And there were only a few rats, it wasn't infested like the notorious yellow hut, or the ancient possum hut. Their footsteps running and jumping in the night still exist in my restless dreams, or when I am tossing or turning in a hut full of wood smoke, like last week in the Ahuriri. I remember I went through a stage of carrying an old camp oven around tramping, and the old fireplace at Jubilee was the scene of at least one successful roast dinner. It wasn't often we found other people in there. Once we bumped into Bronwyn Strang, sister of Jim Strang who I was acquainted with only through Dad's copy of "Jannu: Wall of Shadows" my favourite mountaineering book growing up.
The Silverpeaks perhaps isn't for the faint hearted, on the only other time Penny and I have been in there together we found a tent washed down the creek. Then in the hut book, there were pleas for help from a lone traveller who had failed twice to find her way out of the deceptive ridge and valley systems. Just this May eight people were airlifted outin what sounds suspiciously like a University tramping club trip, while in the past there have been fatalities.Though I get the sense some of this aura is protected by the local powers that be, as in key places the track is not well-marked and user friendly routes have not been developed. In short the whole place is exactly like it was probably 50 years ago...fine by me, but expect people to get into trouble when this is the only tramping location on Dunedins doorstep!
We headed in from Double Hill Road, it was only intended to be a short walk, but as we sat down at the old Green Hut site and I bashed around looking fruitlessly for water, Penny got a call on her cellphone that our planned engagement was cancelled and we were free to roam. Up past Pulpit Rock and the painted forest sat there, a plane of green with the Maniototo skies behind.
Curling around the Silverpeak trig we forged through snow to the top of the Devils staircase. the new Jubilee Hit could be seen down valley on a high terrace, which I remember ploughing through the tussock of en-route to watch a falcon at its nest. The old hut satin the shade at the crook of the valley.
The gorse is still hanging in at the bottom of the Devils staircase. One thing you notice in this icy part of the world is the slow rate of revegetation, the forest may return in a couple of hundred years or so, but to the naked eye there is a permanence to this place to equal that of Dunedins fading city centre. I point out to Penny the easy step across the creek from rock to bank, where once, fully laden, I had fallen back in my youthful weakness. It won't be long I guess before it will be a big step once again. The last steep grunt up to the hut is worth it. I could certainly spend some time here in the sun, but today regrettably only a quick lunch was on offer.
With time just on our side we decided on a route out via ABC caves and Rocky Ridge, but first it was down and through the forested glen of Silver Beech to the old hut site. I now officially feel like part of history. A sign declares it. And the stone chimney remains. I learnt to build hut fires in that chimney, with wet smokey wood, scraps of paper and my old camp oven squashing the lot - probably before the fire even got going! I can see the woolen socks hanging beside the fire and the upturned boots shoved so close, and dried so quickly that the soles cracked away from the boot. Haha classic.
From the hut site you can still follow the old shortcut that leads up towards ABC cave. The 4WD track you join is steep and fast before it peters out in a wall of tussock. We looked back, to the west, down Christmas creek to the Lammerlaws, where Anton Oliver, Brian Turner and co are/were fighting their battle against the wind farms
We were getting worried about daylight, so shot through ABC cave, and its great sleeping platform and up through tussock to a high point, finding ourselves just behind the gap, less impressive from this angle. To the north the catchment of the South Waikouaiti rolled away from us in a series of ridges and the odd volcanic point. The ridge on the horizon is the Kakanui's, always obvious from the Dunedin hills on a clear day and site of another potential windfarm.
Our route from here was back via Rocky ridge to the Silverpeaks and with this track not been familiar or offically marked we continued to share some concern over darkness overtaking us. It was sweet as though. Years of use has worn a pleasant track typically, especially on the more defined ridges. And it was beautiful in the sunset with the light glowing over the little communities of Blueskin Bay to the left where I grew up, and the golden tussock of the Silverpeaks and their rocky sentinels heightening the aesthetics. Before we knew it, and with just a little twang of crispness in the air we were back past Pulpit Rock and the Green Hut site to Semple Road and the rental. Great day out in the Silverpeaks.