Hiking Mt Alaska in New Zealand
It had been a few months since I had done any decent hikes. My wrist was a little sore from a few days of rock climbing, so a good leg workout was in order. The best way to get hiking fit is to just hike, right?
So I was glad when my buddy Che recommended Mt Alaska as our hiking objective. Zero to summit in 8 hours on legs that had been relatively dormant for months. I knew I was in for some sore legs the next day! Having already done the hike half a year earlier but having a poor visibility summit, Che was eager to show off the hike and nab a view this time.
TO RAIN OR NOT TO RAIN?
The forecast looked unappealing on paper but was better in person as we arrived in Glenorchy, the nearby town. We decided to go for it. Clouds hung around the headwaters occasionally dumping a load of water in the distance before resuming their threatening poses.
This all went to the back of our minds as we started along the trail. Wide and open, this was the remnant of the huge mining operation in the area and we soon reached the battery with its sheds and cabins. We stop for a quick drink before moving on.
The gravel road was at a pleasant incline, and we make good pace. Every now and then we would startle a small herd of goats which seemed to cover the mountain sides. A few of the goats seemed not to care the slightest and simply stared at us while their mouths chewed.
The great thing about this hike is the open views. As you stretch your way around the base of Mt Judah going towards Mt Alaska, the views change constantly.
We soon see Mt Alaska showing off its snow mottled summit to us. Ice axes strapped to our packs, we had estimated a small amount of snow would still be hanging around and were prepared.
Passing a few mine shafts stuck in the mountain side, we peek in at the entrance, curious, but knowing they were always a moment away from collapse. The inner kid wanted too, but the adult slapped the idea before it could grow.
There would be fun to be had in other places, just not here.
A FORK IN THE ROAD
Shortly before Bonnie Jean creek, a junction presented a choice. Mt Alaska can be done as a partial loop, and according to the signage, took roughly the same time no matter which way. Opting to go via the historic Jean hut up to Heather Jock hut, we could have lunch there before hitting the ridge.
The weather cleared as we moved, spurring hopes for a perfect day.
Up to Heather Jock hut, the track steepened and it was a little more work. The reward was a lunch in a small hut with epic views. I made a mental note to come back and stay a night here.
Lunch done, it was time to make the summit. There is no maintained track and there are multiple options, but we soon found a well worn path and aimed for the ridge. Once on top, some more trails took us through the path of least resistance until we hit the rocky parts of the ridge. With the vegetation quite bare now, navigation is easy.
Hitting the old snow line, patches of spring snow were negotiated, but the angle was never dangerous enough to slide out. It always pays to be careful however, especially if you have no previous snow travel experience.
A couple of small scrambles got us around some rocky sections, mainly to avoid the snow patches beneath. Before we knew it, we were at the top!
The views were just epic! From the North east to the south, the impressive mountain ranges pierced the low clouds. Mt Earnslaw itself was shrouded, but the vibrant spring green valleys below were a sight after months of winter scenery.
There’s something about standing on a mountain top that just makes all the effort worth it. No matter your age, you can’t help but crack a smile.
CHOICES COMING DOWN
Another snack session ensued but the wind picked up and the clouds looked to come in quickly. A few quick snaps and we were off.
Coming down is always harder on the legs and I was feeling it. I vowed to never wait so long again before doing a descent ascent. As we passed the patches of snow, the clouds receded and and wind died down. Typical. The weather always ebbs and flows and today was no different.
We decided to take the track past Bonnie Jean Hut since the signage noted the exact same time either way.
The hut is certainly worth a look, and there is a huge cable hanging across the valley that was used to ferry supplies and ore back and forth. Another mine shaft sits close by, water dripping endlessly as the tunnel shrinks into blackness.
Coming down offered great views the whole way, and by now the sun was out and blasting us. My legs burned but thankfully the track is a nice enough gradient. I did secretly imagine how awesome a stashed mountain bike would be though. Maybe next time. Ill let my tired legs remind me.
Here is a short video I made of the trip:
HIKING MT ALASKA - TIPS AND INFO
Difficulty: Moderate (high level of fitness recommended)
Time: 8-10 hours return
Ascent: 1650m elevation gain approx
Start hike: Google Maps HERE
► Printable A4 Topo map can be downloaded HERE
► One small, easy creek crossing which would be much harder after very heavy rain.
► Negotiating snow in winter and spring requires snow travel knowledge.
Yellow: Optional descent (same time)