IFMGA guide Tim Robertson comments.
What’s so special about climbing Fiordland mountains?
The special thing about climbing the Milford mountains is just how good the rock is: different types of granite. It’s an amazing place: the rock, the scenery, the birdlife.
Climbing in Fiordland is a bit like climbing in Norway: the valley bottoms are very steep and once you get up to the ridges the terrain is easier. You get a lot of slabs, and super-exposed terrain. The Milford mountains have the steepest ground in New Zealand.
Mitre Peak is a lot less frequented than other New Zealand mountains. It is very unusual terrain, almost unique in the world. From prehistoric rainforests up to tussock plateaus, then on to granite peaks.
The Milford mountains perhaps have the feel of what the Swiss Alps may have been like hundreds of years ago. The scenery is spectacular, totally spectacular, with some great alpine flowers.
Are there any particular challenges?
It’s remote and there aren’t any high alpine huts. There are some rock bivouacs though, even some five-star rock bivouacs. It’s famous for its “yak pastures”: steep tussocky terrain.
The Fiordland weather is difficult (7 metres of rain annually), with lots of cloud and mist. Sometimes you can get a month of good weather though.
It’s super-easy to get lost. There are no river bridges, or very few, and the rivers rise very quickly.
How do you approach climbing the Milford mountains?
Typically we would make a base at Homer Hut (near the Homer Tunnel), or for Madeline or Tutoko fly in to Turner’s Bivouac. Then on the days when the weather is mixed we could do some rock climbing, or even check out the amazing rainforest.
What do you look for in a client for a successful summit attempt?
Being able to move well on slabby rock with a big pack. If they don’t own a pair of rock climbing shoes, then Fiordland is not for them. They need to know how to climb rock. There are no other options available. If the climber says “oh, I don’t really like climbing rock, I just like climbing mountains”, then they’re not a good enough rock climber to climb the Milford mountains.