The bird life around Bealey Hut this morning is quite the sound, chittering and chattering, some tuneful, it’s a north facing slope about 100 m above the valley floor, no frost, inside the hut it’s a balmy 7° C. Not much traffic from the highway down below, it’s so still you can hear the cars swish by, a kilometre or so away.

I eat my breakfast outside, there’s two wooden chairs provided, weak sunlight just sufficient to cast a shadow, mucking around with two cups of coffee, generally enjoying myself.

If I’d realised exactly how far today was I might have made a more energetic start.

Before setting out I decided to go up to Sudden Valley, whenever else will that opportunity present, and also that I take the direct route, ie, not via getting a lift in a car, instead traipse down the Waimak valley. Sensibly the route was down Broad Stream, plenty of gravel to trudge through, and at one point thinking I’d take a shortcut through a cattle trail in the matagouri, a common bush consisting only of sharp spikes and the means to support them, I found the Canterbury scrub also included wild roses, the odd blackberry and even clumps of gorse, ie, prickles of every kind, thistles, etc, included.

As foreseen yesterday the river was indeed barren, just trickling into nothingness, well, gravel so getting across wasn’t so hard, just the crunch of that soft gravel, or now and again rock hopping, for about 6 km before I realised there would probably be a track adjacent to the railway line on the other side, that’s one of my predictions that worked out, it was easy at walking down as far as the railway bridge. Then it was back to cross country, encountering various rivulets which were springing forth until it came time to cross One Tree Swamp. Somehow I had lucked in crossing three significantly deep streams, maybe chest deep, by jumping at the narrow points, man, that water was well filtered, unbelievably clear, and then it was just another 2 km across the extremely spongy, but not actually very wet, swamp to reach more solid ground. Not too far from the Hawden Shelter but on the other side of the river.

In the distance were four weekend tripper heading out from Hawden Hut but I’m turning left in the start of Sudden Valley Stream. The stream was steep in the valley narrow, a few river crossings, not so hard and then I seem to be making reasonable time, around 2pm. The track is marked as a route on the map and I worked out why, you get into a remarkable narrow gorge and the clambering around huge rocks begins, and continues. Eventually progress up the stream is blocked by the Barrier Waterfall and the route requires getting up what I came to find is called the Devil’s Chute, a narrow scree filled gully on quite the incline. The ascent would be speedy if it wasn’t for the scree, quite movable in places, that’s downwardly movable, not helping when you want to go up.

It goes on a bit, more than 100 m in height gained. Oh, and it’s steep. Very steep, more than a staircase, I was guessing around 40° and frankly I wasn’t too keen to look on down, in moments like these it’s better just to concentrate on the immediate scrambly path ahead. Before the chute ends a large orange triangle appears and you haul yourself into the forest, no less steep but at least the footing is more secure and handholds are provided.

You do get to see the top of the falls, the creek just disappearing in a roar, there’s more rock scrambling, more creek crossings and I’ve taken the low risk get-the-feet-wet approach rather than jump-from-slippery-rock-to-slippery-sloping-rock, more vague trail and you burst out onto a wider valley, gravel underfoot and mountains with snow all around.

The hut’s just at the end in this wonderland, but of course it’s a bivvy, relatively new, few customers up here according to the hut book, would fit two bodies comfortably enough. Ply lined with two mattresses and a stainless steel bench, but for some reason the main window faces the forest not the view so the ply interior lining is stained with black mould. These new small sealed up structures have an obvious danger of carbon monoxide poisoning when you use the stove so DOC has sneakily built into the system some ventilation, a grill low in the door and a vent high in the opposite wall.

Man, with the snow and ice just around the hut and my feet wet, err, wet wool top, it ain’t warm but it is gratefully accepted as home for the night.

Yes, quite the day.

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