Spurred on by wild weather
Our trip began with a car journey south from Christchurch through Fairlie and into the big, bare hills of the Sherwood and Ben McLeod ranges. These striking mountain ranges are high – over 2300m in places – and have little if any forest cover. Being predominantly tussock-covered, they possess a spacious grandeur reminiscent of the altiplano (high planes) in South America.
The hike in was easy enough over an undulating vehicle track all the way to the hut. It began with a poled easement from the car park into Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Area. But, with strong winds and threatening rain surging in from the west, I was pleased we weren’t on a harder hike.
The high peaks were shrouded in rolling grey clouds when we entered the upper Orari River catchment, after having climbed over an easy pass on the North Opuha Track to locate the small hut.
Spurs Hut is a relic from mustering days and dates to 1896. It has had a fairly substantial makeover in recent years with a full re-cladding and a deck added. It clings to a windswept site where regular gales sweep over its diminutive frame after descending the 2000m peak at the valley head.
Opening the door as the rain came in from the north-west, we were greeted by a tidy little space, not unlike a large cupboard, replete with four bunks, a cooking bench, log fire and one seat.
Once inside and with the fire on, we were set for the first night.
The sky was clear next day, but ominously stacked with giant lenticular clouds. An enormous zeppelin-like cloud was poised directly above the hut – fair warning that we could expect gales in the near future. Before heading off to explore the valley head, and a possible ascent of its 2000m summit, we spent time fossicking for wood in the shallow gully just north of the hut.
It was pleasing to discover a ragged thicket of exotic trees, no doubt a legacy of mustering days, that provided a ready source of stout dead branches for the fire. After stacking them in the hut porch, it was off for the tops.
By the time the upper valley forks were reached, strong gusts were ripping down off the mountain face above and being channelled by a small gorge into jets of supercharged air, ripping and tearing at the tussock and scrub. We hoped that the broader terrain features above might lessen the wind strength. This strategy worked well and provided some cover whilst climbing in the lee of the face until the ridge was crested at 1200m and there was the full force of the gale, raging in from Butler Saddle and the Sherwood Range. A mop of shaggy wind-shredded cloud clung to the tops, fresh snow beneath it. It was time to turn back.
At the hut, the wind grew in strength all afternoon and into the next day. The hut shuddered and shook all night, making sleep difficult and when dawn finally arrived, it was another easy call to just stay in the sack, not only to recover lost sleep, but the thought of venturing outside into the roaring maelstrom was just too unpleasant.
We enjoyed a final cosy night around the fire before heading out next morning on a blue-bird day, with not a breath of wind.
- Total Ascent
- Spurs Hut (free, four bunks)
- North of Fairlie on Clayton Road and near Fox Peak Ski Field