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Ivory Lake Hut

Ivory Lake Hut

(Ivory Lake Hut: Photo Andrew Buglass 2020)

Maintenance Status

Ivory Lake Hut is now a combined DOC/ community initiative. x A local group of Kayakers who go by the name of Waitaha Awa Kaitiaki are in the process of getting an MOU drawn up with the Department to cement the relationship and Justin Venable of Hokitika is signatory for this group. Ivory Lake Hut is generally considered one of the jewels in the crown of NZ remote high-country destinations and for some years it had been in need of catch up maintenance to address moisture that had gotten into the walls, insulation and frame. A team of volunteers went in and did the work early 2017 and Warren and Trevor Chinn did some more when they flew in to Ivory to celebrate Trevor's 80th birthday later that year. Justin and some friends finished off the maintenance in March 2019. Ivory lake Hut debuted in American Backpacker Magazine in 2014 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. The hut has attracted the attention of Helicopter tourist operators and a recent consent application for regular tourist flights to the Hut was withdrawn after some vocal and justifiable backlash from remote hut enthusiasts. The Hut is getting around 20 visits a year currently.

Location

Waitaha catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: 1430255E/ 5222095N (BW18 303 221). 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

Ivory Lake is in a rugged and remote alpine setting and all the routes to it are difficult and demand high levels of fitness and experience in this type of country. Many of the challenges encountered in the Waitaha are unique to New Zealand and include dense lowland rain forest, extremely rough, gorged rivers, unbridged side-creeks, impenetrable alpine scrub, permanent snow and glaciated tops, and extreme weather. Ivory Lake Hut is eliciting increasing interest from overseas visitors most of whom don't have all of the necessary prerequisites for this. Having done a few of the easier and much better maintained tramps here, or hiked overseas, they assume that they can tackle the Waitaha on their terms. The tales of woe in the hutbooks tend to confirm that they don't have the necessarye skill sets for a safe and enjoyable experience. There are plenty of easier routes on this website you may want to try first before you attempt this one.

Access

DOC ceased maintaining the mid and upper Waitaha 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 It takes most people three days to reach the Hut this way.

The route from Top Waitaha to Ivory Lake is a relative stroll compared to the trials and tribulations of lower and mid valley. Follow 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. Allow around 2.5 hours for the journey from Top Waitaha Hut to Ivory Lake Hut, or 2.5-3 days from the Waitaha roadend.

There is a slightly quicker alternative route to Ivory Lake from the Mikonui/ Tuke catchment that avoids the rigours of the Waitaha valley but involves an alpine crossing as well as the ubiquitous bush and river travel. Access from Top Tuke Hut is via the upper TL branch of the Tuke Rive. This branch has three forks that drain The Tusk and Sawtooth Ridge. Take the SE branch which has some big boulders with alpine scrub surrounds to around the 1300m contour. Exit here on the TR onto a flat tussock bench and head up the broad spur in a SW direction to the junction of Sawtooth Ridge and the SW ridge of Mt. Beaumont. Continue from here towards point 2084m just prior to which there is a down-climb of around five metres which is exposed and crumbly when snow-free and often icy when covered. I've never had a problem free-climbing it, but others have. A bit of fixed rope was placed here in 2018 but one shouldn't rely on it still being there. From here on it is reasonably straightforward, although a couple of bits on the lee side of points 2084m and 1870m would require crampons if snow conditions were icy. The crossing isn't usually snow-free until late summer/ autumn. From point 1870m, drop down the ridge on the TR of Ivory Lake, over point 1620m to the Hut. The crossing from Top Tuke can be done in 4-5 hours in good conditions but quite a few parties have taken considerably longer. Those doing the reverse crossing to the Tuke in poor visibility often miss the connecting spur which is not well-defined at the top and end up in some steep eroding guts in the head wall of the basin. It doesn't sound like much fun in there.

Type

Ivory Lake Hut is a standard S70 six bunk design built by the NZFS for the Ministry of Works in 1970 to allow the monitoring of glacier dynamics. It differed in having concrete piles that were bolted into the bare rock substrate. 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 S70 built and has happily withstood the rigors 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 by Trevor and his crew. The cooking alcove was removed in 2017 and an interior passage was created between the the Hut and shed which can be used as extra space. Ivory Hut's interior is lined. 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 is in good condition now. The Waitaha Awa Kaitiaki 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 the piles to stop wind and snow blowing under the Hut. In April 2017 Warren's team 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. A Waitaha Awa Kaitiaki work party in 2019 lined and painted the lean-to, attached architraves and skirting to doors/windows/wall and floor joins, provided perspex cover for the old archival maps, strengthened roof joists and replaced/repaired damaged dwangs and purlins,and added a few shelves and coat racks. A party in December 2019 noted a damp patch under the bunk by the door. There is still one small damp patch of floor against the inner end wall under the bunk. Its source is a bit of a mystery.

Routes

Those crossing over point 2084m to the Mikonui and not wanting to brave the gullies at the head of the Tuke have the option of continuing around Mt. Beaumont and dropping down its NW spur. The route down into the upper Tuke is via the side-spur that drops WSW from the 1700m contour.

