Ascent of Skippers Range High Point on 2015-01-09

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad
Adrian Rayner

Pål Bjørstad
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, January 9, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Helicopter
Peak:Skippers Range High Point
    Location:New Zealand
    Elevation:5407 ft / 1648 m

Ascent Trip Report

This remote peak probably needs 4-6 days on foot from the SSW (SH94 near The Divide) via the Hollyford Track, crossing the Pyke River and an 800m bushwhack. Having just one spare day in our itinerary we decided on a heli assisted day trip, hiking the summit from above the bush level. There are several helicopter operators: the closest may be at Milford Sound, but Wanaka is a nice base, and the obvious choice if Mt Aspiring is also contemplated.

After our Mount Aspiring attempt is cut short we have a spare day, so we call in at Aspiring Helicopters and see if an ascent tomorrow is possible. We had contacted them by email during trip planning and obtained a price, 1800NZD to be flown in and the same again to be picked up later. Not too bad split four ways. They needed a one-off permit from the Dept of Conservation (DOC) but all this could be arranged at short notice. The only question was the weather, which might be cloudy, making a landing on the ridge questionable. We would speak by phone in the morning. Meanwhile we get a motel room in nearby Wanaka.

Next morning I phone James at 8. Still not sure about the weather. He's dropping off some Mt Aspiring climbers at Bevan col and will take a look over towards Skippers from there. We do a few jobs in town (call in at the DOC office xxxx to pay some hut fees) and he calls back at 9 with a proposal. For our original price we can join a scenic flight to Milford Sound and take a look at Skippers on the way back - a nice bonus!

We join a young Melbourne based Irish couple's flight to Milford Sound, about an hour each way. En route we land for a few minutes at Lochnagar, a mountain lake a bit different from its Scottish namesake peak with a nice waterfall. The helicopter is a six seater (+ pilot) Squirrel and is great for viewing and photographing the alpine scenery. Although a much smaller area than the European Alps, the NZ Alps are pretty densely packed and look good from the air. Mt Tutoko the southernmost ultra prominence summit is well seen above a sea of cloud. Skippers Range is 1000m lower and lost in cloud, but conditions are forecast to improve.

The descent to Milford Sound is spectacular, down a very deep U shaped valley with some big cliffs above us. Tim circles then follows a small biplane into the little airport. We follow the short Milford Foreshore Walk, seeing Boa Falls, and the mighty Mitra Peak thrusting up into the clouds. By the time we've lunched in the cafe the clouds are higher on Mitra - a good sign. Our return journey is further west, passing close to and below Mt Tutoko. Skippers Range highpoint is in cloud but our intended northeast ridge is clear and looks doable.

Tim lands the chopper on a level section of ridge too narrow for him to leave the controls so we get out and unload the cargo pod, close up and then crouch by our packs while the big bird lifts off and heads back to Wanaka with an 1800 return time agreed.

We are on a quite rugged ridge at 1200m (NE ridge, S44.43249 E168.18424), 460m below the summit, with a view down to the Pyke River far below. We see the river junction where the Olivine hut is situated, and a fine waterfall above it. There is a cableway crossing mapped on the tributary although nothing visible at this distance. Getting to this point without the heli would involve a tough 1 or probably 2 day tramp followed by a substantial river crossing (swim?) then a 1000m bushwhack through steep forest to get to where we now are - all completely beyond the scope of our short trip.

The northeast ridge has quite a bit of scrambling on nice rock, never difficult although some of the rocks are less stable than they appear.

The small summit at S44.43648 E168.17227 (1511m P16m) can be crossed or bypassed on its R flank. From here we cross above a stony bowl, then climb the south-east ridge, on nice warm fine-grained rock (granite and ?peridotite) almost completely free of vegetation. A few patches of soft snow are easily crossed without crampons.

The summit is fairly level: a rock outcrop (S44.43403 E168.16984, 1645m) which from today hosts a nice neat Norwegian built cairn. We speculate that this might be a first ascent. However, subsequent enquiries indicate a history of prospecting, hunting and surveying here so it has presumably seen a few ascents, although there was no hint of a cairn.

There's a 1636m southwest summit 800m away which in clearer conditions it would have been good to visit, but with poor visibility and the possibility that the helicopter might want to recover us early, we head back the same way. The local Kea (mountain parrot) stops by to pose for photos. We're back in 1h30, same as our ascent time.

The weather on the ridge is nice and we sit in the sun for a couple of hours til we hear Tim on the VHF radio he's left with us, announcing his imminent arrival. It's a gorgeous evening and we enjoy the classic "Matterhorn" view of Mt Aspiring from the south; even Mt Cook ("Cock" as the kiwis pronounce it) is visible a hundred miles to the north.
We manage to find a motel room in Wanaka, and a Korean eating house makes for an interesting meal. Next morning we head back north, dropping Adrian at Christchurch airport for his flight back to the UK then continuing north to Blenheim, as it looks like the next three days weather should allow an ascent of Tappy (Tapuae-o-Uenuku) with its long riverbed approach.

Skippers Range trip photo album
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1529 ft / 465 m
    Extra Gain:33 ft / 10 m
    Round-Trip Distance:2.7 mi / 4.4 km
    Route:northeast ridge
    Trailhead:Northeast ridge  3944 ft / 1202 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 3
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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