With our first weekend off together, there were high expectations not to waste the opportunity on insignificant activities like trying to find a house. We were already heading to Hanmer to meet some friends so after mountain biking the morning away we packed the car up and set out over Jack's Pass to take on Fowler's Pass. By take on, I mean meander at a leisurely pace over a gradual climb with great weather and way too much chocolate. Leave your car just off Tophouse Road at Fowler's Hut and begin the easy trek up to the top of the pass. It's all uphill to start with but the rest of the walk is relatively flat and easy going.
We hit snow relatively early but the track was clear enough to walk without getting cold feet as we wound our way steadily up to the top of the pass. It was my first tramp in soft shell pants - as opposed to the old thermal leggings and thin hiking pants combination - and I was pretty impressed with how much more comfortable they are. I wouldn't recommend them in the height of summer but they dried quickly after river crossings and kept my legs warm through the colder parts of the walk. We took around 90 minutes to reach the highest point of the pass between Mt Stanley (1852m) in the north and Mt Clara (1945m) in the south. The going is much steeper on this side but the mountain bike tracks weaving through the tussock indicate that you could still ride it if you were that way inclined.
A poled route leads you down into the valley and through a series of small river crossings. None were above knee height and the river was slow at the time but I haven't been through here following a lot of rain. As the valley opens up you catch your first glimpse of the historic Stanley Vale Hut down on the flats. You are still at least half an hour from the hut at this stage but the hills are well and truly over and the walk is pleasantly scenic on a clear day. We have visited the hut several times so we turned north again and hugged the lower slopes of Mt Laura as we made for Lake Guyon. There is a track here still although the topo map shows only the one leaving from Stanley Vale - the two eventually meet just before the lake.
Lake Guyon Hut sits in a little clearing halfway up the north-east side of the lake and boasts 4 bunks, an awesome fire and a long drop with a stunning view of the lake. If you are heading in on the weekend there is a high chance the hut will be in use as it is frequented by trampers, hunters and cyclists on the St James cycle trail. A back up tent would be a good call. We arrived just as it was getting dark - a solid four hours from the car, and set to a Thai Green Curry that could be classified as a weapon of mass destruction. The team at Back Country Cuisine obviously have mouths made of steel as we were unable to finish the delicious yet sweat inducing meal despite pouring a whole packet of mashed potato into the mix. Approach with caution.
The frost on the ground in the morning confirmed our theory that it had gotten well below freezing during the night. Thankfully our sleeping bags and the fire stood up to the test well and we slept quite comfortably. Not being the type to stick around indoors on a nice day, we packed up camp, downed some porridge and were sweeping out the hut a little after 9 in the morning. We retraced our steps a little slower as there were some unfortunate blisters from the previous day. It was decided that the socks should be blamed and not the fact that we hadn't done any serious walking for two months. Even so we were almost the same time back out to Tophouse road as we took the hot line straight up to the top of the pass and strode out down the other side. Conveniently the car (and mountain bikes) were all still there waiting for us.
Total time: 8-10 hours return
Total Distance: Approx 32km
Accessibility: Drive from Christchurch (2hrs) or Hanmer Springs (30 minutes) direct to the start of the track.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.