There are so many things that I love about arriving at a hut, I barely know where to begin when describing them all.  How good does it feel to take off sodden boots from weary feet, and wander around in hut socks or bare feet?  What about that tingling sensation in your shoulders and hips when they realise they don’t have to carry the load of a full pack any longer? Or shrugging off a sodden jacket and hanging it to drip away the day’s rain?

Oh joy… we’ve ARRIVED!

There’s a great satisfaction to be had in unpacking your gear, claiming a wee space in the hut as your new home, and settling in to some ‘house-warming’ activities.  Boiling the billy to get a brew on, scoffing those snacks you forgot to eat during the day, maybe getting a fire ready, or finding some wood.  There’s just such joy in such simple routines in the back country.

The start of a chilly hut routine…

But one of my favourite things is inspecting the hut library.  With a fresh (ish) set of dry (ish) clothes, and a mug of something hot, I always look forward to sitting down to flick through whatever can be found in the corner of my wee shelter from the storm.

Without a doubt, the first thing I reach for is the hut logbook. With a bit of luck, you’ll find one that is mostly full. It might be novel to be on the first page of a new book, but an empty book won’t provide much reading entertainment. Purists will always look first to the date of installation at the hut. If its worthy of note, there’ll be an exclamation across the floorboards: “This one goes back to 1997!” Especially as the older the hut book, the more likely it belongs to a remote hut, and the more worthy it is to remind yourself (and your companions) how clever you were to arrive here.  Reading the logbook is always interesting, because each one is completely unique. We casually analyse how often a hut gets visited, by whom and from where. There will be nonchalant entries of parties passing through on epic trips, scorn for previous users when the hut is found messy, and praise when its neat and tidy like it should be.

The soapbox rants are especially amusing, though I do wonder why many choose to vent their passion and frustration into the pages of a remote wee logbook. Especially when it comes to providing advice to DOC, surely an email or a call would be faster and more likely to elicit the desired outcome. Or perhaps channeling that energy into one of the many community lead projects to spruce up huts just like this one? As amusing as the rants are, the comments of the ‘log book trolls’ are even more amusing, if only at a childish level. In the ultimate anonymity, slagging off previous authors with one-liners of abuse isn’t uncommon. A more robust, multi-line riposte is somewhat rare, but again we wonder why its worth the effort of writing if the original author will probably never see it.. Such is the curiosity of human nature.

A rare find is the record of a true epic. Hut bound after arriving in a downpour, injured and unable to move further, or simply so shaken that it motivates them to write, these individuals often have a bit of time with which to put pen to paper in the logbook. Some stories are truly chilling, of lost and found tramping partners, flooded rivers, narrow escapes from injury or tales of rescue. As you sit in the very hut, holding the very book they held, you immediately relate strongly to the writer; after all, you’re sitting in their seat.

2 days to walk in?  Took us 5hrs, carrying our 6 month old daughter, including feeding and nappy change stops…  I guess ‘epic’ is from the perspective of the person having the epic…

When the boredom sets in during multi-day layovers in huts, each day’s entry gives a good insight into the mindset of the trapped individual. After a couple of days, the entries which started out as long, wandering soliloquies, become rather short.

“28 March – Still raining”.

Poetry is rarer still, perhaps a dying art among the people of the mountains? I’m no poet myself, but I can imagine that a good poem requires a number of drafts. Hut stationery is not very conducive to this; as it is a pen that is most commonly found next to the log book.

Art is relatively common: large sketches are often found on the opening pages, but small scrawls are usually squeezed tentatively among the lines of text.

The ‘idiot check lament’…

What do you do when you find out you don’t have any knife, spoon, tea or coffee? You upen up packaging with teeth, mix up your dinner with your toothbrush and then eat it with the toothpaste tube instead of your spoon. After the meal, you enjoy buscuit with hot water 🙂 Always perform an idiot check when you leave a picnic spot….

Occasionally, some kind-hearted and devoted individual has assembled an information file for the hut. Generally in a small clear file, they might contain stories of recent renovations, some local history, info about a local biodiversity program or even an assemblage of relevant DOC pamphlets or maps.  I often start my trips blissfully ignorant of many of such details about an area, and learning more about the social and physical environment I’m in adds greatly to the richness of my experience.  The forethought apparent in such a file speaks volumes: there is clearly a fondness in the filer for the hut or area in question.

The collection of old magazine gives a very quick indication of the preferred forms of mountain recreation of the hut’s occupants.  Is it dog-earred copies of Wilderness, Fish and Game or NZ Hunter magazine?  Or less commonly main-stream magazines like North and South, NZ Geographic, New Scientist or Time?   I’m still wondering what possessed someone to carry up a copy of “Professional Skipper” magazine into Howletts Hut in the Ruahines.  In the outdoor magazines, some of the content is still relevant, reminding us of places to go or skills to perfect. But, often the joy is looking back at what was cutting edge at the time. It doesn’t take that old of a magazine to see an ad for a GPS unit the size of a lunchbox….

If you’re very lucky indeed, you might even find a copy of a club’s annual journal. Most commonly produced by our university clubs, These provide a fascinating digest of what the young trampers are getting up to. Unbridled enthusiasm, youthful exuberance and a necessity borne out of student financial reality all contribute to some wacky adventures and entertaining reading.

Reading up on Otago University Tramping Clubs’ “ANTICS”

FMC’s little magazine is a common and welcome part of most libraries.  Not just, I suspect, because its small size makes it easier to justify carrying in and more resistant to the ravages of moisture and neglect in the corner of a hut.  A stated goal of the magazine is for it to have “timeless content” and reading back through issues from 10 years ago, even though the details may have changed, the themes and sentiments are as relevant now as they were then.  Lets not forget ‘ol Uncle Jacko.  His ‘cookery column’ has been with us since 1995, and it never fails to astound me how much I learn from columns that were written before I began tramping.  Indeed, when in the huts its these old FMC magazines which I reach to right after the hut logbook. When I first picked them up in a hut many years ago, they struck a chord with me and were my first contact with FMC. The values espoused matched mine and, like many I suspect, precipitated my joining a local tramping club.

FMC’s magazine: always a great read! Photo/Warren Fitzgerald

I haven’t had many hut bound days where I’ve exhausted all the periodical in a hut’s library and have found myself reaching for a tatty novel. Occasionally I’ve read a few which have been partially used to start the fire. At least if you’re that desperate, use a boring part of the book!  There’s a fine line between a distinguished old bit of reading which makes a valuable part of a hut library and a piece of cluttering rubbish which should be removed.  It’s part of the duty of those who believe in the hut libraries to curate them; bring new stuff in, and take stuff that is past its usefulness out.  I’m all for recycling books and magazines, but I think giving them another lease of life as part of the hut library is preferential to them going straight to the pulp factory.  There’s also the karma equation if you find a book or magazine that you wouldn’t mind bringing home for a read. Make sure you pay it forward by adding something of equal enjoyment value to the next library.

So next time you head to a hut, get a few of those old issues that you haven’t read in years and pop them in your pack. Sitting there warm, dry and content with a hot brew in your hands, I’m sure you’ll get at least one more kick out of the content. Plus, you’ll be providing that opportunity to countless others who follow.