Red Bands and Snorers: Sefton Bivvy
Five girls stand on a rock, as naked as the day they were born. At the same time I am sitting on the biv’s shitter. The door is not closed, in fact, there is no door. There aren’t even any walls. In this vulnerable state I contemplated how my life choices had led me to this moment.
“Don’t worry Sam, none of us girls are hot enough for you to have anything to worry about”.
Rewind to Sunday night. I was getting stone walled by some folk who said they were keen to tramp Monday/Tuesday. This was a bugger of a thing because the forecast was a real beaut. Undeterred I flicked Jakob a message because I swear that guy is never able to turn down a good tramp. My hypothesis proved correct and by 9am the following day we were barreling towards Mt Cook under clear blue skies. If you’re ever looking on Apple Maps in the Twizel area keep an eye out for Suzi, we did our best to stick our tongues out for the camera.
I had managed to condense everything I needed into a 40L pack, leaving anything bulky to carry to Jakob as he needed the exercise. We could tell from the moment we set off that it was going to be a warm one and oh boy did it follow through on that one. It was a simple march down the Hooker Valley Track to begin with, passing the odd clump of domestic tourists rambling along the path.
The appeal of the walk was understandable, as even in the summer sun the surrounding amphitheater of mountains were cloaked with snow. Glimpses of the mighty maunga Aoraki could be seen in the distance at the head of the valley. Crossing the Hooker river we met a party of old blokes sitting on their packs having a breather. A short conversation ensued and they informed us that there was a party of women in front of us on their way up to the biv. Maybe this should have been our warning to turn around, but instead I saw it as more of a race (much to Jakob’s dissatisfaction).
At Stocking Stream we motored off the hard beaten track onto a softly beaten track marked out by the occasional cairn. Nav was no difficulty at all and we made good time up the stream which began to steepen quickly as we approached the valley wall. In the distance we could see an unsuspecting collection of individuals enjoying a breather of their way up. This turned out to be the group of women, who on our approach began to make their way up the hill again. One carried a rifle on her back, whilst another was clad in red band gumboots. I didn’t quite know what to think.
We introduced ourselves and discovered this motley crew of females were a group of friends that originally studied at Massey University. That should have been a second warning sign, but no matter. It was clear that one of their party was significantly slower, even slower than Jakob. Whilst it was fun to have alternate company other than Jakob (we had already had enough of each other on the Dusky not too long prior), the pace was pretty slow so we powered on reassuring the girls we’d put a beer in the fridge for them.
After following Stocking Stream up for some way the worn route then wove through a series of rocky bluffs and scree. Jakob and I decided that anything was easy after our experience in the Florence. This was despite the fact that Jakob was seeing double; I told him in characteristic Prussian style that their was no stopping until we had secured a bunk, he could kark it after that.
We made good time up the rocky buttress and soon an orange pole came into sight marking the point the route takes a right towards the Tewaewae Glacier. From the pole we climbed more steeply, navigating through a series of rocky bluffs until a small orange speck came into view. This gradually became larger, becoming recognizable as Sefton Bivvy. The walk thus far had taken about 3 hours in all.
“In 1917 Mt Cook chief guide Peter Graham decided to build a small hut (8" x 10") (2.1m x 3m) above the Te Waewae Glacier to make climbing Sefton & Footstool easier with materials carried to the site on men’s backs. The year after it was built it was damaged by snow but repaired & it has remained in much the same condition since. The biv has a mountain radio, an earth floor & is surrounded by a stone wall. A large bivvy rock is close by & it provides shelter for another 6 people. Painted by volunteers of the Mt Cook Residents Association in Feb. 2019.”
Hut Bagger NZ — https://hutbagger.co.nz/huts/sefton-bivvy
Opening the door to the bivvy the place stank like cigerette smoke which we attributed to the old codgers we had passed on the flats. I might have been more angry if there hadn’t been a beer on the mantle piece, which was swiftly placed on ice for later. I had hyped up the hut’s toilet the entire walk up and I think Jakob was suitably amused when he saw it.
