Our trip in to check out this hut restored by the Permolat Community
Trip to Check out Mid Styx Hut
What to do on short mid-winter days when the weather forecast is perfect on the west coast! How about an easy afternoon stroll up the Styx to admire the splendid community effort achieved by quite a few Permolat volunteers?
Frank and I parked the 4WD nearly at the end of the marked vehicle track as shown on the map. He pronounced pessimism at seeing 3 other vehicles just beyond the tarseal but I reckoned they were going further up the valley. We left the car in sun and changed into our tramping gear. As I was to be crossing the Styx I opted for sandals instead of boots as they dry very quickly overnight so there’s no hanging around in wet footwear in the morning.
With the afternoon start and getting back out before lunchtime the next day there was no need to pack a lunch either but my delight at achieving a 6kg pack including secateurs was soon tempered by the dawning that I’d forgotten to pack the gas canister and stove. However I said nothing, as there was an open fireplace and copious dry wood from Permolat’s work in opening up the clearing around the hut to ensure it stayed dry in the future. If we had company at the hut, Frank’s outburst to my announcement would be moderated I hoped.
The track was very easy. It was a former pack track for the miners coming from Canterbury via Browning Pass. However there were side creeks of various widths and greasiness and Frank came to grief on one flat treacherous stone, landing on his arm and hip. The profanities issuing informed me he was quite hurt but he didn’t think he’d broken anything so we carried on with me in front still. I put on a pace to see how he’d keep up and the small distance formed between us informed me he was still in quite serviceable condition.
Eventually we came to the Tyndall confluence. Around here was a small cairn. Could this be indicating the recommended ford? We examined the river and decided it would be too deep to even attempt it so continued to the shallower and recommended upstream ford an hour up the track. I kept an eye out for the wooden sign and practised location awareness. The sign was quite easy to spot and promised us we would be at the hut in 40 minutes. By now it was 5.20pm, with the sun having set around 5pm so we had about 10 minutes of functional daylight to ford the river and find the track up to the hut.
We found a suitable place to cross and linked up for the knee-deep crossing. A scan of the far bank revealed no markers but on reaching the true left I discovered a faded pink strip of flagging tape tied on a tree. There was nothing else in sight. Frank expressed disgust as this route was meant to have been recently marked. Were the volunteers being exclusive with their hut? I regretted not having brought along some tape myself. How would people travelling upstream from the hut know about the little track that would lead them from the river to the main track?
However the map showed clearly that the track began just on the other side of a small side creek a few meters downstream from our ford. By now dusk was approaching so we got out our headlamps and Frank put on his jacket to guard against the night chill. We soon encountered what looked like an old, wide grassy track marked with pink triangles parallel to the river. This was the trapping track mentioned on the remote huts website. We crossed the side creek, re-found the pink triangle markers and then a few meters on were pleased to see a massive orange triangle indicating the start of the track uphill to the hut. It was now nearly dark but I persisted without the light to enable me to spot the frequent white permolats we needed to follow. The foot trail was narrow but easy to follow in the gloom.
When the track started to climb, I put on my light. Apart from one dog-leg, the track was very well marked and obvious, though narrow and a little exposed in places as we ascended an arête.The track headed south, following the stream, then abruptly turned west, maintaining altitude across the terrace. Before long we were at the hut. I immediately accessed the firewood situation. It was bone-dry and abundant. Frank remarked on this and I ‘fessed up. He was not pleased but I reminded him it would be no issue due to the open fireplace complete with dangling billy hooks and spare blackened billies nearby.
I immediately set to, making up for my oversight to produce in the space of fifty minutes, a roaring fire, coffee, soup and a satisfying lentil curry. This was helped by the previous person’s having left abundant kindling near the fireplace although I had to shovel off the remains of their fire which had been dampened by rain coming down the chimney. I found the creek very close behind the hut that provided water in a large pool that looked as though it wouldn’t run dry in drought conditions. The track from there leads to Tyndall Creek and its ford with the Styx.
Frank pulled out long poles of cut saplings from a pile by the door and sawed them up. We stacked several of these logs against the 3 sides of the walls of the fireplace so they’d dry out for the evening fire and for future parties. Mindful of the morning’s needs I prepared and set more kindling aside, ready for an efficient rekindling of the fire to get water boiling rapidly for the hot drinks. There were 2 axes to choose from and plenty of cast aside old floorboards to make long narrow angular sticks which would catch and burn more quickly than the round snapped up sticks.
We selected our bunks. The mattresses were on wire frames which had stretched and sagged a little so I bulked up the central hollow with my thermorest folded length-wise, my emptied pack for under the mattress to raise my legs and a splendid woolen blanket that would have kept a horse happy on top of the thermorest. Come 10pm, I was ready for bed so left Frank to his reading by the fire.
I had a cozy night apart from rats scampering through a tunnel I’d inadvertently formed under my pillow as the mattress was too long for the bed-frame. This happened 3 times and was a bit unnerving but I consoled myself I was well ensconced in the sleeping bag and would come to no harm. We had a comfortable night apart from Frank having pain in his hip where he'd landed on his creek crossing.
In the morning I got cracking with the fire and tidied up the hut while Frank constructed pyres of wood to dry on the metal tables outside in the wind. I emptied a rusting barrel of its damp cut logs, swept it out and placed it on rocks, slightly tilting downwards so it wouldn't rust out, then refilled it with dry bits of wood. I constructed a pyre of damp logs near the fireplace on the concrete so dampness wouldn't be transferred into the floor of the hut. Satisfied with these efforts, we left, deciding not to try the Tyndall Creek route as we didn't fancy the ford.
When we came back to the Styx, I placed flourescent red/orange markers I'd found in the food bin to mark the ford and a couple more downstream on the true left to guide people to the start of the track to the hut. From reading the hut book it looked as though the odd person including tourists had decided to check the hut out so these people may not necessarily have the beta on where the track was and the markers would assist them.
We pounded off along the track. There were at least 50 stoat traps on the way as there are blue ducks about and I think I did hear some the evening before but we didn't see any. Our legs and feet had got quite cold from crossing the river and soon warmed up. I put a lot of effort into keeping my feet reasonably dry for most of the crossings but it wasn't possible to do this at one stream. This is the stream where you go up to come to an old track that leads up to the site of the former Mt Brown Hut. The stream is good going but the track is very difficult to follow, being sparsley marked and badly overgrown. Fortunately, Permolat stalwarts - GlennJ and ?Alan Jamieson or Andrew Barker I think , have cut a completely new track going up from here directly to the old hut site.
The Kokatahi Tramping Club have installed the new Mt Brown hut which before being extensively renovated was the lower Arahura Hut from the next catchment north. Eddie Newman and Julia Bradshaw led the renovation with a hand from locals and Permolat people plus DoC flying in the building materials for free which were donated from local businesses.
We arrived at the car which was unfortunately in the shade though we did experience brief exposures to sunshine in the last sections of track. We drove round to the track that had been cut by the volunteers which led to the new Mt Brown Hut being constructed at the bushline. This track is very tortuous and a while later it was recut and made a bit more direct as it takes 20 minutes to travel what would look like 5 minutes across the cocky's paddock from the road!