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Trip Report – Mount Travers: south-east ridge to summit

By: Scott Harper

Source: Vertigo (Wellington Section) Newsletter (May 2018)

Main photo: Carolyn Ellis

An early escape from work on Thursday gave us ample time to reach the Inter Islander and for some quick introductions around the team before our 2:45 departure. We had a placid sailing and made excellent time across the Strait, touching down in Picton a little after 6pm. Once we had picked up the rental car it was off to find our accommodation in St Arnaud. With a short stop in Blenheim for some dinner and supplies, we arrived in St Arnaud around 9pm with enough time for a final gear check before lights out.

We awoke to a very foggy morning and made our way to the docks to meet Hamish our trusty boat captain. Visibility was down to a few meters which made for a nervous experience navigating purely on GPS, but as we got nearer to the south end of the lake, the fog lifted to reveal blue skies and some stunning views of the valley ahead. We arrived at Lake Head Hutt and hit the track straight away.  Making great time, we took a little over 3 ½ hours to cover the 15km to John Tait Hut and, after a short lunch stop, we continued up the final 6-7Km stretch towards Upper Travers. This section is a bit steeper and includes a 500M altitude gain, but is an easy walk, with a little rock hopping and a few stream crossings along the way. We arrived at Upper Travers around 2:30pm approximately 6 or so hours from when we left off and spent the remainder of the afternoon prepping for the climb to come. The weather was not looking great for the next day but we were adamant to make the most of it and have a crack regardless. The Hutt was fairly empty when we first arrived but a steady stream of trampers continued to stroll in throughout the afternoon, with the last stragglers arriving shy of 9pm, having left the Roberts car park earlier that morning!

On the descent above the abseil. (Photo: Carolyn Ellis)

Much to the disdain of everyone else in the Hutt we sprung out of the sleeping bags spot on 5am, had a quick bite to eat and a coffee, hitting the track spot on 6am. The sky looked clear as we made our way up to the saddle, but as it got lighter the cloud seemed to be thickening. We arrived at the top of the saddle a little under an hour after leaving the Hut and were greeted by a slurry of light rain, strong winds and limited visibility.

We knew summiting in this weather would be neigh on impossible but we decided to make the most of the situation and do some light reconnaissance along the ridge in preparation for the next day’s attempt. We managed to make it to about 2000m altitude before the conditions forced us to turn back.  As we trudged back down from the saddle the rain was getting heavier and heavier and we arrived back at Upper Travers just before lunch absolutely sodden to the bone. The afternoon was spent nursing hot cups of tea, drying out our soaking gear and getting some rest in preparation for tomorrow’s attempt.

With it being Easter Sunday and daylight saving, we had an extra hour up our sleeves and decided to make the most of the time by getting up at 4am and hitting the track by 5am. Sunday’s weather was far better and, upon reaching the saddle, we got some absolutely stunning views of the moon sitting just above Mount Franklin on the horizon and, shortly after that, a beautiful sunrise to the east. We continued scrambling along the ridge and arrived at the “notch” just before 7am. The notch is an excellent little spot of rock with some formidable exposure on either side housing large drops. This location also seems to funnel a lot of wind through it, which makes for some chilly belaying. We geared up and Dion lead the first pitch up the left crack. It’s an easy climb and can be completed in semi rigid boots. Approximately 30-40m directly above the notch is an excellent little spot for an anchor and enough space to somewhat comfortably house four climbers. While we switched around gear Dion, being the more experienced trad climber, decided to lead the second pitch as well and took us around to the western side of the face. This pitch is a little more difficult than the first and involves more traversing, but is slightly shorter. Once we were all at the top we continued our scramble towards the summit, past the icy black moss slabs and up another steeper section. For this next face (about 2200m altitude) we decided to go up the east side, following a prominent crack towards the top. The last ten meters are very steep and there are few foot holds but some excellent hand holds. You do not need to rope up for this bit but we did for some extra safety, once the first climber was up and over. A few minutes of scrambling later and we had made it to the summit! We got amazing vie

On the Summit, from left – Scott, Carolyn, Simon & Dion (Photo: Scott Harper)

ws throughout the entire valley due to no cloud and, after a short stop for some photos and food, we started our decent down the north east ridge.

It’s a fairly easy down climb along the ridge with the odd scree section or two. We followed the ridge down for approximately 500 meters or so and found a nice rappel spot, which put us 15 meters off the top of the north-eastern scree field. A small down climb and we were on the scree and heading south again, back towards the Hut. The terrain here is a horrible mix of large and small stoned scree, which eventually turns to tussock. As you crest one of the spurs, there is a mix of large boulders under the tussock which can make for some ankle twisting fun! We arrived back at the Hut around 5:30pm, which left enough time for a hot meal and some relaxation before calling it a day.

With a 2:00pm deadline for the water taxi back home and 22km left to walk, we hit the track nice and early to give ourselves some breathing space. It was a lovely stroll back down through the valley and we arrived at Lake Head just before 12:00pm, enjoying a few hours of chatting to other hikers and finishing off the last of our food before Hamish arrived to take us back to the car.  And what trip isn’t complete without a beer and hot meal at the local pub. All in all the trip was a great success and all the team thoroughly enjoyed themselves, a great start to this year’s climbing season!

Posted: 31/05/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland