The West Coast Alpine Club – Looking Back

WCAC members have been involved in many projects and adventures since the Club’s inception in May 1936. A few of the more notable ones have been outlined below by current Life Member Mary Trayes. Information and photographs below have come from the Club’s archives including articles written for the 50th and 75th anniversary magazines.

Building the Carroll Hut

Within a year of the club being established in May 1936 it was decided to help the Arthurs Pass National Park Board by building a hut on the Kelly Range. The hut would facilitate both ski-ing and tramping and was to be open for all to use. Members got busy from September 1937 with regular work parties toiling up and down the hill carrying timber for the hut framing and iron for the roof. No helicopters in those days!

Then in February 1938 one of the Club’s popular young members Captain, Patrick Carroll, was killed in a ountaineering accident. As he had put much time and energy into the hut project it was decided to name the hut after him and club members worked on through the winters of both 1938 and ’39 to finish the hut. A brass plaque was put in the hut in his memory and it was duly opened as the Carroll Hut” on the 21st November 1939.

Club members outside the first Carroll Hut in the winter of 1940.

Club members outside the first Carroll Hut in the winter of 1940.

Unfortunately, after many years use, the hut burned down, badly damaging the memorial plaque, on July 26th 1980. However the Park Board saw merit in a replacement, and soon plans were under way for a re-build with funding supplied by the Hamilton family. A new plaque commemorating both their son Christopher, and Patrick Carroll, was put in the new hut which was opened on 28th March 1981. This hut did not have a fireplace and was not as popular as the previous one, being a bit of an “ice-box.”

In 2004 the Department of Conservation decided to give the second hut a major overhaul, putting in new foundations, exterior cladding and interior lining, and new bunks. Having only the information about the Club’s part in the early history of the hut, DoC also asked WCAC for more information about Patrick Carroll, his role in the building of the hut and for any photographs the Club had of the first hut.

The upgrade complete, DOC then released a news item and photograph (below) of the hut in the Greymouth Evening Star on September 9th 2004. The article included information about the upgrade, WCAC’s role in the building of the first hut and about the ski-tow set up by Club members on the Kelly Range in the 1950’s.

The photograph from the Greymouth Evening Star which accompanied the article about the 2004 hut upgrade.

The photograph from the Greymouth Evening Star which accompanied the article about the 2004 hut upgrade.

Club members on the 50th Jubilee visit to the (second) Carroll Hut in May 1986. Founding Club member, Tom Duffy is standing mid-photo in the red-checked shirt and left of him are Rod Buchanan (red hat)and Bruce Lord (with camera). Sue Britain, 50th Jubilee organiser,is nearer the hut with hand in pocket. [Photo: K Dash]

Club members on the 50th Jubilee visit to the (second) Carroll Hut in May 1986. Founding Club member, Tom Duffy is standing mid-photo in the red-checked shirt and left of him are Rod Buchanan (red hat)and Bruce Lord (with camera). Sue Britain, 50th Jubilee organiser,is nearer the hut with hand in pocket. [Photo: K Dash]

The Kelly Range Ski-tow

The Carroll Hut was a popular place with Club members for many years, becoming the base for Club ski-ing in the 1950’s after Eric Thomas converted a 1916 motorcycle engine to provide a very efficient ski tow and this made skiing much more enjoyable for everyone. The slopes were safe and gentle with the possibility of long runs for those prepared to carry their skis to the top of the range.

Some keen skiers found that there just werent enough hours in a day — so they mounted tilley lamps on poles and continued skiing at night! Now thats dedication to the sport!

To facilitate the ski-ing some improvements were made to the hut including a small extension built to house the tow engine and rope when not in use. Even greater sophistication was provided by the installation of a telephone link from the roadside to the hut. Sections of the wiring were still visible beside the track on the 50th Anniversary trip up to the hut in 1986.

History was made at the Carroll Hut in 1957 when stores and equipment weighing 1000lb were delivered to the hut in two easy drops from an Auster aircraft. This saved members many weary hours of packing supplies up the hill. To assist with the drop Club members made eighteen parachutes up and these proved highly successful, with the only casualties of their falls being two eggs and a few apples!

In September 1954 a young Greymouth skier, Mavis Weaver, fell and broke her leg. After an uncomfortable night in the hut, a stretcher was brought up the hill and she was carried back down to a waiting ambulance, no mean feat as the track is very steep and for the most part, single file.

Into the 1960’s interest in ski-ing on the Kelly Range waned with the development of ski-ing up at Temple Basin where snow cover was more reliable over a longer period. However older Club members have fond memories of the two hour climb up the hill just for a weekend’s ski-ing.

This photo was scanned from the back page of ‘WCAC’s October 1962 newsletter, “Boots”.

This photo was scanned from the back page of ‘WCAC’s October 1962 newsletter, “Boots”.

