Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Revival

Richard Wesley has kindly allowed the project team to use his blog to provide an update on the Mid Tasman Portable Hut Project. Communications to the wider alpine community have been few and far between, with the last correspondence an article appearing in the summer edition of ‘The Climber’ magazine. We will use this blog to fill in what has happened to date and to communicate key milestones of the project going forward.

Following on from ‘The Climber ‘article, key milestones to date are:

 Clint O’Brien (Recreation Construction) has been engaged to construct the hut. Clint has plenty of experience working in the alpine environment at Mount Cook National Park (MCNP). His resume includes the construction of Ball Hut and recently was involved in the relocation of Hooker Hut. The hut will be constructed at Recreation Construction’s base in Oamaru. 

- In February a site visit to Beetham hut was undertaken with Derek Chinn (project structural engineer), Clint O’Brien (Recreation Construction) and Johnny McFarlane (project manager) to mark out a potential hut site and to look at the design features of Plateau and Ball Huts. This visit coincided with maintenance work Clint and Derek were undertaking for other alpine huts in MCNP.  

- The first of the project funds were spent in late April on a geological assessment for a potential hut site in the Darwin Bonney Glacier area.  GNS Science undertook the geological assessment and Don Bogie (DOC) completed an avalanche assessment. Again, this work was incorporated into other work GNS were undertaking in MCNP for DOC.

- Potential toilet systems have been investigated for the new hut. Waste management can be hugely expensive in an alpine environment. The chosen system needs to carefully consider the balance of capital and maintenance costs with the volume of waste generated. 
We are extremely grateful to DOC Mount Cook who hav accommodated us in their works programme for our February site visit and the April geological and avalanche assessments. We would also like to acknowledge Don Bogie, who is completing the avalanche assessment report for the Darwin Bonney hut site free of charge. These reports are due to be submitted in June, and will outline the main rock fall and global rock stability risks, and avalanche run out paths at a potential hut site in the Darwin Bonney Glacier area.

Once these risks have been identified, we hope to be able to find a location that would be suitable for a hut. These assessments are similar to the work undertaken to identify a low risk site in the Beetham Valley. Once this work is completed, we will share these reports on this blog, including a recommendation on what the next actions might be.

Currently we are working to finalise the design drawings so we can submit an application for building consent to the McKenzie District Council. We are also continuing to fundraise for building materials.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Project Timeline

2016 - Home of Mountaineering Canturbury Community Trust loan paid off.
2015 - Replace De la Beche Hut
2014 - Replace Murchison Hut
2013 - Rebuild Beetham Hut
2012 - Construction of huts begins.
2011 - Major fundraising year for the project.
2010 - Confirmation of funding from DoC and other major supporters required.
2009 - Development of design and construction details.
2008 - Decision made by the Accommodation Committee that Murchison Hut should be replaced in the medium future rather than have major repairs undertaken.
Idea of building three huts for Beetham, De la Beche and Murchison hut sites proposed.
2007 - Proposal for a Erica Hut withdrawn due to concerns over the access route to the new hut site. Concept of a 'Standard Alpine Hut' developed.
2006 - November Club Committee meeting passes motion: "THAT the replacement of Beetham Hut be put on hold until the development of Unwin Lodge and identified urgent maintenance on the existing huts network is progressed to the satisfaction of the Accommodation Committee. The New Huts Reserve Fund shall be amalgamated into the Club Huts Reserve Fund and a recommendation shall be made to the Finance committee that this money be held in a separate account clearly identified for the purpose of the Huts Reserve. Rob Moffat / Ross Cullen", therefore money originally earmarked for new projects is swallowed up into the existing huts capital fund.
2005 - January visit by myself, Don Boggie, Hancox and Chas Tanner to the Beetham Valley to investigate possible hut sites and finalise geological and avalanche reports for the area.
May Club Committee meeting passes motion "THAT the Club Committee support in principle a replacement Beetham Hut being a future goal of the Club, but that all major works on Homer, Unwin and the Home of Mountaineering be completed first. Ross Corbett / Trevor Ingham".
2004 - Beetham Hut site confirmed as such in the approved Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Management Plan. Homer Hut renovations and new Home of Mountaineering project take all the time and energy of the NZAC national office.
2003 - Motion to fully investigate Beetham Hut sites passed at November Club Committee meeting: "THAT CCM approve the Accommodation Committee obtaining geotechnical and avalanche risk assessments of possible hut sites and report to CCM on the feasibility of the potential sites. Ross Corbett / Ross Cullen"
2002 - Work proceeds on investigating a range of funding options, and making submissions on the revision of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Management Plan to include Beetham as a hut site.
2001 - Replacement project by NZAC first formally proposed in a motion at the November Club Committee meeting: "THAT NZAC look at involvement in the rebuilding of Beetham Hut and Plateau Hut to increase our accommodation base. Geoff Gabites / Andrew Smith"
1995 - First Beetham Hut destroyed by avalanche.
1986 - New Beetham Hut constructed in the valley.
1979 - Malte Burn Hut removed from site due to geological instability.
1969 - Malte Burn Hut constructed on a moraine terrace on the side of the Tasman Glacier.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Avo, Geo and DoC Reports

When talking about a new project like this clearly there are steps to be taken first to ensure that such a proposal is in fact feasible in terms of current policy and planning documents for the National Park, and that avalanche and geological risks are acceptable. This work has been completed for the proposed Beetham Hut site.

