The weather forecasts were atrocious, the avalanche report appalling and punter motivation was faltering. There was nothing for it but to initiate plan Bee, a weekend expedition to the Eyre mountains.
Somehow everything was packed into Josiah’s van and Logan’s car. It was about an hour out of Dunedin that my phone began to buzz. I picked up and on the other end was Frances in the car. Turns out that Logan had slightly fucked up and forgotten his boots. Oh dear. A few minutes were spent on the road side with a sulking Logan, trying to think up some sort of plan. Logan wasn’t too keen to wear his Tevas in the snow. Josiah mooted stopping off at his house in Tapanui to check out his step-mum’s boots and the party agreed this was the best plan of attack. As it turns out, a mens US 7 1/2 equals a US womans 9 1/2 exactly. Phew, disaster averted.
I may have been responsible for a slight navigational error that resulted in the van missing Mossburn altogether but eventually both vehicles managed to rendezvous a few k’s out of town. Another five minutes down a gravel road and we were presented with a fork in the road. At first we pulled left, only to see a large sign saying STOP, because forestry operations were underway. Okay, we thought, easy, we can just go right. Quick u’e later and we we trundling down a narrow vehicle track. After a few minutes we found ourselves at odds with a gate marked with PRIVATE PROPERTY. The narrow road prevented another u’e so we found ourselves backing up for five minutes before we could turnaround. It was all good though we thought, we can just go left, surely the closed road is the one over the hill and if they really meant it there would be a locked gate. Sure enough two minutes later as the snow and hail began falling we were confronted by a locked gate. Fuck. There was one remaining option, trying to enter the mountains from a 4WD track starting at Five Rivers Station. On approaching the farm we were faced with a familiar PRIVATE PROPERTY sign, although this time it came with a phone number. Given we had exhausted all other options we figured it was worth a shot. After reassuring the farmer that yes we did know what we were doing and no we wouldn’t get lost he gave us the go ahead. We were ecstatic to reach the 4WD track, finally we had reached the Eyre mountains.
The cars were left at a rather dilapidated bridge over Cromel Stream. There was nothing difficult about the walk up the 4WD track, other than those caused by our poor attempts to keep our boots dry. The Topomap showed the track petering out to nothing, I was a little apprehensive as to how long it would take us to reach the hut.
Luckily my fears were unfound, it was only 6 when we wombled into the hut clearing, much to our surprise. We didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves with so much time on our hands. Inevitably our stomachs got the better of us so dinner prep began. Pasta was the dish of choice as it was the heaviest out of our two dinners. Safe to say the food was all vacuumed up in no time at all, even though we hadn’t really walked far at all. The hut book was full of angry illiterate anti-1080 scribble following a drop in the mountains. “Sorry Eyre mountains for killing you”. The opposite was true in fact, the track was littered with sign left by invasive animals. More 1080 might be needed (fight me).
At 7am Frances’s watch alarm peeped into life. No one stirred. I waited 15 minutes before finally rousing everyone, doing my best alarm clock impression. Breakfast was porridge with brown sugar, or perhaps more accurately brown sugar with porridge. The hut book noted that the route up to the Bee Bunkrooms was poorly marked and a bit rough, so we were surprised to find a DOC sign pointing up the hill and a well marked grunt leading upward. It sure was a grunt but nothing unmanageable. It was only about 2 hours up to the collection of buildings on the Mt Bee 4WD track.
The huts were pretty cozy, with the main lounge being furnished with a dining room table, chairs and a little stove. It was almost good enough to convince us to set up there for the night. However we settled to just have morning tea there before setting off up the vehicle tracks that led up the ridge. The snow was fluffy but didn’t require snowshoes. After half an hour or so we found a quadbike coming down the road towards us, carrying two hunters who were lamenting not having caught a pig earlier in the day.
The walking was more or less easy and we covered ground fast. Given our good progress we felt a ‘summiting’ of the high point on the range was in order. Once we had actually worked out where that was we pulled ourselves up off the road to the top. The views were good but the wind was too chilly to stick around. Back on the road we perused the map to see what we had left to cover. Deciding that the trip had been far too easy up until this point I mooted a bushbash off the ridge to the hut, rather than following the ridge and walking down the river. I was feeling optimistic so I estimated a 1pm arrival at the hut.
