Climbing the East Peak of Mt Earnslaw (2835m) from the Rees valley is a classic New Zealand mountaineering trip and a great mountain to progress your mountaineering skills.
Mt Earnslaw is the largest peak at the head of Lake Wakatipu and the heavily glaciated summits of the east and West Peak dominate the skyline when looking towards the main divide from Glenorchy.
Mt Earnslaw is not a technical mountaineering objective like Mt Aspiring or Mt Cook but it does require a good level of fitness and will physically challenge any mountaineer. As part of the Mt Earnslaw mountaineering expedition you will learn fundamental mountaineering skills – use of ice axe and crampons on snow and ice and use of a harness.You will also learn about mountaineering equipment and clothing on this trip; gear selection is important as unlike other classic New Zealand climbing expeditions a helicopter is not used on this trip so all equipment and food needs to be carried by the climbing party. This is a good mountain to progress your mountaineering skills and a great progression if your goal is to climb significant New Zealand 3000m peaks like Mt Aspiring and Mt Cook.
The 4 day expedition takes place in a remote area in the Mt aspiring national park. The Rees valley and Forbes mountains are a spectacular and remote area in the New Zealand mountains at the head of Lake Wakatipu. The Rees river valley is enclosed by towering mountains, beach forest, and waterfalls, with the Mt Earnslaw massive and its glaciers dominating the valley. As we climb higher into Kea Basin and eventually Wrights Col we will have incredible views of the other mountains in the Mt Aspiring area as well as views of the Fiordland mountains including Mt Tutuko and Mt Madelaine.
The Mt Earnslaw trip starts with a drive to Glenorchy and then into the Rees valley. From Muddy Creek carpark we continue the journey on foot further up the valley crossing the river several times before zigzagging up through beach forest to Kea Basin where we spend a night under a natural rock shelter. From Kea basin we climb through alpine grasslands filled with beautiful alpine flowers and other plant species towards ice fields of the Birley Glacier. From the Birley glacier we climb towards Wrights Col and the Esquilent Bivouac Hut.
Esquilent Bivvy sleeps up to 6 people and it is from this small hut that we make our attempt on the summit of Mt Earnslaw’s East Peak via the North face and the “Keyhole” route. From Wrights Col we climb up through scree and then through rock bluffs before traversing a ledge system before breaking out onto the summit slope.
In winter and spring time the route is covered in snow and ice and requires good ice axe and crampon technique. Later in the season ice axe and crampons are used for the glacial approach on the Birley Glacier but beyond this the route is snow free and requires moving and climbing on exposed rock steps and scree slopes.