Department of Conservation Management Plan for Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

This plan under went review and was approved by the Conservation Authority in 2004. It specificity includes Beetham Hut and treats it as an existing 'hut site' under policy 4.2.7(a) & (c) on page 90 of the plan..

Aoraki Mt Cook Management Plan Park Policies (1.7M pdf)

Geological Baseline Inspection Report

An inspection of the site in 2005 came to the following conclusions:

  1. The foundation rock at the proposed new site for Beetham Hut is strong and stable, and shows no obvious deterioration or foundation collapse.
  2. The proposed new site is located on an old glacial bedrock bench, which is almost flat and well clear of steep slopes above or below it. It is essentially free of active geological hazards such as rock falls and foundation collapse, and there is also little risk from snow avalanches.
  3. The greatest geological hazard that could possibly affect the site is a large rock fall from the rock bluffs upslope to the east during an earthquake on the Alpine Fault, but such a rock fall is considered to be an extreme, low-probability event. Overall, the Geological Hazard (rock fall, debris flow, foundation erosion and collapse) at the new Beetham Hut site is rated as Low, with a Danger Rating also of Low.
  4. Accordingly, it is concluded that the site is suitable for overnight accommodation in the new Beetham Hut, offering sound and stable foundation conditions and few geological hazards that adversely affect the site, as well as good access and views, and close proximity to local rock climbing and ski touring areas.
Geological Report (pdf)

Avalanche Report

A report commissioned by NZAC in 2005 investigated four possible site (with D being the site proposed in this project) and came to the following conclusion:

"Of the four sites looked at, site D is the preferred site for a hut. It will not need protective
earthworks or extra strong construction like sites A and C. Its access is acceptable in terms of
avalanche risk for people accessing the site from the Beetham valley."

Avalanche Report (pdf)

Finanical Plan

Money is the basis of all new project proposals and so I want to put some thoughts on paper as to how a trio of huts could be built together to provide for the needs of De la Beche, Murchison and Beetham hut sites.

Expected Cost:

Hut Building in Christchurch:
$5,000 - General Costs
$20,000 - Hut Construction Materials
$5,000 - Toilet Construction Materials
$10,000 - Building Costs
$10,000 - Contingency 20%

Hut Flying and Construction On Site:
$5,000 - General Costs
$25,000 - Helicopter Time
$10,000 - Foundation Alterations
$10,000 - Contingency 20%

$100,000 Subtotal per hut

$300, 0000 TOTAL for three huts

Funding Proposal:

$100,000 Department of Conservation
$100,000 Commitment from NZAC spread over 10 years as a loan
$50,000 Donations from commercial operators
$50,000 Grants, sponsorship and fundraising

$300, 0000 TOTAL for three huts

There are a couple of ideas that could be used to leverage money from grants or sponsorship including using one year of the Banf film festival as a platform for fundraising, and looking to Meridian Energy for a sponsorship and publicity deal.

Future of the Tasman Glacier

The future of the Tasman Glacier and its surroundings is very important to this project as the Beetham Valley sits on the eastern side of the glacier, about half way down its length. I first visited the Beetham Valley in 1992 and, having seen the change in the glacier condition and lake since then, predicted in 2001 that one day getting to Beetham would be by boat. It seems that won't quite be the case but certainly pretty darn close in another 10 to 20 years time!

There is a link to a BBC news clip and the full Herald article is quoted below.

Scientists: Alps largest glacier gone within 20 years

7:30PM Wednesday April 23, 2008

Climate change will see most of the Tasman Glacier in the Southern Alps melt away over the next 20 years, scientists say.

"In the past 10 years the glacier has receded a hell of a lot," said glaciologist Dr Martin Brook.

"It's just too warm for a glacier to be sustained at such a low altitude - 730 metres above sea level - so it melts rapidly and it is going to disappear altogether".

The Tasman Glacier is the largest in the Southern Alps and at 29km was noted as one of the longest in the world's temperate zones.

In 1973 there was no lake in front of the Tasman Glacier, while new measurements taken last week indicate the lake at its foot is now 7km long, 2km wide and 245m deep.

The lake has attracted regular excursions by boatloads of tourists, but Dr Brook today warned they may be at risk from massive chunks of ice unexpectedly breaking loose underwater and surfacing as far as 60m from the glacier face.

