Mount Aspiring National Park
Day 2 - Mt Barff Snowline Hike
Tuesday, February 23
We gradually stirred as daylight started to stream in through the large window of the hut's vestibule, and by 7:00 am, we were fully awake. There were some low clouds clinging around a few nearby peaks, but Mt Barff above was in the clear.
Interior View, Liverpool Hut
We kept things quiet as we got about packing up our stuff and eating our breakfast - the hikers crowded into the hut seemed to be of the sleep-in variety. We watched as bands of sunlight played across Barff's south glacier, lighting up and returning to shade as high clouds drifted in front of the sun.
Shortly after 8 a.m., we were packed and ready to start back down towards the valley below. Somehow the idea came up of taking a short unencumbered walk up towards Mt Barff's summit, just to get a taste of the non-technical part of the route. I can't remember who suggested it, either Pu or I, but the others (who were not interested) did not mind if we did. So, armed with cameras, a fleece jacket, and a litre of water, Pu and I headed up the grassy slopes towards Mt Barff for a quick look-see.
Heading up for a quick look-see
I had carefully read the description for the southeast ridge route on Mt Barff several times before leaving Canada, and I knew that the key to gaining the ridge was to not immediately attempt to scramble up to it. Instead, it was important to keep left, staying in a small gully, and then after a while turn back up to reach the ridgeline.
A faint track led up through alpine grasses to a knoll above the hut. The faint track continued over the knoll and started down towards a deep gully on the left. Thinking that was too big of a descent to match the route description, I strayed off the path and charted a path more to the right, halfway between the gully and the southeast ridgeline.
After a continuing for a few minutes, the terrain became awkward to negotiate. I came to realize that the gully on the left may have been deeper than I had envisioned, but it probably still was the gully described in the route descriptions. We picked our way back down towards it and soon came across the faint track again. Fairly convinced now that this was the way, we turned on to the path as it traversed upwards along the gully's lower slopes.
Down into this gully
Taking care to stay on the faint path, we climbed up the gully for about ten minutes. The terrain was a bit more rocky here, and we began to see small cairns marking the sometimes discontinuous faint footpath.
The faint route led up through the deepest part of the gully, skirting the base of steeper slopes and low cliffs on our right. As the gully began to open out, the slopes on our right eased, and we noticed small cairns and the sign of foot traffic turn up a shallow gully coming down from the ridgeline. It was generally the correct direction and there was no reason not to follow it, so up we went.
Schisty side gully
Many little cairns and signs of obvious foot traffic made me more and more comfortable with my choice as we climbed. The route wound in and out of large slabs and chunks of the local bedrock, which was a distinctive flaky gray schist with a slightly greasy quality. The bedrock itself dipped steeply to the west, sometimes forming smooth and hold-free slabs that needed to be skirted.
The steep scramble up the shallow side-gully became easier and easier as we climbed, and as we neared the actual south-east ridgecrest, the route became a pleasant stroll. More and more of Mt Barff's south glacier came into view, its lower slopes exposed down to blue ice. Dense patterns of parallel crevasses covered most of the exposed ice mass.
We walked right up to the sharp edge of the ridgeline. The other side was extremely steep - almost vertical in places - creating an exhilarating airy view out to the east.
We had originally only thought to climb up for a short way, but the lure of the mountain and the desire to understand the route had drawn me on, and over an hour had past since we had left the others back at the hut. I knew we should turn around soon, but I couldn't resist going a few steps higher to get a closer look at the start of the snow and ice. After all, we had come halfway around the world to get to this spot.
An easy slideslope with only few easy scrambling moves brought us to the first finger of snow. I scooped out a small handful, just so that I could say that I touched snow in New Zealand.
We were now very close to the base of the south face's glacier. The finger of snow I had just touched let upwards and connected to the main mass of snow around and on the glacier. To the left, the face was exposed and heavily crevassed. On the right, however, a clear stretch of snow led up to the southeast ridgeline, and it looked.... well, it looked pretty climbable from this angle. I could trace an easy line around crevasses up the ridgeline. And the summit rocks - they looked so close and much less steep from this angle. Pu was clearly thinking the same thing, for he soon mentioned that the way up did not actually look too difficult.
Now, I knew the bergschrund still lurked somewhere up there, between the slopes I could see and the summit rocks. And perhaps the 'schrund would have been impassable to us. But boy, wouldn't it have been fun to try? Even getting to the bergschrund and turning around there would have been fulfilling.
We would have roped up here
We couldn't stand here and look up wistfully all day. We could not safely proceed any farther, and it was time to turn around. Perhaps I'll be able to come back to this spot one day and continue on.
With the assistance of gravity and with now being familiar with the route, our descent was fairly rapid and took less than an hour. The others were waiting patiently for us and did not berate us for taking so long, which was gracious of them.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Hike to Barff snowline - click map to view
Aspiring NP Day 2 - Hike to Mt Barff snowline
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet