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Wilkinson Hut

Wilkinson Hut

(Wilkinson Hut: Photo DOC 2003/ 4)

Maintenance Status

Wilkinson Hut is designated as minimal maintenance. The main valley tracks in the Whitcombe River are fully maintained and were last recut in February 2015.

Location

Whitcombe catchment. Map BW18. Grid Ref: E1436568/ N5219830. Altitude 605m. Wilkinson Hut is located at the top end of a river flat on the TL of the upper Whitcombe valley. A swingbridge 10 minutes upriver provides access from the main valley track on the TR, however Wilkinson is generally bypassed by those travelling between Price Flat and Neave huts on the Whitcombe Pass circuit. Wilkinson Hut is a relic of the 1950's, pokey and dark, but cosy with the fire going (watch your forehead on the low door frame!). It sits in a clearing ringed by regenerating hardwoods. Montane forest comprising rata, kamahi, totara and broadleaf cloaks the hillsides above. Hut users are a mix of fly-in hunters, those walking the Whitcombe Pass circuit, and occasional groups heading into the more rugged Price or Wilkinson catchments. The odd possumer has overwintered at Wilkinson over the decades.

Access

Wilkinson Hut can be accessed in around the same time from both sides of the Alps. The tracks and huts on the TR of the Whitcombe valley tracks are fully maintained and the huts are in good condition currently. However some sections of the valley between Frew Hut and Wilkinson are unstable and actively slipping into the River, taking bits of track with them. It currently takes around 3.5-4 hours to get up to Wilkinson Hut from Price Flat Hut, or two days from the Hokitika roadend. The Price - Wilkinson section has quite a bit of new slippage on it and will possibly deteriorated quite quickly after cutting. Access from Canterbury side over Whitcombe Pass also takes two days and involves a crossing of the Rakaia River, which can be treacherous after rain. The Pass itself usually straightforward, although occasional deep snow in Winter can slow the crossing considerably. The last section from Neave Hut down to Wilkinson Hut takes around 1.5 hours.

Type

Wilkinson Hut was one of an unique batch of four a B48 designs built in Westland in 1957 by the NZFS. It was erected in the winter of that year by Ron Turner and Bill Radumski. The B48 was a forerunner of the SF81 design that later became the standard around the country. Its layout was strongly influenced by the Department of Internal Affairs huts built in the area earlier in the decade. The materials for the Hut were dropped in by fixed-wing aircraft and some of the timber framing was damaged on impact. Ron fashioned an adze from an old mattock and squared totara poles to replace the damaged bits and make the bunk uprights. NZFS later added a porch, and replaced the flat iron roof with corrugated iron. Wilkinson still has its open fire, and is lined with the original tar paper under chicken wire. There is a toilet. Water is from the River a short distance from the Hut.

Condition

Wilkinson is in reasonably good condition currently. DOC painted and resealed it, and did some floor and chimney repairs during the summer of 2003/ 4. A split clearlite sheet was replaced in 2014.

Routes

Price Basin Hut can be accessed from Wilkinson Hut down the TL of the Whitcombe. An old NZFS track down this side was partially recut by some Permolat people in 2015. The first side stream down river from Wilkinson Hut is crossed around 50m up from its confluence with the Whitcombe and is cairned on both sides. The track then heads across an area with lighter scrub and back to the River. Keep to the River where possible from here, watching for cairns and cut sections around bluffs. It takes around an hour to get down to Pahlow Creek currently. Head up the Creek taking the TL branch of each of two consecutive forks. The going is steep and bouldery, but reasonably straightforward. Exit the Creek on the TL just under the bluffy faces of Mt. Van Redan and sidle NE along the tussock benches to around E1435855/ N5222464. Climb from here up an old rock scree onto Pahlow Ridge and follow this up to a cairn around the 1500m contour. Sidle due West from here around into Price Basin which is reasonably gentle tussock faces with scattered large boulders. Good visibilty is required for the tops sections of this route. Allow 6-7 hours for the journey from Wilkinson Hut to Price Basin Hut.

The Wilkinson River can be accessed up the TL of the Whitcombe valley from Wilkinson Hut. An hour's boulderhopping will get you to the junction, with a few short detours into the bush to skirt bluffs and boulders. The Wilkinson is rough, swift, opaque, glacial meltwater, and its boulders are very slippery. It is usually difficult to ford and its levels can rise considerably over the day, during the warmer moths due to snow melt. The lower valley is bouldery with dense scrub often to the water's edge and travel is easier away from the River a bit, along the TR terraces. Finding a good deer trail will aid progess through the thicker patches of montane forest.

There is a steep bouldery cascade above Walcott Creek fringed by dense alpine scrub, and there is no easy way around this. Seddon Creek comes in above the cascade and is swift flowing. Ford with care and cross back into the Wilkinson over the a low scrub covered ridge on the TR of the Seddon. The last stretch of the Wilkinson to the ice lake is reasonably level, easy travel and the River can be crossed and recrossed without too much trouble.

We have no recent accounts of travel up TR of the Wilkinson. The late Austen Deans in Capturing Mountains says, "Parties who really ought to have known better, have struggled and struggled; they've spent all day up and down over boulders. But if they'd asked me before they went I'd have told them to go into the bush as soon as you get to the Wilkinson from the Whitcombe on the South side. There are deer tracks that take you right up to the Wilkinson Glacier." Maybe this is still the case.

The ice lake at the head of the Wilkinson is a stunning spot. A serene mirror reflecting the huge and daunting rock butresses of Mt. Evans. Small icebergs drift up and down the lake with the prevailing breezes and the stillness is punctuated by the regular crackle and roar of pieces breaking off the Bracken ice shelf and avalanching over the sheer rock bluffs.

A low saddle behind Agfa Knob provides easy access from the ice lake over into Seddon Creek. A large boulder cascade just upstream is rough going, and easier to skirt on the TL. A rather tricky ford near the top of the cascade will get you back over to the TR and the Bevernage Rock Bivs. A short scrub-bash is needed to get up to a couple of disappointing small, shallow overhangs that are hardly worth marking on the map. The largest would take two people at a squeeze. If you are considering spending a night or two in the Wilkinson, try kipping out under a gigantic, and clearly visible boulder, 15 minutes up Walcott Creek.

Above the Bevernage Bivs the Seddon becomes much easier going and provides access to Seddon and McKenzie cols. A direct approach to Seddon Col is not recommended without climbing gear. The easiest approach is up the broad gut leading NW from the head of the Seddon towards point 1956m. Cross the Range into Stag Creek at around the 1900m contour and sidle towards the saddle between points 1952m and 2058m. Drop down the upper TR branch of Stag Creek to around the 1460m contour and sidle along the TR faces of Stag Creek, dropping only slightly, to Ivory Lake Hut.

The creek draining McKenzie Col turns into a dry rock gut a short distance above its confluence with Seddon Creek and is filled with avalanche debris from here on. Travel is straightforward up to the col, but there is a very high and constant rockfall danger. The County side of the Col is a near-vertical rock chute and doesn't look particulalry nice from that side.

Allow eight hours for a return day-trip from Wilkinson Hut to the Ice lake, or five hours one-way with a full pack.

Repairs needed

None reported.

Provisions on site

Five litres of Lichen coloured paint, a bow-saw, a very blunt axe, two hearth shovels, a broom, an adze, a hearth brush, a shovel, a small camp oven, a billy (no lid), and a small pot. There is a roll of wire rope under the Hut.