Stepping outside in Greymouth was the experience, the wind ripping through The Gap where the Grey River pops out, clouds, or mist, streaming with it, them locals call this wind The Barber, I have no idea why. Elsewhere is cloudless, again, and I’m zipping along in the bus, not so many passengers taking the route to Christchurch on a cool Wednesday morning.

Just out of Greymouth it’s cloudless in completeness, the view all the way to Mt Cook and Tasman, in fact if you knew what to look for there’s all ten of New Zealand’s highest mountains congregated together, white against the blue sky, some 260 km distant.

There’s that famous bridge over the Taramakau River, single lane and you have the prospect of sharing it with a railway locomotive and a few hundred tons of coal if you are not alert, but the grumpy bus driver has been doing this for six years and is well aware of when trains are scheduled, clearly not 8 15 am. At the side of the road the pukekos and wekas stalk off, hunch-back style, tail flapping, I’m surprised to once learn the pukekos are strong flyers when they can be bothered.

Here’s another fact, tourist-guide style, although not knowledge gained from the driver who is certainly no tourist guide, more a foot-to-the-floor concentration kinda guy and that’s not so bad: the Taramakau is a boundary for the forest types on the West Coast. The north side of the river it’s all mixed podocarp forest, rimu, totara, etc. On the south side, almost a monoculture of beech trees.

Then the steep climb up to Arthurs Pass, some snow in sheltered spots on the east side, like all around the village buildings, except where some sun penetrates, but plenty coating the hills.

Soon enough I’m unbundling myself from my fellow travellers, out on the road side in pure tranquillity, full cloudless sunshine, I’m taking the track just next to the Cass River bridge. Finally sorted with the appropriate layers of clothing and the hugely ballasted pack on my back there’s some farming land to skirt, horses around I’d say by the evidence, then into the river bed, a few bridge-less crossings required, an even number, eight in all by my reckoning, and ending up on the true right side. I chose the direct route much of the time with the river down so low, adding some needed moisture to the starchy boot, probably over achieved there, that’s better with additional flexibility of the footwear.

Eventually a track, newly re-marked, heads up away from the river, ie, up the hill, and I guess that’s not unusual, I know I’ve got to climb to the hut at about 1150 m and that’s about 400 m vertical gain from the river turnoff. The forest, mountain beech predominantly, has little undergrowth, maybe it’s excessively dry up here, not much in the way of ferns or moss, then various big scree slopes on their usual precarious angle are crossed. At times this would be disconcerting for the more nervous dispositions. Me? The ground is very dry, my boot grip well, I power on up, for a while, then interest develops in aspects of tramping that I’m not primarily about movement, the hut is only four hours from the road according to DOC. I’m well laden with 12 days of food, maybe 13 or 14 if I eke it out, I also have a new lightweight tripod, and for some reason, predominantly insurance, I’ve bought along my ice axe.

Eventually I do get into some snow patches, not in the forest, out in sporadic areas of tussock, but where others feet have trod the footprints are icy, mostly easy enough to negotiate but there are a couple of steep slopes, maybe 20 m, where recognising the possibility of making my way just a little too quickly to the bottom I use, err, my nether regions.

The hut is windowless, uninsulated and is piled with stuff, rubbish from previous inhabitants, plenty of firewood for the tiny stove even though there’s a woodshed of sufficient weatherproofing just outside. That all goes out, suddenly it’s looking more homely.

It’s good to be back in a hut, the fire is going so that big patch of snow outside, hinting at cold nights, ain’t gonna matter.

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