Overnighting at Syme Hut in winter
Whether you intend to climb to Mt Taranaki’s 2518m summit or just settle for Fanthams Peak (1966m), spending a night at Syme Hut, perched high above the Taranaki lowlands, is just reward for your efforts.
I have overnighted at Syme five times and each trip has been blessed with exclusive occupancy. The hut is a 10-bunker and, for me, is one of the brightest gems of New Zealand’s extensive backcountry hut system.
Perched at 1950m, near the northern edge of Fanthams Peak, it commands the best view of the top 600m of Mt Taranaki. This is particularly so at dawn on clear mornings when the rising sun paints everything purple, then mauve and then a deep red, a fiery orange and finally golden yellow as it breaches the distant horizon, taking its place next to Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.
A gem it is, but a cold one. In such a spot there is no fuel for a wood burner. I’ve been at Syme when the entire hut was encased in thick rime ice – so much so that I cramponed up one of the hut’s ice-encrusted stabiliser cables onto the roof. That time, we had to make a considered guess about where the door was and start hacking with our axes.
On my latest visit, the hut was only partially coated. It still had its magnificent, ghostly west-end formations in place, but the east-facing split door was mostly clear. We climbed in via the free-swinging top half of the door and later, with a bit of toil, were able to free the bottom half.
Unfortunately, someone had left the door to the toilet open and the throne room had filled with frozen snow, rendering it unusable until after the next spring thaw.
But such experiences just make a winter trip to Syme Hut all the more special.