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Smyth Hut

Smyth Hut

(Smyth Hut: Photo Andrew Buglass 2019)

Maintenance Status

Smyth Hut and access route are fully maintained by DOC Franz Josef.

Location

Wanganui catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: E1425216/ N5213724. Altitude 685m. Smyth Hut is located in the head of the Wanganui valley. It is an absolutely stunning wild setting that can potentially be accessed in a long day from the roadend by a fit party, depending on river conditions. The river reaches both down and upstream of the Hut are a mass of huge boulders, cascades and deep blue icy pools. In 2013 a big chunk of Mt. Evans collapsed into the head of the Evans Stream and brought a wall of water down the valley that took out huge chunks of the valley wall and wiped out the Smyth swingbrige. The flash flood went around both sides of Smyth Hut leaving it on a small island of forest about 200 long by 50m wide. A couple of kms upstream, the The Buttress on Mt. Whitcombe towers over the valley. Its vertical walls are the abode of Himalayan tahr and chamois. There is the added attraction of a hot spring in the main riverbed 200m downstream from the Hut that can be dug out with some shovels that are kept in the Hut. Smyth Hut has historically been low-use due to the ruggedness of the country. All of the crossings into the head of the valley require alpine skills, and the main valley route has become increasingly difficult with scouring and flood damage. Probably around 50% of visits are fly-in hunting parties. The hut gets the odd climbing party, usually doing ascents of Mt. Whitcombe via the upper Vane Stream and Dainty, Lornty and Leeb Glaciers, or occasionally Dan Peak.


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Access

The access route to Smyth Hut from Hunters Hut in the mid valley has become more problematic over the years. The terrain is very rough and unstable, with areas of slippage and scouring exacerbated in in recent years by increasingly frequent heavy rain events. The route is on the TL and comprises sections of riverbed travel interspersed with tracked detours around bluffs and slips. A number of the detours continue to be problematic for folk in terms of marking and general stability including the first one around Poker Bluff. All of the detours and shitty bits can be pretty much avoided in Winter and early Spring when river flows are low by fording to the TR whenever necessary. Doing this generally provides a good line all the way up the riverbed to the start of the big boulder cascade just below Devastation Creek. Once the big thaw starts this is generally not possible, as the River remains high and cloudy right through the Summer. Head up the boulder cascade a bit to a poorly marked track on the TL that goes up a rock gut and sidles a half km around into Devastation Creek. You hit the main riverbed again here and continuing negotiating the boulders or follow eroding remnants of track. The track for last half km to the hut is in very good condition, having been recut when DOC were in painting the Hut in early 2019. Travel time from Hunters using the official TL route is 6+ hours, shortening to 4-5 hours if the riverbed route is used at low flows. Allow 10-12 hours if coming from the Wanganui roadend. boulders

Type

Smyth was one the last NZFS S70 six-bunkers and was built in 1974. It is lined and has woodburner, a long drop toilet, and a roof-fed watertank.

Condition

Smyth Hut is in good condition currently. It was repainted by DOC and had a flue leak repaired in 2019. Rodents can currently be heard rustling around in the lining, although there was no evidence of any droppings inside the Hut itself. The Smyth toilet is getting a bit old. The studs are rotting at the bottom and someone has replaced the floor with a bit of iron cladding. The tap on the water tank has a small hole that squirts water out the side when it is opened. There is plenty of driftwood in the riverbed and flash-flood channel. People seem to be just chucking it into the woodshed however, without cutting it into lengths that fit the woodburner.

Routes

There is a reasonably popular crossing to Smyth Hut from County Stream Hut and the head of the County valley via Smyth Saddle. River travel upstream from County Hut used to be reasonably straightforward, however in early 2019 the second side-creek up from Canary Creek blew out and dammed the river. There is now a sizeable lake with steep scrubby sides that needs negotiating. The best route appears to be up the blown-out creek, sidling out and across a tussock bench around the 1060m contour, then drop back into the river. There might be some alpine scrub to bash through on the way down. River travel should be good from here with one small gorge to negotiate 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 (BW18 268 173). 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 and fording can be problematic and dangerous at peak flows.

Smyth Hut can be accessed along the Smyth Range fromn Scamper Torrent Hut or Moonbeam Hut in the Waitaha valley. These are alpine trips and snow gear would be required for most of the year, except perhaps late summer and autumn. The upper Smyth River can be accessed from the saddle at point 1830m, NE of Mt. Barry (travel gets difficult further along the Range). Once in the upper Smyth it is good travel down to just below the Bradshaw Creek confluence.

The Wanganui River continues for another kilometre upstream from Smyth Hut, then branches and becomes the Evans River running NE, and Vane Stream running due South. The riverbed up to the confluence is a mass of flood rubble and huge boulders. The Vane is reasonable travel into its head, with the usual large boulder scramble in its lower reaches. Access up onto the Mueller Glacier, and Mt. Lord and Strachan Pass is straightforward alpine travel. A high level traverse is possible from Camp Saddle and Poker Gully basin, along the Lord Range to Blue Lookout and back down to Hunters Hut.

The Evans was bored out by the the 2013 flash flood and is rough and bouldery travel. A significant number of parties heading up there have had to turn back after being able to ford the Vane. This is usually in high summer when opaque melt-water swells the Stream. At the 1060m contour in the Evans there is a small lake created by the flash flood which has good campsites at its head. From here travel up the Evans Glacier takes you over Full Moon Saddle onto the Bracken Snowfield. The most frequently used access routes onto the Bracken are up the Ramsay Glacier from the Rakaia and over Erewhon Col, or from Whitcombe Pass via the Sale Glacier, the upper Ramsay and Erewhon Col.

Repairs

The toilet needs some work in the medium term. The water tank tap needs patching or replacing. The tracked sections of the route will need ongoing work to mitigate damage on the actively eroding bits.

Provisions on Site

An aluminium wash basin, two large billys, a camp oven, numerous frypans, plates and utensils, an old pressure cooker, a large and small shovel, a broom, a hearth brush and shovel, a metal bucket, and some spare louvre panes, an axe and a bow saw. Under the Hut there are various odds and sods and an aluminium ladder.