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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)

The Crossing of Copeland Pass and Graham's Saddle

page 27

The Crossing of Copeland Pass and Graham's Saddle.

Dawn at the head of Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, New Zealand.

Dawn at the head of Franz Josef Glacier, South Island, New Zealand.

Far away thoughts will visit a lover of the mountains, these thoughts gradually form themselves into a picture, then plans formulate and the picture eventually becomes a reality. The crossing of the Divide from the Hermitage, Mount Cook, to Franz Josef Glacier via the Copeland Pass, then back again across Graham's Saddle to the Hermitage would surely be a dream come true to any enthusiastic mountaineer. With a little courage, plenty of energy to reach these seven to nine thousand feet passes, the climber is rewarded by an unrivalled panorama of peaks, mountain snows, glaciers, pinnacles and cloud-filled valleys—such reward that the scenes will forever live in the mind. One does not merely climb over the tops, and be therefore satisfied, one lives again in the changing scenes and the spirit will ever return to these lofty and inspiring regions where the mountain peaks are the church spires, and the murmuring waters from pure snows, the hymns.

All arrangements were finalised for our crossing in November, and we were pleased to find that we were the first party to cross over the snows for the season. Our arrival at the Hermitage was welcomed by Mr. Elms, and our party of three was joined by the guide, Mr. Mick Bowie, who, with big cow-boy hat, inseparable pipe, whopping nailed boots, ice-axe (and pack we dared not try to lift), smiled his enthusiasm of the contemplated trip. He suggested we dine, and get on our way to the Hooker Hut, our first resting place en route. We leave the car behind, and fit and ready we step out for the Hooker Valley, wellknown and much visited by tourists staying at the Hermitage. We pass the terminal face of the Mueller Glacier. A thundering crash lifts our gaze to Mount Sefton, who sends down her many and tremendous avalanches. We watch her activities speechlessly, then widen our view past The Footstool and along the Moorhouse Range. The other side of the valley is hemmed up with the Wakefield Range, many other alpine peaks, then Mount Cook itself with the Hooker River roaring its snowy waters over a spacious stony bed. An eight or nine miles zig-zag round the valley and across the Hooker River by high suspension bridges brings us to the Hooker Hut where we make tea and preparations for an early start for the Copeland Pass on the morrow. Our guide brings forth yards of rope and informs us that we shall be roped together about one thousand feet from the summit, so with this thrilling new experience to face we wonder if we shall be able to sink into dreamland. However, three a.m. next morning finds us quite ready to leave our bunks, and with our packs and ice-axes we set off on the second day of our journey.

First we have a scramble over rocky bluffs, then through mountain gardens,
Looking into Westland from the summit of Graham's Saddle, South Island, New Zealand.

Looking into Westland from the summit of Graham's Saddle, South Island, New Zealand.

frequently pausing for breath until we get our second wind. Very soon we get higher, and from our elevated position, along with the dawning of a new day we witness a scene of unsurpassable beauty. The clouds hover about the valleys below us, and playfully wreath themselves around the lower peaks, while “Aorangi” (the cloud piercer) soars into the heavens, the top slopes pinking in the morning light. The colour deepens, then changes and brightens with the rising sun. Our cameras we rapturously take from our packs with the hope that we may capture some of the fleeting visions that intrigue us. Up and up we climb, not minding the steep pulls now with such a panorama around us, until we near the summit of the Pass. Wind is now whirling the mists around and a different mood is settling on the mountains. We rest awhile, and refresh ourselves with some good brew of oatmeal, sugar and water, from a bottle that our good guide produces from his swag. Then with sou'westers donned, and roped page 28 together, we carefully make for the top of the Pass, moving slowly up the steep and slippery steps cut by our guide. We admire Mount Madonna on the left with its pinnacles and precipitous crags, and finally reach the summit 6,950 feet.
We photograph again, then go over the other side into the Copeland Valley, Westland, and encounter a snow storm. The friendly keas, or New Zealand parrots, inhabit these rugged mountains and they screech us a welcome as they watch, with interest, our intrusion. Down we go, now unroped, and with much more ease and greater
Statuary at the head of Franz Josef Glacier (Mt. Roon in the background), South Island, New Zealand.

Statuary at the head of Franz Josef Glacier (Mt. Roon in the background), South Island, New Zealand.

speed until we come to a field of soft snow. Here we have much difficulty from becoming buried in the snow, and frequently find it necessary to dig each other out. The weather brightens, and the Copeland Valley, a truly grand country with snowy mountains, bushes, and flowers, impresses itself on our minds as we slowly wend our way on the narrow track that winds about twelve miles round the Copeland River to Welcome Flat Hut. Tired, but marvelling at the scenes before our eyes, we rest here the night. There are hot springs quite close to the hut, and very refreshing we find them as we bathe our tired limbs in their mineral waters.

The next day we follow a beautiful bush track fringed on either side with vivid green tree-ferns while the bell-birds, with happy freedom, chime forth their appreciation of their native home. After about five miles we cross Architects Bridge, and here, with some excitement, we find horses waiting to take us on to the Cook River some thirty miles distant. Soon the Karangarua joins the Copeland River and we follow on down towards the sea until we halt at Mrs. Scott's mountain home and hungrily partake of white-bait fritters and tea. The horses are fresh again, so we canter on to the Cook River enjoying to the full every minute of the horse-back ride through such beautiful and enchanting glades, that only a town dweller so unused to such scenery, could fully appreciate. At the Cook River we are met with a car, and travel on past the Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Hostel, certainly with greater ease, but not with such novel excitement as we leave our trusty steeds behind.

