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Ivory Lake Hut

Ivory Lake Hut

(Ivory Lake Hut: Photo Fletcher Anderson 2017)

Maintenance Status

Ivory Lake Hut is now a DOC/ community initiative with Keith Riley as lead person on the management agreement. The Hut is generally considered one of the jewels in the crown of NZ remote high-country destinations. It had been in need of some major catch up maintenance to address moisture that had gotten into the walls, insulation and frame. Keith and a team of volunteers went in and did the work early 2017. Warren and Trevor Chinn added some finishing touches when they flew in to Ivory to celebrate Trevor's 80th birthday in April. Ivory lake Hut featured in the December 2014 edition of the American Backpacker Magazine in an article titled, "Hike To The Best Hut In The World." www.backpacker.com/trips/international/best-backcountry-hut-in-the-world/#bp=0/img1

Location

Waitaha catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: 1430255E/ 5222095N. 1375m altitude. Ivory Lake Hut is located in the head of the Waitaha valley. It is perched on the glacially smoothed rock lip of the Ivory Lake cirque, just next to the outlet creek. The creek drops over sheer rock walls in a series of cascades into Stag Creek. Ivory Glacier has shrunk considerably over the last 40 years, a remnant now of how it looked in 1976 when I first visited. It was already in a state of collapse in the early 1970's when glaciologist Trevor Chinn began a landmark study on it. Atmospheric conditions some decades earlier had set the process in motion, exacerbated as we now know by human climatic influence. Ivory Lake is ringed by the jagged peaks of the Lange Range. Park Dome and Seddon Col are visible and reasonably accessible from the Hut.

Special Note

The Waitaha valley is an extremely rugged alpine environment, and its routes and tracks rudimentary. High levels of fitness and experience, specific to this type of country are essential, along with good quality gear. Many of the challenges encountered here are unique to New Zealand. Dense lowland rain forest, extremely rough, gorged rivers, unbridged side-creeks, impenetrable alpine scrub, permanent snow and glaciated tops, and extreme weather. Ivory Lake is eliciting an increasing amount of interest from from overseas visitors who don't have the necessary prerequisites for all of this. Having done a few of the easier and much better maintained tramps here, or hiked overseas, they assume that they can then tackle the Waitaha. If you are one of these, don't bother. Go try something in the intermediate zone first (eg. the Toaroha or the Crooked valleys) and build your skill level up. You may have had plenty of experience in the Alaskan wilderness, or the Pyrenees, but you'll still lack specific skill sets that are essential here for safe travel and return. The track times indicated are for fit experienced parties. If you are experiencing them as grossly unrealistic, then you are definitely in the wrong valley.

Access

Foot access to Ivory lake has always been challenging due to its remoteness and the rough and uncompromising nature of the Waitaha valley. DOC ceased maintaining the mid and upper valley tracks in the early 1990's. The Permolat group took on track maintenance in the mid 2000's and have made several trips into the valley since then to work on the tracks between Kiwi Flat Hut and Moonbeam Hut, and from Moonbeam to Chainman Creek. The cut tracks end at Chainman Creek, and a long and rugged stretch of riverbed travel needs to be traveled to access Top Waitaha Hut.

The route from Top Waitaha to Ivory Lake is a relative stroll compared to the trials and tribulations of lower and mid valley. Following the River up to the Reid/ Stag Creek confluence, then climb up onto the tussock bench on the TL of Stag Creek. The bench tapers out further up, with Stag Creek rising up through a series of small canyons to meet it. The Creek bed is followed from here to Ivory Lake outlet creek, which cascades down the sheer walls of the Ivory Lake cirque. The Hut is is perched on the lip of the cirque almost directly above, but is not visible from below. Cross to the TR of Stag Creek just above the outlet creek and wend your way up a roughly diagonal line through a series of ledges onto the bench where the Hut is. Ice axes and crampons may be necessary on this bit in winter and spring. There is a less exposed line a bit further up Stag Creek, up a gravelly ridge. Head up this to around Hut level, then sidle back to it. Allow around 2-3 hours for the journey from Top Waitaha Hut to Ivory Lake Hut, or 2.5-3 days from the Waitaha roadend.

