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Top Waitaha Hut

Top Waitaha Hut

(Top Waitaha Hut looking upriver: Photo Andrew Fenemor 2014)

Maintenance Status

Top Waitaha Hut has been designated as minimal maintenance. The tracked section of the main valley route to it from Moonbeam Hut is no longer officially maintained, but was recut by Permolat volunteers in 2011.

Location

Waitaha catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: E1427288/ N5222410. Altitude 1060m. Top Waitaha Hut is located in an expansive and beautiful tussock basin at the head of the Waitaha valley. It is a serene and remote setting backing onto the pristine snowfields and glaciers of the Mt. Evans massif. The alpine meadows and gently flowing river here are a total contrast to the wild and gorgy stretches of river downriver of the basin, that must traversed to reach it. Top Waitaha Hut gets around a dozen recorded visits per year currently, up quite a bit levels of use recorded in the 90's and 00's. DOC ceased maintaining the tracks in the upper Waitaha in the early 1990's and visits to Top Waitaha became increasingly infrequent until Permolat volunteers started recutting the tracks in 2007.

Access

The route from Moonbeam Hut to Top Waitaha is tracked as far as Chainman Creek, from where it there is a rather long and arduous stretch of river travel to the Top Waitaha basin. Permolat volunteers recut the tracked sections in 2015. I checked the bit from Moonbeam to the swingbridge in August 2016 and it's still OK. If it took you a lot longer than 4-5 hours to get from Kiwi Flat to Moonbeam Hut, then your fitness, and or route following skills are probably not sufficient for doing the, much longer, and much more demanding stretch from Moonbeam to Top Waitaha. There are quite a few tales of woe now in the Moonbeam hutbook from folk, mainly of foreign extraction, who didn't make it, or had an unpleasant time because they were out of their depth.

From Moonbeam the track follows the TL river terraces through beautiful pahutea and totara forest for around 20 minutes, before dropping down a steep bank to the riverbed just before Dorothy Creek. The track restarts just past Alexander Creek and sidles along the bush faces to the County turnoff, passing a reasonable dry rock just before the signpost. The main valley track drops down to the River here and crosses the swingbridge to the TR. A short section of track leads to a section of riverbed which is followed to a small unnamed side-creek at the start of the gorge. The track restarts 20 metres up the TL of the creek and climb/ sidles around the faces above the gorge. The track drops into a creek with attractive water-sculpted rock sides and begins a more serious climb up the ridge on the TR of Chainman Creek. At around 900m the track drops off the ridge down a steep rib into the bottom end of Chainman Creek. The drop-off point is well before where it is marked on the topo map. It crosses Chainman Creek and cuts through a flat area of olearia scrub to the Waitaha riverbed.

The remainder of the upper Waitaha route is river travel, and is tough going with numerous large bouldery cascades with dense scrub surrounds. Travel is generally easier in the colder months when flows tend to be lower. Ice and snow melt during the warmer periods can raise river levels considerably. A dry rock 20 metres up and 20 metres East of the second side-creek above Chainman Creek may provide shelter for the odd party that gets into trouble on this section. The top basin once reached is an idyllic stroll in comparison to the preceding several kilometres of boulder bashing, an the River in the vicinity of the Hut is easy to cross at normal flows. Allow 8-11 hours currently to get from Moonbeam Hut to Top Waitaha Hut.

Type

Top Waitaha is a Standard SF70 NZFS six-bunk design. It was built in the early-mid 1960's, a good decade before the three other huts in the upper valley. It was lined at some point, probably in the 1980's. Water is from the river. There is no toilet.

Condition

Top Waitaha Hut is in good condition currently. A Permolat work party repainted the exterior of the Hut in February 2014. The team and gear were backloaded in free of charge by the helicopter involved in the "First Crossings" TV series. DOC supplied the paint and paint gear. The team replaced a leaky window sill on the west window that had been rotting the framing beneath it. A cracked Hut door was sealed and painted. There is one cracked louvre pane on the side window held together with sticking plaster, but it's watertight and right at the top of the window. The Hut's tie downs are a little slack, however the hut site is fairly sheltered and this is probably not be hugely important. Some hunters reported the windows leaking quite badly in May 2015. Bruce Dando of Kokatahi Helicopters says he may put windbrake over the outside of them to see if that will help.

