Olivine Ice Plateau

29 Jan – 6 Feb 2012

This is the fourth year that Geoff Spearpoint has provided the local knowledge for a group from the club to undertake a week-long alpine trip.


7.30am—eight of our group of ten met at Merv’s place and picked up Aarn in Leeston on the way south—lunch at Tarras, petrol, etc at the BP in Frankton, then straight through Queenstown to Glenorchy. We picked up Kevin who had gone down the day before with Heather’s Rees – Dart group. We had a chat with Tussock before leaving and driving on to the road-end at Chinaman’s Bluff.

We walked up the Dart track and crossed the Dart upstream of the Beans Burn. When we arrived in the area the Dart was in one channel and looked deeper and swifter about three quarters of the way over. We made a fairly serious crossing in two lines of five, waist deep on me—good practice for everyone. At 6pm we were at the camping area on a lovely night. We lit a campfire and slept out under the trees.


We left the campsite at 8.10am in fine, sunny weather but a nasty southerly change was forecast for the evening. Lunch by a large pool was the start of the “swims competition”, with Liz leading the charge. The weather was deteriorating by 5pm as we neared the big rock bivvy in the upper Beans Burn that was our home for the next two nights. We ended up with three in the upper chamber, two in the lower inner chamber and Kevin in the open downstream chamber. Four tented in Minarets out the front. Chrys and Linda had a small bush to shelter their tent, but Chris and I copped most of the breeze side-on. The chambers could have slept more.


The Beans Burn was in moderate flood so we sat it out at the rock biv.


During the small hours the wind finally stopped, thank goodness. By daybreak the rain had all but gone. The long range forecast had been very accurate.

By 8.50am we were walking up-valley. The group climbed out of the Beans Burn up an obvious scree and tussock slope on the true right, to a saddle at CA09 250606. Sadly, it was clouded along the Divide on the western side, so we got no views down into the Olivine. Travelling north up the tops to 260621 just west of Irvine Peak, we could see into the Forgotten. We dropped steeply then traversed gullies to the north east, to get to the bush edge at 268636. Geoff was aiming for a bare rocky knoll at 928m. Bush travel was easy at first, but then steepened into a gully making us sidle for a better line, then drop down to the knoll, finally arriving close to 9pm. What a camp site—numerous tarns—all around 20º and a pleasure to swim in despite the muddy bottom. We had a great evening, including a camp fire.


We set off at 8.45am on a fine, clear morning. The 100m or so down through the bush was still a little bit of a mission and it was nice to finally drop out to the wide open valley floor of Forgotten Flats. Heading north up the Forgotten, it was easy-going for a while until the valley narrowed. Further up, the large rock bivvy was visible ahead. Chris and Kevin chose not to detour to the bivvy, continuing on up an obvious stream bed. The bivvy rock is massive and forms a very large, flat “ceiling” to the bivvy. Obviously, many hours of patient work had gone into building the wind-break stone wall around the outer lip. It could easily sleep twelve-plus.

This was our lunchtime, then we moved on up to find Chris and Kevin sidling up and onto the snow. Eventually we crossed a snow bridge and onto the Plateau, now in the misty cloud forming along the peaks. We reached 1827m Forgotten River Col and the Olivine Ice Plateau proper at 6pm.

Around the corner to a v in the bare rock we set up the tents on the snow but with our gear and the camp kitchen on solid rock. Occasional views north-west up the plateau opened enough to see some of its extent.


We were walking by 9.40am on a miserable day with no let-up in the cloud and steady light rain for some time, particularly during our lunch stop at the low point in our drop to get around to Mt Gates. As we climbed the weather was improving.

At 5.45pm we camped at 2100m on a bare, loose rock spur, below 2157m Mt Gates, this time with limited shelter from a light wind. The loose surface meant we could scrape the scree off onto the snow to make a base for the tents. Geoff explored off the end of the spur and somehow found flowing water near the snow surface. Miserable and clouded in, it may have been but there is usually a plus. Curving around to the north-east from our campsite was the Thunder Glacier; a steep ice face that falls to the Joe Glacier way below. It’s called Thunder for good reason, it regularly sounds off night and day—most impressive.


