Volunteers add value to the Mt Somers experience

Department of Conservation —  09/12/2020

Mt Somers Conservation Area in the foothills of the Southern Alps features sub-alpine tussock lands, rugged bush, historic coalmines, impressive volcanic formations, and deep canyons.

Woolshed Creek hut in the Mt Somers Conservation Area. Photo: Chris Dyson

The 26-kilometre Mount Somers Track winds its way through spectacular terrain, linking the popular Pinnacles and Woolshed Creek huts. The track was created in 1987 by keen locals, the Mt Somers Walkways Society, who continue to assist DOC with track maintenance.

With the summer season rapidly approaching, volunteers and staff from the Geraldine and Oamaru offices have been busy preparing these huts. Volunteers Brian Cowie, Andrew Harris and Jan Lowe joined DOC staff for a day of spring cleaning and restocking the Pinnacles hut in August. The work was done during COVID-19 Alert Level 2, which included face masks required for the helicopter trip in.

(L) Helicopter re-supplying Pinnacles hut with firewood. Photo: Jan Lowe (R)Brian Cowie unloads his donated wood at Pinnacles

Both Pinnacles and Woolshed Creek huts have volunteer hut wardens throughout the year, and Brian volunteered at both for the first time last year. His commitment is reflected in his willingness to spend time preparing the hut for summer, and to donate a stack of firewood. 

Pinnacles hut warden quarters after fresh snow. Photo: Chris Dyson

The firewood was packed into 15 bags for transport by helicopter and stacked away under the hut. On the return trips, five tank-loads of sewage were also flown out, so the toilet is all ready for an influx of visitors. This task was one just for the DOC staff to deal with!

(L) Mike Ziegler, Geraldine Rec-Historic Ranger, wearing his PPE for the sewerage job. Photo: Jeff Coulter (C) Volunteer Andrew Harris heading into Pinnacles hut for another hut warden shift. (R) Volunteer Jan Lowe carrying out a hut service at Pinnacles hut. Photo: Chris Dyson

Recreation Supervisor Chris Dyson says the resupply and repair of the hut, the toilet pump, and the hut clean makes for a big day.

“Having volunteers involved is great, otherwise we would need staff from other areas to help. This trip is also a way to thank the long-term volunteers for their amazing contribution over the years”.

Jan has been a volunteer hut warden in the South Island for more than 20 years.

“Being a hut warden has given me a strong sense of belonging to our beautiful back country, and I’ve met people of all ages from many backgrounds,” Jan says.

“I’ve enjoyed the interaction with trampers, both local and international, sharing knowledge about the wonderful backcountry and stunning huts… It’s difficult to share any one part that makes being a hut warden so fulfilling, but being on hand to help those in trouble and making lifelong friends have been highlights for me.”

Andrew has been a volunteer hut warden on the Mt Somers track for three years and enjoys giving back in retirement after many years of tramping.

“The best aspect of being a hut warden is meeting people in the huts, especially families and being able to help and suggest various future trips,” he says.

Jan Lowe and Brian Cowie wearing PPE in the helicopter during Covid alert level 2. Photo: Jan Lowe

It is great that these volunteers are willing to lend a hand. Prior to COVID-19, approximately 30% of hut wardens in the Mt Somers volunteer programme were travellers from overseas. Chris is pleased that other Kiwis are keen to fill these gaps, joining newcomer Brian and long time volunteers like Andrew and Jan, making it possible for us all to get out and enjoy amazing Aotearoa.

Find out more about Mt Somers Track on our website.

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One response to Volunteers add value to the Mt Somers experience

    Patricia Helen King 13/12/2020 at 6:03 am

    Enjoyed my time as hut warden for Unwin Hut at Mt Cook in the 70’s. Of course, not a DOC hut and not remote but met lots of crazy climbers! 🙂
    Dressing frostbitten feet was also a first for me!