A Southland Summer Adventure in the Eyre Mountains

Written by Justine Guillemenot

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We wanted a summer adventure in Southland, something unusual and different from the man on the street, and we found what we were looking for!

We started at Five Rivers and walked up the stream to Cromel Branch Hut. It was a nice and easy 7 hour walk through the forest.  We had our very first attempt at spotting a deer but none were seen by the river or the clearing. It was a pleasant spot to stay for the night and we were warm in our sleeping bags, even though there was ice on the tent the next morning.

On the second day we carried on and had lunch and a good break at Upper Cromel Hut which is the end of the marked track. Then, well fed and rested, we made our way up the valley off track where we came to a beautiful waterfall. We had another pause while the guys scoped out the hill for a route up. We had our first experience climbing a steep scree slope. I had to give up my hiking poles in favor of hauling myself using the tussocks, and I soon found prickly Spaniard to be unfriendly when you get too close! My team saw I was struggling and gave me advice to make my way up easier. All the time I was learning to read such hostile terrain and successfully made it to the top.

Going up the ridge towards the end of our day of hiking we knew the tarn at the top would provide us the water we need for diner and tomorrow’s adventures. But at the top, surprise: the tarn was frozen!  We had to back-track a bit and settled lower down beside a smaller tarn to camp on the rocks. Lucky I like my mattress to be firm! We were just finishing diner when fog invited itself to our party. We could barely see each other’s tents and started talking about Plan B: yoga in the morning before retreating the way we had come.

Eyre Mountains, Southland

On the third day a helicopter woke us up. The cloud disappeared during the night and we were eager to enjoy the beautiful day to head to the summit. While looking at options, I realised that the next part was going to be out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t the only one challenged by the terrain and we decided to take what looked like an easier and safer route. While the guys were cruising up the scree and finding extra challenges for fun, I was trying my best just to follow without harming myself. Fortunately, my crew was supportive and looked after me. At the top of the scree, I became comfortable enough to look back and provide some encouragement too.

We kept on going amongst the rocks, sometimes big, sometimes small. It gave us a variety of terrain which was interesting and helped me out, using different muscles to keep me from being too sore at night.

We reached the summit of the Helen Peaks for lunch and immortalized the amazing moment in a picture. We were then hoping the next bit would be passable. And it was! I was so relieved that I almost ran down the scree… with care. While some of us enjoyed another snooze with a spectacular view, others were still hoping for and seeking chamois.

We decided to carry on and arrive at the hut a bit earlier to enjoy a well-deserved rest. We could see the walk down the valley and expected to finish it within the next few hours. Before that, we had to go down an unstable bit of scree. Amy turned back to help us and then I was comfortable enough to help Matthew. It was a bit strange for me to see him uncomfortable because he is always the one helping me. Will saw I was struggling so he taught me to use the scree to my advantage, which enabled me to get down quicker and have fun along the way. Once I mastered the technique, it was a bit like skiing downhill. I felt so satisfied to finally have some control over these rocks.

Eyre Mountains Southland

While having a short break, Callum spotted a chamois. Amy took the lead to provide us some great dinner. I was surprised to enjoy eating heart. Delicious!

The fourth day was fairly short so we took our time. The views were gorgeous and we could see everywhere we had been since the first day. It was amazing! We arrived at Mt Bee Hut much earlier than our usual time so we had a good play in the warmth of the sun, with more delicious chamois and rest before the night.

On the fifth day we were woken up at 5am by Aunty Amy, had a quick breakfast before hitting the downhill section. We were flying; the scenery was lovely and were so glad to have had a successful trip.

Before the trip I was excited and apprehensive about all the possibilities and dangers I could think of, but along the way I realized that you cannot plan everything and if you have the right teammates by your side you can overcome anything.