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An Unknown highlight

Image of the June 2018 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
June 2018 Issue

Lake Unknown, Mt Aspiring National Park

High above the Dart River, among the ranges of Mt Aspiring National Park, sits an alpine lake with an unrivalled sense of majesty and grandeur. While Lake Unknown might live up to its name for many, once you are familiar with it, have studied the topo map, searched out routes and looked for ways through the tight contours surrounding it, there’s no denying the hold it will have over you. You will want to stand on its shores.   

Many have tried and failed to get to this lake. From the north, there’s a very steep route through silver beech forest from the Beans Burn to the outlet, where a powerful flow of water cascades over a 150m waterfall.  I know of trampers who have used this route – and I know a few more who have tried and failed. 

The route from Theatre Flat in the Rock Burn, to the south of the lake, climbs initially through the bush, then onto steep rocky slabs, winding through bluffs and eventually crossing a high col under Minos Peak. 

And then there’s the high route, which we took, from Park Pass Glacier, that saw us meandering around bluffs under Amphion Peak, across alpine fell-fields, through high rocky basins and down golden tussock slopes to finally reach the lake edge. It was sweet satisfaction to stand on the shores, with Mt Nox towering high above and the lake falling away into the Dart River with Mt Earnslaw standing tall just across the Dart Valley. We then took the steep route to Theatre Flat on the way out.

It takes some serious commitment, a lot of experience and a fair share of good luck to visit Lake Unknown. If you can pull it off, it’s likely to be a highlight of your tramping career. 

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24km to lake
Total Ascent
To lake: Routeburn Road to Park Pass, 5-6hr; Park Pass to Lake Unknown, 5-6hr
From Routeburn Road and over Sugarloaf Pass to the Rock Burn Track
CA09, CB09