Carrington Hut - Harper Pass – Julia Hut – Hunts Creek Hut – Carroll Hut

28 Dec-1 Jan 2016

With no urgency to reach Carrington Hut we left the city at 9am and parked at Klondyke Corner, 1km in from highway 73. Sandflies urged us to get packed and walking on this warm day with some breeze. River crossings were welcomed to keep us cool as we plodded, mostly on the true right or centre. Late afternoon we reached the giant cairn that indicates the sharp turn towards Carrington Hut just a few hundred metres away. The hut had a few groups of people staying with plans to go in various directions. A resident warden made sure we were staying legally and gave helpful track and weather advice. One group tented (and smoked) outside while we endured 30º heat in the hut.

In the morning the White River was crossable without using the cableway and we enjoyed the climb up the Taipo-iti unimpeded by snow, though the stream was full enough to make crossings awkward in places. Mist near Harman Pass cleared as we arrived there, giving us super views to Whitehorn Pass. After a hefty snack-stop on the pass we detoured to view Ariel Tarns, then got back on track, down the steep route to Mary Creek. As we reached flatter terrain we crossed the creek and spent time looking for a track on a terrace but decided there isn’t one. Cairns were few but are useful in indicating where to cross. We found the track more rugged than expected so took a little longer than regulation time to reach Julia Hut. The Kiwi-Israeli couple we met at Carrington reached Julia hours ahead of us and told us the hot pools were great so we headed there for a very welcome dip, un-bothered by sandflies. Anne made a delicious pasta and tuna meal cooked on Kerry’s slow-burning pressure stove. At Carrington the stove was making a hearty roar but here it was a quiet whisper. Anne’s load hereafter was lessened by two tuna cans. At 6pm a pair of tired trampers arrived from Harman Hut on the 3-pass route, via Popes Pass but were disappointed to find 6 in our hut so moved to the nearby old Julia Hut. The hut has been renovated but is still inferior to the newer hut.

On day three an 8am start along the Taipo track got us to Tumbledown Creek where there’s a very necessary 3 wire bridge with string netting to give an impression it might catch you if you slip. On this bridge a loose wire on one of Anne's gaiters got well snagged in the netting and it took her a few minutes to extricate herself. When we reached Dry Creek at 0915 we got a surprise - it wasn’t dry. In fact it was quite a brisk stream so we had a steep climb with frequent crossings. At about the 1000m level we looked up to the 1500m saddle and wondered if we could find a lower crossing point over the Hunts Ridge. We tried but were headed for some very craggy stuff so we bit the bullet and sidled to the official saddle north of point 1555. It was 5pm and we still had to descend to Hunts Creek and make our way 3 km to the hut. The descent on scree was rapid but down in the valley Hunts Creek meanders through tall tussock and as we walked down a trench the vegetation was over our heads. It was a situation where, when you go one way the going looks better the other way. We managed to locate the area where a track over big boulders shows on the map and we knew we had no more trenched tussock to contend with. Four-bunk Hunts Creek Hut is on the edge of a swampy, tussock flat and was a welcome sight after a 13hr hike. We chose a quick-cooking macaroni meal but the stove was still on a go-slow so dinner was at 9:30. At least the instant pud didn’t rely on the stove.

An 8am start got us to Hunt Saddle at 9, and more head-high tussock. Kellys Creek was getting started as we looked for the well-hidden, minimally-cut track that leads to the Kelly Range. Three of us walked past the turn-off but Ian was more assiduous and located it right by a tiny stream. Where we ran out of track we walked up the stream and were encouraged when we saw a cut branch. At a grassy, swampy clearing we floundered around searching for a track through dense bush. Eventually, on the far side of the flat we found a cairn that encouraged us to walk further NW where we found very faded tape on trees. After a lunch-break we got to a grassy area that we were sure would lead us to a very strategic spur. After more head-scratching we headed further NW and found a vital cairn that led to an obvious track up to a spur short of the main ridge. This spur seems to be a fault scarp and has a long tarn alongside. A nice track up the spur soon petered out and had us mystified again. A short scramble through tall scrub got us into a gully and at last the way to the master ridge seemed clear. At 1100m we were in the clear but still had to climb over a 1411m hill, well short of Carroll Hut. We noticed that the display of Mt Cook lilies and mountain flowers was a lot better at the Hunt Saddle end of Kelly Range. Our home for the night materialised at 8pm, so the day had taken us 12hr. Our friends from Julia Hut welcomed us. They’d come via Dillon Hut at Seven Mile Stream and found the climb up to Kelly Range hard work on a warm day. They took pity on us with our slow cooker and let us use their gas burner to cook our lentil spaghetti. Our third instant pud was eaten with gingernuts. We didn’t need to conserve food as we’d decided not to do a second leg trip up the Taramakau or Deception. January 1 would be a relaxing drive back to Christchurch. No one stayed up to greet the new year.

Kerry went to retrieve the car while the rest of the team relaxed at the hut rather than go down to Kelly's picnic ground where sandflies might be lurking. Out at the road it took 30 minutes to hitch a ride to Klondyke corner. Police cars were at the scene of the dramatic Otira Gorge bus crash as we passed. On return to Kellys, Kerry collected his pack from bushes by the road and stopped to answer questions from a tourist family who were hoping to walk to Carroll Hut. They needed to know if there were bedding and cooking facilities at the hut. In a fine coincidence, as the car drove into the picnic ground, the team was emerging from their descent. After changing and a quick lunch we drove to Springfield for a snack and then home for some new-year’s-day relaxation.

The team was: Anne Hunter, Ian & Peter Umbers and Kerry Moore (KM)