Earnslaw Burn – The Throne Room of the Gods

“A Mish a Day” #171 Earnslaw Burn. Mt Aspiring National Park. 10.7.2010. It is amazing how the Earnslaw Burn is only now becoming a popular overnight camping trip, as it is one of the most spectacular valleys at the top of Lake Wakatipu, and is an easy stroll to great campsites. Surrounded on three sides by the Mt Earnslaw massive, the place is a good way to make yourself feel small when looking up at the bulky Otago peak. Anyone who has driven the Queenstown to Glenorchy Road on a cloudless day will have rounded the corner at Bennetts Bluff and had to pick their jaw up off the ground when confronted with the stunning view of the twin summits and southface glacier.

I decided to visit the valley on a camping mish during the early stages of the 2010 winter, and I found out how cold the valley can get during my visit. Not much snow had fallen by July in 2010, but it had been very cold, with the thermometer in Queenstown saying in the negatives for an entire chilly week. I made my way along the edge of Lake Wakatipu on a fresh morning, and as I arrived at the small car park at the start of the track the ground was sparkling with a heavy frost. The start of the track was in the shaded forest, and the waterfalls on the west side of the valley were frozen cascades of thick ice. Every now and then blocks of ice would break off and interrupt the silence in the valley with crashing thuds echoing out like gunshots. As I got closer to the head of the valley I crossed a couple of side creeks, which were frozen solid on top with water still flowing underneath the ice. This is the type of cold I love! The bitter conditions transform most liquid into interesting sculptures and frost coats the plants, turning everything bright white. Above me what started as a clear morning became a misty low cloud afternoon, covering everything above 2000m. Unfortunately, the view I got of Mt Earnslaw(2830m) in the morning was going to be the only time I would see Pikirakatahi / Mt Earnslaw(2830m), and its mighty south-face glacier. Some call the head of the Earnslaw Burn ‘The Throne Room of the Gods’ and even with the cloud covering the peaks, it was still an awe inspiring place to pitch a tent, and spend the night. I visited the excellent rock bivvy, which would serve as a perfect plan B if you got the weather forecast wrong, however it is on the other side of the river to the track.

Of course no stars due to the low cloud, and an early-ish start in the morning revealed that the low cloud had remained. The low temperature in the valley meant I was still shaking a good coating of frost off the outside, and also the inside of my tent. I packed up my chilly campsite, and then started the journey back down the valley towards Paradise (the actual name of the area). I really recommend a visit to the Earnslaw Burn, and a must is an overnight stay in ‘The Throne Room of the Gods’…

Pikirakatahi/Mt Earslaw(2830m)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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