A trip up Sudden Valley offers moderately easy access into some spectacular country, encompassing wide, open, river flats, a steep-walled gorge, an exciting (and challenging) climb using ropes up the aptly named “Devil’s Chute”, and at the head of the valley, some spectacular mountain scenery. An added bonus of our weekend trip was a surprising lack of sandflies!
The route begins just west of the Hawdon Shelter, over the Mt White bridge east of Arthur’s Pass. A short amble through beech forest brings you to the Hawdon river, which is easily forded. A word of warning – don’t use the fence strung across the river for support – it’s electric! Crossing the river, follow the fenceline across the flats for a short distance before turning up the valley to your left.
A pleasant, easy stroll for half an hour or so, crossing the river where necessary, brings you to the beginning of the gorge. The valley closes in here, with high walls draped in moss, and some wonderful swimming holes if you’re feeling like a refreshing dip. The gorge itself is strewn with some huge boulders, and cairns are the only real indicator of the route itself, although from time to time an orange track marker appears in the trees. This gorge can become impassable very quickly after only a little rain, so good weather conditions are essential before undertaking this trip.
Make your way up the river, fording here and there, and hoisting yourself up and down over the large rocks. If you’re short, like me, the added weight of a pack can make this task seem like Everest! But rest assured, it’s only for a short distance, and the beautiful, mystical gorge glistening in the dappled sunlight, makes up for those sore knees.
After another hour or so, an easily missed track marker on your right (true left of the river) points the way up to the Devil’s Chute. If you miss this marker, and go further upstream, the river becomes impassable as it is blocked by Barrier Falls.
The scramble up Devil’s Chute makes for a lot of fun, if you’re an adventurous sort of person who enjoys a challenge. There are ropes attached to various anchors on the way up, which make the journey a lot safer, as this part of the route would see very little sunshine, and is constantly wet and slippery. Mind out for stinging nettle as well. A plaque at the top of the chute is a sobering reminder just how unforgiving mother nature can be.
The track meanders through the bush for another 20 minutes or so, before re-emerging at the river. Follow this upstream for a short distance and the valley begins to open up, with glimpses of high mountains at the end of the valley. Coming back out into the open, it’s another half hour to the Sudden Valley biv, and a grand outlook to the Polar range of mountains, with their sharp, rugged peaks. Further up the valley, an even better view emerges, and it’s from here some alternative routes out of the valley can be taken.
The biv is a bit run-down, and according to the visitor’s book, it leaks. A tent might be a better option, and there are several very good camping spots on the river terrace and amongst the trees. Our visit was on a fine Saturday night, and no-one else was at the spot. This was surprising, given the short time it took to travel in – about 3 hours.
The route out was slightly slower for us, as the Devil’s Chute was much harder to negotiate going down than up, and by the end of the journey our knees were showing their age – but all in all, a wonderful journey which is highly recommended for those who are moderately fit.
Possible side trip up the head of the valley to Mt Scott and Mt Wilson returning to Sudden valley biv and out next day.