Western Hutt River Catchment Area
The plan: To spend a weekend tramping in the Western Hutt River catchment area. The goals: To visit Hutt Forks; Renata Forks; the Elder Biv site; Quoin Ridge. The reality: High rivers and wet weather.
Dave and I had been talking about making a visit to the Western Hutt catchment area for some time. Yvonne and Michael had been in the area many years before and were keen to re-acquaint themselves with the territory. Mike is a keen young tramper open to visiting new territory.
The week prior to the long weekend was wet and got wetter as the week passed, culminating in thunderstorms in the Wellington region on the Friday. After arriving at the ranger's house at Kaitoke Regional Park prior to 7.30 Saturday morning the decision was made to go up Quoin Ridge and spend Saturday night at Alpha Hut, thereby allowing the possibility of accessing the intended area should the weather improve. Just to cover another option, we left a car at Kiwi Ranch in case we exited via the Marchant Ridge or the Tauherenikau Valley.
As we set out the weather was actually settled and warm, with a high cover of grey. The slog up and down the access road into the Eastern Hutt valley warmed us even more and drinks were taken after crossing a swollen Eastern Hutt River by way of the sturdy wire bridge. Then we followed the route on the true right of the Eastern Hutt to the top of the sidle above the river's gorge. Here we headed up a spur with a reasonably defined route to access Quoin Ridge at just under 700 metres. Progressing up the ridge top we experienced at times a light breeze, which made the damp of the bush quite chilling. It was a welcome brew to accompany lunch that added warmth.
When we got to the first open tussock area, just prior to reaching bump 1133, we were rewarded with views of the whole Western Hutt area we had intended to visit. We could also look back down the Hutt Valley to see a prominent Somes Island in the harbour. Yvonne and Michael pointed out highlights and camping spots from their respective trips many years before. Shortly after crossing Quoin top the wind got up and the mist settled over the tops of the Southern Crossing. It was not the place to idle and as we crossed over Alpha to head easterly to the hut we were greeted with a mostly white landscape - the residual remains of an obviously heavy hail storm the previous day.
There were only two other trampers in Alpha Hut that night and with no hope of dry wood it was a chilly place. However, as on most TTC trips, we were initially warmed by a delicious soup, and that warmth was consolidated by an equally delicious meal. Little time was wasted outside the sleeping bags after the meal and we were treated to the sounds of passing showers on the roof as the night progressed.
Sunday morning the weather was not any better and the decision was made to go to Cone Hut and, "get a warm fire going", said Michael. Cool showers kept us company through Hell's Gate, over Omega and down Block XVI. An interesting feature of this section of track that morning was the virtual covering of the track with fresh branch ends combined with patches of hail stones on the ground - some about 25mm across (and this two days after the storm!). We came to the conclusion that the branch ends had been knocked off by the intensity of Friday's storm. [That line of thought was reinforced three weeks later at Tutuwai Hut, where the hut log book entry for the Friday prior to Queen's Birthday weekend made by two hunters described a thunderstorm with hail stones as large as golf balls.]
When we got to the valley the Tauherenikau was well up but not in flood. A decision was made by Bill, Michael and Yvonne to forego a night at Cone Hut, and head out to Kiwi Ranch. Dave and Mike headed off to Cone Hut, along a very-much-awash track, where they gathered wood and had that warm fire and did justice to consuming a meal for five between the two of them. That night the rain ceased and they woke to a clearing sky.
As we three headed down the valley in persistent light showers, and experienced challenging crossings at Kotukutuku Stream and Boulder Stream, some anxiety was expressed about whether we would be able to get across Marchant Stream. As it transpired, with the aid of the wire, we were able to cross, but the collective wisdom agreed another ten centimetres of water in the stream and it would have been back to that fire at Cone Hut or a night under the fly, streamside! A quick warm brew at Smith Creek Shelter and we were out just before dark.
Dave and Mike came out down the Tauherenikau valley on Monday and experienced no challenging stream crossings!
The goals were not achieved but the plan remains in the diary and we look forward to a drier reality in the Western Hutt River catchment area.
Trip participants were: Yvonne Ashworth, Michael Bartlett, Dave Reynolds, Mike Thompson, Bill Allcock (scribe).