With our recent funding application to the ORC Huts and Tracks fund approved, it was time to begin work improving Red Stag hut, in the Godley Valley. Behind the scenes work from a number of South Canterbury branch members on drawing the application and arranging the materials needed meant that we had everything on hand ready to begin the work.
The date was set a week in advance, but we had bad news just a few days prior that the contractor who was to dig the pit and build the platform for the new composting toilet was unable to make it. However David Keen, Steve Ludwig and myself decided to make the trip anyway as there was still enough work to be done.
I was looking forward to my first visit to Red Stag hut, so I didn’t mind the early start which saw us across the Macaulay River by 8:30am. The bumpy cruise up the riverbed track was broken by a couple of short glassing sessions in case any Tahr were nearby. Less than 5 minutes after we first started looking, Dave’s claim of spotting one was met with skeptical comments until he set up the spotting scope and proved it to us, with a young bull confirmed around 2km distant and a long way above the valley floor. Safe for today
Shortly before reaching the hut, we met a couple of trucks coming down-valley. Branch member Wayne Cassidy, one of the hut custodians, had been spending the week at the hut with a couple of mates, and today being the first day without rain they had jumped at the chance to get outside and look for a tahr. After a short chat Wayne pointed his guests in the right direction and lead us back to the hut where we all got straight to work.
A couple of us began cutting brackets and installing the solar panel while the others fitted the LED lights inside the hut and ran wiring. The brightness of these lights is more than adequate and makes the hut so much more welcoming. After this, we spent some time realigning the current toilet which was in a sorry state and had become offset from the hole after careless hut users had reversed into it. The new fibreglass toilet was then secured between some of the many large rocks nearby, safe for a later date when it could be completed. Wayne had towed a trailer up the valley with him, carrying the new toilet and some DoC-supplied fireproof mattresses for the hut. Throughout the bad weather during the week, he had spent a lot of time cleaning and tidying up much of the hut and his efforts showed.
Our tasks were completed around 4pm and while some thought was then given to a short hunt up the hill, the strong nor-west and imposing clouds that had arrived scuttled that idea and instead we settled in to the warmth of the hut for the evening. Wayne’s guests arrived back shortly after, having sighted a few nannies, but with a steep gully in between they had elected not to take the shot. A light snow began to fall outside about this point but did nothing to chill the pleasant evening inside.
The next morning a couple of centimetres of snow lay on the ground, as we quickly packed and made our uneventful departure, following through on our intention to be back in town by lunchtime.
As a first-time visitor to Red Stag hut, it was readily apparent the immense amount of work that has gone into building and maintaining the facilities there, particularly with the recent expansion and tidy-up. The Hut is comfortable inside and boasts a great view, making it a place I would look forward to visiting many more times.
Just a few weeks later I received a call from Dave mid-morning. “How busy are you tomorrow?”
“I could probably sneak away, what’s up?”
“Been in touch with the contractor and it’s all go for Red Stag. Up and back tomorrow. Give Jim a bell to book a seat”
Jim Kroening, another branch committee member and fellow builder to Dave, had made a trip up to Red Stag shortly after our first visit, his task then being to build a stand and fit the new water tanks provided by DoC Twizel.
The schedule was set and the next morning Jim, along with Allan Thompson, picked me up. Allan is one of our branch patrons and has a long history with Red Stag hut, having invested a great amount of sweat and effort into improving and maintaining the hut over decades passed.
Much of the drive was spent discussing the weather forecast, which projected heavy snow as low as 500m altitude throughout the day. With the hut at 990m elevation, this was a concern.
A short hop up the road and we climbed into Dave’s truck to complete the journey to the Macaulay river. Wayne had met the contractor Clinton O’Brien, (who was towing a 1.4ton mini-digger) a little earlier and begun heading up the valley shortly before us. The river was a breeze to cross, being much lower than either of the previous trips undertaken by ourselves and Jim, however within 10 minutes of reaching the far bank and turning up the Godley, a light snow began to fall. We caught up with the others shortly after and the rest of the journey was uneventful, although a wary eye was kept on the ever-falling snow, which had begun to settle evenly by the time we pulled up to the hut.
Well aware time was a priority, jackets were thrown on and everyone got to work. The digger rolled off the trailer and began to scrape a hole out of the rocky moraine while the others rapidly turned a trailer full of timber into a solid partitioned framework for the composting toilet. Perhaps not as rapidly as they may have liked due to the biting cold rendering the gas in the nailguns useless! The battered old long-drop was detached from the anchor wires and loaded onto the trailer for the return journey and disposal, while the pit was safely filled in as the new setup would provide a more permanent option.
Throughout this time the snow had continued to rapidly fall and was building up against the hut, vehicles, and anybody that stood still too long. A ruler placed on the picnic table showed the depth increasing at around an inch per half hour which was enough to cause concern, but we knew the job was nearly finished so it was all hands on deck for the final task. With the hole now complete we hauled the heavy framework into position before lowering it into the pit and beginning construction of the top platform, while the digger returned to work building a berm against the sides of the frame. The new fibreglass toilet was fetched and fitted to the top of the platform before being anchored down securely. Time to load the vehicles and go!
Dave and I had both set our handheld GPS units recording the track before we left the public road, which we were about to become very grateful for as the track and riverbed were now completely buried in greater than nine inches of snow. With near white-out conditions there was little we could do but read the course off the small screens, giving basic corrections where possible while keeping an eye out for any visible boulders. Hopefully the two vehicles following in our wheel-tracks had an easier time of it. We continued to crawl our way down the valley, stopping many times at banks to kick snow away until we could find just where the track cut through, or if we were on it at all! On a few occasions large rocks and slick snow attempted to defeat our progress, but some careful and other not-so careful manoeuvring allowed us to pass the obstacles and continue down the valley.
After almost an hour of this near-blind driving, the track began to show itself as a pair of shallow indents on the surface of the snow which allowed us to pick up the pace. This was to the relief of us all, especially Dave who had done a great job safely leading the convoy. It continued to snow heavily the rest of the trip down-valley, but eventually began to thin out as we reached Lilybank and safely crossed the Macaulay again, heading for home.
Huge thanks to everyone involved or contributing for their hard work.