Sunday, January 15, 2023

Hopkins by Packraft

This trip had many goals. Firstly, to walk up to the head of the Hopkins Valley to check out the scenery. It borders Aoraki National Park so it's big peaks and glaciers. Secondly, to bag the huts up the Hopkins Valley as my last trip I'd headed up the Huxley to Brodrick Hut and Valley, and only visited the two huts in the lower Hopkins Valley. Thirdly, it was touted as a Grade 1-2 river run in normal flows so the opportunity to float back out rather than walk seemed very appealing. Finally, carrying the extra weight of my packrafting kit as well as tramping gear would easily replicate the load I would need to carry on my upcoming trip in Australia in March, and I needed to see if I could handle it.

I asked Jude if she wanted to join me, so we met at Tarras and continued on in my car, over the Lindis Pass, past Lake Ohau and on up the Hopkins Valley. It's a long drive in.

Luckily the 4WD track in to Monument Hut had recently had a makeover and so we were able to easily drive my Subaru almost the whole way in. We got to a spot that still seemed a bit too soft and muddy so decided to park up and walk the final km. Our parking spot was very close to the river so we would almost certainly be able to paddle right back to the car.

Loaded up we began our tramp. Along the 4WD track to the hut, and then along the tramping track to cross the Huxley swing bridge before breaking out onto another 4WD track heading up the true right of the Hopkins River.

The walking was fairly easy, but up ahead we got bluffed out and tried to find the walking track marked on the topomaps. This track was supposed to be in the beech forest but despite finding a few orange triangles we couldn't find any way through the impenetrable bush. After an hour or so of unsuccessful bushbashing and Jude finding a pair of sunglasses lost by another person trying to make their way through that piece of bush, we backtracked to the river and looked for a suitable crossing.

An easy creek crossing

We had already scoped out potential crossing options, but couldn't find any that we thought safe to walk across. So we inflated our packrafts and ferry glided across! The river wasn't actually all that deep, but the current was quite strong...

Getting ready to cross the river after being bluffed/ bushbashed out

Rafts deflated and back in our bags we continued upriver, arriving at Elcho Hut to find it occupied by three lads from Hawkes Bay on a week long hunting trip. One of them told us the Elcho Stream was difficult to cross so we began heading over to have a look but I was feeling weary so we decided to leave that problem until the next day and stay at Elcho Hut for the night.

It's a long valley, and much of it was this easy

The occasional waterfall coming from the cloud shrouded peaks

Elcho Hut

The next morning we made an easy crossing of Elcho Stream by foot and walked up to Cullers Hut to take a peek. If I'd had the energy it would have been a nicer hut to stay in, but we were already well behind schedule as the original plan had been to make Dodger Hut on the first day and then do a day trip further up the valley.

Cullers Hut

We continued upstream on the true right until we got bluffed out again and needed to cross to the true left anyway to get to Dodger Hut. Above us was a rapid that in no possible scenario could be considered a Grade 2, so we made the decision to cross below it in our packrafts. That crossing was deeper, but the current not as strong. Now on the true left we let some air out of the rafts, secured them on the river bank and headed upstream to Dodger Hut.

The river swirls around that big rock then drops into a hole with another large rock just below the surface. We crossed below the rapid and above some long wave trains

We had made the decision that we weren't going to run the Grade 3 rapid, not least because we hadn't brought helmets or throw ropes, so the rafts didn't need to go further up the valley. We also knew we didn't have time to explore higher up, so we just ambled up to Dodger, had lunch in the sun, and then walked back to our boats.

Dodger Hut, next time we'll drive here

We tempered the boats and began our descent of the Hopkins. It started off pretty spicy with a couple of meaty wave trains, requiring some stops to empty our bucket boats, and then became a series of gentle Grade 1 rapids and braids. 

The clouds that had hung around the mountains for the last 24 hours lifted and we were treated to some wonderful vistas of the surrounding peaks. We could see all the way up the valley, and as we descended we got great views of Dasler Pinnacles.

There was just enough water for us not to need to get out of our boats on the braided shingle more than a couple of times, until we reached Monument Hut. There we stopped to try and help a jet boater who had run aground, to no avail, so we continued our float downstream to the car. A simple drag of the boats about 10 metres from the riverbank over a grassy knoll had us deflating our boats right next to the car.

He missed the correct braid to take (about where this picture is taken from) and realised too late

On the drive out we saw that the jet boater had been rescued by another two boats, and we decided that next time we'd take Jude's 4WD up the valley to Dodger and walk from there.

Not a bad trip, not all goals achieved, and although carrying the extra load had been tiring, I'd felt fine on Day 2 and hadn't experienced any back pain at all. I'm feeling that my rehab is progressing well.

What next?

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