The Big Thumbs Up (Part One) – Mt Xenicus(1912m)

“On a Mish” #17 The Big Thumbs Up (Part One) – Mt Xenicus(1912m). Mt Aspiring National Park. 13.1.2011. If you are into climbing mountains and you look at one over and over again, then eventually you have to have a go at climbing it! One of the most iconic images of the Routeburn Track is that of Lake Harris and Mt Xenicus(1916m) from Harris Saddle(1255m)…

I always looked at Mt Xenicus(1916m) as a giant ‘thumbs up’ when first seen while hiking from Lake MacKenzie to Routeburn Falls. It’s an image I’m sure a lot of people have permanently etched into their minds. This huge thumb has helped motivate a few clients for the last leg of the journey down to Routeburn Falls Lodge, after a long day battling the weather on the Hollyford Face. For some this is the most adventurous place they have ever been, and it can seem a daunting challenge if the weather is against you on the most exposed part of the Routeburn Track.

The wander down from Harris Saddle(1255m) was always one of the best parts of the entire Routeburn Track to me, and the glorious views seen while hiking never disappointed either me or the clients I was guiding.

It was really only a matter of time before I climbed the mountain, and during the summer of 2011 all the pieces of the puzzle conveniently fitted into place. A friend who used to work on the track with me was now the Ranger / Warden at Routeburn Flats Hut, and this offered a comfortable and unique head start on a climb of Mt Xenicus(1912m).

Routeburn Flats is a grand location that often gets missed. Sitting at the base of Routeburn Falls, the hut is usually overlooked while people continue up the hill to Routeburn Falls Hut (one of the best locations for a DoC hut in the country). I made my way along the track from the Routeburn Shelter as a cool southerly breeze cleared the last of the clouds in the sky. I was blessed with outstanding weather from the word go, and the sky remained clear for the next five days (a real treat in this rain-soaked part of the world). My quiet meander eventually took me to Routeburn Flats, and I was there in time to see the sunset show. Over a couple whiskeys, my bro Josh and I watched the snow on Mt Somnus(2293m) turn pink with the last of the day’s light. A very special place, and a very good spot to begin our assault on the mountain that was looming over the backdoor of Routeburn Flats Hut.

Early-ish the next morning we were off, following the track up to Harris Saddle, passing Routeburn Falls Lodge/Hut in the dim light of dawn. Our plan was to cross the outlet of Lake Harris, and make our way into the basin on the south side of the mountain.

Crossing the icy water of the lake’s outlet was a great way to wake us up, and clear the head before the uphill travel really began. The climb began with rocky gullies, until small snow patches took us to a point where we climbed out onto the mountain’s broad shoulder. Route finding was reasonably easy on the shoulder / west ridge, with the drop either side increasing dramatically the higher we got.

Alpine scrambling led to a narrow rock chimney, and to fit in the chimney we had to lean back so our packs wouldn’t get caught on the tight gap in the rock. With a drop of around 400m to the rock rubble in the south face basin below, leaning back really played tricks with the mind. Moves like this are always going against your own instincts which tell you to lean towards the safety of the mountain, and get you thinking about what challenges await higher up the mountain…

Happy and High Up on Mt Xenicus(1916m)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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