Routes

The route from Top Waitaha up to Ivory Lake Hut is fairly straightforward. Follow the River up to the Reid/ Stag Creek confluence and climb from here up onto the tussock terraces on the TL of Stag Creek. There are numerous tarns on the bench, which tapers out further up where Stag Creek rises to meet it. Follow the Creek to where the Ivory Lake outlet creek cascades down the sheer walls of the Ivory Lake cirque. The Hut is is almost directly above, a short distance back from the lip of the cirque, and not visible from below. Cross to the TR just past the outlet and follow a roughly diagonal line up 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. A less exposed access route can be found up a gravelly ridge a bit further up Stag Creek. 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.

A couple of possibilities exist for crossings from Top Waitaha over to Top Tuke Hut in the Mikonui catchment. The first is to follow the Waitaha River up to the confluence of Stag and Watson Creek and climb from here up the main western spur of point 1870m. Traverse point 2084m and continue to the junction of Sawtooth Ridge and the SW spur of Mt. Beaumont. There is a short five metre vertical pitch just after the point 2084m that needs upclimbing. It's a bit exposed and has crumbly schist handholds, and could be problematic for some. It may be possible to skirt this by dropping down on the Watson Creek side, crossing a couloir, and climbing back onto the main ridge. The couloir is on the shady side and has hard permanent snow. An ice axe would be required if using this as a detour. A cairn marks the junction of Sawtooth Ridge and the SW ridge of Mt. Beaumont. Head from here down the broad spur the drops NW between the two main upper branches of the Tuke. Where the spur flattens at 1300m, drop into the TL upper branch and follow this downvalley. Travel from here to the Hut is reasonably straightforward. There is a track up to the Hut from the the small-side creek that comes in at E1428172/ N5226877.

The other crossing involves a traverse of Ragged Peak and the Tusk. Ragged Peak is accessed by crossing the Waitaha and heading up the unnamed side-creek 100m downstream of the Hut. Exit the creek on the TL around 1150m and climb due east onto the flat area of the spur dividing the Waitaha and Watson Creek catcments. Continue up and over Ragged Peak, then sidle around the snowfield on the southern faces of The Tusk to the low point at the start of Sawtooth Ridge. Drop from the low point into the bouldery gut below. The gut does a dog-leg North further down and drops into the TL upper branch of the Tuke. Travel from here is same as the point 2084m traverse. Allow 5-6 hours for both crossings.

Dickie Spur Hut is accessed from The Tusk via Dickie Ridge. The section of ridge just SE of point 1920m has a number of short exposed sections, some over rotten rock. One in particular is marginal without a rope, so those less comfortable with this type of scrambling should probably consider carrying one. It's a long plod down Dickie Ridge to the Hut turnoff at around 1200m, which has an orange triangle on a stake and an older wooden stake with permolat next to it. The to the Hut is down a side-ridge in a NE direction and the trail is poled. The Hut is located on a tussock bench just off the side-ridge and requires good visibility to locate.

The Cropp Basin can be accessed over Mt. Beaumont and travel from the Sawtooth Ridge junction to Beaumont is very easy. Mt. Beaumont has permanent snow on its summit and a very small glacial remnant on the summit's South face. Drop down to point 1898m from Beaumont and sidle NE to point 1695m. Continue North for 500 or so metres, then drop due East into the South branch of the Cropp. A waterfall in the South branch at around the 1000m contour can be negotiated on a rock ledge on the TL. Further down in the Cropp Basin travel is easy with good campsites on the TL where NIWA has its meterological equipment. The remains of Cropp Hut were choppered over the River from the TR and can also be found here.

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

Healey Spur Hut can be accessed by continuing along Galena Ridge from Mt. Beaumont. Travel along the Ridge is relatively easy with one steep little notch between points 2001m and 1974m that requires 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 which can be traversed with care, or avoided by dropping onto a sloping bench on the Healey Creek side of the Spur. For the latter it's necessary to climb back up onto the Spur further along, to get around a slot just before the Hut. Allow a full day in good conditions from Ivory Lake Hut to Healey Spur Hut. Ice axes may be required on some sections of the route during the colder months of the year.