Dickie Spur Hut can be accessed over Sawtooth Ridge and The Tusk. Sawtooth Ridge is traversable but requires axes and probably crampons for a good part of the year. There is an exposed section with crumbly rock on Dickie Ridge immediately SE of point 1920m where a rope would provide extra security. It can be done without during the snow-free moths if care is taken. It's a long plod from here down Dickie Ridge to the Hut turnoff at around 1200m marked by by orange triangle on a stake (GPS Ref: E1426054/ N5230445). Poles lead from here down a side-ridge in a NE direction to the tussock bench where the Hut is located. GPS might be needed for the last bit if the mist is down.

The second most regularly used alpine route in and out of Ivory Lake is via the Lange Range and Price Basin Hut in the Whitcombe valley. Access starts at the eastern shore of the Lake and goes directly up onto 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 although some have argued that it's easier to tackle the buttress directly. The route is fairly straightforward when snow-free, but will require ice axes and possibly crampons from winter through spring. The remainder of the ridge and the drop-off down into Price 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.

A third means of tops access to and from Ivory Lake, now more regularly used, is via the Hitchin Range. This has the advantage of returning you to your vehicle if you are choosing to do a valley loop. You can stay high the whole way by traversing Point 2086m, Sawtooth Ridge and The Tusk however this involves a dog-leg which is longer, higher and more difficult technically. A straighter line can be taken by dropping from Ivory Lake Hut back into Stag Creek and heading down the TL terraces until directly opposite the side-creek that drains Point 1870m. Drop into Stag Creek down a steep scrubby rib just below a waterfall, cross, and climb diagonally up the slopes on the TR into Watson Creek basin. Travel up the basin to around the 1230m contour and exit up a steep tussock spur on the TR. The spur leads up onto the SE shoulder of Ragged Peak. Travel is reasonably straightforward from here along to Ridland Saddle. There are a couple of short steep downclimbs West of Ragged Peak and one narrow crumbly section of ridge just before Point 1721m none of which are particularly difficult when snow-free. Some steep exposed sections West of Mt. Hitchin can be avoided by dropping down the ridge on the TR of of Isobel Creek from Ridland Saddle. Drop into Isobel Creek at the 1130m contour and head up the side-creek that comes in on the TL there. Around 100m up the side-creek there is a steep rocky gut on the TL that provides access onto the open tops just below a bench with tarns, 500m SE of point 1385m. Head over point 1385m and sidle across the SW slopes of Mt. Allen at around the 1300m contour onto the broad spur at the head of Robinson Slip Creek. The very top of the slip is vertical but can be accessed from a gut that drops off the spur around E1419806/ N5226210. Sidle South out of the gut at 1150m (GPS Ref: E1419652/ N5226217), across an eroding face onto the main slip. The top of this is very steep and rough underfoot down to the 700m contour, then eases off. The creekbed is followed down to Macgregor Creek which is followed down to the Waitaha. the TR into Watson

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 western side of Seddon Col is very straightforward loose scree/rocks, whilst the eastern side is of solid, smooth, glacial-carved schist. Moving due East from the col there's a simple, well graded V-chute which descends all the way down to the rubble/snow fields below. In the colder months this chute would be filled with snow, providing easy travel, whilst in late summer/ autumn it would be a fairly easy scramble, possibly slippery if wet. Direct access to the Lange from Seddon Col is blocked by a rock buttress just North of the Col. An easier alternative is to follow the upper TR branch of Stag Creek towards the saddle between points 2058m and 1956m.

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 downclimbing. It is very exposed and a rope may come in handy here. Access onto Healey Spur is down a steep rib of tussock and loose rock when snow-free. There is a dip at the bottom of this, followed by a short razor-backed section that can be traversed with care, or avoided by dropping onto the tussock slopes on the Healey Creek side and sidling between the 1500 and 1600m contours. It is necessary to climb back onto the Spur either SE or NW of point 1643m due to deep slots that prevent a direct sidle down to 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.

The route from Mt. Beaumont down Steadman Brow to Cropp Knob is straightforward apart from a short steep exposed section just above the 1620m contour. This is probably OK to upclimb without protection, but it may be advisable to carry a rope for those heading down. A maintained track provides access down a side-spur that connects with Cropp Brow at a flat area just NE of Cropp Knob. The track is in excellent shape although a party in January 2019 had a bit of trouble locating the top entrance markers which are a bit further north than where the track is marked on the NZ Topomap. It leads down to the Price Flat swingbridge in the Whitcombe valley, taking around two hours 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.

Repairs Needed

The wet patch under the bunk by the door needs checking and attending to if necessary.

Provisions on Site

Three pots, two billies, a camp oven, a frypan, plates, cutlery, assorted plastic buckets, an ornamental fire extinguisher, a dining table, two chairs, an armchair, several fold out chairs, a shovel, two hearth brushes and shovels, a saw, a sawhorse, two brooms, a ladder, some leftover sheets of ply, some leftover framing, and an aluminium ladder. Warren brought in a large volume cooking pot for snow melting He also left a full 20 litre pail of white acrylic, rollers, tray, a brush, screws, sand paper, sealants, sealant gun, and expanding foam. The aluminium rowboat pictured in the 1976 photo is no longer in the shed unfortunately. There is a 10m piece of climbing rope hanging in the hut that could be used creatively on outings.