Cass to Lagoon Saddle Tramping Route

South Island, New Zealand

February 23-24, 2008

Dave and Jill


Jill had taken up a curious routine of cleaning, drying and re-using ziplock baggies.  Her exact motivation was unclear - perhaps our move to "green" New Zealand or just a matter of pinching pennies - whatever the case, she was determined to extract the utmost use out of each low-quality NZ baggy.  I too was in the mood for utmost extraction, and my focus was on our weekends.  The tale of a weekend warrior is a sad case of an adventurous soul forced into submission by the dreaded 9-5 workweek.  The weekend warrior is that adventurous soul when, in the face of humiliating submission, stands up proudly and takes what little morsel of true life is left at his disposal.  The weekend.

And so it was.  On the last full weekend of February (August in the Southern Hemisphere) life had me by the neck and was squeezing hard.  True, this was the first month in the previous 19 that I had actually worked, but it was time to take my stance.  Would I stay in my cozy bunker in Christchurch and therefore give in to a life of mediocrity and boredom?  Or, would I defiantly stand up and take what was rightfully mine.  The weather forecast suggested that the city was my best option.  We headed for the hills.

Predictions of 65 mph winds and heavy rain dissuaded us from a preferred menu of ridgetops and alpine grandeur.  'Twas the weekend for a hike in the forests and valleys... but a hike nonetheless. 

Using our Weekend Warrior guidebook kindly left behind by Gil we chose a loop east of the crest that promised better weather.  As we left the Sceptor we made sure the first item at the top of our packs was made of Gore-Tex.  However, getting wet was a foregone conclusion, as we were about to confirm, going into the backcountry in NZ means fording rivers.  We forded the creek no less than 8 times before the forest track began.  The track to our destination follows a valley, over a saddle and onto the hut over 10 miles of uninteresting terrain. 

Although it was summer in NZ my conditioning was more indicative of winter in Washington.  I found that, even though the tramping was quite easy I was quite beat by the time we reached the Hamiltion Hut.  Just the simple act of moving on my feet over 6 hours tired me out.  In this case I had no spring to prepare me for the summer, we were simply plucked out of the dead of a Pacific NW winter and plopped into late summer in NZ.  I guess there is something to conditioning.

The Hamiltion Hut was an enormous structure with enough bunk space for 25 or more sleepers.  It was difficult imagining 25 people interested enough to hike 10 miles through mediocre terrain to stay at the hut.  Within a few minutes I didn't have to imagine anymore: a group of 5 high school students blew into the hut sporting flip-flops and had clearly not walked 10 miles.  I was flabbergasted as I believed Jill and I were deep in the wilderness where only the hardiest of tramper would be encountered (we saw none on our trip in).  To my surprise there is a 4x4 track that can be taken all the way to this hut that we walked to.  The hut quickly lost its appeal.

We were left to make the most of our night in the hut and hope that no partying rednecks showed up for the night.  The high school kids quickly left and to our relief were replaced by two separate groups of couples-trampers.  This was a pleasing outcome as the type of person who had just traveled 10 miles on foot over hill and dale and through icy torrents was more likely to be someone worth spending an evening's conversation with than someone who had just hopped out of a 4x4.  The first couple that arrived were Irish (female) and Kiwi (male).  The second couple, ironically, was Canadian and worked at my school (female) and her husband from South Africa.  Our evening of conversation and chocolate overdosing was thoroughly enjoyed.

The rain, which started at sundown and persisted through the night stopped as we headed out the door Sunday morning.  Not only did it stop, but it cleared off and became sunny.  The hiking was only slightly more interesting than the day before until we crossed over Lagoon Saddle and long awaited views opened into the Arthur's Pass peaks.  We spotted where we had camped and hiked several weeks before and patted ourselves on the back for how much we had accomplished and learned in that time.  After being impressed with ourselves wore off we laid down for an attempt at a nap in the soggy tussock while we waited for the other couple who were operating on a full Kiwi clock. 

The tramp itself was not the stuff that brings someone across an ocean to experience, but we did immensely enjoy our time in the hut with the two other couples.  And, even more important, we chose to take the badge, the commitment to take what it rightfully ours.  Weekend Warriors!

Jill fords the creek as we enter the valley towards our hut destination.


Dave pretends to fill his pink bottle in the falls.


After crossing Cass Saddle we entered the Enchanted Forest.  Luckily, for Jill's peace of mind this forest had no lions, tigers or bears.


An evening at Hamiltion Hut.  From left to right that's South Africa, Canada, NZ, Ireland, and two Americans.


Jill has fun NOT having to ford these rivers.  The top frame is a bridge made of three wires and the bottom frame a more typical suspension bridge.


Jill comes across a less plush hut.  Inside this dank, musty structure was an earthen floor and soiled canvas bunks built for someone the size of a hobbit.  Motivation to carry a tent.


Finally a view.  Jill rests in the tussock while we wait.

-written February 2008

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