A traverse of the Hitchen Range is possible from the Top Waitaha Basin with access up the TR ridge of the side-creek at 235430E/ 5784370N. From the unnamed saddle at the top of the creek's TR fork it is straightforward travel along to Ridland Saddle. Some steep exposed sections between Mt. Allen and Mt. Hitchin can be avoided by dropping from Ridland Saddle down the ridge on the TR of the upper TR basin of Isobel Creek. Exit the basin where the Creek begins its steep drop into the scrub zone. A side-creek that comes in on the TL here and forks 100m further up. Take the TL fork which becomes a steep dry gut, emerging on a bench with tarns 500m SE of point 1385m. An old NZFS track up onto Mt. Allen from the lower Waitaha valley no longer exists in any useable form, however the side branch of MacGregor Creek with the large active slip can be used for access down to the lower Waitaha. The very top of the slip is vertical but can be accessed from a gut that drops off the SW ridge of Allen around E1419797/ N5226196. Sidle South out of the gut around 1150m, across then diagonally down some steep scrubby benches onto the slip. Access also looks possible down the side-creek that starts on the NW spur of Allen at E1419897/ N5226863. A route from the top of Swandri Spur down Slip Creek to Polluck Creek Hut in the Kakapotahi mentioned in old NZFS route guides is not safe, or recommended. The top of the slip is vertical and eroding and there is a waterfall with steep exposed sides further down. Dropping down Swandri Spur itself is a long and unpleasant scrub-bash.

To cross from Top Waitaha to County Stream Hut a number of lines look possible from the Hut more or less directly up to point 1857m. Traverse Mt. Bloomfield from here and drop to a point just above the col between it and Artist Dome. A cairn here marks the drop-off down to a steep rib between two forks of Bloomfield Creek. It is easier initially to drop down the rocky gut on the TR of the rib, then sidle back onto the rib to avoid some waterfalls further down where the gut turns into a creek. Follow the rib down to Bloomfield Creek and from here down to the County. The access track up to the Hut is on the TR of the Bloomfield just up from the County confluence and is marked with a cairn and cruise tape.

There is an alternative route to the County that takes in the lake in the South branch of Reid Creek. Head up to the Stag - Reid Creek confluence and climb up through a band of patchy alpine scub onto the terrace on the lower TL of Reid Creek. Cross the terrace and drop into the West branch of Reid Creek just above its confluence with the middle branch. There is a steep short scrub-bash up onto the ridge that divides the middle and west branches, which has a daunting looking bluffy face further up. There is however a reasonable route up through a series of tussock benches and ledges and around into the small side-creek on the TL of the spur, just above its waterfall. The side-creek becomes a narrow, dry slot further up and leads onto a flat bench South of point 1686m. Continue South along the bench and the eastern slopes of the lake towards the col at point 1892m. The route from here down into the County is the same as for the Mt. Bloomfield traverse.

A trip to Reid Lake from Top Waitaha Hut is certainly worthwhile if time and weather permit. An awesome slot gorge just below the Lake can be negotiated by terrace-hopping on the TR.

Repairs needed

The broken louvre pane still needs replacing, and the leaking windows require further attention. A toilet would be a good addition.

Provisions on Site:

One aluminium bucket, one billy, two large camp ovens, one frypan, one aluminium basin, one large plastic basin, an egg beater, four NZFS tin food drums (three lids), one NZFS vintage kero cooker which looks to be in going order, two scrubbing brushes, an antique and reasonably stocked NZFS first aid cabinet, a hearth brush and shovel, a broom, a shovel, a slasher, a hammer, a box of assorted nails (jolthead and flathead), a tube of sealant and a sealant gun, a packet of small normal screws, a spare slasher handle, a container of sugar soap, half a roll of denzo tape, a pair of gaitors, and one pair of downhill skis. In the he alcove above the door there are numerous containers of old paint that need removing. There are paintbrushes, paint rollers and a wire brush, as well as two litres of Lichen acrylic, left over from the 2014 repaint.