The karma couldn’t have been better. Earlier that morning we’d stopped in the dark to help two young tourists change the wheel on their rental car, so we were convinced the Mountain Gods would be smiling on our planned hike up to the Brewster Glacier….
We reached the forested slopes of Mount Aspiring National Park on the Haast Pass Highway at dawn and glancing up at the mountains could see blue skies through breaks in the cloud and felt confident that once the sun was up the mist would burn off, as the weather forecast had predicted.
A chilly crossing of the Haast River at dawn, Mount Aspiring National Park NZ
The Brewster Hut Track begins immediately with a crossing of the Haast River, which after heavy rainfall can be impassable, but today the flow was light and we barely got wet ankles. As this is the only river crossing on the Brewster Track we had a cunning plan to keep our boots dry so crossed in old trainers which we then hid in the bush and changed into warm socks and dry boots (not the normal Kiwi attitude)!
From the Haast River the track climbs steeply through lush, native beech forest and for most of the way is a jumble of gnarled tree roots and moss covered rocks. It can be quite a scramble in places and we were happy to be carrying relatively light packs with just enough gear for staying overnight in the hut, rather than camping gear including a tent etc.
Hiking through lush native beech rainforest
The track to Brewster Hut winds its way through gnarled roots and moss covered rocks under the ancient canopy of native beech
After climbing consistently for about 90 minutes with plenty of scrambling up steep sections of track, we emerged from the forest at the bushline to find low, damp and thick cloud blanketing the mountain with visibility down to just 20 or 30 metres. What were the Weather Gods thinking?! Had they not seen me change that flat tyre in the cold and dark for the damsels in distress?
Surely the cloud would burn off? And anyway, it was only about 10am in the morning which still gave us a good 10 hours of daylight – plenty of time to hike up to the Brewster Glacier and back to the hut before nightfall, as planned.
Hiking through the mist on the Brewster Track
I mentioned that we were travelling light….
It was about now, as we started to wade through the sodden tussock grass, that I began to regret not packing some of the gear which would usually accompany me on a longer tramp. I’d naively been lulled into a false sense of security by the fine and dry forecast… no need for gaiters, right?
Within 5 minutes of hiking through the soaking tussock, water had cascaded down my legs and my socks, sponge-like, had readily soaked up the moisture and my boots were drenched from the inside out.
Travelling light… No spare, dry socks. Oh bugger.
But, we were only 45 minutes away from the hut which would surely be above the cloud and we could dry out there before the onward hike up Mount Armstrong and across to the Brewster Glacier.
Brewster Hut in thick, low cloud with visibility down to 20-30m.
After about 2.5hours of climbing we arrived at the hut on schedule to find visibility down to less than 20m and the cloud thicker and damper than ever. And it refused to lift.
7 hours, 3 cups of tea, 2 cups of soup, 2 sandwiches, half my chocolate ration, and numerous trips to the long-drop for a pee later, the cabin fever really set in and we decided to go for a wander up the hill towards the summit of Mount Armstrong – just for a change of scenery.
All hope of reaching the glacier that day had gone, but on the upside my socks were now dry.
About then the Weather Gods woke up and karma kicked in. The clouds slowly began to clear to reveal tantalising glimpses of the towering mountain peaks and glaciers surrounding us. We climbed onwards towards the summit of Mt Armstrong and the clouds continued to clear.
BITTERSWEET: Clouds clear to reveal the Brewster Glacier, Mount Aspiring National Park
Hiking on Mount Armstrong waiting for the clouds to lift.
A tramper finds a campsite with a view (well, now the clouds have cleared), Mount Armstrong
Returning back down to Brewster Hut at dusk
Mount Brewster and the Brewster Glacier. The ancient path of the glacier is clearly evident where the rock has been smoothed and rounded by the grinding and erosion of the ice.
Reflections of Mount Brewster (2516m) an Topheavy (2076m) in an alpine tarn
Returning to the hut, the silver lining of the days cloudy weather was apparent as the sunset lit up the last of the passing high cloud for a magnificent display.
Sunset at Brewster Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
Watching the sunset at Brewster Hut
Sunset over the Southern Alps. A slight halo (or sun dog) around the sun can be seen as ice crystals in the high cirrostratus cloud refract the light of the setting sun.
Whilst I had left out some essential gear, I hadn’t forgotten the whisky, and after dinner we enjoyed sitting out on the deck under the stars with a few nips of single malt until it became too cold. It was a full-house at the hut – which we’d suspected might be the case – but we’d borrowed the key to the 2-bunk Brewster Bivvy from a friend at DOC in exchange for agreeing to clean the toilet and the hut before our departure. A fair trade we reckoned for a night away from the snorers and rustlers back in the main hut!
Brewster Hut by moonlight at 2AM.
Brewster Bivvy under the light of a full moon
The next morning we awoke to the pink glow of a mountain sunrise and clear skies. After a couple of coffees, we completed our domestic chores for DOC, and headed up Mount Armstrong again. We didn’t have time to traverse across to the glacier this morning, but watched a mountain guide sidle around to the ice and and made a mental note of the route for next time.
Brewster Bivvy at sunrise
Sunrise over Mt Aspiring National Park, Haast Pass and the Southern Alps
A climber leaves Brewster Hut at sunrise, Mt Aspiring National Park NZ
The 2 hour walk back down to the car seemed more of a scramble than the hike up, but we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Southern Alps – views which had eluded us the previous day.
A Sunday morning stroll on Mount Armstrong with Brewster Hut below
Descending down the Brewster Track, Mt Aspiring National Park
Hiking along the ridge line of the Mt Brewster Track, with the Haast Pass Highway below
Hiking on the Brewster Track with native rainforest in the valley below
Despite arriving later than anticipated, karma had finally played out on Mt Armstrong for us with a spectacular sunset, night-sky and sunrise. More importantly, it taught me an important lesson – never entirely trust the Weather Gods in the mountains and always pack gaiters and dry socks!
Panorama of Mount Aspiring National Park and the Haast Pass Highway from the Mt Brewster Track