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July 2012 Issue
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Cosy night at Woolshed Creek

Woolshed Creek Hut (26 bunks)
The walkway is signposted on the Ashburton Gorge Road, 10km north-west of Mt Somers
Woolshed Creek Hut, Mt Somers Conservation Area

Heavy frost lies in the shadows under the trees and snow coats the tops of the surrounding Mt Somers Range as my daughter Bernadette and I drive into the car park at Mt Somers Walkway in central Canterbury.

Cold and clear is the tenor of the day and we waste little time in getting under way to begin the short hike to Woolshed Creek Hut. The track begins easily enough and passes along a high forested terrace above the river where sunlight only filters through the canopy and it is wise to keep moving in an effort to stay warm.

Up ahead the track takes a turn for the hill and begins a steep ascent along the line of the old bush tramway which once ferried coal from the mine site above and on down Woolshed Creek. There’s little left now, save for a few wrecked coal trucks lying upended in the forest – catapulted there after breaking loose from the winch wire. They make an interesting diversion before the ascent and rest stop we take at the preserved mine shaft entrance. There’s a good view from here and a couple of day trippers to chat with until it’s time to head on along the edge of the canyon bordering Woolshed Creek. The snow is not long in coming, liberally coating the tussock and boardwalk section making walking slower but not impossible.

At a small saddle we leave the track, strike out across the hillside and drop onto a 4WD trail which takes us all the way to the hut. Even the road proves a bit of a struggle under snow but as we are on the sunny side of the hill our passage is enlivened by sweeping views through the Lake Heron Basin and onto the ragged faces of the Arrowsmith Range.

Woolshed Creek Hut, standing beside its namesake stream, is surrounded by deep snow and unfortunately for us has lost the sun by the time we reach it. There’s no one at home as we clump on inside, claim bunks in the best room, light the fire and brew up a drink. Now to explore outside.

Bernadette takes a little coaxing from her book beside the fire but once outside revels in the snow plodding. I piggy-back her across the stream to visit the nearby canyons, waterfalls, and spectacular swingbridge as the afternoon fades to dusk and strong westerly light floods in from the distant Southern Alps.

On returning to the hut we find it’s now occupied with 10 other trampers, including a family and by nightfall a group of students have also joined us.

Cosy nights in huts in the winter are one of the great pleasures of tramping in this season and we enjoy the company and the candle-lit ambience beside the fire.

I view dawn next day through the bunk windows from the comfort of my sleeping bag, yet it’s not overly cold, a nor’west wind has sprung up and brought with it warmer temperatures. Leisurely defines the day for us, both for breakfast and packing until we are again alone in the hut. Bernadette busies herself with knocking icicles off the hut verandah while I explore frozen stretches of Woolshed Creek, camera in hand, until it’s time to leave and cut a path back through the snow, homeward bound.