We spent the next few hours lazing next to the hut, even finding time for a Raro slushie. There was a magnificent lack of sandflies that was appreciated by both of us. At 5pm I decided to go for a walk back down the track to see how the other group was going and I found them after 15 minutes starting to climb through the bluffy section. I offered assistance but was glad when they decided to carry their own packs to the hut! It was about 6pm by the time I was reunited with Jakob, who was in much the same position as the one he had been in when I had left an hour earlier. I celebrated my re-arrival by cranking open the chilled beer, before offering it around because I am a gentleman even when in the mountains.
The rest of the evening was spent sprawled out next to the hut amongst quite a significant gear explosion. As the girls arranged their things in the most spread out fashion they could another girl appeared who was part of the girls’ party, making their total number 5. Jakob and I were unaccustomed to female company in the hills, the closest thing we’d had to that on the last trip was Mat. Not that their conversation was necessarily delicate, they kept referring to each others “special abilities” in hushed amused tones and said many questionable things besides. This should have been enough warning that perhaps we should have retreated to the rock bivvy, but we’ll know for next time.
Dinner that night was ‘mexican’, aka a can of beans combined with canned tomatoes and spice mix. Despite the lack of effort that went in it actually tasted pretty good. At the tail end of dinner an unfortunate couple arrived and swiftly retreated to set up a tent at safe distance ready for an assault on the Footstool early the next morning. As the sun dipped below Mt Sefton we started to sort out sleeping arrangements, with Jakob and I ending up in the Biv with two of the ladies. It should have been a red flag that three of their group opted to sleep outside or in the rock bivvy.
Before bedtime we all crammed into the biv for more shit chat. Whilst this was going on the setting sun was casting spectacular colour around the sky and breaks were taken often to admire this. On one occasion a kea paid a visit and the girls had a squarking match with it (the squarks were fairly similar in quality).
Eventually after much questionable chat from all involved (except Jakob who characteristically didn’t talk much and so had an air of mystery to the girls) people retreated to their pits for the night.
After maybe two hours of sleep I was awoken by a growling bear. At least that’s what it sounded like, both girls were snoring in such a way that the guests in the Hermitage might have stirred in their sleep too. After trying every conceivable maneuver to wake them up or to cover ones ears Jakob and I slipped out of the bivvy to sleep under the stars. The show was impressive, the full cloak of dazzling lights at 3am was compensation for complete lack of sleep. On the slope behind us a pin-prick of light climbed towards the Footstool. It is really hard to describe the tired feeling of jubilation that I had, for the place was truly awe inspiring underneath the night sky. As the time approached 5am the sun started to climb above the horizon and the sky filled with colour. Each minute the light reflected in a different and interesting way and it was hard to pace my photo taking as not to fill up the SD card!
As the girls got out of bed Jakob retreated (wisely) to a rocky outcrop behind the bivvy and I soon followed aware of the photo prospects.
We surveyed the scene, enjoying the expansive vista before us. Eventually as the colour dissipated into the atmosphere we tottled back to the biv. All the girls were up, huddled together on a mattress looking towards Lake Pukaki. Breakfast followed accompanied by semi-intelligent conversation curtesy of the pleading of the semi-sensible friend, and the girls put on a morning coffee as a consolation prize for keeping me up all night. This segways well to the beginning of this tale. Nature called me (via the medium of coffee) and the lure of the el natural called the girls and there I found myself wondering what the etiquette is for taking a dump in front of a bunch of undressed ladies. Not the sort of thing they teach you at uni that’s for sure. Somehow I came out the other side of that episode with my dignity intact (?) and we waved goodbye to our eccentric company. The going downhill was easy enough and the sun started to heat the valley until we were sweating buckets.
Soon we were were back at Stocking Stream and making a beeline for a curious hut hidden on the left of Mueller’s moraine wall. On closer inspection this turned out to be a semi-renovated Hooker Hut (not yet open), a hut which originally sat much further up the valley until the glacier retreated.
From the hut we bushbashed through the scrub back to the Hooker Valley Track. We tiki-toured to view the Hooker Lake and Mt Cook before stomping our way back to the car. The ride home cooked us due to Suzi’s defunct AC, not that Jakob noticed as he was asleep most of the way.
There were several warning signs which I caution the young men of the backcountry to be aware of when deciding to become acquainted to the roving bands of tramping females. Take note or face the consequences, you have been warned.