“A Mish a Day” #215 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 toughness needed 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 beholds. 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 and the Darran Mountains are two things that don’t go together. Another “hike” to an excellent view point high above the valley floor is the scramble up to Homer Saddle(1375m). Once the route used by the mailman to get all sorts of items into Milford Sound via the inland route, the saddle receives only a handful of 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, and as I began my descent the clouds disappeared. The place is definitely worth a visit if you have a good head for heights, and good route-finding skills. When looking back up at the saddle from the valley without clouds, I could see where I had got the route wrong, and everytime I have been to the saddle since, I remember the difficulty I had getting up there on my first trip.