Trip Report – Climbing Mountains on Rakiura
By: Danilo Hegg
Source: Otago Section Newsletter (March 2018)
Stewart Island is not famous for its high-quality mountaineering. A prejudice that was reinforced during my first visit to the island, during winter many moons ago, when I stubbornly trudged to its highest point, Mt Anglem. It was cold and the mud was frozen – oh joy – but not hard enough to support my weight. Every step I would break through the ice, which would explode into shards cutting my skin open as I sank into the muddy slush below up to my thighs. A most unpleasant experience, and I had to ask myself, what’s the point?
Deep in the south of the island however I heard there are some granite domes that may offer some more gratifying experiences to those able to locate them amidst the dense scrub. The unusually dry start of 2018 provided an opportunity too good to miss, and I embarked on a 15-day solo journey to visit the intriguingly named features of Gog and Magog.
Every good trip ought to be bout the journey, not the destination, and I was determined to enjoy every single minute of it. I took fishing gear so I could be independent for twenty days or longer if required, then I set off from Oban, paddling my pack-raft up Paterson Inlet. Not as fast as a water taxi, but much cheaper, and for seven hours I made close acquaintance with penguins, cormorants and jellyfish. This was simply wonderful.
At Rakeahua Hut I stashed boat and paddle into my backpack, then it was my boots’ turn to do some work while heading south along the Tin Range. A reasonably good track leads all the way from the Rakeahua Valley to Port Pegasus, and scrub was really not an issue. The lack of sheltering vegetation, in fact, is the biggest problem on this thin plateau wedged between the Tasman and the Pacific, where a furious wind is a force to be reckoned with even in good weather. I camped in the most unlikely of all places, three meters below the summit of Mt Allen, listening all night to the steady Jetstream blowing with such force that it shot right over my head, leaving a small gap for me to camp in perfectly calm conditions on the lee side of the ridge.
From the southern end of the Tin Range I could finally see Gog and Magog – and the 20km of uninterrupted scrub separating me from them. Trying to reach them on foot would be plain masochism, and I was grateful for my little boat that allowed for fast progress on Port Pegasus and up Cook Arm.
Day 6 since leaving Dunedin, and I was blessed with the hottest and sunniest day imaginable for my excursion to the granite domes. Shortly after leaving Cook Inlet I picked the track from South Pegasus Hunters Hut and followed it all the way to the saddle below Hielanman and up Magog. Magog is not exactly a dome, rather a needle of granite piercing the scrub, offering the most incredible 360° view from its rather small summit. The top fifty meters are made of clean, solid granite, with plenty of climbing potential for those who enjoy vertical and beyond vertical surfaces.
Strangely enough, there is no track on the ridge connecting Gog and Magog, and some scrub bashing is required, but it’s not too bad if some care is taken while connecting the numerous granite islands in between. The east ridge of Gog is a scramble easy enough, while its north face is a rather smooth, featureless slab 160m high. Still unclimbed, it would make an honest prize for a rock wizard dedicated enough to carry their gear this far.
Below the summit of Gog, I took a rather direct descent line towards Cook Inlet, which may or may not have been a good idea. I then spent a few more days paddling around Port Pegasus, and took advantage of the persistent dry weather to bag the summit of Bald Cone. Its highest point is a giant diving board jutting out from the mountain. It makes for an exciting scramble and an even more exciting summit to stand on, surrounded by nothing but void on three sides. Another wonderful Rakiura mountain.
For three days while in Port Pegasus I left my food reserves untouched and lived off the sea, which made for a most pleasant change in diet. Port Pegasus is stunning to say the least, unspoilt (may it long stay this way!) and home to the most beautiful and varied marine life. Not all is easy for visitors however. Fish is abundant, and so are fish predators. While the locally common seven gill shark is harmless, the very steep granite shores and deep-sea floor offer no barriers to bigger sharks. On a pack-raft, I felt constantly very vulnerable. All creeks are tidal, and freshwater is scarce and hard to come by. There are taps spilling drinking water straight into the sea in Albion Inlet and near Belltopper Falls (for boats to resupply), but anywhere else, finding water requires both effort and imagination. And last but not least, sea lions are everywhere. They love playing with paddlers. Some play a little too rough. And if there’s a spot flat enough to put on shore and camp, you’ll need to fight a sea lion bull to claim it. After three days of continuous interactions with big mammals, I was worn out and ready to retrace my steps home.
Posted By: Narina Sutherland