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Trip Report – McGloin

By: Don French

Source: Wellington Section Newsletter (April 2017)

Tucked away in the Karangarua valley in South Westland is a mountain that has been resting heavily in my mind since an unsuccessful attempt in December 1980. McGloin is 2079 meters, or 2000 meters higher than our starting point. What makes McGloin even more interesting that it appears to have remained unclimbed since its first ascent in 1952, by Wellington section members Maurice Bishop and Trevor McCann. They climbed from the Makawhio (Jacobs) river to the south. The peak has also repulsed other attempts by strong teams of Wellingtonians around this period.

Our team consisted of Wellingtonians John Marshall, Jordi Drouin, and Khan Coleman and Don French, both from the Wairarapa.

The entry into the hills was delayed by a day in order to give the side streams a chance to drop after the recent cyclone dumping. It was an easy first day to Cassel flat. McGloin stands prominently above Cassel flat, which gave us an ideal opportunity to reassess our approach from the safe grounds of the hut door and a borrowed pair of binoculars.

View down the Karangarua from the base of the 111m cascade (credit Khan Coleman)

View down the Karangarua from the base of the 111m cascade (credit Khan Coleman)

Day two saw us follow the sidle track to the 460m contour. From here the fun began. Dropping off the track to the southwest we crossed Tui creek and then forged our way up a slight spur until we struck the 111m vertical wall which is the largest cascade of the White Rose Falls. The falls offered a spectacular place for lunch with an impressive view looking down the valley. From here we traversed a few hundred meters to the SE crossing under another (dry) waterfall. Immediately after it we picked up a deer trail that climbed very steeply into the sub alpine scrub zone at the 800m contour. We had the pleasure of now having to battle through the leatherwood the few hundred meters (NE) to the base of the 69m cascade of the White Rose Falls. An equally spectacular place for a stop and to recharge the batteries before the next proposition.

We entered the scrub again just to the north of the falls (69m) and began a 100-meter near vertical struggle to pass the falls. Somewhere during this leg, a watch was lost and joined our ever increasing list of gear failures. At the top of this climb our route was abruptly stopped by a small 2½m overhanging cliff. This was finally resolved with a scurry up some trees onto a shoulder and some pack passing. The shoulder revealed a strong animal trail which our battered bodies welcomed.

Another hour on this trail and we found ourselves on another shoulder and the prospect of an uncomfortable camp site. We had only achieved 800 of 1000ms planned climb for the day. But darkness and our wounded bodies demanded the stop for the night. While on the search for water we discovered a beach at the base of the 30ms falls which offered us a soft and comfortable night. Too good to refuse. The only problem was that if it rained and the creek rose a few centimetres we’d find ourselves in a great deal of strife.

On reflection that day was one of my hardest off track days for a number of years. The real hero of the day was the pruning saw which probably made the distance we covered possible.

Summit day was going to be without John, who was starting to find the mountain a bit more committing than he’d anticipated, so he had decided to sit it out. Meanwhile the other three climbed up through the final 200ms of leatherwood onto open ground.

Decision time. We had originally planned to use an approach by the SE ridge, but the early morning light was illuminating it as a serous proposition. Scanning the cirque revealed the only other hint of weakness, being a snow grass lead through the middle of the bluffs. The only problem with that route was that it was hinting at ending in a vertical rock wall with a couple of small patches of green to break the expanse. So it was with trepidation the three harnessed up and approached the line.

The first 100 meters passed very quickly with a series of well-placed steps kicked into the mossy surface, and scrambles over wet slabs. The ground steepened until we found ourselves at the base of the rock headwall standing on a small grassy shoulder to its right. The rope was required to sneak onto the slabs around the corner and up a short corner for 20 meters which was our only option. Another corner saw a 25 metre wet greasy chimney appear. This took 4 attempts and an hour and half before we finally saw the route established through the cirque and onto easier ground. The crux!

Idyllic beach camp below the 30m cascade (photo credit Khan Coleman)

Idyllic beach camp below the 30m cascade (photo credit Khan Coleman)

Things moved fairly quickly from that point, and we passed over the east ridge of the unclimbed Mt Glower into the upper snow fields. It was well after midday when we broke the 2000m contour and obtained the crest of McGloin’s south ridge. The impressive southern buttress was easily passed with a few pitches of relatively easy and pleasant climbing. We knew we were close. Ahead of us was a beautiful, but unprotected, slab leading to a summit.

Unfortunately, this summit revealed another 3 pitches to the true summit, which was estimated to be only a few meters higher. The rock slabs on the western side of the ridge were appalling, while the more solid eastern side had now tilted itself into a vertical position. It was 2pm, our latest possible turnaround time, and only 4 hours away from darkness. Hence we had no option but to turn for home.

By the time we found ourselves at the top of the greasy chimney we estimated we had only an hour and a half of daylight left, which allowed (just) enough time to do the three abseils and down climb the tricky snowgrass slope to easier ground in the twilight. We dug a turf bollard and dropped down the first abseil, only to find that we’d miscalculated the resistance of the turf bollard on our rope, and we could not retrieve it. Buggar! Buggar! Buggar! No warm sleeping bags for us tonight. We ascended the rope and proceeded to find ourselves a comfortable posy for the night. Sunrise was a very long 770 minutes away after sunset. The temperature dropped from 6 to 2 degrees at dawn. We shivered and suffered to a very long and starry night.

Sunshine saw us acting like reptiles at first before we continued to retreat back to our high camp meeting a concerned John enroute.

We spent another comfortable night at our high camp before starting the process of returning to civilisation.

Thanks to all on the trip, and a very special credit has to go to the pruning saw who made it all possible.

Postscript. Three of us later attempted Mt Rolleston via Rome ridge, only to be defeated by old (hard) glacier ice and some end of season difficulties.

Posted: 01/05/17

Posted By: Narina Sutherland