Mount Mcpherson - 6335' - south ridge class 4
mount talbot - 6906' - NW ridge class 3
november 2019 (fjordland)
Arriving in New Zealand about a week ago, I lucked out with a few decent weather days (but not good enough for Mount Cook), so I drove down to Milford Sound from Queenstown, and explored some of the sights along the way. The drive to Milford sound is downright stunning, as the road curves around the base of the massive Mount Christina, rising over 6500 feet above the road. I checked out the overlook at Milford Sound for a bit and took in the beauty of Mitre Peak (which I hope to also climb on this trip) and found myself at the Homer Hut for the night. I agreed to join Allison, who is also from Seattle for a hike to Gertrude Saddle on the following morning (Monday Nov 11th). Forecast called for a decent morning, and an excellent day all day Tuesday, however the afternoon we rolled in it had cleared out and we saw dozens of avalanches sliding off all the high peas as the fresh snow sloughed off right when the sun came out, particularly off Barrier Peak which was nearly constant.
By about 6:30am we started walking on the trail towards Gertrude Saddle, but quickly discovered the trail was completely flooded for the quarter mile or so due to early season spring runoff so instead of crossing the creek we decided to stay on the left side and bypass the initial section of trail by bushwhacking through the New Zealand forest, meeting back with the trail a bit higher up where it ascends the open grassy valley away from the creek. Much to my amazement, there was no flowing water higher up in the valley since it was all flowing underground!
We continued on the well marked path towards Gertrude Saddle as it curved up and left around the east side of Mount Talbot. Clouds lingered and blocked views to the summits but it was not raining. We arrived at Black Lake, which was still mostly frozen and covered with snow, and the remainder of the route to the saddle was completely covered in slushy snow. Once we arrived at the saddle though it was a view for the ages off to the west with Milford Sound visible and the valley below us sweeping steeply down. The north face of Mount Talbot rose above us to the left with the giant Mount Tutoko visible to the north. There were a few Kea (the worlds only alpine parrot) flying around above us trying to get our attention...likely because they wanted to eat our food. We did not fall for the one dancing in front of us though and guarded our packs!
We got rained on as we returned to Homer Hut and bushwhacking a different route on the way back only made the wetness worse. Some huge avalanches fell off the steep east face of Talbot just as we were hiking by the base, but we were far enough away from the base where it wasn't a concern. The rumbling was very loud though. Eventually we stumbled out of threes back at the hut and dried off inside. Allison decided to take off for a hike further east for the following day while I stayed in the hut completely alone the majority of the afternoon as the rain set in. I took a long nap until a guided party of 6 rolled in waking me up. Turns out they were going to go up the same route I was planning to do for the next day, via Jacobs Ladder (South Ridge of McPherson) from Homer Saddle. I was however planning to also traverse to Mount Talbot. I had some nice chats with them during dinner and went to sleep.
5am came and I quickly packed up and drove a couple miles up the road to the Homer Tunnel car park and waited a bit for enough light for me to start hiking without a headlight. Paty of 6 arrived and I decided to jump start to remain out ahead of them, however that proved very easy to do. The route up to the Homer Saddle was via a decent trail, with a small snowfield to ascend near the top. It was very firm so I put the microspikes on. Then the class 3 and 4 scrambling north up the rocky ridge began which was heaps of fun. The rock was nice and dry and offered great exposed climbing. Above this the terrain levelled out and I emerged onto the left edge of the massive snowfield on the upper slopes of McPherson. A quick jaunt on the firm snow led me directly to the summit to which views were indescribably eyegasmic!
I was so far out ahead of the guided party I didn't even see them reach the upper snowfield until I had completed the traverse east all the way to the east edge of the big snowfield near the summit ridge of Mount Talbot. Initially, I topped out on the sub-peak between McPherson and Talbot but the ridgecrest was guarded by 60+ degree knife edge snow arete that made it extremely difficult to traverse without access to any rocks on either side. I didn't have big boots or crampons so I didn't feel comfortable traversing the 60 degree snow slope along the crest that also happened to be very icy and firm. So I retreated below the ride and traversed more snow slopes to the west of the ridge a couple hundred feet below the crest until I found a feasible way to ascend back to the ridge close to Traverse Pass. Since this was still on the west facing aspect, the re-ascent back to the ridge was very firm and icy snow up to about 55 degrees. Without crampons I had to bash my foot into the ice to punch through the crust on every step to give me enough of a bucket to place my feet. This was very time consuming and tiring not to mention painful on my toes and feet but I made it back to the ridgecrest closer to the summit and was able to bypass the knife edge section.
The rest of the route up the northwest ridge to the summit was longer than expected due to so much class 3 scrambling most of which was snow covered but I eventually reached the summit and enjoyed the hard earned views. I refueled with a Gu pack and retraced my steps back down, this time being much quicker since I had already bashed the footholds the whole way up.
I re-traversed all the way back across the huge snowfield except this time it had softened up enough for me to post-hole past my ankles on every step making the traverse a little slower, luckily though I was able to make a downward traverse the whole way across. Just as I reached the top of the rock scrambling I caught back up with the guided group, who were on their way down from McPherson (they did not traverse to Talbot). I passed them on the downclimb as they were all rappelling and made it back to the car at 2:30pm and took a nap. The afternoon remained gorgeous and I admired the Patagonia esque views and all the steep rugged faces that surrounded me before starting the drive back to Te Anau.
Shown below is a map of the route I took. The road clearly shows the location of the Homer Tunnel and the first yellow dot is the Homer Saddle. Second Yellow dot is the summit of McPherson with Talbot labelled. Red line shows the hike up to Gertrude Saddle.