A night at Brewster Hut

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.

The Start of the Track - 3 hours means 3 hours.
The Start of the Track – 3 hours means 3 hours.
Why does every one of my recent tours involve boots off river crossings!?
Why does every one of my recent tours involve boots off river crossings!?
Bush Tramping - Getting a bit tired of the bush tramping and tree root scrambling
Bush Tramping – Getting a bit tired of the bush tramping and tree root scrambling
Then it the snow begins making following the track a bit tricky.
Then it the snow begins making following the track a bit tricky.
Finally breaching tree line but several hundred more vertical metres to go
Finally breaching tree line but several hundred more vertical metres to go

 

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.

Brewster Hut with impressive scenery all around
Brewster Hut with impressive scenery all around

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.

Rain crust refusing to melt on the summit of Mount Armstrong
Rain crust refusing to melt on the summit of Mount Armstrong
Armstrong Summit Selfie with Mount Brewster summit in the background
Armstrong Summit Selfie with Mount Brewster summit in the background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 –

Brewster Hut sits directly on the ridge line - The river and road 1000m below
Brewster Hut sits directly on the ridge line – The river and road 1000m below
Brewster Hut at night
Brewster Hut at night
Kiwi Drying Room
Kiwi Drying Room
Brewster Hut with impressive mountains
Brewster Hut with impressive mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Looking down into the valley on the traverse of death
Looking down into the valley on the traverse of death
The traverse of death around Mount Armstrong to gain access to Brewster Glacier
The traverse of death around Mount Armstrong to gain access to Brewster Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Mount Brewster & Brewster Glacier
Mount Brewster & Brewster Glacier
Easy going getting onto the Brewster Glacier proper.
Easy going getting onto the Brewster Glacier proper.
Mount Brewster - The easiest ascent path. Unfortunately, very icy.
Mount Brewster – The easiest ascent path. Unfortunately, very icy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The summit of Mount Brewster - I only made it to the left-most sub peak.
The summit of Mount Brewster – I only made it to the left-most sub peak.

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.

Distant Ocean Views over to the West Coast
Distant Ocean Views over to the West Coast

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.

Best skiing on flat Brewster Glacier
Best skiing on flat Brewster 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.

  • Johan Lundberg

    Nice Joel! Some day we will ski again

    • Joel O’Rourke

      I hope so Johan! Always was a blast.