Wheel Creek Hut – Mt Crosscut
30 November - 2 December 2019
Wheel Creek Hut in the Victoria Range is undeservedly under-visited. That might be due to reports about lack of a suitable marked route and good access information with mention of an uncut marked route back in 2010.
Four of us set out to investigate. The first pleasant surprise was the Ringmer farm track that had a usable road as far as Jones Creek with only 30 minutes to walk down the Maruia River to the start of Wheel Creek. The second surprise was a well-marked route up the true left with visible foot-trail in places. We had no problems following the markers, or rather Bill followed the markers and we had no trouble following him for the five-hour trip up the creek. Lots of animal sign and goats that we nearly tripped over before they ambled off. Some track reports suggest following the creek, but rainfall events on the coast have changed that into a maze of downed trees.
The freshly painted standard 6 bunk forestry hut sits in a bright and sunny clearing with ample firewood supplies. There is no sign of the reported mouse infestation despite it being a mast year. Few sandflies too. We had a very pleasant evening sitting outside in the sun watching clouds start to arrive.
Wheel Creek marked track. Photo courtesy of Gary Huish
Rain overnight slowly dropped to light drizzle. We dithered and set off for 1613m Mt Crosscut mid-morning to miss the heavier rain forecast later that afternoon.
Our chosen route was up the obvious ridge directly behind the hut rather than traversing to the Waitahu Saddle. The ridge was steep but open vegetation allowed for a quick ascent before hitting the Victoria Range alpine scrub band which has a certain robust character.
Eventually we arrived on the open tussock tops. The heavier rain was following closely behind, but we did get a glimpse of the top of Mt Crosscut, with a distinctive resemblance to the tooth of an old saw. Pleasant tussock travel turned to traversing towering granite spires. Sidling steep wet snow-grass slopes looked less than appealing so we climbed up onto the northern end of the saw-tooth until we were blocked by a granite face with only one slight diagonal crack. The highest southern saw-tooth point was visible through the cloud about 400m away but the rain was now horizontal and heavy so we had a hurried lunch in a sheltered hollow before turning back to face the wind. The return trip was dramatic, and we were even glad to bash down through the alpine scrub to gain the shelter of the trees.
Heavy rain overnight continued and there was little incentive to stop on the way out. Crossing Wheel Creek at the Maruia River after four hours travel was certainly a different experience compared to two days earlier but caused no problems. We were, however, surprised to find a four-wheel drive vehicle perched high on a pile of logs just downstream of Jones Creek. It looked abandoned but full of packs! Crossing Jones Creek turned into a mission as it had risen higher than Wheel Creek and our car was a welcome sight.
Wheel Creek Hut certainly warrants more attention than it has received. Despite one atypical day in October 2019 when 14 people visited, there has been an average of only 10 people each year. Surprising for a great hut, only 4-5 hours walk, providing excellent access to the Victoria Range.
The footnote to this story transpired in a conversation with the farmer who enquired about the vehicle near Jones Creek since it had not come through their property. Jones Creek had risen further and they had not been able to check it. Apparently if we had not got out on the Monday we would have been stuck for several days.
Trampers: Merv Meredith, Bill Templeton, Peter Umbers and Gary Huish (leader). (GH)
Traversing the rocks at the northern end of the upper ridge. Photo courtesy of Gary Huish