. We called up Arthurs Pass HQ for a forecast and great news – the next few days of occasional light rain showers but no big deluge! Very happy that night as no-one wanted a hut day nor to backtrack the 10.5hrs back to the Lodge.

We were in bed about an hour after dark and up at first light heading for Christopher Hut. Big valleys of tussock surrounded by beech forest and snow topped mountains. Dense matagouri along the way home to a lot of wild pigs evidenced by the numerous and large areas of ripped up turf. The Ada River was high but clear. Flood waters had been over one section of the track and due to the tall and very dense matagouri very difficult to bypass if you were on the track that day. Another herd of horses and a couple only 30 ft from the track unperturbed by our presence. When we arrived at Christopher Hut there was smoke coming from the chimney but the hut was deserted. Pig hunters had stayed the night. There was evidence of a quad bike in the mud and we had seen a couple of freshly killed pigs about 2km from the hut. DOC (we assume) had been in recently and chain sawed up a shed full of wood so there was no shortage for a warm night. The afternoon was glorious blue sky, sunshine and rainbows. We explored out from the hut along the Ada River.

Thursday morning was another wonderful walk through tussock flats and beech forest to the Ada Hut (recently cleaned by a keen volunteer according to the hut book) for early snack lunch then onto Cannibal Gorge Hut. Cannibal Gorge Hut was really cold but a load of coal had been dumped into the wood shed. Bit of challenge to get a fire going well enough to get the coal going too. Clearly previous parties had the same challenge because there was no paper of any description in the hut (usually there are a stack on magazines) and half the pages in the hut book and been ripped out. Even with a very hot coal fire the hut did not warm up much.

Next day dawned cloudy as we set off for the main road. It was easy to see why Cannibal Gorge is impassable after heavy rain. The side streams are very steep, no chance of finding an easier crossing up or down stream. We made the road in under three hours, then there was the challenge of hitching a ride back to the Lodge to retrieve the cars. Very lucky! Before I was even changed an old time biker pulled in with his van, partner in the front and big Harley in the back. We were very welcome to ride with the Harley if we could squash in. Fortunately, Bill and I are of slight build so we squeezed in and were very happy to have got the ride so quickly. The rest of the team waiting for us to return said no-one else called in that might be suitable for a ride.

Bill & I drove back to the top of the pass, we all got changed to clean street clothes and stopped in Culverden for lunch.

We were all in agreement we had a great trip. Sure there was a bit of wet but the reward was the snow on the mountains, lush green flora and the huts to ourselves. Many puzzles were completed and countless games of speed Scrabble. Plus the 11 hours of sleep every night was a luxury too.

Thanks for coming everyone on another memorable trip.

Leader: Dennis W,  Trampers: Bill & Wendy T, Pauline C, Glenda F, Sally B