Mahi  Volunteering in the wilderness

On an obscure spur, high in the Hokitika river, Frisco hut was isolated by overgrown tracks for 30 years after the deer cullers left. No more!

The volunteers of Permolat, lovers of wild places, have adopted this hut and the rugged network of huts and tracks in the catchment. Project leader Paul Reid explains what is involved in being a handyman in the wilderness.

“Anzac weekend 2017 saw Frisco Hut the site of frenzied activity as 5 Permolat volunteers gave the hut & its surroundings the much over-due attention it so surely deserves, given the grandeur of the huts location. The Permolat volunteers used all their improvisation skills & energy to see Frisco Hut transformed into a ‘once-again’ solid hut, ready to warmly welcome the next generation of back country recreationists for another 50+ years. The boisterous noise of cheeky keas was substituted by the industrious sounds of noisy mechanical tools & the clattering of hammers. A small mountain of ‘cargo’ (2 sling loads) was flown in for the 5-days, including piles, a new corrugated iron roof, various lengths of timber, a scrub cutter, ladder, a fire hearth, & a new wood burner, with the latter been kindly donated by Mauricio Lloreda of Nelson.

The crew was immediately hard at work upon arriving at the site & a set of the hut bunks was removed to use as scaffolding & the heli-pad & toilet track receiving a hair cut. Internally some of the studs & dwangs on the south wall (next to the window) which were rotten were removed & replaced. Andre Winkelman installed a new sill plate below the window & then made up a window sill flashing that slotted nicely in-between the window sill & new sill plate.

Day two was a very busy one & first up the next morning was the turn of the south west corner to receive some attention with the corner stud & dwangs being removed & replaced, along with new building paper stapled into place.

New framing in a corner where moisture had crept in.

The crew gradually worked their way along the west wall with Andre & Martin removing the cooking bench & mantel (which was acting as a splash back) from the west wall where the old open fire used to be. In the meantime, Kerry commenced deconstructing the old NZFS cupboard in order to make more room for the fire hearth, wood burner & new cooking area. Meanwhile outside, Alan Jemison continued pruning back the vegetation, which ended up revealing a surprise. He also got a fire going, which he manned, thereby ensuring we had continous hot water for bottomless coffees & billy tea.

After morning tea, Alan, Martin & I began replacing some of the huts piles, starting with two along the east wall as we had to replace the bearer too. Meanwhile, inside the hut Andre had finished framing the western wall, including double studs beside the window for the corrugated iron heat shield & he had also laid & secured the fire hearth & edging into place, & positioned the donated wood burner. Thanks Mauricio.

Donated woodburner successfully installed!

After a late lunch the piles were concreted in & the crew were gripped by spontanaity as a decision was made to commence action on the eastern roof. It was all hands to the pump, & in two whirl-wind hours Andre & Kerry had the old iron roof & building paper removed, & in next-to-no-time, a new row of top purlins & misc. other ones had been cut by Martin, & Alan had trimmed the new roof to length. New chicken wire & building paper were stapled into place & the new pioneer red corrugated iron roof was screwed into place with 65mm hex-head screws. What a big day it was.

Day three dawned clear & we had to wait until 10.30am before the sun hit the hut site. Work commenced on the roof again with the troughs at the centre board end of the new east roof being turned slightly upwards, the old west roof was removed, framing installed to house the flue & nine new purlins installed. Work also begun on replacing the three piles along the north wall.

Meanwhile, Andre & Kerry continued on the roof with new chicken wire & building paper stapled into place, followed by new sheets of pioneer red corrugated iron & a new sheet of Suntuf polycarbonate clear roofing. They then secured the new barge flashings & ridge capping. It was during this latter stage battery power was exhausted, so the trusty old fashioned brace & bit was pulled out.

The roof in-situ & Andre & Kerry working on the barge flashings

Day four also dawned beautifully clear & sunny with fine views across the valley. Work continued on the roof with Andre cutting a hole in the new roof & installing the flue. We hoped by the end of the day we would be able to christean Maurico’s new wood burner. In readiness for the event, Alan saw fit to build a wood shed out of the remaining timber we had, while the father & son team of Martin & Kerry commenced building the new cooker bench, utilising the old cupboard door & flat iron from the wall of the cupboard. A corrugated roofing sheet was attached to the wall behind the wood burner to act as a heat shield.

Alan enjoying working in the sun on his wood shed. We used sections of the old roof for the walls, base & roof

Finally, our last day, Anzac Day. We discussed & thought about those pre war hut & track builders who never returned to the NZ mountains. Overnight we had made a list of jobs to finish, so shortly after breakfast it was straight into it. Andre successfully rigged up some chicken wire around the rubber boot to keep the keas at bay, while Martin & I began cutting up all the old roofing iron in preparation for flying all the old rubbish out. Kerry eventually succeded in driving-in two waratahs & securing the wood shed that sits atop three short lengths of fencing post. Meanwhile, Alan went for a walk up the tops track.

Andre then tackled a section of rotten timber at the base of the southeast corner stud, only to discover the joist running along the south wall was rotten along the top where the floor boards met the flat iron. At this point Andre had to improvise with various grades & sizes of timber.

By this stage it was well after lunch & we began to clean up the site & finish of the jobs. The old mattress covers were replaced with fire retardant mattress covers, signs were attached to the wall, including a Permolat flyer & a flagstone was placed in cement at the door step. One of the last jobs we did was to cover a large hole in the ground at the rear of the toilet.

Your volunteers – Alan Jemison, Paul Reid, Martin & Kerry Clapham & Andre Winkelman

Further work:

Exterior painting of the hut; build two benches for sitting around the fire; drive-in two more waratahs for the wood shed; track work on the upper sidle part of the tops track; install plastic PVC sheet under the skylight; south wall window needs replacing or at least a new sill; reinstate the other cooking bench; bunk steps & examine boot flashing for any damage.

Many thanks to:

The Outdoor Recreation Consortium for funding to facilitate this project. Fletcher Anderson from Anderson Helicopters for transportation of both tools & volunteers. Once again thanks to Mauricio Lloreda for donating the new wood burner. Finally, I sincerely appreciate the outstanding efforts & skills of Permolat volunteers Alan Jemison, Martin & Kerry Clapham & Andre Winkelman. I wish to thank Andrew Buglass for opening up the Hokitika valley after 30 years of zero maintenance. Folks, Frisco Hut now has heating & is good for another 50 + years.

Wilderlife