Club Hut at Arthurs Pass

Arthurs Pass was a favourite area for early Club members because it was accessible by both road and rail and offered a fine variety of tramping, climbing and skiing so at the 1946 AGM it was decided that the club should work towards building its own hut at Arthurs Pass, to act as an overnight base for activities in the area. Unfortunately, at the time the clubs finances boasted only £15 and fund-raising activities had to be undertaken in earnest! These included baby-sitting, scrub-clearing and numerous dances — not to mention a pigeon derby! Club members turned their talents to just about anything that would make money and by 1948 had raised £75. Only after the Department of Internal Affairs had provided a grant of £100 could members thoughts turn to building.

A site at Arthurs Pass was chosen early on with the assistance of the National Park Board and the position chosen near Rocky Creek was ideal with its pleasant outlook and a good water supply. Working bees began in earnest over the 1948-49 Christmas holidays and the huts foundations were soon completed.

At the same time led by Bill Hayes built the hut in prefabricated sections in his workshop at Cobden from plans drawn up by Bob Godman and timber supplied s cheaply by Sotheran’s Ltd., Greymouth. In February 1949 the various sections were all ready and were carefully loaded into railway wagons for the trip to Arthurs Pass, all arriving safely.

The hut was then erected over the next few with the main structure being up before winter. Many people gave their time to help including Club members, local residents (such as Oscar Coberger) and visitors to the area. A Greek tourist, with a ship-building background, took charge of laying the floorboards and made a very professional job.

However the roof had to be clad with second hand iron only due to the post-war building restrictions. In the 1950s the roofing was replaced with better quality iron from Waiuta township. The original hut was 36ft x 12ft and sported a living area plus mens and womens bunkrooms. The entrance faced Mt Bealey and the hut was equipped with a central fireplace.

Once building was completed the hut was officially opened on 4th June 1949. About forty people were present, including representatives of other Alpine organisations and the club president, Norm Young, made the opening address.

The hut at the time of its opening in June 1949. [WCAC Archive photo]

The hut at the time of its opening in June 1949.
[WCAC Archive photo]

Many modifications and improvements were made to the original hut over the years. In the 1970’s a ‘Little Dorrit’ stove was installed to improve the heating in winter and extensions were begun at the back of the hut. By their completion in November 1978 the hut had a new water tank and new bathroom area with shower, toilet and handbasin, making it a far more comfortable place to stay. Then during the 1980’s the hut was painted brown – this lasted until quite recently – and a sign, made by keen tramper and skier Bill Gilbertson, was put up out the front of the hut.

1970 Club Hut work party. [Photo: Stephen Coll]

1970 Club Hut work party.
[Photo: Stephen Coll]

For a period in the mid 1990’s the Club’s tenure on the hut was in jeopardy for a while. It was built originally on leasehold land but in early 1995, Landcorp, the successor to the Lands & Survey Department, decided to make the many Arthurs Pass leases available for freeholding. However for WCAC the asking price was beyond the scope of the Club’s finances. A number of options were looked at including selling the spare section behind the hut and even selling the hut, but in the end the price was dropped and the Club was able to meet the asking price with the aid of donations from members plus an interest free loan. The Club was ably led through the final process of buying the freehold by then President Rod Buchanan and the “Freeholding Party” held at the hut in January 1996 will long be remembered.

Today the hut is in good shape, although it needs regular maintenance because of the alpine setting. The plumbing inevitably needs fixing at some time over the winter and there are always painting jobs to be done. But the hut is still a popular base for members wanting a base to climb and ski from or a quiet weekend away. And of course the odd party.

Party at the Club Hut in the late 1980’s. L-R: President Dick Bowman, Grant Hinchliff and Paul Schramm.

Party at the Club Hut in the late 1980’s.
L-R: President Dick Bowman, Grant Hinchliff and Paul Schramm.

Youth Treks to Mt Everest

In 1988 Tina Pizzato, a senior student at Greymouth High School was selected from many keen entrants round New Zealand, to go on the first New Zealand Youth Trek to Everest Base Camp. WCAC was one of her sponsors and at the June 8th AGM, treasurer Garry Carleton gave Tina a $50 cheque towards her fund-raising effort. In return she promised to pose in some dramatic location wearing her WCAC Tee-shirt to give the Club some “some exposure” in a high place!

Late 1989, after the success of the 1988 Youth Trek, a much larger venture was organised where seven teams of 18-20 young people would trek into Everest Base Camp in May 1990, cleaning up rubbish as they went, The treks were timed to be in conjunction with another attempt on the mountain by Rob Hall, Gary Ball and Peter Hillary. Those who went from the West Coast with links to WCAC, were Nick Reedy (son of 1960’s members Murray and Pat Reedy), Gabrielle Buchanan (daughter of long time Club member Rod Buchan) and Club members Pierre Champness and Mary Trayes (Group 7 Team Leader). The various trips to Nepal were enjoyed by all with Mary’s team being the lucky ones to meet Ed Hillary at Lukla and walk out with the climbers after their successful climb.

The Youth to Everest float in Greymouth’s Christmas Parade, December 1989. L-R: Gabrielle Buchanan, Nick Reedy and Pierre Champness.

The Youth to Everest float in Greymouth’s Christmas Parade, December 1989.
L-R: Gabrielle Buchanan, Nick Reedy and Pierre Champness.