Sylvester Hut - Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park
Friday 25 - Sunday 27 August 2023
The programme advertised that this trip would take place ‘some time in August’ (i.e. when good weather and leader-availability aligned), and to register interest with Di. Of a total of 15 names that were tossed into the pot, by the time the call was made that we were going ahead, five bubbled to the top.
We headed off from Richmond on a sunny Friday morning, all five piled into Ed’s Hilux. Once 'over the hill’ and the narrow Cobb Road to the dam done and dusted, we donned our packs and headed up the old 4WD track, arriving at Sylvester Hut (1306m) mid afternoon. There was only one other person in residence, making six of us in the 12 bunk hut.
It’s been a warm winter and there was no snow around the hut, so we were eager to go looking for some. We trotted off to nearby Lake Sylvester, finding drifts of well-trampled snow in the sheltered banks of the track. The lake was a half frozen picture-postcard, with the edges a slushy-ice treat. We got back to the hut before nightfall, lit the wood burner, cooked our dinners, and by 7.30 were all tucked up toastily in our sleeping bags for the night.
We were up bright and early at 6.30 on Saturday morning to witness one of the famous and spectacular Sylvester Hut sunrises. Wow! Click click click went the cameras.
At 9am we headed off on a Grand Expedition for the day. First it was back to Lake Sylvester, now mostly frozen over after a sub-zero night, and sporting the most gorgeous reflections. After dawdling there awhile, we followed the shoreline around and then headed up the gentle gradient to Iron Lake (1600m). As we climbed the vistas opened up - Lakes Sylvester and Little Sylvester and a myriad of smaller tarns beneath us, and across on the horizon Mt Arthur, The Twins and other peaks. The weather was bluebird.
Iron Lake was frozen solid; we judged it at about one foot thick at the edges. Of course the men in our party had to try it out - it was very slippery so they didn’t venture far. We had an extended morning tea at Iron Lake, then clambered partially up the route to Iron Hill for even better views.
Next we went searching for slopes with good snow coverage so we could practice snowcraft skills under Pete’s expert instruction***. We headed west from Iron Lake up a snow and boulder strewn hill, ice axes always in our uphill hand. At the top of the ridge we found a good uncluttered snowy slope with a crisp surface and a safe run-out. On went the crampons (oh the feeling of stability in them) and we practised marching up, down and along like a duck.
It wasn’t all work tho! Lynley indulged in some snow angels, before a group effort to construct an epic snowman. One of the guys incredulously asked, “did you really bring that carrot up here just for the snowman?” To which I straight-faced replied “No of course not; it’s for Pete’s lunch”.
We carried on meandering along the ridge, and then loped down bare-again slopes. This completed a big loop back to the hut, arriving there at 1.30 for a rather late lunch.
We had a very indolent afternoon, lazing around reading, chatting, chopping firewood, eating junk food, playing cards, and writing poetry. The cloud lowered ominously, and other bunk-mates trickled in, until we had 11 roomies for the night. We had great banter with them, and were gobsmacked that one of the girls had actually gone for a skinny-dip in icy Lake Sylvester. Then it was another early night. The hut is well insulated and the wood burner very efficient … Pete took his mattress and sleeping bag out to the deck.
We were up early again on Sunday morning, but it was rather dull and overcast. And then it started sleeting, big wet blobs of slush. Sadly there would be no further adventures today. We ate our breakfasts, packed our packs, cleaned the hut, and soon after 8.30 we were checking out of Club Sylvester. Of course by then the sleet was gone and the sun was making a good effort to burn away the clouds, but it was too late - onwards and downwards back to the car, then the two hour journey home.
We were Diane (leader and scribe), Pete (chief guide), Lynley, Ed and Simon … and our hut-pet Wendy the Weta who enjoyed our attention so much that she hitched a ride back home with us.
***The club has 6 ice axes and 2 pairs of crampons available FOC for members' use.