Yep, it’s winter.

I watched the sunrise, drinking a coffee or two while the hut inhabitants, I discovered there were three of them, continued their 14 hour snooze.

Turned out they were all adults, and just hanging around the hut for a few nights.

I knew I should depart early, but it was around 9 am when my pack was finally lifted on my shoulders.

After only a few hundred metres it was obvious my crampons should be on. Easier to follow other people’s footsteps in the snow, but they were icy.

That kind of worked.

As expected it was slow going. On the flatter, lower ridges much of the snow had been blown away, and was only 100 mm thick. That was easy enough to crank up the pace.

In places, however, people had plunged knee deep, but I could avoid those areas.

Someone had skied along the path, slightly compacting the snow, making it relatively easy going.

Of course this didn’t last forever. The snow became deeper and more slushy.

By the time I was up at around 1500 m, I could make progress due to the crust that could bear in my weight.

Eventually on the other side of Julius Summit, the halfway point between Relax Shelter and Angelus Hut, the ridge narrowed, with the track dropping over the south side and became more icy. I couldn’t see the next marker, and dropped down the slope in the soft snow.

Around the corner I saw two others heading towards me, and we stopped for a chat. They had left early, I’d been following their footprints, but had reached the one really gnarly bit and turned back.

Too steep. Too much exposure.

Bushline seemed a good option for them.

I plodded on, and then the clouds came down. Man, I could only see one marker at a time. Some must have been completely covered in snow.

Fortunately I was on the lookout for the markers down the hill, and cut my own path along between them. With the cloudy conditions and even day light didn’t allow me to make out where the actual snow surface: whether it was steeply rising, or dropping.

Having been up there a few times previously I remembered the 10 m or so of track that I had never liked particularly, even without snow. Today it turned out to be 100 m or more, so maybe my memory is fallible after all.

The markers continued along the side of the ridge, then, well, where?

I could pick out a bunch of steel posts with orange electrical conduit at the top of the ridge not that far away, but between was an east facing slope on an angle at least 35°, 40° in places. That seemed mighty steep, and it was a long way down.

The snow was relatively soft, and I slowly made my way across, and then up. Sinking knee deep at times, then having to lift my leg out of the hole.

Towards the top I started getting cramp in one leg. Man, that was uncomfortable.

I’d already been on the move for eight hours or so, with my dilly-dallying around, taking photos, and generally enjoying the splendid views before the clouds had come in.

Must be getting dehydrated, and cold.

It was at this time, in the fog, that I contemplated the fate of Tracey Smith who died of hypothermia just a month before on this same ridge. She and her son had failed to turn back when the weather conditions became extreme. Like -18º C with the windchill.

The difference this time: completely calm conditions, not high winds and a white out.

You probably realise the end of my story: I survived.

Fortunately my previous experience made me realise that once over this little stretch, it wasn’t so far to the hut.

Unfortunately from there the snow was slushy, and previous people’s tracks had now disappeared.

The weather cleared mostly, only an hour to go. One rise to go.

Then the hut way below. Fortunately it was perfectly crispy on the way down.

Almost fully dark on arrival.

No surprise I was the only one home.


Didn’t take long to have a cosy fire. I carried a mattress into the living room, near the fire, rather than sleep in the frigid bedrooms.

So, it had taken nine hours or so to smash my way the 11 kilometres along the ridge. A bit more effort than I had been anticipating.

Well, I had stopped for a couple of hundred photos along the way.

Tired? For sure. Strolling my daily 10 k steps on the flat around Nelson somehow was insufficient training.

On the other hand, despite the obstacles I had made it.

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