We worked our way down from pt 1203m. Leading was tough work as the shitty alpine scrub held up the snow pack, leaving space for my leg to fall through. About one every ten steps would follow this fashion, leaving me well and truly buggered. Little did I know what waited down the hill. On the bushline the scrub got denser, and therefore shittier. We got pricked and poked, scratched and scarred (mentally) trying to push our way through. Needing some time to mentally recover we halted for lunch among the scrub. Feeling a bit more perked up after that we pushed on, eventually pushing through the wall of shitty scrub to more open bush. Jakob led us down through the forest, over and around its various obstacles. On climbing over a collection of fallen trees he yelled a warning back to me that the trees were ‘a bit rotten’. As I climbed over one of the branches I was relying on gave way and I found myself tumbling down between the two trunks. Wedged with my pack on the ground, I made eye contact with a rather large spider. Not wanting to become antiquated I rushed to free myself, rolling over the downhill log, falling in a heap on the ground on the other side. This was much to the rest of the party’s amusement. The rest of the walk through the bush was fairly uneventful, and we soon found ourselves by a stream that led to the main river and therefore the track. Crossing the river it was only 15 minutes to the hut, about 2 hours later than my estimated arrival time.
On arrival we set up a washing line to dry out our gear that had been soaked by the snow/bush bash. After that there was nothing left to do but to laze in the sun and enjoy our books. Logan could feel his tummy rumble, so he cooked a batch of leftover pasta for the hungry mouths of the party. A few chapters later and it was 6pm, time for actual dinner. Shar valiantly started on the prep, although she could have really done with a step stool for the bench.
Dinner was peanut satay with noodles, or more correctly, peanut butter with a few noodles mixed in. The hut’s woodshed was well stocked so there was nothing for it but to start a fire. It was a bit of an art to making sure the room didn’t fill with smoke, but the warmth, or even just the glow, of the fire was appreciated. The effect of this glow on Logan’s face was truly evil and he felt the need to warn me to watch my back. That evening was spent playing Five Crowns, a card game that really does bring out ones’ true colours. It soon became apparent that there was a wolf among the sheep. Frances’s score remained minuscule whilst the rest of us were scoring 50 points a round, she was an outlier (some might say cheater). There was a lot of discussion that night as to how to deal with the outlier. Some (including myself) were even in favour of discarding it (out of the hut). She was lucky to have a bunk that night. There was also a silent assassin among us who was trying discretely to gas out the hut. I’m sure it would have killed any vermin or other small critters. To make it clear to us all that she was not the assassin, Shar felt it necessary to proclaim when she dropped a bomb. I’m not sure what’s worse, a silent assassin or one that owns up to it. As punishment for her cheating, Frances was forced to top and tail with Shar that night. After the game as I cleaned my teeth, I made eye contact with Logan, who smiled with an evil grin. I tried to say “I’m going to choke”. It was that point that I realized this was his plan. He started to laugh evilly at my dilemma. I was choking, unable to communicate. Everyone else looked at me puzzled. I managed to stumble out of the hut and cleared my mouth. Not this time Logan. After all that excitement we all got into our pits for the night.
We listened to the sound of rain in the night. Waking up it was clear there was fresh snow on the surrounding tops. On leaving the hut it only took 15 minutes for me to almost get the party lost, the forest was crisscrossed with deceptive game trails. Luckily I listened to my gut and stopped, to find the track 50 metres to our left.
It took just under an hour to get to a junction in the track, with one track going to the Acton Stream and the other going over the hill back to Cromel Base Hut. We turned left up the hill, slipping and sliding as we climbed. There was a bit of treefall but nothing unmanageable. Morning tea was called when we reached the saddle on the hill.
One of the trees beside us had a very alluring knob on it, according to Logan anyway. What followed was several attempts at ‘tree bouldering’ from the party.
Logan: “That knob was one in a million”.
Shar: “You would say that after sharing a special moment with it”.
Once Frances had well and truly cooled down and started complaining we started back underway. The route from here dropped steeply downhill, punctuated by some large treefall. This being said the going wasn’t hard, although we almost had a few crashes as we sped down. As the day wore on a hint of sunshine broke through the trees. Before long we found ourselves back by the Cromel Stream. The crossing wasn’t difficult and it was only a k before we were back in the familiar territory of Cromel Base Hut.
We had lunch at the hut before heading off back down the 4WD track to where the vehicles were parked. The sun now shone beautifully through the canopy, for the first time in the entire trip. The stream was looking inviting, so once we reached the vehicles there was nothing for it but a quick dip and a beer. A nice way to round off a stellar trip, despite it not being plan A!