9 Aug 2023 at 6:19 pm #73655Tony GazleyKeymaster
Jam Hut – Seaward Kaikoura Range
We were doing an off-track mission to Jam Hut in the Seaward Kaikōura Range in Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Clarence Conservation Park—where you go if you want a bit of an adventure and a very healthy dose of large boulders!
At the roadend we bumped into a farmer who was putting up a temporary fence over George Stream to corral his cows that he thought had wandered up the stream, and then we met a whole bunch of locals who informed us that there were some hunting parties up the stream and offered us high-vis vests that we immediately took them up on. They also offered for us to come over for dinner and to watch the rugby but as I had worked the evening before and we had an early start we opted to politely decline and catch an early night instead.
The next morning, we started up George Stream, gradually gaining elevation as we went. We bumped into two hunters at a deeper crossing of George Stream. They had jumped across between rocks but I ended up waist deep in the water before finding a rock to balance on. As we climbed higher, the stream started to get smaller and more gorge-like. We had to sidle around a few waterfalls or across slips—at times it was a full body workout.
We eventually came to a junction in the stream with both options looking like they would lead to George Saddle although unhelpfully one of the branches wasn’t marked on the map. After some discussion we chose the right stream branch (always choose left as that one would have taken us directly to the saddle). We eventually had to climb out of this stream and that’s where the fun started. I was climbing up a steep bank and Tony kept asking me if it was looking ok. I called back that it was looking ok but I also couldn’t really see much in front of me. Shortly he heard a bit of shout when I got to the top and hauled myself up onto a narrow ledge only to realise it dropped off very steeply on the other side that forced me to crawl along until I found a safer spot to stop and wait for him to catch up. Fortunately, Tony could learn from what I had done and took a slightly different way to the top of this ridge. We then realised we had to drop back into a couple of gullies and climb out of them again to get back into the line of the saddle. Well, that was disappointing.
We then had the joys of a fun bush bash that included some friendly spaniards leaving our legs and arms shredded before emerging into more open terrain below the saddle. I looked up to see a rather bewildered and slightly bemused goat standing still on a large rock as if it were in shock at the sight of us. To be honest it probably was! Only about two people go over George Saddle to Jam Hut a year according to the hut intentions book and only about six to eight parties a year on average visit it. And most of them are sensible people packrafting down the Clarence River. Clearly, we are none of these sensible people and have yet to find our common sense—probably lost it among all the boulders.
Eventually we were traversing across the scree slope to George Saddle. I was fascinated by the Carmichaelia Stevensonii, a species of rare native broom that looked amazing. Up on the saddle, we had a fantastic view of the Inland Kaikōura Range. By now it was 3:30pm and we discussed our plans due to it being later in the day than we expected. We both agreed that we were happy to keep walking to Jam Hut that night and walk in the dark for a few hours rather than the alternative plan of camping down Doddemeade Stream.
The saddle itself is narrow and takes a bit of care to navigate across. We did a bit of southwards skirting around a narrow section before we got above a nice scree escalator that we could hitch a ride down on and that dumped us into the top of Doddemeade Stream. The top of this stream was steep so I had to sit down and slide down some steep rock faces. Even Tony, with being taller, didn’t get away easily and he followed my slides down. Tony’s poly prop pants took a hammering and let’s just say the back of his pants were in tatters by the end of the trip. I had a few giggles about that because the same fate happened to my shorts on a West Coast trip over summer.
We found a few suitable camping spots on the way down that we marked on our map for the next night as we had now agreed that unfortunately we would not have time to go to Haycock Biv as planned—we would only have time to make it to Jam Hut and back to get me home in time for work.
As we continued down Doddemeade Stream the boulders didn’t seem to be getting any smaller, in fact they seemed to be getting a bigger and it was still very gorge-like in places. Tony had been down here before and he had memories of reasonably easy walking. We suspect the Kaikōura earthquake and erosion has brought down big boulders from the mountains and we could see the evidence of that easily by just looking up and seeing how precarious some of the boulders above us were. Just before dusk Tony has a spectacular fall but bounced back relatively unscathed although he was really starting to look a bit like he needed a blood transfusion by now between the fall and the earlier bush bash.