The morning gives promise of further sunshine so we leave the Waiho Hostel and make for our next objective, the Almer Hut, treking the three miles to the glacier round the roaring Waiho River and through luxuriant bush and lovely tree-ferns. The glacier itself is 8 ½ miles long, and we gaze on its length in awe and excitement as we realise that we are to make our way from the terminal face right up through the pinnacles and over the icy razor-backs to the top. The glacier was named by Sir Julius von Haast when it was surveyed in 1862, its terminal face being only ten miles distant from the ocean. This slowly moving field of ice (moving approximately from three to fifteen feet a day) descends between bush-covered and perpetually snowcapped mountains and the whole displays striking contrasts of colour from the dazzling blue of the huge crevasses and the whiteness of the ice, to the dark colourings presented by the green forests. We move slowly on this shining crystal until we become accustomed to its slippery nature, then, with more confidence, we attack the pinnacles, huge towers of ice raising their pure columns twenty to two hundred feet upwards.

Words are few between us at these times excepting for an occasional joke, to assure ourselves that we really are not nervous. The pinnacles lean forward ominously and appear wicked as we watch our guide cutting steps round them. The guide says “We had better get through here as soon as possible,” and we make no objection as we spy a few splits at the bases of some of page 29 these toppling, towering masses. At last we emerge through these bewildering pinnacles and crevasses of the Franz Josef and of the Almer Glacier, that pushes its way into the “Franz,” only to find we have another 1,200 feet to climb in seemingly a stone's throw. It is undoubtedly a stiff climb from the ice up the mountain side to the Almer bivouac, but we negotiated the pull after a final struggle and were amply rewarded by arriving in time to watch the setting sun with all its gorgeous colours tinting the high peaks of Mounts Moltke, Roon, Baird Range and others, and setting in relief against the deepening purple of the immense precipices, the great white ice-fields thousands of feet below. Light feathery mists danced airily around under the tops, gradually gathering together as the scarlet and crimson colours faded and finally settled in billowy restfulness far below in the valley.

We reluctantly retired into the shelter of the snow-buried hut, living again the scene that would remain with us forever.

Rising at three a.m. the next morning, and already dressed from the night before, we make our ablutions from snow melted on a primus heater. An early start leaves us time to admire the perpetual snow-fields stretching away up to Graham's Saddle, where we hope to stand before the heat of the day takes too much of our energy. Crunching along over the crisp ice, our guide cutting steps when the slope steepens, we watch the mountains changing with the dawn from their cold aloofness to rosy pink. Mount Tasman stands out clearly, and our eyes wander round to Mounts Lendenfeld, Haidinger, Mildred and others, all vieing in beauty with their snowy slopes pink from the rising sun. Soon, the sun, a big orange blazing disc appears over the snow ridge and rapidly the scene changes. The glassy ice particles sparkle with the brightness and the thousands of acres of snow turn a pale lemon, then transparent blue as the sun speeds upwards. And what a skiing field! What ideal slopes for miles and miles! We imagine we hear the thrilling swish of the skis as they glide past us, but there is no gliding for us to-day as we plod up and up to Graham's Saddle. Just below the Saddle, our guide ropes us together again and carefully cuts the steps up the last icy ridge to the summit 8,759 feet. We stand on the Divide, high up above the clouds that float round the valleys, and look down, first, into Westland, round the peaks, down the glacier and away out to sea, some twenty miles distant; a golden sea melting into the horizon, then we turn our gaze into Canterbury and marvel at Mount De La Beche, the Minarets, and Mount Cook, then down to the Rudolf Glacier, and the far-famed Tasman Glacier. We are overawed in this circle of soul-stirring scenes and with utter presumption endeavour to reproduce some impressions on the remainder of our panchromatic films. Warily we make our way down the crevassed Rudolf and, as the way is steep, our guide is kept busy cutting the steps, and every step must be carefully anchored with our ice-axes. Our progress seems slow, but the fleeting glimpses of the immense snow-fields and the attraction of falling avalanches interest us sufficiently to overcome our weariness as we slowly but surely work our way downwards. Finally, we leave
The bush track between Welcome Flat Hut and the Cook River, Westland, South Island, New Zealand.

The bush track between Welcome Flat Hut and the Cook River, Westland, South Island, New Zealand.

the danger zone behind and, being freed of our harness, glissade, not without a few tumbles, to De La Beche Hut, where the appetising smell of a good cup of tea soon revives our spirits.

The next, the last day of our eventful excursion, brings us down the Great Tasman Glacier, over eighteen miles long, with an average width of 1 ¼ miles, then after loitering long enough for tea at the Tasman Chalet, we finish our never-to-be-forgotten trip back again at the Hermitage. We bathe our sun-burnt faces, dine and before retiring take one more glance towards the mountains to where Mount Cook soars its 12,349 feet into ethereal blue.

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