There is an alternative and slightly quicker way of getting to Ivory Lake that avoids the rigours of the Waitaha valley. This is from the Mikonui and Tuke valleys, North of the Waitaha and incorporates some tops travel and an alpine crossing along with the ubiquitous bush and river travel. From Top Tuke Hut access to Ivory is from the head of the Tuke basin. Travel in the upper Tuke is relatively easy with the boulders getting progressively larger as you get further up. There are also some delightful pools for those summer dips. Follow the upper TL fork of the river which has three branches that drain The Tusk and Sawtooth Ridge. Take the SE branch, exiting it on the TR at 1300m onto a flat bench on the broad spur that drops in a NW direction from the junction of Sawtooth Ridge and the SW ridge of Mt. Beaumont. Follow the spur up to the junction and continue towards point 2084m. There is a short, down-climb of around five metres just before point 2084m which is exposed, crumbly, and would be problematic for some. From here on it is reasonably straightforward, although a couple of bits on the lee side of points 2084m and 1870m might require crampons during the colder months if conditions were icy. From point 1870m, drop down the ridge on the TR of Ivory Lake, over point 1620m to the Hut. Allow 4-5 hours for the crossing from Top Tuke to Ivory Lake Hut.

During the colder months snow often piles up to roof level on the Hut and it may be necessary to dig down to get the door open.

Type

Ivory Lake Hut is a standard SF70 six bunk design built by the NZFS for the Ministry of Works in 1970 to allow the monitoring of glacier dynamics. The 1970's research team was led by glaciologist Trevor Chinn, and the data collected has proved invaluable in helping understand climate change. Ivory Lake was the highest altitude SF70 hut built, and has withstood the rigors of 40 years of severe alpine weather. A more detailed account of its construction and history can be found in, "Shelter From The Storm," by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown and Geoff Spearpoint. The standard fireplace extension was of no use at this altitude and was modified into a cooking alcove. A shed/ workshop was added onto the southern wall in 1972. The cooking alcove was removed in the 2017 renovations. Ivory Hut's interior is lined and there is a double burner primus. Vistors need to bring their own kerosine and meths to pre-heat the primus. No toilet was ever built here, a potential problem given the dearth of vegetation and topsoil in the area. DOC were mulling over whether or not to rectify this, but nothing seems to have happened with that.

Condition

Ivory Lake should be in good condition now. Keith and his crew removed the roof and reinsulated the cavity with Batts. This was covered with a synthetic building paper and the iron put back on with tech screws and cyclone washers. A damaged stringer connecting the shed to the Hut was jacked back and refastened. Extra purlins were added to the shed roof, which was extended 150mm to line up with the Hut roof. A flashing was installed between the junction of the hut and shed roof, The clutter in the shed was sorted and anything appearing to have historical significance was cleaned and stored on-site. The Hut's wall linings, insulation and vapour barrier were removed and replaced. An open and close ventilation system was installed. Both windows were replaced with new double glazed units and 10mm perspex was attached 5-10mm in front of the glass to protect against windblown stones. A new door was attached and underfloor insulation installed. The corners of the hut were re-flashed with flat-iron and the Hut resealed and re-painted. Gravel and vegetation that had built up against the East wall was dug back to bedrock and stone walls were built between external piles to stop wind and snow blowing under the Hut. In April Warren and Co. attached the shed's stringer to the Hut wall at top plate level with coach screws. An interior passage was created between the the Hut and shed. The shed is now a useable and easy to maintain extra space. The new outside door handle on the Hut was not considered secure against kea or snow loading. It is very easy to open the latch - a disaster in bad weather. Warren put a temporary lock under the handle.

Routes

A direct crossing of the Lange Range Price Basin Hut in the Whitcombe valley is possible from Ivory Hut. Access starts at the eastern shore of the Lake and goes directly up the scree (or snow depending on the season) faces to point 2056m. Drop from here down the ridge to Mt. Wylde Brown. A crumbling rock buttress near the top of the ridge can be sidled under on the South side. This is straightforward when snow-free, but would need ice axes and possibly crampons in winter and spring. The remainder of the ridge and the drop-off down into the Basin is easy going, although spaniards are fairly prolific in the tussock on the faces above the Hut. Allow 4-6 hours for the crossing.

Seddon Col can be accessed from Ivory Lake Hut by sidling along the TR faces Stag Creek staying roughly level with the Hut. These are quite deeply dissected by side-creeks and there are a couple of exposed sections to get around. It may be preferable to drop into Stag Creek and climb up onto a tussock bench that runs above its TL. This is easy travel and connects with the Creek around 1420m. The Whitcombe side of Seddon Col is vertical at the top with rotten rock and would probably require ropes and climbing gear. An easier alternative is to follow the upper TR branch of Stag Creek towards the saddle between points 2058m and 1956m. Sidle South from here at around 1880m to the crest of the divide with Seddon Creek (around E1432096/ N5221078). There is immediate and easy access from here down a scree into Seddon Creek. Direct access to the drop-off from Seddon Col is blocked by a rock butress just North of the Col.