As darkness fell we switched on our headlamps and it became a whole other world in there. Our sense of perspective changed again to just the field of our headlamps. We felt tiny in comparison to the tall walls of the gorge. Sometimes it took a bit of problem solving on how to get over the boulders in the dark—one of them we ended up having to slide off a huge boulder and just let ourselves drop over the edge. I think at this point we were both wondering how we would get up it the next day but that was tomorrow’s problem we decided, and we would cross that bridge when we got to it.
It seems to take forever but we finally made it past Jam Stream and then we know the hut is only about 400m away on the true left. We crossed the stream one last time and started looking out for the hut while keeping an eye on the GPS. Tony remembered a large cairn but we don’t spot it in the darkness but rather see a white marker pole. This track up to the hut wasn’t well trodden as most people come up from the Clarence so they approach the hut a bit further down the stream via another track. It was a big relief to finally see the hut but disappointing to find no jam there for us on our arrival especially after the long day we had climbing over boulders. Never mind—we had bought our own. While Tony patches himself up, I go out to admire the beautiful night sky.
The next day we have a relaxed morning in the hut with a fire going, toasting some marshmallows, and having some of the obligatory jam biscuits before finally leaving the hut to head back up Doddemeade Stream and back onto the boulders again.
Going back up Doddemeade Stream but in the daylight this time was a completely different experience. We could see how tall the sides of the gorge were and it is impressive. When we finally get to the large boulders from the night before we do a bit of scouting out the various routes. We immediately wrote off going back the way we slid down as there was nothing to hold onto. Eventually we decided we would just walk up the waterfall in the stream. I had the idea of throwing my pack up in case the water got deep. Tony didn’t think I would be able to manage it but I’ve got a very determined spirit and I make it work. We then also get Tony’s pack up with me standing balanced on a rock to give it a shunt and then a final poke from Tony’s pole to make sure it was wedged there and wouldn’t fall back down. Then we are off in the water heading around—it only gets up to mid-thigh so was an easy route but in the dark the night before it hadn’t look very inviting.
We found our camping spot among the beech trees and set up camp watching the last of the sun filtered through the trees before turning in for an early night as we had a 5am start to give us the best chance of making the boat on time. I managed to have Sarahsaurus moment and trip over my tent door in the night and sent the tent peg flying which caused a few giggles from both of us. I never found that tent peg the next morning—it was only when I got home and took out my sleeping bag I found it had somehow flicked into my bag and I had slept on it all night (probably thought it was just another boulder).
In the dark the next morning we continued on our way towards George Saddle. We came to a junction in the stream that both headed towards George Saddle. We looked at both options and decided to take the right stream branch because the left didn’t look so appealing and we couldn’t remember coming down that rock face (we did and that’s what we slid down!). A few minutes later we realised our mistake when we weren’t quite on our scree slope but rather in goat footprints! We had to drop down a bit before we could traverse across to the scree slope we had come down the day before. Fortunately, from here it was only a short climb up to the saddle as climbing back up a scree escalator is like playing a human game of snakes and ladders. You slide down as fast as you try to climb up. Our hard work paid off and we arrived on the Saddle just in time for sunrise.
We found a better way through our bush bash section this time or maybe we had just made a route through it the day before when we both got ripped to shreds. We landed in the stream again and we followed this one easily down to the junction we had passed through the day before and chosen the other stream branch. On the way down we saw a few random rock cairns. Going down in this stream cut off a lot of time.
From there it was just a matter of retracing our steps down George Stream, taking a few breaks as I found route finding for hours through all the boulders very exhausting mentally. It was with great relief when there was the occasional nice wide flat river plain to walk on for a few minutes and not have to worry about having to boulder-hop or find a good place to cross the stream.
We finally made it back to the temporary cow fence near the carpark and crawled under before hauling our packs through after us. The last exciting part for the day was driving back across the Waiau-Toa ford. This would not be safe to drive across after rain and regularly becomes impassable according to locals—in fact it had only become passable again two days before our trip. I also had the job of opening all the farm gates and making sure none of the nosy cows congregating near them tried to do a runner.
I highly recommend a tramp into Jam Hut if you want a good adventure to a less visited hut. I’m having a break from boulders for a few days though….
Date: 15 July 2023 – 18 July 2023
Trip type: Private – MF
Location: Seaward Kaikōura Range in Ka Whata Tu o Rakihouia Clarence Conservation Park
Story and photos: Sarah F
Trampers: Tony Gazley, Sarah Fisher