Brewster Hut has the biggest hut-door I have ever seen. It was an interesting door — similar to what you’d find on a walk-in freezer, only larger — and has a massively over engineered, solid-steel latch that groaned loudly when used. While it was faintly comforting to know that a bomb could go off outside and the door, with its handle, would likely survive the blast, I could not decide exactly what necessitated such robustness — and this was troubling. Was it to keep out the were-rabbits (we found the tracks of a colossal rabbit in the snow), or was it because Brewster Hut was indeed a massive freezer? Experience would indicate the latter: Brewster was an icebox.
I was sitting at the table, around 10:30am on Thursday morning, when the sun finally crested Mt. Brewster. Sunlight streamed through the windows: it could not have come soon enough. I had been watching it lazily creep down the hill all morning as I hunkered down in my sleeping bag and drank warm tea, trying to stay warm. I was desperate to get into the sun but the hut’s wooden deck was still covered with ice, so I climbed out the kitchen window and sat on the black-steel fire escape, letting the warmth soak into my bones. I was feeling a bit tired, which was unsurprising, perhaps, given the last few days.
Two days earlier, I had woken up at the start of the Brewster track, a lonely spot off the road through Haast Pass. I’d had a solid night’s sleep and was rearing to go after my leisurely start to the day with a cooked breakfast and coffee. Unlike the previous few days and my trip up Ben Lomond, I felt energised by the fact of being outside in the silent roar of the bush, still dripping for the night’s rain as it overshadowed the rushing Haast River. I felt deeply grateful for this sense of confidence, a welcomed change from the doubts and fears that had plagued my mind for the last few weeks.
Amazingly, this sense of confidence and ability did not wear off as the day wore on. After a particularly brisk, barefooted fording of the Haast River, I began the track toward Brewster, an unrelenting 3hr climb up 1000m of slippery tree roots and the odd icy rock. Despite the difficulty of the track, there was much to enjoy: the mature beech forest covered with mosses that laced the edges of the trees with the light of the low winter sun. The best moment was crossing the tree line. I was blown away by the view above and across the valley, filled with snowy peaks and vast valleys. It was magic.
I reached the hut feeling encouraged by my successful completion of the track and was welcomed by a group of glacier guides from Franz Josef. They are a super bunch and we had a great time chatting and eating. They invited me to join them for a walk up Mt. Armstrong, a peak directly behind the hut. I was hoping to climb Armstrong and gratefully accepted the offer.
We set out at 8:00 the following morning, just as the sky gained a yellow fringe. There are several cairned routes on Mt. Armstrong and we roughly followed a couple of them — switching between as we saw fit — up the icy and tussocked slope, around the rocky bluffs and toward the snow line. It was an astoundingly beautiful morning, albeit a bit windy, and I exerienced a profound thrill as I looked back down the mountain, into deep blues and blue-greens of the Haast Valley, up past the snow-blue peaks, and into the growing yellow of the sky.
Walking up, we had encountered a number of false summits which, while disappointing at the time, served only to heighten my anticipation of the final summit. Reaching the peak, marked by a lonely cairn, did not disappoint. The view was astounding and offered a clear sight up the Main Divide. Mt Brewster stood beside us, wind and cloud scouring the summit, as an attractive goal for next time. I tried to imagine the climb and summit.
Summiting is always special for me. I enjoy that moment of arrival as a point in space and time that opens the door to innumerable objectives — other peaks and ridges. The sight of these fills me with both a sense of possibility — excitement at a world of exploration — and sense that, for just a moment, I’ve been afforded a glance through that door upon which I have been knocking all my life. With this comes a contenting sense of wholeness, of placed-ness, and of belonging. But then we depart and our footprints in the snow are blown away or covered and nothing remains but the memory of the moment, an echo of the view we long to see, and the hope of arriving once more at one of those innumerable distant peaks.
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip with the guides, who hailed from the UK, Australia, and Canada. They were such an inclusive and friendly bunch and I loved getting to know them, hearing their stories, over the duration of the trip. Sharing that moment of summiting with others is a far fuller experience than doing it on your own. Returning to the hut, the guides headed back down to the carpark and returned home.
It was not until lunch time, the next day, that the ice had finally melted off the deck, allowing me to move into a more comfortable position in the warmth of the sun. There was a cool breeze so I pulled out a mattress and my sleeping bag and lay down for a snooze. I was captivated by the view of the mountains across the valley but often looked back toward Mt. Armstrong, recalling the previous day’s climb. My eyelids grew heavy. Snoozing outside a hut with a cool breeze and a bright sun is one of my favourite things to do. I love listening to the sounds: the wind in the tussock, the distant rumble of a waterfall, and the occasional cry of a kea. These are deeply quieting and I soon fell asleep, resting in preparation for the next day’s return to Wanaka.
Leaving Brewster Hut – Video