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July 2016 Issue
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Finding Guinevere

A rocky campsite beneath Mt Guinevere on the shore of the tarn. Photo: Dennis Radermacher
Total Ascent
Crow Hut ($5, 10 bunks)
Park at the end of the dirt road opposite Klondyke Campsite off SH73

Mt Guinevere Tarn, Arthur’s Pass National Park

The journey to Mt Guinevere tarn asks a lot of a tramper. Good navigation skills, proficiency at river crossings and healthy stamina are just a few of the required attributes. Add a knowledge of first aid and you have a short summary of our trip to this rugged alpine tarn.

With our boots strapped to our packs and sandals on our feet, we departed Klondyke Corner. The Waimakariri River was an ever-changing network of meandering branches and by the time we reached the Crow Valley Track we had crossed the river several times.

After crossing through a short section of forest, the track turned north and stayed on the true left of Crow River for 1.5km.  Where a small stream from below Lyell Peak flows into Crow River, we had to cross one final time to the true right.

We were relieved to change footwear to boots and hide our sandals for the return trip. Weaving in and out of beech forest we finally approached the beautifully located Crow Hut in the upper Crow Valley.

At this point, the valley opened up and offered stunning views of Mt Rolleston and its glaciers. Crow Hut is a stunning destination for a late lunch and a staging area for the challenging final leg of the trip to Guinevere tarn. The track cuts through 100m of forest just north of the hut and onto a boulder field. From there, a standard topo map lacked the level of detail required to help us navigate to the tarn.

We turned west and aimed straight up the steep boulder field for a waterfall at its top. It was tempting to climb up the right shoulder of this narrow valley. To make it to our destination, we had to stay on the boulder field and turn left by the first waterfall.

While I was pondering navigational challenges, my partner had a little mishap. Her otherwise unspectacular fall was stopped by a knife-edged rock. It cut deeply into her wrist and things not meant to see the light of day were showing through. It had been a few years since my last first aid training but I tried to keep my cool. Luckily we didn’t need to use our personal locator beacon. There was very little bleeding and the cut didn’t hurt as badly as it looked.

We cleaned, closed and bandaged the wound. With only a few hours of daylight left we could not return to civilization. We discussed the pros and cons returning to Crow Hut, but my partner was feeling good so we pushed on.

The terrain narrowed into a steep gully with a smaller waterfall on the side. Just before that gully ends in a vertical step, a very obvious diagonal ledge runs up to its left shoulder. We followed the shoulder until meeting an open area covered in alpine scrub. Here, the same pattern repeats. We found ourselves faced with yet another gully and again it was tempting to climb its right shoulder. Instead, we headed up the gully to a diagonal ledge that ran up to its left shoulder. It is a bit narrower than the first one but still easy enough to scramble in dry conditions.

Then the terrain began to flatten out.

We aimed south-west and soon arrived at the bottom of Guinevere tarn’s dam. After crossing a stream and another short climb we had a great view across the high basin below Mt Guinevere. The unusually barren terrain hints at rough winters near the Divide. The tarn itself is surrounded by a hostile-looking landscape of rock.

At the south-western edge of the lake we found shelter in the shade of garage-sized boulders. Gusty winds forced us inside our tent right away – we were too tired to enjoy the view anyway.

The next morning we were greeted by calmer weather. The high winds that had kept us awake had died down and the mirror tarn reflected a pink sunrise. From the dam we had a gorgeous view of the big pile of scree tumbled from Avalanche Peak and Mt Bealey.

Mt Guinevere tarn is a challenging destination and the upper Crow Valley is prone to devastating avalanches outside late summer or autumn.