Going down a broad spur to cross the head of Derivation Icefall then up the eastern spur to our high point on Mt Watkins, through to the south side then down, we were forever heading east—Desperation Pass, Seal Col. Turning south we descended to a campsite at tarns above the Margaret Glacier. We were walking by 10am, still with cloud along the range. If we’d got started much later each day we’d eventually be starting tomorrow! It was frustrating to think there was probably brilliant weather away from the high ground, and frustrating for Geoff, knowing from a previous trip that we should be seeing fantastic views all along there. But the limited visibility made Geoff’s recall of detail all the more impressive.

Descending from Watkins, Geoff had to locate a small notch that would take us through to the south side, below 2215m Stefansson Peak. Once over the notch, Geoff dropped his pack and pronounced, “I may be gone for some time” as he disappeared down into the murk. As time went by, we hugged the rock face edge, futilely trying to shelter from the slight wind or stomped to and fro. What happens if Geoff doesn’t return? How long do we wait? What goodies may we find in Geoff’s pack? Thirty five minutes passed when a figure appeared, trudging up through the mist. O we of little faith. Forget those last few sentences.

Geoff had walked in a zigzag down the steep face below Stefansson, to ensure we were on a good line for dropping around to Desperation Pass. Following him down, maybe it was just as well we couldn’t see below us. We made Desperation at 4pm. From there gentler slopes were ahead, making for easier, faster travel although we had the continued chore of ‘crampons on, crampons off’ as we came to rock spurs that we could travel on.

At Seal Col, our route curved to the south, on a spur high above the Margaret Glacier, still galloping down, until at last, after two days in the cloud, we were dropping below the cloud ceiling. And there was blue sky up ahead—very exciting. Then we were off the snow altogether, onto former glacial rock faces with fascinating patterns in the rock. Geoff had promised a tussock campsite on the spur, along with tarns. Yes and double yes, at 6pm on an obvious area of the spur, height 1529m with numerous tarns and they were all warm. The race was on for first in. What a lovely night for sitting back in the tussock and enjoying the evening. Pity though, that it was still clouded in above us.


We walked down the spur above Margaret Burn, through the bush to the Dart then along the edge to the footbridge over to the true left onto the Dart track. We bypassed Daleys Flat Hut and Sandy Bluff camping south of Bedford Stream. Another nice morning in paradise and the cloud was clearing. We could see up the Margaret. Plus, it was clearing from this end of the range above us and we could see back up to Seal Col. This chance was too good to pass up so we walked back up on our rock spurs, over to the edges above the Margaret and further up. Eventually we left the site at 10am and trundled down to the bush edge. Back in the Dart we scrambled down the true right, crossed the Margaret and on down to the swing-bridge. At 1.30 we stopped briefly at Daleys Flat Hut with it’s ever-present hordes of sandflies.

Further progress was slowed as the temptation to jump in the next blue pool appearing around the corner was too much to resist. This probably reached a peak at the top end of Dredge Flat where, apart from swims, Geoff led an expedition across the now-braided Dart, over to explore the remains of the Dart dredge.

Eventually, we continued south, rounded Sandy Bluff and chose a campsite 100m up a stream, 1km south of Bedford Stream. This was a lovely site at the bush-edge, beside the stream and with a camp fireplace. As with the first night in the Beans Burn, it was a great night to sleep out.


Another lovely day. We had camped on our last night only 6 or 7km from the track end so were able to get back to the cars and away by 9am. In monitoring the weather forecast prior to the trip, it was certain that a southerly was going to be a problem. So spending two nights at the rock bivvy in the Beans Burn was planned for. What wasn’t anticipated was the subsequent cloud along the tops. Frustrating for all of us, but we were still all too aware what a marvelous route it is. Oh, and the swims competition, probably about eight all.

We were: Geoff Spearpoint, Doug Forster, Chrys Horn, Kevin Hughes, Gary Huish, Chris Leaver, Linda Lilburne, Liz Stephenson, Aarn Tate and Merv Meredith (MM)