Introduction

From May to early November, facilities on the Routeburn Track are greatly reduced, and there are additional safety hazards to consider.

Outside the Great Walks season (1 May 2020 - 1 November 2020):

  • it can cold and wet, with ice, snow and short daylight hours
  • avalanche-prone bridges across some major watercourses are removed
  • DOC does not manage hazards such as flooding and avalanches
  • facilities are greatly reduced.

Walking the track at this time should only be attempted you are fit, experienced and well equipped.

Routeburn Track is partially open

Until 7 December 2020, the section from Lake Mackenzie Hut to The Divide is closed due to significant storm damage.

While the track is repaired, you can only do a return walk from Routeburn Shelter and go as far as Lake Mackenzie Hut.

Note: Lake Howden Hut is permanently closed. It was damaged in a storm in early 2020.

Expect challenging conditions

Bridges between Lake Mackenzie and Harris Saddle may be removed over winter to avoid damage from avalanches, so you must be competent at crossing swift, icy rivers.

Snow and ice conditions on the Hollyford face and at the Harris Saddle can be extremely dangerous.

Lake Mackenzie is not safe to walk on when frozen.

routeburn-winter-565.jpg
Climbing up to Harris Saddle in spring
Image: DOC

Conditions will be wet and cold with snow

During the winter months Fiordland can be very wet and cold. Daylight is limited and the high mountains let little sunlight into the valleys. Alpine areas are usually covered in snow. Dress for these conditions.

Illustration of winter clothing layers

Avalanches will be frequent

The Routeburn Track has a lot of challenging and complex avalanche terrain. Avalanches are frequent. There are over 32 avalanche paths, some of which may bring avalanche debris to the valley floor and have the potential to cross the Routeburn Track – their start zones can't be seen from the track.

If you are going into places avalanches could occur, be sure you:

Expect reduced hut facilities

  • Hut facilities are reduced:
    • Gas is not provided – you will need to bring your own cooking stove.
    • Flush toilets are replaced with pit toilets.
    • Running water is turned off inside the huts. Water can be obtained from the outside water tank; if this is frozen, then from the nearest water course or by melting snow.
    • No rangers based at the huts.
  • Bookings are not required:
    • Bunks are first come, first served.
    • Payment is with Backcountry Hut Tickets or a Backcountry Hut Pass - buy these from a DOC visitor centre before you go.
Hut fees

For all visitors: 

  • Adult (18+ years): $15 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free
Campsite fees

For all visitors: 

  • Adult (18+ years): $5 per person, per night
  • Child (17 years and under): free

Expect reduced transport services

All transport must be arranged before starting the track. During winter, transport operators require minimum numbers and do not always operate a daily service. Transport arrangements can be affected by bad weather. You must discuss an alternative option with transport operators before you begin your walk.

Be totally self-sufficient

You need to be totally self-sufficient. In addition to what to take in the Great Walks season, you also need:

  • food for at least two extra days
  • stove and gas for cooking
  • lighter or matches
  • alpine equipment: ice axe and crampons
  • avalanche equipment: beacon, snow shovel, avalanche probe
  • personal locator beacon
  • mountain radio or satellite messenger (optional)

osc-winter-565.jpg

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