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Black Hill Hut Solo Overnighter

13 June 2023

Video & Words: Deane Parker

There are heaps of backcountry mountain bike route options in Canterbury, alas few are true classics like those on the West Coast. According to my YouTube channel I first rode to Black Hill Hut 6 years ago. I’ve been back several times either solo or with one other. I’ve never encountered anyone else staying (mind you I always ride mid week), apart from one time after the first covid incarceration. Muel and I arrived to find a dead deer outside the hut door with no sign of it being shot, but fully maggot infested. Muel dragged it as far down the hill as he could. Weird.

For me living inland Canterbury, this ride is a great sub 24 hour overnighter (S240). 100% beech forested singletrack, a decent dose of hike-a-bike to keep it legit hard core, a forest service era 'seldom visited right on the bush line' 6 bunk hut and options for it to be an out and back or loop.

The ride starts from the popular View Hill car park in the Oxford Forest Conservation Area. Start by warming up on the Wharfedale Track to the saddle (1-1.5 hours). It’s a well formed benched track that maintains a good degree of technicality due to the regular slipped out and rooty sections. From the saddle it’s a short techy descent to the junction with the Fosters Ridge Track to Black Hill Hut. From here prepare yourself - the first pitch is steep slippery clay. After 10 minutes you’ll be wondering what you’re doing there with a bike, be patient it gets easier quickly. Shortly the gradient eases and it starts to undulate with some sections very rideable and one descent being as good as it gets, steep rocky and tight.

Before too long though it heads up again steeply and you’re back to pushing. Fosters Ridge is wide and it’s easy to push most of the climb. This pitch is sustained and may take an hour. As the bush starts to thin into gnarly sub alpine forest you’ll reach the junction with Black Hill Track. From here to the hut is another 20 minutes of undulating terrain finishing with the 2 steepest pitches so far. I’ve not ridden either of these coming down but both Rose and Muel have, meaning the whole descent is rideable.

That typical first glimpse of the hut is sure to bring that sense of accomplishment and anticipation of the hut night to come. The hut has a rain water tank and a log burner. Given its elevation on the bushline, a short walk yields a good supply of windfall fire wood. It’s a typical tired forest service era hut with a smokey flu, stainless steel bench, plastic covered mattresses and a relatively stink free long drop.

For the keen, carry on to Black Hill summit at 1335 m for more tech, albeit in the tussocks. Beyond here is more the domain of Richard Goldsbury.

The morning is always a bit of butterfly stomach analogy stuff. It’s straight into it either walking down the steepest pitches or getting your A game on. Back at the upper junction you have 2 choices. Return the way you came down Fosters with the open slightly less steep descent and undulating nature (don’t forget the 20 minute hike a bike) or down Black Hill Track - it's steeper and very tight in the trees but descends for much longer into the Townsend Valley right at the end of the Wharfedale singletrack. From here turn for home past the Wharfedale Hut and an extra hour of meandering back up to the saddle and another hour out to the carpark.

On my last trip it took me 4 hours to the hut and 3 hours back via Fosters Ridge. I’d suggest adding at least another hour via Black Hill Track. I’m not fast by any means and this includes some filming time. Yeah if you’re that way inclined make it an epic day trip but it serves a purpose for me as my favourite ‘sub24O’.