French Ridge Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park Winter in the backcountry might mean frozen boots, grey skies and slippery tracks, but despite these potential deterrents, it is my favourite season to go tramping. Even on the greyest days, slipping on patches of ice and numb fingers in the morning, the tranquillity is hard to surpass.
French Ridge Hut is the perfect winter destination. For climbers and mountaineers, the hut serves as a base for climbing Mts French, Avalanche and Aspiring, as well as a stopover on the way to Colin Todd Hut. Built in 1999, it is the third hut built on the ridge. The materials for the first bivvy were carried up the track by members of the Otago section of the NZ Alpine Club in 1939. After numerous repair trips due to wear-and-tear, a second hut was built in 1973.
The track follows the West Branch of the Matukituki River through beech forest and along river flats to Pearl Flat. Here, it climbs steeply through the forest to French Ridge. As the forest thins, thick ice and snow on the track make many of the small rock faces and rooty sections tricky to navigate, but provided you have ice axe and crampons they won’t slow you down too much.
Once out of the bush, you’ll step into a winter wonderland with the tussock-covered ridge glistening in fresh snow.
The hut offers views into the Matukituki Valley, over to Liverpool Hut on the opposite side of the valley, and Hector Col. It’s a breathtaking sight in winter, when everything is covered in a fresh dusting of snow. Sipping warm tea on the deck, while the sun dips behind Mt Liverpool provides the perfect end to a day in the hills.