Going Solo (Part Three) – Mt McPherson(1931m)

“On a Mish” #14 Going Solo (Part Three). Mt McPherson(1931m). Fiordland National Park. 17.3.2015. Fiordland’s famous road to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound does have some contrast when it comes to human activity. From being stretched out in the seat of a coach to stretching out for your next hold on a cliff face, the area has action for everybody. Another strange anomaly of the area is how remote you can feel when going solo on one of the big peaks, even though you can hear the voices of tourist echoing off the very same cliffs you are climbing…

The sun was up by the time I got to the top of the Homer Saddle. Next was the crux of the up and down part of my mission, Talbots Ladder. Not an actual ladder, the name comes from the fact that you go from easy upward travel to hand and foot climbing, as if you were ascending a ladder. Back in the day this was a ‘tourist route’ and it is crazy to think how different this was compared to the way most get there now.

Surprisingly the climb up the ‘ladder’ wasn’t too difficult, but the massive drop on either side of the narrow ridge was enough to keep me on my toes (literally!). To think that ladies in their big old fashion dresses and dudes in suits used to make this treacherous trek in order to see the stunning beauty that is Piopiotahi / Milford Sound! There are remains of the poles and old wires that the adventurers would use pre-tunnel to climb or downclimb the steep sections of the challenging route, and it still boggles the mind to think this was an access point used by the public back in the day. They built them tough back then!

Above the ladder the terrain eased and I was dodging patches of snow before I reached the base of the McPherson Cirque Glacier. The ice is easy to climb, but one look at the death slide back down into the Upper Hollyford Valley will have you making sure every step is a good one.

Once on the ice, I simply zigzagged my way up to the final pile of boulders at the mountain’s highest point. The summit of Mt McPherson is a rocky outcrop sticking out of the glacier, which at times can have a gap between it and the ice. Looking down into the endless hole made me make sure my jump over it counted.

After scrambling the remainder on rock I dragged myself up onto the summit and my reward was simply spectacular. I was now looking at the peaks I had seen so many times in the Darran Mountain Climbing Guide. Stunning blue-sky views of the endless mountains of Fiordland put a smile on my face and left me with a giggly sense of achievement. When climbing mountains is your passion then a summit is quenching the thirst that you crave living life back in the real world.

Looking West to Mitre Peak, Sheerdown Peak and Mt Pembroke

To the west lay Fiordland peak after Fiordland peak. The legends of the mighty Darran Mountain Range were on show with Mt Tutoko(2723m) Standing tallest as Ata Whenua Rangatira (Chief), and Mt Madeline(2536m) his Maunga Kuini (Queen). Being left speechless isn’t so bad when going solo!

After soaking in the epic view I headed back down the same way I had come up, which meant descending the glacier and then carefully climbing back down Talbot’s Ladder. Some parties use a rope for this section and, when standing at the top and looking down at the massive drop either side, I can understand why. Reaching down with your feet blindly looking for a crack or tiny ledge can be nerve racking to say the least, but moving slowly I worked my way down to easier ground and I could then feel the tension leaving my weary body.

Once back on Homer Saddle(1375m) I could see across the narrow ridge to the faces below Mt Moir(1965m). On the face were my friends from Homer Hut working their way up the North Ridge of the rocky Fiordland giant. My calls of ‘Hello’ echoed their way across the valley to the team and within a few seconds I heard the happy replies of fellow wilderness addicts getting their fix.

I was shaken back into reality by the Milford Road being its normal busy self. The transition from remote alpine climbing on steep rock and ice, to large gatherings of camera-snapping tourists heading to Milford Sound is a real shock to the system!

Once back at Homer Hut I could finally tick off a climb of “Talbot’s Ladder” after first reading about it so many years before. Finishing a mish like this can be a bit weird for, normally after a big outing like this, people would be congratulating each other for a job well done. But for me the celebration was all internal for I had been going solo…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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