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Just about there

First stop on the way to Browning Range Bivouac is Grassy Flat Hut. Photo: Rachel Grooby
Total Ascent
Car park to Grassy Flats Hut, 4-5hr; Grassy Flats Hut to Browning Range Bivouac, 2-2.5hr
Grassy Flat Hut ($5, 10 bunks), Browning Range Biv (free, two bunks)
Kokatahi/Lake Kaniere Circuit Road, car park on Dorothy Falls Road

Browning Range Bivouac, West Coast

The Styx River on the West Coast boasts a population of the only duck in the world hard-core enough to spend its days surfing turbulent white water in its search for food. It’s also home to a route that puts the masochism back into ridge climbing.

Lathrop Saddle lies in the Browning Range. Most trampers completing the iconic Three Passes Route will have skirted around this range on their way to or from Harman Hut. For those wanting a shorter, albeit not much easier encounter with the area, a weekend spent exploring the valley is a great introduction to all the West Coast wilderness has to offer.

From the car park at Dorothy Falls Road, a crater-riddled 4WD track leads to the beginning of the track. The first stop is Grassy Flat Hut, reached on a well-worn trail with a few scrambly sections where the trail has eroded into the river. There’s been a lot of trapping in the area and native birds seem to be doing well.

The track eventually opens out at Grassy Flat where a few more water crossings lead to the well-maintained and attractive Grassy Flat Hut. We paused briefly here for lunch and then back-tracked for five minutes to take the turn-off to Browning Range Biv.

The route is hard graft straight up the steep slope. We boulder hopped, and fell in my case, up a stream bed for an hour before diving into the bush for a walk that, in places, more closely resembled rock climbing. While the track has been lovingly maintained and is easy to follow, the gradient is a brutal workout for your legs.

A sign just 20m from the hut summed it up: ‘If you are just about buggered, you are just about there’. It motivated us those final paces to the little clearing at just around 1100m.

Once comfortably ensconced in the tiny accommodation, we thought about settling in for the day, enjoying the view overlooking the Styx River. But we still had some strength left in our legs, so chose instead to carry on to Lathrop Saddle another 400m higher.

It was another two hours of very steep climbing on a poled route to reach the saddle. The snow didn’t start until just past 1400m and we only needed crampons once we reached the saddle itself. The small tarns were frozen over and snow blanketed the entire saddle. We made our way across to peer into Crawford Stream on the other side. Continuing this way makes a nice loop to Zit Saddle and Cedar Flats Hut, if you have four days to spare.

We melted snow for a hot drink and heard the loud crack of ice breaking under its own weight, reverberating around the tops. The frozen tarns were collapsing at the edges as more ice and snow froze on top of them. It was a little unnerving, but exciting to watch.

The return trip was much faster and we had the fire cranking at Grassy Flats for a hot meal and long sleep that night.

After scavenging some wood from the stream tto replenish the hut’s supplies, it was a fast march back out to the car and a hot meal in Hokitika.

– Rachel Grooby