The Cass Valley; The Needles from Falcon’s Nest hut, Tin Hut Stream, Gamack Range.

August 2020
This route is on private land (Glenmore Station) and so access must be negotiated prior to visiting. The Falcon’s Nest hut is in Tin Hut Stream, and can be booked for ski touring parties. There are bunks for 8 people. It has a fireplace, gas cookers, clean mattresses, cooking utensils and even a solar powered lighting system. To arrange access or booking contact Will and Ems Murray, Glenmore Station, on (03) 6806 752 or 0211869087.
Falcon’s Nest Hut
Falcons Nest sits at about 1460m in Tin Hut Stream, at the confluence of the north and South branches. It takes about an hour to drive from Glenmore Homestead up the Cass river to the bottom of Tin Hut Stream. There is a rudimentary graded road which most SUV’s can make it up. However if there has been rain or snow melt the Cass river could be difficult without a little vehicle clearance.
Tin Hut
From Tin Hut, ascend the easy grassy slopes directly behind the hut, then follow incipient animal tracks across a lovely tussock bench to the stream bed.
Tin Hut Stream
Initially the route might be a little better on the true right, but only marginally. It takes around 2 hours walk from Tin Hut to Falcon’s Nest hut, less with good snow cover for skinning.
Easy ski-tramping in Tin Hut Stream
Some choose to fly in with a helicopter. Allow around 1100$ for a 5 person flight each way. Air Safaris fly from Tekapo airport.
Falcon’s Nest Hut in centre
Tin Hut stream gets good snow falls from the westerly half, as well as picking up an easterly if it is strong enough. Weather forecasting is for the Canterbury High Country, and avalanche forecasting is the Mt Cook region. Falcons Nest hut is in the northern Gamack Range, which abuts the Liebig Range. So for weather and avo forecasting, what pertains to the Liebig Range might well have bearing on the Gamack Range.
Falcons Nest hut at 1460m @ confluence N & S branches Tin Hut Stream
For a view of the weather in the Cass River check out the webcam from Mt St John on the AOPA website here.
A webcam view of the conditions at Mt Cook can also help; try the Hermitage webcam. The Roundhill ski field webcam gives a bit of an idea but the Two Thumb Range attracts a different weather pattern to the Gamacks, even though they are so close in proximity.
Heading up north branch Tin Hut Stream
Tin Hut Stream North Branch. From Falcons Nest hut there is easy skinning up valley to the head of the stream.
Tin Hut Stream N branch headwall
North branch Tin Hut Stream, viewed from the head of the south branch
Up on the col there is a small hut called the Bad Decision hut. It is loaded with whiskey!. Arrangements must be made with Glenmore Station to use this hut, and they can arrange your own private bottle to be stocked.
Bad mistake hut in the wind..
Bad Mistake hut for a tipple..
The ski terrain in the north branch is fun with lots of roll overs and faces to ski on. It is suitable for intermediate backcountry skiers. Other options from here are to head west and then up the snowfields north of Mt William Grant. This areas is known as The Scorpion route (further info on this route) For those salivating over the couloir on the south face of Mt William Grant, yes, it has been skied.
Looking south from Bad Mistake hut. Tin Hut Stream to left. In background is upper south branch TH Stream. The Needles is in the centre.
South branch Tin Hut Stream. This has a little less scope for skiing than the north branch. There are a variety of different aspects to ski, also suitable for intermediate backcountry skiers.
Starting up south branch from the hut in poor snow year.
The Needles 2404m is a worthy ski objective at the head of Forks Stream. it is accessed via the south branch of Tin Hut Stream through the southern col, then sidle around to get to the lovely flat basin at about 2000m on the east side of The Needles. This mountain holds really good snow and is shady enough to keep the powder.
Heading up The Needles..
The route up The Needles steepens as it goes through the choke at about 2200m, and I understand that some parties bootpack this section.
Looking up the upper section of The Needles.
We had good conditions and mange to zig and zag our way on skis to the summit crest. The slope angle would have reached 40 degrees. Overall, I would describe it a a moderate to difficult ski tour. In comparison, I would call the neighbouring Scorpion route moderate.
Nearing the crest of the Needles, Fork stream in background, Lake Tekapo in distance
Just about on top. View is to the SE of The Needles
We had superb skiing on the way down.
From the basin at 2000m we took a direct line down a long gully to the valley floor, through interesting terrain at about 30-35 degree pitch.
Allow around 6 hours round trip from Falcons Nest.
In comparison between Falcon’s Nest Hut and Lady Emily Hut, I would say that I prefer the layout of the Falcon’s Nest, and I think that it gives better access to good skiing. The Needles is a good objective as well as The Scorpion, both of which can be reached from Falcons Nest hut. On the other-hand, Memorial hut has access to the Liebig Range ski tours (see here) as well as Mt Hutton via Huxley Gl , and via Faraday Gl.. It is also possible to ski The Scorpion loop from Memorial Hut.
One more thing to mention about The Needles and Tin Hut Stream; a lot of this area is in Heliski terrain, and so expect to share with helicopters, and be aware of what is going on above you in-case they are unaware of your group. For a map showing the boundary between Glenmore Station and Conservation Area which has heliski concessions visit the DoC GIS mapping here