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August 2014 Issue
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Snow snail in 13 Mile Bush

Sunrise over Ben More Stream. Photo: Pat Barrett
2-3hr to hut
Take Benmore Road, off SH73, 10km west of Springfield, to the marked car park and poled route to track.

Benmore Hut, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park

Deep snow had fallen in the foothills and covered every mountain, forest, flat, and riverbed with an icing of white crystalline powder.

The temperature was frigid, but the sky clear as I slowly hiked up Thirteen Mile Bush Stream intent on gaining the track to Benmore Hut which lies at 800m beneath the Big Ben Range, south of Porters Pass.

As I waded through the knee-deep powder, I realised there was faint hope of reaching my destination. But I was just happy to be out there, in the pre-dawn, totally shrouded in the silence that only snow can bring to the landscape.

I struggled up another embankment, kicking hard into the ground to maintain my balance. I could see the light beginning to drop onto the mountain tops. With my camera at the ready, and with the increasing light, I began to capture the frozen scenes about me. There’s a surprise in store too – deep, deer tracks in the snow. It looked like a stag had come down to drink from the still-flowing stream. Heading on to a small flat I found some agreeable views of the ranges ahead and also the sunlight flooding the valley and plains behind me. It was a magnificent scene, quite surreal under snow and low-angled light.

Further up, the snowpack deepened and I decided the mission has reached its end. I’d got some good pictures and there is always another day.

That day arrived about a month later, after some thawing, and I could readily walk the flats to the bush where the track begins. Though much of the snow was gone from the flats, in the bush it was a different story. With little sun penetration, deep snow clogged the forest where the weight of it had dropped numerous limbs and even complete trees. It was a chaotic scene and I had another fight on my hands. Reluctant to retreat a second time, I inched forward through the mess hoping for better going higher up on the sunny faces.

Where a spur drops from the ridgeline, I had the freedom to walk unhindered through sun-warmed forest as the track climbed away from the freezer-like river valley and traversed over easy slopes where there was hardly a trace of snow. It was great to be moving quickly again and looking for the hut which stands not too far away on the saddle at the valley head.

Benmore Hut is a tidy little A-frame belonging to the NZ Deerstalkers Association and sits in a small clearing on the forested crest of the saddle. It’s a popular haunt for hunters trying their luck on the adjacent ranges or over into the upper Selwyn River. Just a few trampers find their way here, mostly heading for the flanks of the Big Ben Range to the west where unmarked routes can take you over to Lake Lyndon.

I tried out one of these, forcing a route through more snow-damaged bush toward the open tops, but it wasn’t a serious attempt. I’d reached my goal, and my limit for snow-snailing.