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July 2012 Issue
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Shaler Range

Barker Hut sits at the head of the White Valley at 1550m. Photo: Pat Barrett
Arthur’s Pass National Park

The ‘Roof of Arthur’s Pass National Park’ aptly describes this short, heavily glaciated mountain range which runs almost due south from Whitehorn Pass and is entirely east of the Main Divide even though it bristles with summits over 2200m including the highest in the park – Mt Murchison at 2408m.

With five large (by mid-South Island standards) glaciers secreted along the south eastern basins of the range, the region offers excellent alpine experience for aspiring climbers who base themselves at Barker Hut amid some truly magnificent scenery. Access onto the range is best from the upper Waimakariri River tributary of White River.

1 Barker Hut

At 1550m and beneath the Marmaduke Dixon and White glaciers, the large and comfortable Barker Hut (10 bunks) makes an excellent base for exploring the peaks and glaciers along the range. Most summits can be reached in 3-4hr from the hut with an additional day required to reach the hut from the road end at Klondike Corner on SH73.

2 White Col

This is a key trans-alpine route between the upper White Valley and the Wilberforce and cuts across the range beneath Mt Harper at 1748m, leading to the Burnet Valley. The Burnet side descends a steep couloir and care is required when icy or avalanche prone.

3 Mt Murchison

At 2408m this is the highest peak in Arthur’s Pass National Park (not Mt Rolleston as many might believe). Accessible via White Col and Kahutea Col from Barker Hut, this is an alpine climb requiring rope and glacier skills.

4 Mt Davie

Mt Davie (2280m) is a more isolated summit on the Shaler Range and one of the more difficult climbs to achieve from Barker Hut involving a long traverse via the Marmaduke Dixon and Cahill glaciers. It can also be reached from Harman Pass by traversing Mt Isobel.

5 Mt Harper

At 2222m and close to Barker Hut, Mt Harper is a popular summit for first time visitors to the White Valley. It has an outstanding view along the Waimakariri Valley and is easily accessed from White Col, though a short rock step needs to be negotiated first.

6 Harman Pass

Located north of the range, Harman Pass (and nearby whitehorn Pass) is often traversed as part of the classic Three Pass route to the Wilberforce Valley and Browning Pass to the Arahura Valley. Harman Pass makes an excellent fine weather campsite near the beautiful Ariel Tarns and also grants access to the upper Taipo Valley.

7 Weka Burnett Bivouac

One of very few huts in the immediate area around the range, Weka-Burnet Bivvy (two bunks) lies in scrubby vegetation at the confluence of the Weka and Burnet streams just above their entrance to the Wilberforce. It sees few visitors – mostly hunters and trampers coming over White Col from Barker Hut.

8 Wilberforce Valley

Wide, wild, and remote the Wilberforce has been for decades a thoroughfare for the adventurous to access the peaks and passes of the Canterbury Alps. It curls around the toe of the Shaler Range but unfortunately most access from the main valley onto the range is barred by bluffs. At its head lies Browning Pass and Park Morpeth Hut on the Three Pass route.

9 Waimakariri Valley

This is the main access route for the Shaler Range. Beginning on SH73, the route travels up valley via several fords of the Waimak to reach Carrington Hut at the Waimak-White confluence. From there a lightly marked route continues up the White and through the bluffs below Barker Hut.

10 Range Traverses

A complete traverse would be a difficult undertaking and those attempting it need excellent alpine skills, sound judgement, and good weather. Camp Spur, adjacent to the Shaler Range, can be traversed from Carrington Hut to Mt Harper with a descent to Barker Hut via White Col.