Cool Conditions (Part One) – Earnslaw Hut

“On a Mish” #108 Cool Conditions (Part One). Rees Valley / Earnslaw Hut. Mt Aspiring National Park. 24.7.2010. Many fear the cold and it is because of this that usually the hiking trails of Aotearoa are very quiet during the winter months. As someone who seeks solitude, this is just perfect for me. Also an added bonus is the incredible sights created by the cool conditions. Ice is of course very cold, some might even say that ice is very cool…

2010 was a very cold winter, with ironically not much snowfall. One chilly week in particular went by with the temperature gauge never getting above -4! The temps were low but unfortunately snow play was a no go. I was also hanging out for some ski field work and with no action on the ski fields I needed to head somewhere else for entertainment.

The Rees Valley would become a regular stomping ground however this was the first time I had travelled further up the valley than the historic and very interesting Invincible Mine. The mine is definitely worth a visit and it is only a short drive from the village of Glenorchy at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu.

The march up the broad expanses of the Rees Valley towards Mt Clarke(2285m) is always spectacular. I had only seen the valley in books at this stage, and the place was even better than the pictures I had seen up until this point.

The Northern Forbes Mountains

My plan was to head up to Earnslaw Hut and I knew from looking at the map that I had to cross over the Rees River at some stage to get to the base of Pikirakatahi / Mt Earnslaw. I ended up heading further up the valley than required passing over 25 Mile Creek, which is where I should have crossed. I guess I just got lost in the surroundings to realise my error. I added about an hour onto my hike, as I had to retrace my steps to find the correct crossing point. The river wasn’t running high or fast, but it was cold and wide. By the time I reached the other side my feet were nearly blocks of ice thanks to the cold conditions and the water which was so cold I nearly forgot I had feet!

After crossing the river I looked around the edge of the forest for a while for the track. Nowadays I have been up the valley many times and know exactly where to cross, but on my preliminary venture up the valley I was uneducated and paying the cost. The price was to see a little bit more of the valley than necessary, so it wasn’t exactly a punishment! Ironically the large orange triangle that marks the start of the track had been covered up by a collapsed tree. The first of many signs I would see of a recent storm that had obliterated the area.

The track was easy to follow after finding the marker and although there were some washouts in places I managed to zoom my way up the track. It was in the shaded parts of the track that I encountered what was a very cool feature (literary) of this mish. Massive icicles had formed with the very cold temperature and some were around the size of my arm. The bizarre and very mesmerising spikes of ice were all over the show and every now and then I glanced upward to see if there were any daggers dangling above the track. I can’t say I have been on many hikes where you are concerned about being stabbed in the head!

I eventually zig-zagged my way up to a point near the treeline and Kea Basin. A sign pointed in the direction of a very dark patch of beech forest, and just beyond sat the tin walls of Earnslaw Hut. Like many rickety old huts around the country, the twisted tin walls and dark interior has the mind having thoughts of haunted houses in movies. The door creaked and groaned when opening, adding to the spookiness…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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