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County Stream Hut

County Stream Hut

(County Hut looking up to Smyth Saddle: Photo Warren Chinn 2005)

Maintenance Status

County Hut was initially called Kensington Hut and is referred to as such in early NZFS guides and documents. This name never really caught on with hut users however, and it the name County Hut was already in common usage by the time I first visited in 1975. County Hut is currently minimally maintained by DOC and the access track up the County Stream from the Waitaha valley, while no longer officially maintained, has been kept open by Permolat volunteers since 2006. It received its last trim in 2015. The County catchment is rough going even with the track, and the upper section of the route is mostly river travel with very large boulders, and the odd detour through the scrub surrounds.

Location

Waitaha catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: E1425190/ N5219383. Altitude 995m. The County Stream is the largest tributary of the upper Waitaha River, a rugged, remote catchment that backs onto the pristine alpine snowfields and glaciers of the Mt. Evans massif. County Hut is located on a high terrace on the TR of the Stream, just below the Bloomfield Creek confluence. The surrounding vegetation is a mix of alpine scrub with open tussock clearings. County Hut has always been a low-use hut with visits averaging around six per year since volunteer trackwork commenced and the Hut was profiled on the website. Along with walk-ins there is the odd fly-in of climbers doing the Red Lion or Mt. Evans.

Access

County Hut's remote and rugged location creates significant access issues even when the tracks are in good order. DOC removed the upper Waitaha valley tracks from its maintenance schedule in 2004. The Permolat has done three recuts since taking over, the last being in September 2015.

The track from Moonbeam Hut follow the TR terraces of the Waitaha for around 20 minutes through some beautiful stands of Hall's Totara, pahautea (mountain cedar), rata, quintinia and kamahi. The track drops from the terrace down a steep bank to the riverbed just before Dorothy Creek, crosses Alexander Creek, and re-enters the bush. It sidles along the bush faces from here, passing a reasonable dry rock just before the Top Waitaha turnoff. The County track continues up-valley from the turnoff sidling above the Waitaha. It then turns and climb/ sidles up and around into the County valley (at a lower altitude than marked on the Topo map), eventually dropping into the riverbed by some house-sized boulders opposite O'Reilly Creek. A flood channel is followed for 100m to where the track re-enters the scrub and climbs up onto a low terrace. It drops back into the riverbed a bit further up, around E1424379/ N5220880, and from here on it is mostly river travel with large boulders and the odd tracked detours into the scrub surrounds. The detours were recut in 2015, however in Winter when river levels are usually much lower, the river can often be crossed to avoid these, speeding progress considerably. For most of the year when snow and glacial melt swells river levels, it is necessary to stay on the TL and use the detours.

The track entrance to the Hut starts on the TR 200m downstream from the Bloomfield Confluence. Recent river erosion has cut into the bank and wiped put the entrance markers. The river is sometimes unfordable here and it may be necessary ford further upriver, usually above the Bloomfield confluence. A second track to the Hut starts 200m up the TR of Bloomfield Creek and its entrance is marked with a cairn and cruise tape. It is overgrown with the odd bit of permolat and cruise tape and intersects the lower access track on the terrace. Allow 4-5 hours from Moonbeam Hut to County Hut currently.

A great fine weather alternative route to County Stream exists over the Clearview Spur tops. This is accessed via an old NZFS track directly behind Moonbeam Hut, recut and marked in 2015 and in good condition. It goes up a narrow ridge between Dorothy Creek and Moonbeam Torrent to around the 1030m contour, where it leaves the ridge and drops into the head of Dorothy Creek. The Creek by this stage is dry and the creekbed provides access through scattered alpine scrub to the open tussock. Climb in an easterly direction from here up onto a flat section of Clearview Spur just above point 1690m. There are great views from this point of Mt. Evans and the Red Lion. The County basin is accessed down the tussock faces between Canary Creek and the unnamed side-creek downriver from it. A band of alpine scrub further down can be avoided by dropping into Canary Creek around the 1130m contour and following the creekbed. Allow 4-5 hours from Moonbeam Hut to County Hut in good conditions.

