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A journey to the middle of the Tasman Glacier

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January 2022 Issue

Geoff Spearpoint was the first to stay at the new Beetham Hut after it was completed. The hut overlooks the Tasman Glacier and, he says, is an incredible and achievable destination

Lying on the warm red rock outside the new Beetham Hut, we gazed up at the giants of the Southern Alps: Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, Mt Haast, Mt Haidinger, and Elie De Beaumont. It felt gobsmackingly good.

We were the first at the hut since the builders left, six months ago. The logbook told us that, and so did the small bottle of unopened champagne. We chilled it in the snow then toasted all those who made this hut happen. 

Beetham Hut has four bunks. Photo: Geoff Spearpoint

When the original 1898 Malte Brun Hut was removed in 1978 due to subsidence, a new site was sought for a replacement. The Beetham Valley was chosen and in 1981, a hut was built there by the National Park Board. But that hut was destroyed by an avalanche in 1995. In 2006, the New Zealand Alpine Club chose a new site on a stable rock shoulder 100m above Beetham Stream. The hut was finished in March 2021.

Geoff Spearpoint and Jane Morris toast the new hut. Photo: Geoff Spearpoint

It’s a well-laid-out cosy four-bunker, though it would be a squeeze in bad weather for that many people. It has a park radio, solar lights, cooking bench, a steel deck, water tank and toilet. Good campsites exist, especially in the tussocky Beetham basin.

The hut offers a base for climbs on the Malte Brun Range, crag climbing Langdale Buttress, botanising, photography and a transalpine wander in the mountains.

Before coming, we had heard some quite jaundiced opinions about the hut and access to it. But no-one had been to look.

Sunrise on Aoraki/Mt Cook. Photo: Geoff Spearpoint

The comments proved largely baseless, though it is true that direct access up crumbling moraine walls from the Tasman Glacier to the hut is strafed with rockfall and is impractical.

There is a good tramping route that leaves the Tasman Glacier at Reay Stream. In summer, competent and fit trampers shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting to the hut in a full day from the Tasman Valley Road although it’s more comfortable to break the journey by staying at Ball Hut. Take a helmet, ice axe and maybe crampons, but a rope won’t normally be necessary.

Tackling the moraine on the Tasman Glacier. Photo: Geoff Spearpoint

The route takes trampers up the Ball Shelter Track, using the marked route to bypass the Husky Stream washout. A couple of hundred metres past Ball Hut, follow a cairned gravel gully (Garbage Gully) down the moraine wall. Wear a helmet and watch for stones.

On the glacial moraine, the best line diagonals over towards Dorothy Stream then continues up the glacier to the Reay. Get the line right, and much of the way is just rough shingle, but expect some lumpy loose boulder travel as well. Head up gravel slopes on the true right of the Reay, climb to between the 1500m and 1600m contours then sidle on tussock, scree and reasonable rock to the spur on the true left of Beetham Stream, where the hut is sited at about 1450m. It’s a brilliant place to go, and with a bit of luck, you’ll have it to yourself.