Crossings to the Mikonui and the Whitcombe valleys can be made over point 1870m behind Ivory Glacier. Access is up the ridge on the TR of the Lake, usually a straightforward scramble. A couple of the steeper bits on the way up to point 2084m may need ice axes during the colder months, but are generally snow free from late summer. Just after point 2084 there is a short upclimb of around 5m that's a bit exposed and crumbly and could be problematic for some. It may be possible to skirt it by dropping down a couloir on the Watson Creek side and climbing back onto the main ridge further along. The couloir is on the shady side and has hard permanent snow. A short distance further there is a cairn marking the junction of Sawtooth Ridge and the SE ridge of Mt. Beaumont. Top Tuke Hut is accessed down a broad spur the drops NW between the two main upper branches of the Tuke River. Drop from where the spur flattens at 1300m, into the upper TL branch and follow it down to the River. From here to the Hut is reasonably straightforward with the odd bit of track through the scattered scrub on the TR. The track up to the Hut goes up a small-side creek that comes in at E1428172/ N5226877. Allow 4-5 hours for the crossing from Ivory Lake Top Tuke Hut.

Dickie Spur Hut can be accessed over Sawtooth Ridge and The Tusk. Sawtooth Ridge is traversable, but requires an ice axe. There is an exposed section with crumbly rock on Dickie Ridge immediately SE of point 1920m where a rope would provide extra security, however it can be done without if care is taken. It's a long plod from here down Dickie Ridge to the Hut turnoff at around 1200m. A cut track through the scrub starts a bit higher than the turnoff, which is marked by by orange triangle on a stake and an older wooden stake with permolat next to it.

The Cropp Basin can be accessed from Ivory Lake over Mt. Beaumont, which has permanent snow on its summit and a small glacial remnant on its South face. It is an easy traverse. Drop from the summit to the col at point 1898m on Galena Ridge and sidle NE to point 1695m. Drop from here into the upper South branch of the Cropp taking care as the faces here are steep at the top and eroding in a number of places. Follow the upper Cropp down into the main basin skirting a waterfall at the 1000m contour a rock ledge on the TL. There are numerous good campsites down in the basin near the NIWA gear and Cropp Hut remains on the TL.

Healey Creek Hut can be accessed by continuing along Galena Ridge from Mt. Beaumont. The traverse is relatively easy apart from one steep little notch between points 2001m and 1974m that requires a bit of care upclimbing. Access onto Healey Spur is down a steepish face with loose rock and scree. There is a dip in the Spur then a short razor-back section before point 1643m that won't appeal to the vertigo prone. It can be avoided by dropping onto the sloping benches on the Healey Creek side of the Spur and climbing back onto the Spur just past point 1643m. A direct sidle to the bench where the Hut is located that looks easier than climbing back up onto the Spur is blocked by a deep slot just before the Hut. Allow a full day in good conditions from Ivory Lake Hut to Healey Creek Hut. Ice axes are standard fare and crampons may be required in some places during the colder months.

From the summit of Mt. Beaumont it is easy travel down Steadman Brow. There is a maintained track that provides access from Cropp Knob down to the Price Flat swingbridge in the Whitcombe. Its top entrance is on a side-spur that connects with the Brow on a flat area just NE of the Knob. The track was last cut in 2013, and takes around two hours down from the scrubline.

The section of the Lange Range bounding the TL of Ivory Lake is an impressive razorback and is very exposed and narrow in places. It is possible to sit astride it in a few places with a leg over sheer drop in each of the Waitaha and Whitcombe catchments. There is a jumbled, unstable section NW of point 2081m with large slabs of rock at precarious angles that would require a rope to traverse.

A climb of Park Dome from Ivory Hut is highly recommended. Its NW ridge is easy travel and there are stunning views of Mt. Evans and the Southern Alps from the summit. Sidle under the ridge where it steepens around 2100m, staying on the fringes of the small glacier below. Cross back over the ridge near its top and continue up its TR to the summit snowfield. Ice axes are usually sufficient for the climb in summer and autumn, and it would pay to carry crampons in the colder months.

Work still to do

Completing the lining repair and painting the inside of the Hut. Installation of architraves and skirting boards on the windows, doors and vents. There are sufficient Batts and almost enough ply sheets to line and insulate the lean-to. This would bring it up to a similar, or better standard than the main Hut. A bolt needs to be fitted to the external Hut wall with the bolt shaft preventing the outside door opening.

Provisions on Site

A kerosine cooker (gravity fuel-feed jar model), three billies, a tea pot, a camp oven, four enamel plates, cutlery, an ornamental fire extinguisher, an old NZFS Kerosine lamp, a dining table, two chairs, an armchair, two snow shovels, a collection of preserved invertebrate specimens from 1972, and other extraordinary bits and pieces! Warren brought in a 20 litre aluminium pot for snow melting and a general large volume cooking pot. He also left a full 20 litre pail of white acrylic, rollers, tray, a brush, screws, sand paper, sealants and expanding foam. The aluminium rowboat pictured in the 1976 photo is no longer in the shed unfortunately.