More than four years since I was here at Steele Creek Hut at the end of my tripping around the three Great Walks near Te Anau. I managed the Kepler twice, in each direction, the Milford, most of the Routeburn twice, as well as the Hollyford/Pyke circuit, and the Greenstone/Caples Circuit.

I recalled one of my coldest nights in a hut on the last day of the winter tramping season, when you can still use your backcountry hut pass at Howden Hut. I needed all my clothes, and later mattress on top of me.

Still frigid.

Steele Creek Hut is an older hunter’s hut, halfway to an A-frame. It’s built from local timber still with its bark on, lined with fertiliser bags, open fire, and a smashed up concrete floor. Some would pick it as rat infested but no scurrying rodent sounds were heard in the night.

It’s a gorgeous, easy track up here, but it’s not much used.

And the two hut books go back to 2010.

Just one night’s respite from the crowds, then a day of smashing out the pass before it’s back to overused trials. A great little breather here.

I didn’t get away until after 9 am and look took my time, thinking I had plenty up my sleeve.

Walking up the flats, and through the forest was easy enough, but when I got to the tussock progress slowed considerably. Bog pine, dracophyllum, speargrass, etc. Tough to smash through.

Not much in the way of track to follow, just some steel posts with orange electrical conduit to aim for. Slowly climbing all the while. A few crossings of the tiny river that nevertheless had plenty of boulders and deep pools to preclude just smashing straight up the watercourse.

But the vegetation became considerably smaller and easier to move through.

Near the saddle I spotted a chamois and its month old offspring. I’m not certain what a young chamois is termed. Kid, perhaps. They were moving off from a tarn area on the saddle itself.

I loitered about much of the day, searching for orchids, sitting in the sun, just mucking about so it was after 3 pm when I began the long descent to the valley floor, about 900 m below. The views up Fraser and Kay creeks were astonishing.

The stretch sidling down to the treeline was tough, with speargrass, etc, to negotiate, and still not much track.

It was 6 pm by the time I hit the Caples Highway.

It was a major surprise to see the times from whence I come shown as 8 to 10 hours, although I figured out that I’d taken nine hours if you include all my stops.

Mid Caples Hut was more than two hours away, but I thought camping would be the best option. So I cruised for another hour down the track, and pitched my tent at the first decent spot I found after that.

I came across a lovely spot right on the riverbank. The sandflies were fierce however so I retreated to the serenity of my tent. Well it was considerably more serene after I dispatched the scores of sandflies that had elected to join me.

All in all, a big day. Lots of climbing and descent. Well, it felt like it in the terms of this particular trip, despite the saddle only being 1375 m.

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