Dinner Plate Scree – Mount Alaska(1965m)

“On a Mish” #320 Dinner Plate Scree. Mt Alaska(1965m). Richardson Mountains (Whakaari Conservation Area). 2.4.2011. Going into the mountains on an adventure is one of the rare activities where failing to achieve what you set out to do isn’t such a bad thing. Luckily for me, I look at the whole mission as the fun part, instead of just focusing on the summit. If you don’t get to the top of the mountain it doesn’t matter, as long as you get back home safely…

I have had many adventures in the Whakaari Conservation Area, just south of Glenorchy. The old mining area is rich with history, and thanks to the bulldozed tracks the place is awesome for hiking.

From my temporary home in Queenstown at the legendary guide flat I could be at the area’s little car park in about 45 minutes. Once there I had the tough task of choosing which mish to do.

After visiting all of the huts on offer in the area I began to focus on climbing some of the mountains. Knowing there is an awesome base to attack a peak from is a very reassuring situation to be in.

My plan on this mish to the adventure playground was to climb Mt Alaska(1965m), which stands tall behind Heather Jock Hut. All of my Routeburn / Greenstone guided trips have ended with a drive past the rounded mound and it was only a matter of time before I was tempted to stand on top.

Out of all the huts in the area, Heather Jock Hut is the one in which I have spent the most nights. Only about three hours walk from the carpark, the hut is easy to get to and once there the cosy comfort, along with the rewarding view, makes the hike well worth the effort.

An early-ish start from Queenstown had me at the track and then up to the hut before lunchtime. I planned to climb the peak and then rest up at the hut before heading back down to the car park the next morning.

All was going well, as the sun was shining and I was exactly where I needed to be.

After zooming up the track to the hut I stashed my overnight gear and then began to climb above the hut towards the North Ridge of Mt Alaska.

For a while I followed the maze of old bulldozed tracks upwards until I got to the highest point I could get to on the tracks and then began to follow the ridge itself.

Everything seemed to be going to plan until I got to a large area of loose rock. The rock went from little pieces to big until I was tip-toeing on the notorious dinner plate scree. I carefully crept across the treacherous ground in a very noisy manner. Every second step I would send multiple plate-sized pieces of rock tumbling down the mountain. The peace and quiet would be broken by the sound of rock shattering. My mish had quickly become very ‘interesting’.

I negotiated the first section only to be met with another loose pile of plates. The next one looked like a kitchen hand’s sink during a busy night at a large restaurant. After a few sketchy steps I knew going this way wasn’t going to work and made the decision to turn back.

Even though I was only a couple hundred metres from the top, it was an easy decision to make. The day was starting to drag on and after my mishap on Black Peak(1989m) I didn’t want to be caught out on the mountain after the sun went down.

The down was as tricky as the up, and once again the silence was interrupted by the smashing of rock as it tumbled to its end in pieces. After getting off the rock I was happy that the next plate I was going to see would have MY dinner on it!

A meal with a view is an awesome way to end a day out in the mountains, and to be at one of my favourite huts enhanced the awesomeness. The next morning was hard, but eventually reality dragged me back down the hill to the car park, and with that my dinner plate mission was over. It was a big learning curve and one that taught me that dinner plates are better with food on them in a relaxed location. Much, much better than dealing with them on the side of a mountain!!!

Sunsetting behind the Humboldt Mountains

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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