Image of the October 2013 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
October 2013 Issue
Home / Articles / Waypoints

Breaching a guardian’s defences

Road end to Kea Basin, 3-4hr; Kea Basin to summit via Esquilant Bivouac Hut, 8hr; Summit to Kea Basin, 2hr
Earnslaw Hut, four bunks; Esquilant Bivouac Hut, six bunks. There are also two rock bivouacs in Kea Basin
From Glenorchy take the Glenorchy Paradise Road to Rees Valley Rd. It is possible to 4WD all the way up Rees Valley Rd to the to the base of the climb if the river conditions permit, otherwise follow the walking tracks.

Mount Earnslaw East Peak, Mt Aspiring National Park

After Mount Aspiring, Mount Earnslaw’s East Peak (2830m) is the second highest summit in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The Maori name for Earnslaw is Pikirakatahi. Though the origins of the name are lost it’s thought that during the mountain’s creation a wedge of pounamu was inserted into it and Pikirakatahi is seen as a guardian of nearby supplies of pounamu.

The base of the climb starts in beech forest at 700m and just beyond the tree line at 1000m lie two rock bivvies at the base of Kea Basin. The larger of the two exudes character, with its old makeshift hearth, sooty walls and straw covered floor.

Beyond the bivvies is a band of tussock hills that eventually gives way to scree. The scree then gives way to bands of rock, waterfalls and snow fields. Above that is the bare ice of the glacier leading to Wright Col (2264m).

It’s not just the variety of terrain beneath our feet that made the approach so memorable. As we climbed, the views back down the Rees and of the mountains beyond became ever more expansive and impressive.

We reached Esquilant Bivouac Hut (2150m) in mid afternoon, leaving plenty of time to ponder the following day’s route up Earnslaw, which towered directly above us; and to just soak up the ambiance of this lovely location.

At dawn next morning we began our climb. Until the rays of the sun reached us it was cold, but settled. Like many routes on mountains, once actually on them, they don’t feel as steep as they looked beforehand. The main challenge on Earnslaw East in summer is route finding. The mountain is a huge pile of crumbling rock with many cliffs and gullies. The rock cairns marking the best route up blend into all the other rock around, so it’s important to resist charging ahead and to take your time identifying the cairns as you go.

Two hours of this rewarded us with the summit from where a wonderful panorama encompassing peaks, ridges, glaciers, rivers and valleys opens up in every direction and for as far as the eye can see.

Directly along a frighteningly sheer and jagged ridge is the west peak. From the east summit it’s plain to see why the traverse between the two is still regarded as one of New Zealand’s classic climbs.