An alpine hut with strong historical connections will be removed from the eastern flank of Aoraki/Mt Cook because it has deteriorated badly and is on a route that now sees little use.

Haast Hut on the Haast Ridge is also known as King Memorial Hut because the original building was erected to commemorate the first fatalities on New Zealand's highest mountain.

Haast Hut, a memorial to the first climbers to die on Aoraki/Mt Cook, will be demolished and removed. Photo / supplied
Haast Hut, a memorial to the first climbers to die on Aoraki/Mt Cook, will be demolished and removed. Photo / supplied

Sydney King, a British mountaineer, and his two Kiwi guides David "Darby" Thompson and John "Jock" Richmond, were overwhelmed by a enormous avalanche that fell onto the Linda Glacier as they were descending from the summit of the High Peak on February 22, 1914.

They had arranged with another party to do a "complementary traverse" of the High Peak. King's group was to ascend the Linda route and descend Earle's route down the other, western side. Canadian Otto Frind, with guides Conrad Kain and William Brass, were to go in the opposite direction.

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English climber Sydney Locke King was killed in an avalanche on Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1914. Photo / NZ Free Lance, National Library
English climber Sydney Locke King was killed in an avalanche on Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1914. Photo / NZ Free Lance, National Library

King's party were seen between 11am and midday ascending the summit ice-cap by a climbing pair from much lower on the eastern side. Frind's party arrived on top at about 5.15pm. They followed the King trio's footsteps down to the Summit Rocks, then across and down the Linda until their track was obliterated under the massive blocks of an ice avalanche that fell off the main divide up to 500m above and swept down the glacier.

The Frind group continued down to the Haast Ridge bivvy (camp) site - which is in the vicinity of where the hut stands - where they met the other climbers, who were readying for an ascent at about 2.30am.


The tragedy was reported in detail by the press, including this 1914 graphic in the NZ Free Lance. Source: National Library

Frind and his guides "made all haste" down to the Hermitage hotel in the Aoraki/Mt Cook village, according to a Timaru Herald report. Chief guide Peter Graham was fetched from the Hooker Hut and organised a search party. By the time they got to the site, several days had elapsed.

They found Richmond's mangled body, but not the other two.

One of the searchers, Samuel Turner, later wrote of the discovery, "... Graham said, 'There's one of them, I can see his feet'."

The Linda Glacier flows into the Tasman Glacier via the Grand Plateau and the Hochstetter Glacier.

Guide David
Guide David "Darby" Thompson was killed in an avalanche on Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1914. Photo / NZ Free Lance, National Library

Body parts, clothing and personal belongings said to be King's and Thompson's emerged from the foot of the Hochstetter in 1928. More turned up, along with a rucksack, in 1939.

A memorial cairn was built near the Hooker River and a hut-building appeal launched with a one-for-one Government subsidy. Building materials were carried by men across the Tasman Glacier and up the ridge and the hut was erected before the onset of winter in 1916.

At a height of 2000m, Haast was the highest hut in the region at the time. It was built about 60m above the bivvy site used for most earlier eastern attempts on the mountain. The bivvy for the first attempt by Irishman the Rev William Spotswood Green and two other climbers in March 1882 may have been closer to the hut site, NZ Alpine Journal articles suggest.

Today's Haast Hut is the third on the site, having been built in 1972 to replace the 1948 model, which was a complete rebuilt of the original.

The Department of Conservation decided last year to remove the hut this summer, but the operation is not an immediate priority and has been delayed until next summer.

DoC staff say the hut has been badly damaged by snow and rain getting into the structure. And it receives little use because most climbers now fly to the Grand Plateau 200m higher and stay in the hut there, whose first version was built in 1963.

DoC ranger Ray Bellringer, a mountaineer who has climbed past Haast Hut a number of times but never stayed in it, said it was damp and unpleasant.

"It's always been scungy - a dungeon, a cold, miserable hole because of snow that builds up behind it."

He said there were no heritage issues with the demolition, except for the memorial plaque at the hut, which would probably be placed at the DoC visitor centre in the village.

NZ Alpine Club general manager Karen Tait said it was sad Haast Hut would be removed, but clubs had been consulted "and we do understand that it is not getting a lot of use".

Haast will be the fifth hut to go from Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park since 1996. A sixth, the Alpine Club's Murchison Hut, was closed last year because of rock-slope instability and may now be shifted.

Tait said Classen Saddle is being considered as a possible new site for that hut.