Story: Mountaineering

Page 7. Clubs and huts

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Amateur climbers formed clubs. Climbing is an individualistic pursuit and many leading climbers have been, at best, passive members of clubs. But since the 1930s, clubs have been an important feature of New Zealand mountaineering.

The New Zealand Alpine Club was founded in 1891, but went into recess in 1896. A. P. Harper modelled it on the Alpine Club of England, where climbing first developed as a gentleman’s amateur pursuit. The New Zealand club was the only other alpine club in the world which restricted membership and excluded professional guides.

In New Zealand, however, climbing was never dominated by the upper class, and the division between amateur and professional was always blurred. Most early New Zealand climbers were middle-class professionals, but the first three men to climb Aoraki/Mt Cook were working-class. The egalitarianism of New Zealand society was reflected even more markedly in mountaineering from the 1930s.

DIY swags

Although A. P. Harper championed the conservative tradition of the Alpine Club in London, he acknowledged that New Zealand climbing was more egalitarian. He noted that while English climbers thought that even carrying rucksacks was beneath their dignity, in the colonies it was quite natural for climbers to carry their own swags.

The New Zealand Alpine Club was briefly revived in 1914 and again in the 1920s, and became more active in the 1930s. The Otago section, formed in 1930, became the club’s strongest. Its 1931 camp in the Rees Valley was a milestone in the growing popularity of climbing.

The Otago Tramping and Mountaineering Club was founded in 1923, and the Canterbury Mountaineering Club in 1925. In the North Island the Tararua Tramping Club of 1919 was followed by a proliferation of similar clubs. Tramping clubs became a new basis for mountaineering.


As clubs spread, so did mountain huts. After the founder of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club, Gerard Carrington, drowned in 1926, the club completed a hut in the headwaters of the Waimakariri and named it after him. Subsequently, it built huts in other Canterbury valleys including, in 1953–54, the highest hut in the country, Empress, at the head of the Hooker Glacier.

The Otago section of the Alpine Club built huts in the Aspiring region, beginning with Cascade Hut in 1932. The high Colin Todd Hut was built in 1960. The Alpine Club also built high huts in the central Southern Alps. In the 1950s and 1960s, digging snow caves on high snowfields was popular where there were no huts.

Guiding in an age of amateurs

From the 1930s, though clients were fewer, the guiding tradition was kept alive by successive chief guides, Vic Williams and Mick Bowie.

In the 1940s Junee Ashurst became the first woman to make her mark as a guide. After the Mount Cook National Park Board took over guiding in 1958, Harry Ayres became chief ranger and de facto chief guide. Later the guiding tradition was kept alive, just, by other National Park rangers.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Mountaineering - Clubs and huts', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 June 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Feb 2017