County Hut has an ostentatious wooden helicopter platform right next to it that was built during the NZFS dynasty.

Type

County Hut is a standard NZFS SF70 six-bunk design built in 1971. It is lined, has a roof-fed water tank, and a toilet. There is no fire or woodburner, and the kero bottle of the kero heater has a broken feeder cap. The cap from the kero cooker's bottle can be jammed onto the heater bottle, but it doesn't run efficiently with this.

Condition

County Hut is in reasonably good condition currently. Repainting and maintenance work was carried out in 2003 and a new watertank installed. The seal where the the tap is screwed into the watertank dribbles a bit and needs some locktight. The hut piles are in good shape and the tussock around the base of the Hut was dug out in 2012. The ply at the lower end of the skylight has buckled, probably from condensation. Some water is coming in under the door, has started to rot the floorboards in places, and a small hole has developed. The paint on the windowsills and frames is flaking quite badly and the paint on the iron cladding and roof to a lesser extent.

Routes

Most of the routes in the County catchment are alpine ones, and as such require reasonably high levels of experience and fitness, and appropriate gear.

There is a reasonably popular crossing from the head of the County valley into the Smyth catchment of the Wanganui River via Smyth Saddle. River travel upstream from the Hut is reasonably straightforward when levels are low and this allows the stream to be forded to get around a couple of small gorgy bits. The first of these is not far up from the Bloomfield confluence and the second around the 1060m contour, just before the basin opens out into tussock. Access up to the Saddle is up a prominent side-creek that enters the County at E1426840/ N5217273. Exit the Creek up a gut on the TL around the 1450m contour and climb through a band of large, shattered boulders onto a flat bench by point 1667m. Head SW along the 1600m contour and head down a prominent spur that drops in a NW direction towards the Smyth/ Bradshaw confluence. Veer South off the spur at the flat area at the 1230m mark, and drop directly down into the Smyth. Travel downriver is rough with large boulders fringed by alpine scrub. The TR easier lower down if you are able to ford. Allow a full day from County Hut to Smyth Hut. The swingbridge across the Wanganui River just above the Smyth confluence was washed out in 2013.

Access from County Hut over the Bloomfield Range to Hut is up a steep rib on the TR of Bloomfield Creek and the col between Mt. Bloomfield and Artist Dome. The side-creek on the TR of the rib is also negotiable above the two waterfalls in its lower and mid sections. It is relatively easy to traverse Mt. Bloomfield and there are a number of routes off the mountain into the Top Waitaha basin. Mt. Bloomfield's NW ridge has a steep, exposed section lower down which may be a bit difficult for some to downclimb without a rope. The ridge connects with some tussock terraces on the TL of Reid Creek, and these can be followed down to the Waitaha. There is a short scrub-bash at the foot of the terrace just above the main basin. Several other lines exist down the East faces of Bloomfield from point 1857m that would provide more straightforward access to the Hut.

Another option is to drop from the col into the middle branch of Reid Creek where there is now a reasonably large ice-lake. Head slightly north of the col before dropping down to avoid a band of bluffs directly below, then sidle around the benches above the lake's TL into a narrow dry gut just West of point 1686m. This becomes a creek further down, and this is followed to the top of a waterfall around the 1500m contour. Exit on the TR here and sidle onto the steep bluffy spur between this creek and the lake's outlet creek. The spur looks daunting from the Waitaha basin, but there is an OK route down through a series of small benches through the bluffs to where the spur flattens. Drop from the foot of the spur into the West branch of Reid Creek, cross, and climb up onto a terrace with tarns on the TL. Follow the terrace to its end and drop down to the Waitaha basin passing through a narrow band of alpine scrub at the very bottom. Times for the crossings will vary depending on fitness and conditions, but allow a whole day. Some fitter types claim to have done it in five hours. There is permanent snow on Mt. Bloomfield's summit and a few patches on either side of the col. The crossing can usually be done without ice axes in late summer/ autumn, but it is recommended that one be carried anyway.

