Pursuing Penn Creek
2019 17 October
After a couple of day trips along the Ōtaki end of the old Penn Creek sidle track, I was keen to complete the track through to Penn Creek Hut, and Chris needed an outing. The route through to the stream draining from Field Hut is well marked with some reassuring ropes in place. Approaching this stream, there is a downright nasty slip face which, with a weekend pack, I did not like – not one little bit. The shimmy down the rope into the streambed was fun in comparison.
I had forgotten how slow the next section is with few markers and numerous footpad options but we carefully negotiated our way through to the main Penn Creek spur where we stopped for lunch. Four hours so far.
Now for unknown territory. Following old DOC markers and blue triangles we continued briefly down the spur before turning to sidle up the creek. We made good progress to the first slip where a clear footpad led over the top. The markers ran out. Oops. We figured out where the route went across the slip and slithered down to rejoin the track.
The track gradually descended down to Penn Creek which looked open and rather inviting. On reaching a side stream, the markers ran out again and instead of searching for them we decided to travel up the creek. Why, why, why did we do that? The water was cold and the river probably at normal winter flow. River crossings were necessary and getting deep. Side scrambling through deep pools, we were getting wetter and wetter. I suggested a thrash back to the track but no, said the man who doesn’t like bush-bashing and, guess what, next was a gorge with vertical sides. Who would have thought! We reached a pool deep enough to drown an elephant. It looked like a swim upstream with a heavy pack.
Oh dear, this was not good. Chris spotted a ledge up to his left and was able to grasp a smooth rock jutting out. Standing in chest deep water, with no footholds and a recently diagnosed hernia, he hauled himself out of the water and onto the ledge. Leaving me to ponder my fate, he shuffled along the ledge which disappeared around a bend, but returned to declare a feasible route. From my position on a rock where I was only in waist deep water, I managed to pass him my pack. The next manoeuvre was tricky. To avoid standing in chin high water, I had to lean forward with both hands outstretched. Chris grabbed them and swung me around and up onto the ledge. The manoeuvre was executed with style, 9.5/10 I reckon.
After a nervous giggle, we followed the benign ledge back to the river and, with a few more crossings and scrambles, delivered ourselves safely to the hut. It had taken us seven hours which we thought was a reasonable time. On opening the hut book, the last entry was from Franz Hubmann who had come in on a day trip in 4.5 hours. Several lines of advice were aimed at deterring people from doing the track. People with experience were using the track with varying degrees of comfort. Groups would tube down Penn Creek and then the Ōtaki, which would be very nice indeed in later summer with warmer water and lower river levels. It appeared we were the only people in six years to have come up Penn Creek and I wouldn’t recommend it!
With a decent fire, we dried our clothes and enjoyed a cosy night. Chris had brought an old book to read, which on opening started at page 67. The next day the rain arrived as promised and we scuttled back via Field getting drenched again in the process.
- Party members
- Peggy (scribe) and Chris Mūnn