"There's actually a sub-surface apron of ice that slopes away under the water for at least 50m or 60m from the front of the glacier," Dr Brook said. As this ice-apron melts, blocks of ice break off and float to the surface.

"This happens pretty quickly and is potentially a hazard for the tour boats that cruise up to the cliff: the blocks just pop out on the surface and some are between 5m and 10m in size."

The lake has been formed as the ice which makes up the glacier melts, and is a key factor in its destruction: the deeper the lake, the faster the retreat of the glacier.

According to another glaciologist, Trevor Chinn, the development of the lake was a "tipping point": no amount of snow at the head of the glacier, the neve, can compensate melting triggered by the lake.

Dr Brook, a lecturer in physical geography at Massey University, said the lake could only grow to a length of about 16km - allowing room for another 9km glacier retreat.

"We could expect further retreat of between 477m and 822m each year," he said. "At these rates it would take between 10 and 19 years for the lake to expand to its maximum."

His work has vindicated predictions made in 1990 by Dr Martin Kirkbride.

The last major survey of the glacier was in the 1990s and since then the glacier has retreated an average of 180m a year, exposing a basin carved out of rock more than 20,000 years ago when the glacier was a lot larger and more powerful.

Dr Brook and his research students are using a sonar and echo sounding equipment to measure the depth of the lake and analyse and analyse sediments under the lake.

Over the past couple of decades, a notch would develop at the waterline in the cliff of ice which is the face of the glacier, then melt back into the glacier to undercut the ice above, causing it to collapse into the lake.

At one time large blocks of blue ice, some about the size of the Dunedin Railway Station, were deposited in the lake.

But because a much larger part of the glacier is submerged, the 2degC water is causing a faster retreat of the ice face, leaving a "foot" of ice extending out into the lake.

"The result is large pieces of ice fracturing off the ice foot and floating on the surface," Dr Brook said.

Dr Brook said the team was also investigating a the way the glacier's melt differs to the "clean-ice" glaciers on the West Coast. These smaller, steeper glaciers, such as the Fox and Franz Josef, retreat and advance more erratically.

Tasman is covered in rock and debris, and has a different relationship with the climate, and different patterns of retreat.


Standard Alpine Hut Concept

In order to move this project forward it has become clear to me that a clever low cost solution will be required. It also occurred to me that a 'new' project such as this will always complete with the maintenance and operation requirements of all the existing alpine huts in the mountain regions of New Zealand. Some of these existing huts are becoming old and run down and questions are being asked about their continued existence into the future.

Combining these two thoughts, along with the way DoC have reduced costs by standardising designs for tramping huts, gave me the concept of a standard small low cost alpine hut. This type of design could be used to replace existing huts and be used for a new hut in the Beetham Valley. For more information on this idea please visit my blog on the subject here:

New Zealand Alpine Huts (

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The dream of Erica Hut is no more.

Funding was always the key to a new facility and all options seem to close off at the same time on this project. The New Zealand Alpine Club in its wisdom swallowed up the future projects fund to pay for general hut maintenance, the trust fund decided that the access to the hut site was too risky, and the Department of Conservation said that no funding would be available for many years.

Oh well, at least it is a beautiful valley to camp in!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Erica Hut Design Criteria

- environmentally friendly
- zero waste
- 20 to 24 bunks
- wardens quarters included
- helicopter landing site down on the Tasman Glacier
- ownership by the New Zealand Alpine Club
- management by DoC via the Aoraki Mt Cook Huts Agreement

Moving a Dream to Reality

Alpine huts are expensive as there construction must stand up to the rigors of the mountain environment. Also climbers are not the most gentle of occupants, and they are of course located in areas where construction material must be air lifted into place. The cost of a new hut depends on many vaiables including size, design, voluntary labour input, donations of materials, etc.

Currently the financial cost of building a new Erica Hut may fall between $300,000 and $400,000. No one source of funding is able to cover this considerable outlay and so more creative thinking is required. Splitting the cost four ways would spread the cost and possibly enable the dream to move to reality.

The Erica Beuzenberg Trust has an amount of money available for the project and is keen to move forward with further fundraising and planning.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) who owned and managed the old huts in the area has always expressed support for a new hut and this view was confirmed in the recently updated Aoraki Mt Cook National Park Management Plan. It is hoped that they are able to contribute financially to the project.

The New Zealand Alpine Club has a future club project fund which could be devoted to this important climbing location. As a leading provider of alpine accommodation around the country, the Club is well placed to provide, along with DoC, the administration and support required for running such an alpine hut.

A further sum of money would still be required and could perhaps be gained from funding sources such of lottery and community boards. Commercial sponsors and other supporters could also be approached to make up the shortfall. Two architects, one a CMC member from Christchurch and one an NZAC member from Auckland have both volunteered their services.