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Brass Monkey Bivouac, Lewis Pass Tops, Canterbury/West Coast

According to legend, the expression ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’ originates from the idea that in exceptionally cold conditions, ship cannonballs would fall off the brass monkey (tray) when the metal contracted. However, like many a good story, it’s unlikely to be true. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original expression was ‘tail’ rather than balls. Further, ‘monkey’ was not a term used for the tray and even a very cold snap could not produce the reputed effect. So much for legend.

No matter, Brass Monkey Bivouac makes a legendary tramping destination all the same. The small hut probably gets the moniker from its lofty and exposed position on the Lewis Pass Tops. Situated at 1380m means the basic two bunk shelter often gets snow-plastered during winter. I’ve been there once when all the surrounding tarns froze solid and we skated on the ice. Fun as that was, summer is the best season for a visit.

Highlight? Probably the tarn-strewn Lewis Pass tops. It’s easy to use such descriptions flagrantly, but these tops boast so many tarns that it would be difficult to count them all. They range in size from paddling pool to bigger than a swimming pool.

Access is on the Lewis Tops Track, which climbs through a short section of stunted beech forest to the bush edge. Beyond, the undulating tops make for excellent rambling terrain, meandering among the tarns. Mt Technical, with its bold, leading ridges, draws the eye, as do the peaks of the nearby Victoria Range and Nelson Lakes. In December, the alpine flowers are at their best.

Beyond the tarns at the head of Lucretia Stream, the tramping begins to get a bit more demanding. Over the summit of Lucretia, narrow, rocky ridge travel ensues. After traversing a couple more knolls, the route descends to the appealing basin of Brass Monkey Biv. Built in 1971, the hut offers space for two.

It’s worth allowing an extra day to explore the surrounds.

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Total Ascent
1830m
Grade
Moderate / Difficult
Time
6-9hr to Brass Monkey Bivouac
Access
From Lewis Pass, SH7

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