Top of the Hill (Part Two) – Conical Hill(1515m)

“On a Mish” #284 Top of the Hill (Part Two). Conical Hill(1515m). Routeburn Track. Fiordland / Mt Aspiring National Park. 27.2.2010. Topping out on a mountain can be a life changing experience. For many hiking the Routeburn Track Conical Hill(1515m) will be their first proper mountain, and having a guide or two cheering them on could be the difference between getting to the top or not. Ironically the first time I stood on top of the mountain I was guiding people, but they didn’t need to know that small factor…

I will never forget the mountain hijinx I had (along with the other guides) on my very first training trip. The guides crossed over a snow-covered Hollyford Face kicking steps into the late winter snow in places and eventually arriving at a very icy Harris Saddle(1255m). From here we attempted to climb Conical Hill(1515m), and as we cut / kicked steps up the snow on the gut section of the route, the exposure got a little bit too much for a couple of the guides. We still had some distance to travel so the call was made to turn back, and just as we began to creep back down to the saddle one of the guides’ water bottles went on its own journey at speed towards the Hollyford Valley, which was over a thousand metres below. I’m positive H&S wouldn’t let anything like that happen these days!

It was thanks to the snow that my first summit of the hill would have to wait. As excited as I was, I knew that a couple of the more senior members of the team might not head up to the top of the hill if I didn’t talk up how amazing it was. I am positive the team was probably a little bit surprised about how giddy I was when we topped out. The wait had made the experience even better for all involved.

After my first mish and on days when the weather is cooperating, I could usually convince at least a small group to tackle the mountain with me. To make the climb more achievable I would break it up into sections. First would be trekking up the zigzags seen from the Harris Saddle Shelter. Next would be climbing the gut where we had run into issues on our training trip. At the top of the gut is a viewpoint of Lake Harris and Mt Xenicus(1912m). For some this is far enough and I don’t blame them as the view is epic and the effort is satisfying. For those keen to continue, once we have caught our breaths it is time for the final push to the summit.

Now hiking on more rock than track, for some it takes a while to get used to the grip of the exposed granite rock. Up until now most minds are trained to treat wet rock as being slippery and dangerous. At this point in the quest if using your hands as well as your feet is what it takes to get you to the top that’s fine with me. On occasions I have crawled with my fellow explorers to provide the last bit of motivation needed. Once the summit is in sight usually my job is done and a mix of adrenaline, emotion and good old mountain madness does the rest. Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks from above are enough to give you goosebumps and, even if cloudy, the side mish will never disappoint.

To anyone walking the Routeburn Track (or even better doing the ‘Grand Traverse’) I highly recommend the side-trip up to the top of Conical Hill(1515m). Even if your legs say no, pushing through the pain will be rewarded with some of the best views of Fiordland / Mt Aspiring National Park that you can get without being in a plane or chopper. If you are ever on Harris Saddle then a trip to the top of the hill is a must!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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