The Lock in (Part One) – Black Hill Hut

“On a Mish” #114 The Lock in (Part One). Black Hill Hut. Oxford Forest Conservation Area. 10.7.2012. I have heard many people say how amazing New Zealand’s backcountry hut network is. There are about 950 shacks, sheds, places with four walls and some beds (some much more modern than others!) to rest your weary legs and find shelter from the notorious weather we have in our wild places. On many occasions I have had the pleasure of having the entire hut to myself, and then there have been times that have not been alone. These chance encounters have introduced me to some pretty cool like-minded wilderness folk, and then there was the time a fellow adventurer decided to lock me inside a hut!

2012 was thankfully not the year the world ended as predicted by Nostradamous. But it was a year that produced a monster storm that buried the mountains along New Zealand’s Main Divide in deep snow. Up on the Mt Hutt Ski Field the crew had to dig out many of the base buildings, some of which were completely buried. There aren’t too many storms these days like the one we had back in 2012 Nearly 3 metres of snow fell in one almighty storm.

Working in the ski industry only fueled my need for a mish so It was during this chilly winter I decided to brave the snowy conditions and head up Black Hill(1335m) and stay in the small hut near the summit.

I decided to opt for the Townsend River route, which meanders its way alongside the river before a final climb takes you up to the hut.

Mt Oxford(1364m) from the Black Hill Hut Track

An early-ish start from Christchurch had me driving in the dark into Lees Valley. The cold in the air reminded me it was mid winter and I would have to keep moving in order to stay warm. I’d much rather tackle these conditions over a hot day hiking.

From the roadside car park I headed into the valley crushing on top of the morning frost which had formed on every exposed surface. The track is mostly in the shade and this means permafrost for most of the winter. I do like how different a place can look when coated in ice.

The route to Black Hill Hut is flat and mostly in the open, with a couple of crossings of the refreshing waters of the Townshend River. If in flood, or if you don’t like wet boots, this can be avoided by clambering up out of the riverbed on an emergency track over the appropriately named Storm Creek. I went for the quicker river crossing route, as the river levels were low. Not long after crossing and then recrossing the river I arrived at the Wharfedale Track / Black Hill track junction.

It is just beyond the junction where the climbing / hard work begins, and I knew in the deep snow this would be a real challenge. I started to encounter deep drifts and to make things more interesting in places the snow would have a thin crust on top. It would give the impression that it was hard but as soon as I put weight on it I would plunge through. In places my legs were screaming for me to stop, but I would tell myself that I could only stop once at the hut.

The trees blocked the views for most of the journey up the hill, but in places I would get the odd glimpse of the mountains around me. It is funny how a brief view can act as fuel to keep you pushing on. I finally got to the hut, and at first I thought I might have a small problem. The snow had buried the lower half of the hut and from my point of view I thought I might be locked out before I could even get in…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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