The toss up, head up to the bigger mountains in NZ or ski 55cm of fresh snow with the hoards at the Remarkables… No contest. Brewster Hut and the imposing Mount Brewster was the objective.
The so-called Brewster Track can best be described as a scramble. Hold onto tree roots and pull yourself up through almost a 1000m of vertical in just over 2km.
Once up at the empty hut, a quick look through the intentions and hut log at the hut it becomes apparent that the hut is used only infrequently in the winter and then usually only on a Saturday night. Further, almost everyone who comes up the track heads on up to the summit of Mount Armstrong.
Even though the track took alot out of me, being able to leave the majority of the contents of my heavy backpack at the hut instilled enough optimism that I headed on up in the warm weather and bright sunshine to the summit of Mount Armstrong.
Apart from the icy summit, nice spring snow was available all the way down to the hut and it was time to take gratuitous hut photos –
Day two and with a bit of trepidation I headed on up and around to the Brewster Glacier. The hike from the hut follows the start of the skin track to Mount Armstrong but then cuts around on one of a couple of ramps that curl around the rocky summit ridge of mount Armstrong and over onto the Brewster Glacier. I had been pre-warned that this section can be ‘sketchy’ and they are right. Large steep, rocky and sunny faces above, steep and rocky falls below into the jagged drainage valley of the glacier. A fall would be disastrous. The clear night and yesterday’s warm temperatures meant a stout melt-freeze crust had developed. About half way through the traverse, the realisation of the precarious nature of the traverse dawned fully on me and ski crampons were not cutting it. A quick transition over to boot crampons and the rest of the traverse was uneventful.
Gaining the glacier was then a straightforward traverse. The glacier itself had good snow coverage (measured at least 3m by probing) and there were no obvious crevasses visible. Some seracs (ice in the process of flowing over a cliff) were apparent on the faces which helps with the scenery and reinforces that yes, we are in a glacier.
I ascended through the glacier and up onto the most obvious ascent path the summit. I had intentions on skiing one of the steeper bowl features back down onto the glacier but as I ascended, unlike the nice snow on the flat glacier, the headwalls of the glacier had been severely scoured and there was either an edge able (barely) melt-freeze crust or a totally un-edgeable rain crust. I ascended as far as I felt comfortable – to the start of the knife-edge part of the ridge-walk at about 2440m but didn’t think it was worthwhile pushing for the summit in a precarious situation – especially solo.
Waiting for the sun to do something to soften the surface (note: this face of Brewster faces south) afforded plenty of time to have lunch in the sun and a good look around.
At about 2:00pm, it was now or never and I negotiated myself as safely as possible back down through the ice onto the glacier. Unfortunately, the best turns of the day were right there, on the flat glacier.
Heading back through the traverse of death, which is much more manageable after the sun softens the surface snow and you’re not constantly thinking you are going to slip and slide hundreds of metres to a grisly end, I made it back to the hut and given that it’s Saturday, two groups had arrived for the weekend. A short chit chat and a break for some water and it was back to the brutal Brewster track to descend back to the car.