Artist Dome is a relatively easy scramble from the either the col route or the the ridge on the TL of Bloomfield Creek. A band of scrub at the bottom of the ridge can be avoided by following the Creek to around the 1150m contour, then exiting up a steep gut on its TL.

The Smyth Range can be traversed to the West from County Hut and a track down Headlong Spur provides access to Kiwi Flat Hut. Canary Creek is normally used to access Clearview Spur. There is an exposed section of ridge further up the Spur between points 1690m and 1945m. Mts. Barry and Neville are relatively easy to traverse, and it is possible to drop roughly NW from Neville's summit onto a flat bench at 1850m and continue to sidle from there around to Headlong Spur. The Headlong Spur track is no longer officially maintained, but was recut and marked up to the knoll at 1160m by Permolat volunteers in 2012. The Spur track connects with the Waiatha valley track on a terrace 30 minutes upriver from Kiwi Flat Hut. From here to the Hut was recut in 2015. A crossing from County to Kiwi could be theoretically be done in a long day in good conditions, however it makes more sense to take a tent and break it in two.

It is also possible to continue along the Smyth Range to Scamper Torrent Hut. There is one steep section on the Range adjacent to the Kea Glacier which is generally snow-free from late summer, but would require ice axes at other times if conditions were icy. The rest of the Range is relatively easy travel and there are plenty of good campsites. Scamper Torrent is accessed by dropping in a WNW direction down some sloping benches under Mt. Durward into the small basin on the lee side point 1397m. Follow the small stream from the basin to where it drops over a waterfall and continue sidling West across the tussock faces onto the broad spur bounding the TR of the main branch of Scamper Torrent. This spur has a small creek bisecting it. The high ground on either side of the creek can be followed through patchy scrub down into the main basin. The Hut is visible most of the way down from Durward in fine conditions. Allow a long day from the crossing from County Hut, or take a tent and break it into two.

A route over to the Wilkinson catchment in the Whitcombe valley via McKenzie Col at the head of the County, should only be attempted by experienced alpinists. The Col has seasonal crevasses, permanent high rockfall danger, and the County approach is a near-vertical rock chute. The route down to Wilkinson Hut in the Whitcombe valley is untracked and very rough. The Bevernage Rock Bivs on the TR of Seddon Creek are shallow overhangs, the largest of which would take two people at a squeeze. A large boulder cascade immediately below the bivs is very rough going with thick alpine scrub on the fringes, and travel is marginally easier on the TL. A second cascade in the Wilkinson just below the Seddon Creek confluence has larger boulders, scrub surrounds, and is more difficult than the first due to the increased volume of water. The River is fast flowing and opaque, and the submerged rock surfaces very slippery. Fording here is usually not an option unless you can jump the boulders and the levels usually rise significantly over the day in the warmer months with snow melt. Once the the bottom of the cascade is reached the best option is to climb up into Walcott Creek and cross a large mostly open shingle fan to the toe of the ridge on the Creek's TL. A reasonable dry shelter can be found further up the Creek under a gigantic boulder. Once past the Walcott, continue down the Wilkinson on the terraces staying reasonably close to the toe of the hill. The deer trails here provide easier travel than the slippery boulders on the River's edge. The TL of the Whitcombe is followed from the Wilkinson confluence down to the Hut, mostly boulderhopping with a few small detours into the bush. This last bit takes around an hour. Allow a couple of days for this trip.

Repairs needed

A flashing on the the bottom of the door would prevent water getting in there. Some minor floor repairs may be needed around the door. The Hut needs resealing and repainting, particularly the window frames and sills. A new feeder cap for the kero bottle for the heater would be useful if these are still made.

Provisions on Site

Five billies, two wash basins, two aluminium buckets, one kero heater (no fuel), a hand brush and shovel, a broom, a kero cooker, numerous pots of paint, a box of large galvanised nails, a shovel and spare handle, a slasher (blunt) and spare handle, an axe and spare handle, an NZFS vintage first aid cabinet, a crow bar, a food bin, a kerosine lamp minus generator pipe and glass, and an egg beater.