The Mailman’s Way – Homer Saddle(1375m)

“On a Mish” #215 The Mailman’s Way – Homer Saddle(1375m). Fiordland National Park. 2.2.2011. Seeing the sheer steepness of the mountains located in north west Fiordland puzzles the mind. After my first experience in the upper reaches of the Hollyford Valley, I immediately began researching the first climbers to venture into the magnificent mountain area. The barren, storm swept area requires respect and a good weather forecast to simply survive in the wilds of Fiordland National Park…

The toughness required to fight your way through aggressively thick jungle forest needed to be matched with the passion for exploring, and a true love for the beauty that Fiordland delivers. Even before reaching the huge cliffs that act as a giant continuous wall guarding the summits, thick Fiordland bush needs to be negotiated. Real wild country exists in each deep valley, and respect must be shown to this land of mountain giants. For such a huge area, a testament to the rugged nature of the area is that there are only two hiking trails that take adventure seekers into the alpine environment high above the valley floor.

A scramble up to Gertrude Saddle(1410m) is by far the easiest way to gain elevation amongst the granite beasts, however easy travel and the Darran Mountains are two things that don’t often go together.

Another “hiking opportunity” to an excellent view point high above the valley floor is the scramble up to Homer Saddle(1375m), But be aware that this is an area subject to danger from above like so many places in this remote part of the world. Once the route used by the mailman to get all sorts of items into Milford Sound via the inland route, the saddle now receives just a handful of keen visitors each summer.

For my first mission up the saddle, I began with a night at Smithy Creek on the Milford Road. Early-ish the next morning I made my way up the Milford Road into the Upper Hollyford Valley. Thick inversion mist coating the entire valley dulled my enthusiasm (only a tiny bit!), and after parking near the Homer Tunnel I wandered into the mist.

Having a rough idea of where to go, I began to clamber over the pile of moraine and rock avalanche debris at the base of the McPherson Cirque. A lightly marked trail leads through the worst of the rocks up to the saddle, unfortunately I didn’t know this. In the mist, I came across what was once the phone-line, which made its way over the saddle before the construction of the tunnel.

I followed the tangled mess of wire, which in places was buried under rock which had come crashing down from above. Eventually I came across a rock cairn, and I realised I had found the track up to the saddle. Not long after discovering the track, I got above the inversion layer of cloud, and now the peaks of the area were all floating above a thick layer of lower valley inversion mist. A few minutes later I saw the crest of the saddle, and after one last scramble I got to the top.

The massive drop down into the Cleddau Valley instantly gives you a feeling of excitement and nervousness, the same feeling you get when at points of high exposure when climbing. Knowing there had been several fatalities near this area meant extra care needed to be taken so I didn’t become the next day’s news story. After a food break and some photos, I began the journey back down to Homer Tunnel. As I began my descent the clouds began to disappear and I could see down the corridor of the upper Hollyford Valley, with all of the stunning peaks above on show for all to see. I managed to stick to the track on my way down and now with no cloud around I could see where I went the wrong way in the morning. No issue though and to me it was just some rock / boulder scrambling training!

Although the saddle is close to the road, within a few minutes of walking you are in wild remote Fiordland, and a little issue here can become a big problem very quickly. The Homer Saddle(1375m) is definitely worth a visit if you have a good head for heights, and good route-finding skills.

Homer Saddle

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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