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Big Hut Access
There are two principal means of reaching Big Hut by foot or mountain bike, and three main routes.
Route 1: Six Mile Creek
2-3+ hours on foot.
This climbs 3300 feet up the eastern face from Glencreag, up a leading ridge south of Six Mile Creek. This is the most direct approach (foot only). Tall tussock, some scrub, and alpine herbfields are traversed.
5.8km north of the Middlemarch store there is a Department of Conservation sign at the junction of McKinnon Road and State Highway 87. This is an public easement over private land. Your only rights are to pass, repass and park. There is vehicle access to a car park (do not drive beyond here; nearby buildings are private). Follow the marked track towards the hill. At the first stile turn sharp right and follow the fence to the sign-posted Rock and Pillar Conservation Area. The route heads left and climbs steeply close to the boundary fence (a firebreak to the left of the fence is on private property). Approximately 1200 feet up, the route veers to the right and heads directly up-hill for another 1000 feet to 'The Gut' (an incised gully). A continuous line of snow poles then leads to the right away from a nearby fence, to reach the hut just over the lip of the summit plateau.
The route is marked the entire way either by orange metal standards or hardwood snowpoles. The standards and snowpoles have reflectorised patches. There are two solar-powered navigation lamps on the upper section.
If unfamiliar with the route it is inadvisable to tackle it in adverse conditions. Gale force, and stronger, winds are common, especially in the upper section - is not unknown to have to crawl the last few hundred metres to the hut. It can become so hazardous that retreat is the only option.In winter hard snow conditions can be encountered - crampons may be necessary. In favourable snow conditions it is usual to skin on ski from the snow line (usually from Split Rock, just below 'The Gut').
This is an energetic 'grunt' at the best of times. The ski club advice to members was: "start out slow, then ease up". With moderate fitness and an easy pace the trip up is not too daunting. There is much of interest on-route including regenerating shrublands/forest and tall tussock, alpine meadows, snow banks and babbling brooks. A couple of watering points are marked on-route.
Only climb to the hut at night in good conditions (a great experience on a nice night). In winter the snow poles and relectors may become invisible due to icing, or due to dense fog. Iced-up navigation lamps may be your only guide.
Route 2: Lug Creek
The route climbs 3000 feet up the eastern face on a well-graded vehicle track, up a leading spur south of Lug Creek (foot, mountain bike, 4WD only in dry conditions). The route follows a track built by the Otago Ski Club in 1958.
9.5km north of the Middlemarch store on State Highway 87, just before Lug Creek, and south of Moynihans Lane, is a farm entrance ('Kinvara' RAPID 7219) Oddly there is no DOC sign. A short way up the driveway is a Department of Conservation car park. Despite appearances this driveway is a public road to the carpark entrance.
Park within the designated carpark. The carpark and a ten metre wide strip the length of the track to the Rock and Pillar Scenic Reserve is a government purpose (access) reserve administered by DOC. There is no implied or other right for public use to be restricted or closed by the adjoining land owner
From the reserve boundary the track leads to 'Leaning Lodge', a hut owned by the Leaning Lodge Trust (Topomap Middlemarch 260 H43 820280). On a shelf below the prominent 'Castle Rock' the track forks left towards the hut.
Access across a gully to the hut can be difficult if there is frozen snow.
Average time to Leaning Lodge 3 hours on foot.
Shortest route to Big Hut from Leaning Lodge (foot only - unmarked - good visibility essential) is another 45+ minutes climbing gently southwards on a shelf, crossing a steep gully, and then continue climbing to above the eastern basins. Sidle several hundred metres beyond the lower prominent rock tors before gently descending to Big Hut. This route is shown in photo: 'Wind, spin-drift... and Leaning Lodge'
Route 2 is well defined to Leaning Lodge and provides easy walking but over a longer distance to gain the same elevation as Route 1. However it has disadvantages of needing good visibility between the huts - the route is very wind and cloud-prone. Ice axe and crampons may be necessary to traverse steep snow slopes near Leaning Lodge. Many parties don't make it to Big Hut mistakingly believing this route to be easier than Route 1.
Mountain bike access is available by following the right-hand fork in the vehicle track before Leaning Lodge, to the range crest, then past Castle Rock (on the left), to the west of the summit (1450m), then down to Big Hut (DOC signs at fence). It is a 700m walk down to the hut.
In poor visibility this is a longer but more assured foot route. The boundary fence along the range crest can also be followed.
Route 3: from Old Dunstan Road
Time: 3.5 hours on foot.
This is a rough vehicle track from the Old Dunstan Road, northwards along the crest of the range (foot, mountain bike). These are very exposed tops. The Old Dunstan Road is closed to motor vehicles 1 June to 30 September each year.
From the summit of the Dunstan Road (sign-posted) the track climbs to the right of McPhees Rock to a fork in the track. Veer right to follow the crest of the range to a kilometre before the summit where there is a DOC sign indicating foot-only access to Big Hut. Vehicles must be parked at the fence - it is only a 700m walk to the hut.As no major climbs are involved this would be a good mountain bike route except for the vehicle ruts which have become hazardous. This route is rapidly becoming unusable due to vehicle damage through use in wet conditions. This has wrecked this route for transporting materials and tools for hut restoration.
Rock and Pillar Hut Trust Inc., R D 1 Omakau 9376, Central Otago New Zealand