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Mt Earnslaw is the largest peak at the head of at Lake Wakatipu and a classic New Zealand mountaineering peak.

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.




Your guide will meet with you at 8.30am on the first day of the trip at your accomodation.


Note that this itinerary is a sample only. Your final itinerary is subject to weather and other conditions.

Day 1

On the first day of the trip your guide will meet you at your accommodation at 8.30am. After introductions and a look at the topographical map we will go through a gear check to make sure that you have everything that you need for the trip. It’s a 1.5 hour drive to the Rees Valley and from here we will walk up the Rees valley until we intersect with the Kea Basin Track. It’s a further 1.5 hours climb to reach the Kea basin Bivvy rock where we spend the night.

Day 2

Climb above Kea Basin to the Birley Glacier and then up to Wright Col and Esquilent Bivouac Hut.

Day 3

Climb to the summit of Mt Earnslaw via the North face and the “Keyhole” route.

Day 4 

Descend back to the Rees Valley and drive back to Queenstown.


1 to 2 people
4 days
From $2,790
December to March



  • Guide fees
  • Meals and snacks
  • Ground transport
  • Group equipment
  • Technical equipment hire


  • Personal equipment & clothing
  • Accomodation in Queenstown & Wanaka


Additional booking conditions

These are additional conditions to our standard booking terms and conditions.

As part of the Mt Earnslaw Expedition a period of 4 days guiding is included in the price of the trip. It may be possible to complete the climb before the 4 day period is over. If you finish the climb early you may choose to retain the services of the guide. If you choose to finish the trip early no refund is due.

Extending your Mt Earnslaw Expedition may be possible depending on your guides commitments. 

The cost of extending your trip is $700 plus $200 per person per day. 

If your trip is involuntarily extended (for example being stuck in a hut due to bad weather) the cost will be $600 plus $100 per person per day.

Experience required

Ideally you have a strong hiking background and a high level of fitness for this trip. You should be comfortable moving in steep exposed terrain where you will be required to rock climb.

Clothing & equipment

Climbing in the New Zealand mountains requires that you have high quality equipment and clothing due to the extremes of weather we experience. Please ensure you look carefully at our equipment checklist. At the start of the trip your guide will go through your equipment and make sure that you have everything that you need for the trip. Please organise to have your extra equipment stored at your accomodation for the duration of the trip.

It is important that you keep as close as possible to the equipment checklist. The focus is on ensuring that you have the equipment you need, but also on keeping your pack as light as possible. If your guide is meeting you at your accomodation for the start of the trip it would be helpful if you have all your equipment and clothing organised and laid out in a logical fashion so they can check that everyone has the right equipment and clothing for the trip.

Accomodation during the trip

On the Mt Earnslaw climbing trip we stay in alpine bivouac huts and natural rock shelters.

Accomodation in Queenstown & Wanaka is not included in the trip costs. Staying in Queenstown or Wanaka may happen if you are delayed entering the mountains or exit early because of the weather. Being based in Queenstown during poor weather in the high mountains will enable us to use the Remarkables mountain range as often this is sheltered from the worst of the Southern Alps weather.

Accomodation in Queenstown  before or after the trip is not included in trip costs. To organise accomodation before and after the course we recommend here you will find a wide range of accomodation depending on your preferred style and budget.

Daily trip logistics

Every day in the mountains is different with changing weather, snowpack, and access conditions. When you book your trip with Queenstown Mountain Guides we will discuss your goals for the trip and the general plan. When you meet with your guide on the first morning of your trip your guide will discuss with you the weather forecast and current conditions and make a final plan for the trip. It is best to be flexible so we can ensure that you will make the most of your time with us.

At the start of the trip we will fly into the mountains at the first possible opportunity.

On any poor weather days it is possible to learn skills inside the hut – for example crevasse rescue, navigation, weather theory, avalanche awareness.

On the final day of the trip we will aim to have you back in Queenstown by approximately 5.00pm.

Queenstown Mountain Guides uses aircraft to fly into the mountains and this enables us to bring a good supply of fresh food on our trips. Your guide will organise breakfast, lunch, and dinner for you when  you are in the mountains. Your guide will cook your meals on a basic mountain stove but you will impressed by what is possible!

Guide to participant ratios

Mt Earnslaw is guided at a maximum 1:2 guide to client ratio.

Summit of Mire Peak
Steep rock climbing on Mitre Peak
Exposed ridge walking on the Mitre Peak Climb
Mitre Peak