Who was Barry Armour and where is Liebig Hut? Barry Armour was a lecturer at the School of Engineering at the University of Western Australia. He passed away in 1998 and left a bequest of $49,000 for Liebig Hut. His association with Liebig is unknown but I suspect he was there at some stage and was rather fond of it.
I had this email from Paul McCormick in January 2017:
“Your email regarding Barry Armour has been passed on to me as I am probably the only person left at UWA that was here at the same time as Barry. When I joined UWA in 1975, Barry was a Lecturer in Civil Engineering. His role was to teach Surveying to 2nd year Civil Engineering students. I’m afraid I don’t remember anything of Barry’s background. I assume that he was from Perth, but I don’t really remember. What I remember is that Barry was the most liked person on staff. Basically, he was a very nice person and always very interesting to talk to morning tea. Every summer he went off on an adventure, hiking or mountain climbing somewhere in the world, presumably, NZ was his favourite place. He came back with many stories of his adventures. A single person so he had no restrictions on where he went. During the year, I often saw Barry hiking around Perth water, a scenic 10 km route around the Swan river in the heart of Perth. His work uniform, always shorts and long socks, summer and winter, reflected his outdoor character.”
Liebig was originally built in 1965 by the NZ forest service. It was used as a base for wild animal control – deer, thar and chamois and the vegetation was in decline. Later the hut was damaged by an avalanche and it was due to be removed when the bequest became available. Barry’s bequest was quite specific. It was to be used exclusively for the Liebig Hut thereby guaranteeing its future. It was moved and rebuilt 100m away in 1999 by Doug Henderson.
I first became aware of all this on my Mesopotamia to Mt Cook trip in December 2016. Reece and I stayed at Liebig on our way down the Murchison valley. I read the account in the hut and I intrigued by the story. On further research, I later discovered that Geoff and Beryl Wayatt knew Barry well and they were able to fill in some of the missing detail. We decided a memorial plaque would be a fitting acknowledgement.
In January 2019, Gavin and I drove up to Mt Cook and parked at the Tasman Lakes car park. The day was overcast and warm as we launched our packrafts at the Tasman Lakes Glacier Explorers wharf. The paddle up the 5-kilometre windstill lake was straightforward. There were no icebergs that day but just after our trip, there was massive subsidence of the lower Tasman Glacier, which filled up the lake with numerous icebergs and produced a tsunami.
We pulled out several kilometres up the lake and climbed up the moraine wall on the TL. Here we ambled along for a while before dropping onto flats bordering the Murchison River. Then it was an easy walk to the alluvial plain of the Murchison Valley. To my left, I could see the main divide from Mt Cook to Tasman, elemental and austere. The amount of ice loss was a graphic indictment of Climate Change. I pointed out the East Ridge of Aoraki to Gavin and both of us were incredulous that I had once climbed this. I noted the Murchison River was huge, much bigger than my previous trip here in 2016. We would definitely need the packrafts to cross that and we would need to find a section of the river safe for a ferry glide.
Once we reached the alluvial plain it was a pleasant perambulation up the TR of the Murchison River on the ochre-coloured moss and sparse, sere tussock. The Murchison thundered past on our right, angry and sullen – a river of tears from the dying Murchison Glacier up ahead. Several times we tried to cross where it braided but it looked too dangerous and forbidding. Even to packraft across was not a possibility because of the lack of a safe run out. Ahead we could see the moraine walls of the terminal Murchison before the lake. I was scanning the terrain at the base of the Liebig Range for the hut without success. This was not surprising, as the hut is painted green.
We decided on plan B, which was to make for the Steffan Memorial Hut and packraft across Murchison Lake the next day and walk down to Liebig. Climbing up into the moraine on the left, we saw the grey hut set among an expanse of large grey rocks. It’s a delightful 4-bunk hut built and maintained by the South Canterbury branch of the NZDA. No one was there so we settled in. They have a solar PV panel on the north wall and solar lighting, which was a bonus. Below us was the end of the Murchison Lake with the odd iceberg. Beyond rose the grey flanks of the Liebig Range with huge moraine walls, a tribute to the massive glacial retreat in recent times.
Next morning we walked down to the lakeshore and launched. The sky was partially clear with ragged clouds presaging an oncoming wind. Indeed the lake surface was now ruffled but never a problem as we padded up the lake to the ice cliffs. We stopped for a snack before paddling back to land on the TL of the start of the river. Then it was an easy 1.5 km walk down to Liebig Hut. On the way, we saw some Scarlet Pimpernel, an exotic species and Craspedia lanata, yellow alpine flowers that seem well adapted to this day valley in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps.
Liebig was how I remembered it – a basic 6-bunk and comfortable hut. It is surrounded by low green bush and tawny tussock with a backdrop of the spectacular Malte Brun Range to the west. The sky was an azure blue and the powerful light gave everything a vibrant, archetypical appearance like the dawn of creation. The silence was profound though later a helicopter landed on the top of the Liebigs with a cargo of tourons. I put up the plaque and we had some lunch. Then we spent the rest of the day lying in the shade as it was too hot inside. In the afternoon, I went off for a swim nearby. There were some colourful alpine flowers and the blackberries of Coriaria angustissima.
We left early next morning retracing our route to the Murchison Lake and paddling across to Steffan Hut. Then it was a march down the TR across the alluvial plains to the Tasman moraine. The sky was a deep blue with Aoraki etched across it, the Caroline Face divided from the East Face by the East Ridge. Gavin pondered this in silence. It was a still day and no wind. Occasionally, a hare would leap up and tear away at great speed.
We arrived at the Tasman moraine and I thought it might be faster if we could get to the head of the lake and paddle down instead of walking down the moraine wall back the way we had come. There were a few levels to descent towards the Tasman Glacier down steep loose rocks and gravel. On a terrace far below, a blue tarn beckoned surrounded by sparse tussock so we made for it. There was the vast panorama of the dying Tasman Glacier, a landscape poised in a moment of decline between a glorious past and an apocalyptic future. It reproached us like an elegiac lament of a broken narrative for what we had done.
We reached the small lake and sat in the shade of a large rock for our lunch. I noticed the radiance of the surrounding harebells and gentians, the warm sun, the silence and it beckoned like a renewal of life and hope. We had a brief swim and then Gavin went to see if we could reach the lakeshore. Alas, this did not work as an ice cliff barred the way down. Then, it was a weary plod up the loose rocks back to the flats bordering the Murchison. When these ran out we were forced up to the lateral moraine wall where an ancient, eroded track meandered along towards the outlet of the river on our left.
At one stage, we were startled by a chamois – a magnificent animal, poised right in front of us on the ridge, its russet pelage shimmering in the bright light. It was there one minute and gone in a flash leaving us stunned and bewildered. Sometime later, we scrambled down the steep walls to the outlet of the Murchison. The lake was calm as we launched and paddled the 1.5 km across to the other side. In silence, we packed up and walked along the track back to the car. Around the corner was a conga line of parasol bearing Chinese as a helicopter passed overhead – the incongruity left us shocked and confounded like the apparition of the chamois but for a different reason.