On the tourist trail at Milford Sound

After a big day in the mountains I decided it was time to enjoy some more relaxing activities and check out the tourist trail in Milford Sound.

So we drove down to Milford Sound and took a boat trip through the sound and out to the Tasman sea.

The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Curious Kea
Curious Kea
Camera's at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)
Camera’s at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)

We saw lots of wildlife and jaw dropping scenery, Milford Sound is definitely worth the hype!

After an amazing and relaxing day, we decided to watch the tourists from above, so we headed up to the Homer Saddle.

The main road to Milford Sound cuts through a tunnel, and above lies one of the most nauseatingly exposed ridges I have ever crossed- The Homer Saddle Traverse!

The Homer Saddle Ridge
The Homer Saddle Ridge
Don't look down!- The Milford Road
Don’t look down!- The Milford Road
Balancing on a knife edge!
Balancing on a knife edge!

The ridge was lots of fun, and a nice short day out, allowing us plenty of time afterwards to enjoy the long drive back to Wanaka

Discovering the Darran’s

Fjordland in the South West of New Zealand is one of the wettest places on Earth, receiving 200 days of rainfall in an average year and up to 8000mm of rain a year. The Darran mountains in the north of Fjordland are also one of New Zealand’s most spectacular and best rock and alpine climbing areas. So when we spotted a dry weather forecast for a few days, we decided to make the most of the opportunity and set off on the long and circuitous drive to Milford Sound.

The Darran mountains are remote, (it’s over 100km from the nearest town, Te Anau) wild and precipitous, with steep sided bush clad slopes, and alpine rocky summits.

We decided to aim for Talbot’s East Ridge as it can be completed in a day trip from the road, many of the routes in the Darran’s require a day or more just to get to them.

Talbot's East Ridge  (Photo Adrian Camm)
Talbot’s East Ridge (Photo Adrian Camm)

So we started the long hike up the Gertrude Valley, following the path through dense bush, and tussocks to reach the steep headwall at the top of the valley, where we continued up a scree covered path and over granite rock slabs to Black Lake. At Black Lake we had to jump across the outlet and climb a short boulder problem wall, before continuing up the rock slabs heading up the shoulder towards the East Ridge.

Slab-tastic, heading up the endless sea of slabs on the way to the East Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)
Slab-tastic, heading up the endless sea of slabs on the way to the East Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)

We eventually hit the snow, and donned crampons before continuing. The snow was rock hard old glacier ice, and we were now traversing across above a 500m high cliff, so we had to move really carefully. The further we went the steeper it got, and I really started to struggle and feel out of my depth. Fortunately Adrian knew exactly what to do and guided me up to a small shelf where I managed to put on my harness and rope up. We discussed the best course of action, including turning around and returning the way we came, but decided that the quickest way to get off the steep ground would be to head straight up to where we could see the snow flattened out above us. So Adrian short-roped me up the slope and I moved slowly and carefully, feeling very relived once we got off the steep ground.

We could now see, that we should have climbed up much earlier and we would have avoided the steep snow slope almost altogether! The approach had taken longer than expected and we couldn’t see the exact place where the route was supposed to start, so we decided just to head onto the start of the East Ridge wherever we could find a weakness. So We gingerly bridged across the Bergshrund onto the rock, and swapped ice gear for rock, and I lead off looking for a way onto the East Ridge.

We were happy to discover pitch after pitch of lovely climbing on solid rock with great friction, interrupted only by a short abseil to a notch and then continuing on up the ridge.

Climbing on the East Ridge of Talbot, lovely solid rock!
Climbing on the East Ridge of Talbot, lovely solid rock!

The climbing eventually eased and we swapped back into our boots and put the ropes away. The scramble along the summit ridge of Talbot is spectacular and absorbing! There are constant tricky steps and lots of exposure.

