By Liam Hewson

St James Walkway, Lewis Pass – December 16-20, 2019

On the brink of the eighth hour of rain, plodding doggedly onwards through saturated bush, I was done. Picture this – your final tramp for Duke of Edinburgh Gold, the pinnacle and culmination of three years of hard mahi, and you’re stuck, dripping and sodden in the middle of the St James Walkway, Lewis Pass.

But just as these thoughts echo through my head, we reach a clearing and walk out to see the beautiful sight only a blessed few trampers truly appreciate: a lonely hut and woodshed.

This Adventurous Journey took us from Lewis Pass through copious mud, water, alpine tarns, wetlands, grassland and native beech forest to the trailhead at Boyle Village. Over five days, we walked the 66km St James through stunning alpine scenery.

We were lucky enough to see wild weka and the St James thoroughbred horse stud on the way, as well as many exquisite high country landscapes. In between sinking knee-deep in thick, thick mud, we admired the Southern Alps and soaked up the pristine peace of the mountains.

While generally an enjoyable and smooth tramp, our biggest challenge was managing the tramping party and river crossings. With a diversity of experience tramping and bearing loaded packs, it was important to ensure that everyone carried a load equivalent to their capability and that we made sure to pace ourselves. Given the four days of rain, this was of additional importance to prevent any major injuries.

With heavy rainfall towards the end of the tramp, the swollen streams on the final day proved to be a serious challenge to cross. Channelling water from large catchments, each took us 10-15 minutes to cross, using hiking poles and mutual support pairs to probe and pathfind across the obscured rocky streambed.

Despite the narrow channels and rocky borders preventing us from using proper mutual support method, we modified to suit our conditions and group, adapting to the situation and crossing as pairs. Fortunately, we had been getting plenty of practise crossing in calmer waters, so each successive stream crossing provided valuable experience rather than panic.

Through a childhood in Scouting, I have been empowered to live life, build connections and enjoy our wilderness areas. Those five days tramping the St James were amongst my best days (thus far) out in the bush. Surrounded by old friends from across New Zealand, we relived old exploits and created new memories together – dinners by candlelight, dancing in huts and frantic dashes to secure the food from some particularly aggressive mice.

Despite the wet conditions, not a bad end to my Duke of Edinburgh Hillary Award journey.

I’d like to give my sincere thanks to FMC New Zealand for their Youth Award Grant awarded towards my journey, which made the whole experience significantly more feasible and enjoyable.

If you’re doing Duke of Edinburgh, or are a Scout or Guide completing their award scheme, I’d highly recommend making the most of this grant opportunity.

We’re delighted to share another trip report from recent recipients of FMC’s Youth Award Grant. These grants are awarded four times a year, so if you’re inspired to get some financial support, head over to FMC’s website to apply.