Glen Mary Glacier – Jamieson Stream

20 – 23 Jan 2018

Driving alongside Lake Ohau “our” glacier was showing prominently in the mountain massif at the head of the lake. With its lower reaches at 2000m and extending up to 2360m we knew we had a very physical couple of days ahead. We parked by the DoC sign near Huxley Lodge, had a quick lunch and set off up the Hopkins River on a good vehicle track with a warm, gusty nor-wester in our faces.

It took two hours to get to Monument Hut and another hour to reach historic Red Hut, built in 1916 by Rodolph Wigley. Leaving the major crossing of the Hopkins river until we were abreast of the hut avoided being bluffed and having to make repeated crossings. We had a leisurely afternoon in this warm, sunny location with minimal sandflies.

Up at 5:30 we stoked the dragonfly and simmerlight stoves for breakfast, got ready and headed up a spur behind the hut, knowing we had a daunting 1700m climb ahead of us. In spite of our 7am start the temperature was still warm enough to have us sweating all too soon. The beech forest was uniformly steep with intermittent bluffs to wend our way through, but open enough to move easily on well-defined animal tracks. Even the scrub at 1280m had a crude track leading to tussock on the right of the spur as we climbed. A steep, rocky prominence and open spur offered good travel and avoided a slow frustrating bash in dense subalpine scrub and tussock. We left the spur looking for the small tarn that shows on the map and were amused to see a big tarn with only 1cm of water in it. We could walk into it without disturbing the rock-flour base and collect water with a dipper, 50ml at a time. It was 11:30 and we’d climbed 900m so we had an early lunch.

Proceeding up the moraine rubble we had nice stream-water in places to quench our incessant thirsts. The rock generally wasn’t too loose but needed constant vigilance and the gradient was relentless. In one steeper section when people were tiring, Milan took a tumble, landing on his chest. Ten seconds later a rock moved and Kerry fell backwards but somehow hit his forehead on a rock. Nurse Grigg saw the action and had immediate visions of a helicopter and hospital. The bumps needed minimal patching, the shock wore off and we were away again in about ten minutes.

With lots of smart-phones along for the walk we were able to chart our altitude regularly, 1700, 1900, 2100 and finally 2350m looking down on Glen Mary Glacier. What a thrill! After lots of warm weather and no frosts the snow was soft and manageable so Josh didn’t put on his brand new crampons on this day. From past trips down the glacier Diane knew to divert to a spur that overlooks the Dobson valley for sightseeing--a superb scene. We could see all the Ben Ohau peaks including Mackenzies Peak and Dun Fiurnary, Mt Cook, Mt Sealy, Barron Saddle, Mt Huxley, Mt Ward, … Lots of ideas for new places to explore.

Josh and Raymond catching their breath in front of Mt Glen Mary

The wind was occasionally gusty during the night and light rain started at about 5am. We were up at 7, fed packed and away in good time. With minimal rain falling, and crampons on, we headed down a steep, narrow snow couloir which was the headwaters of Jamieson Stream. Now Josh was getting a good opportunity to use all the mountaineering skills he had learned in his Ara outdoor course last year. Rocks were strewn on the snow at one point and as we got within 50m more rock came crashing down quite dramatically from the towering bluffs above. We didn’t dally as we “ran the gauntlet” down the steepening slope. Then the old “Oh no!” moment. At about 1600m our descent was barred by a deep wide slot cutting across the snow. Diane knew from past experience that getting off our ramp of snow and onto the lower section was impossible and we needed to find an alternative route. We faced the depressing prospect of climbing back up but after retreating for five minutes Raymond found a way off our snow couloir and onto rock slabs on the true left. We waited for some time while he heroically searched for a way down-valley. He came back and gave us the thumbs-up but warned that lichen on the rock was wet and slippery. We followed Raymond down tussock slopes into the broadening Jamieson Valley. When we reached beech forest we stopped for a much-needed lunch and a hot cuppa, very glad that the major challenges were behind us. Rather than bashing down the rugged, bouldery river gorge, we found good sidling through the forest and slips on the true right of the valley. The animal tracks were very helpful in showing us the way down to the Dobson flats.

On the glacier with Mt Huxley in the distance

The afternoon was warm and sunny as we walked down wide flats towards the Hopkins, not needing to cross the Dobson river at any stage. But to avoid engagement with large mobs of cattle we steered hard right towards a lengthy area of swamp which sapped our energy. We were happy to get on the vast gravelly river flats and reach the Hopkins. Alas, rain further west and snow-melt had swelled the river. It was silt laden and swift: not a pretty sight for exhausted climbers. Luckily Angela’s phone got a signal so we could get a weather forecast and talk to our contact person in Christchurch. We searched for a crossing point and discussed some possibilities, but it looked too dangerous and everyone was exhausted after another very long 12 hour day. Diane made the wise decision to retreat and camp on the flats to let the river level fall. We had a relaxing time in mild, dry NW conditions. By sheer wizardry Diane and Raymond produced billies of clear sand-filtered water from the milky Hopkins River. Dinner and breakfast was snack food. Peter still had a packet of biscuits but we were worried that the brightly coloured “hundreds and thousands” on them might make us hyperactive. Dum-de-do!

By morning the river had dropped and cleared substantially, the weather was perfect, our energy was much higher, and we crossed the whole river at a single braid as a line of seven and walked 800m to the cars. At 10am in Twizel we indulged in a lavish breakfast before heading homeward on a hot day. Many thanks go to Diane for taking us on this adventure and Raymond for guiding us through some sticky spots. Also to Angela for on-the-spot first aid.

We were: Diane Mellish, Raymond Ford, Angela Grigg, Josh McDowall, Milan Brisnik, Peter Umbers and Kerry Moore (Report by Kerry and Diane)