Scrambling on the summit Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)
Scrambling on the summit Ridge of Talbot (Photo Adrian Camm)

The ridge seemed to go on forever and we could see the sun gradually getting lower in the sky. But eventually the rocky notch of the traverse pass (the lowest point in the ridge) came into view and we climbed down the West Face into the Bergshrund at the base, just as the orange glow of sunset started to tinge the surrounding Darran Mountain peaks.

Sunset from the Traverse Pass
Sunset from the Traverse Pass

We cramponed down a big snow slope, over more rock slabs, and onto a rocky and tussocky ridge towards the Gertrude Saddle in the fading light. By the time we were traversing across above Black Lake back towards the outlet it was almost dark and time to put on head torches. Fortunately we managed to find the cables that lead down the steepening slabs towards the Black Lake outlet.

We were now back on the path we’d hiked up in the morning, so we could almost relax, knowing that we should be able to remember the path from the morning and find out way back to the hut. But we soon lost the indistinct path, and everything looked completely unfamiliar in the dark. We crossed the stream and hoped we could just descend and pick up the path lower down. But the terrain got steeper, and it looked suspiciously like our choice of descent might end in bluffs. So we headed back up and crossed the stream again until we eventually found the path again and continued on down to the valley.

Once on the valley floor we really could relax and enjoy the beautiful clear night sky, and the silhouettes of the jagged Darran’s peaks.

We arrived back at the hut after 15 hours out in the mountains, tired but satisfied after a great adventurous day out and my first Darran’s peak!

Sunny Scrambles in New Zealand

I’ve been lucky enough to get a whole month off work, so here I am in New Zealand! I’ve had a few days of running, mountain biking, rock climbing and hiking around Wanaka and getting over my jet lag, so today it was time to venture further afield.

Hiking in the Matukituki Valley, not a bad way to get over jet lag!
Hiking in the Matukituki Valley, not a bad way to get over jet lag!
The Rob Roy Glacier
The Rob Roy Glacier

So with a good weather forecast we decided to head over to Queenstown for the Remarkables traverse, a scrambly ridge adventure with beautiful views.

The traverse starts from the ski centre, so the walk in isn’t too hard or too long, but it gave me the chance to admire the views.

Looking down on Queenstown from above
Looking down on Queenstown from above
New Zealand Scenery
New Zealand Scenery

It didn’t take long at all to get to the start of the ridge, which I was excited to see looked like a lot of fun!

Adrian at the Start of the Remarkables Traverse
Adrian at the Start of the Remarkables Traverse

The traverse heads up over two small peaks called Double Cone and then onto a slightly larger peak called Single Cone. The scramble turned out to be just as good as expected, with lots of easy fun climbing moves and some breathtaking exposure. There were a couple of tricky moves on the way up to the first peak of double cone, but we soloed it all, taking care on the tricky sections.

Double Cone
Double Cone

Single Cone turned out to be slightly easier although it looks more sepctacular, and we arrived in good time on the summit to enjoy our lunch.

Arriving on the summit of Single Cone
Arriving on the summit of Single Cone

The descent turned out to be slightly tricky and as we hadn’t brought our harnesses, I learnt how to abseil using a rope without one!

Descending via the Lovely Lake Alta
Descending via the Lovely Lake Alta

Beautiful weather, amazing scenery, a really fun day out, think I might get to like New Zealand!

Worth a punt?

There’s a lot of guesswork involved in Scottish winter climbing. Making decisions about where to go, and whether conditions will be amenable to climbing. It’s been even more of a gamble this year, with a lot of stormy, wet and much milder conditions than we’ve been used to in recent years. More “Worth a punt?”

Shadow Buttress A

Last weekend I climbed Yukon Jack in Coire an T-Sneachda with Adrian. It was a nice climb to start the winter climbing season. But this weekend, we wanted to get away from the crowds and head somewhere different. The weather looked better in the East, so we thought Lochnagar might be a good alternative. More “Shadow Buttress A”