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September 2012 Issue
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Lording it over Otira

Summit of Mt Barron Westland. Photo: Pat Barrett
4-5hr to summit
A marked and signposted track begins 300m north of the Otira River highway bridge, 2km south of Otira Village
Mt Barron, Arthur’s Pass National Park

Steep, relentless climbs are an intrinsic part of many trips to the hills and when the hills in question happen to be in Westland you can virtually guarantee that any pursuit of the vertical here will be a solid physical challenge.

Mt Barron, 1730m, which looms directly above Otira Village on the western side of the highway is one such peak. Sprawling ridgelines, high basins, and dramatically steep shoulders falling to the valley mark this mountain out.

Setting off with two companions in late summer I was keen to revisit this summit having not been near it for many years following one success and a series of attempts during winter when deep snow had turned me back. This time the mountain is bereft of such hazards and the weather good enough to give us an opportunity to summit, there’s just that steep grind to contend with – over 800m just to reach the first basin. The track passes through forest and sub-alpine vegetation to gain the final shattered ridge on the lip of the basin where there is a soaring view of Arthur’s Pass Highway and the Otira Valley cutting down beneath our feet.

Once in the basin, easy travel ensues through grassy hollows until the main ridge is gained and we can rest to focus on the route ahead. Two kilometres of undulating ridgeline, a hanging basin, and the final summit ridge lie before us, though relatively easy they are a test of endurance.

But there’s a sting in the tale at the top – the final 100m to the summit cairn is along narrow, exposed and broken rock. Care and a slow steady approach sees us to the peak where we are, for a few moments, lords of the mountain.

Our gaze from this rocky promontory encompasses Lake Brunner and the forests and valleys of the Taramakau, upper Otira and Rolleston rivers. These last two catchments are backed by Mts Rolleston and Phillistine, two of the regions highest summits.

Summits are but a perennial moment in time, as there is always the descent to consider, and we have a surfeit of metres to lose to access the valley floor now over 1300m below.

We are lords no longer; merely slaves to gravity.