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The Mount Aspiring Region, 3rd Edition

22 April 2010

A guide for mountaineers

A publication by the New Zealand Alpine Club

The Mount Aspiring Region, 1st Edition (left) and 2nd Edition (right)

The climbing guide to the Mount Aspiring Region was first published in 1974, with Graham Bishop as an editor. The slim volume (68 pages) described all known climbing routes from the Matukituki Valley, the Dart Glacier and the Volta Glacier. It included few photographs, but lots of interesting information about the history and first ascents of most peaks and notable routes. A three page “classification list” was supplied at the end of the book, with a technical grade (on a scale from 0 to 7) for all routes described in the guidebook.

The second edition was published in 2001, with a new layout to fit within the New Zealand Alpine Club’s guidebook series. Edited by Allan Uren, the volume doubled its size (128 pages) with the addition of many photographs and 27 years worth of new routes in the area. The region covered by the guidebook was also extended, now including the peaks in northern Mount Aspiring National Park (Wilkin Valley and Jumboland). The technical rating was adjusted to be more comparable to the one used in the Mount Cook guidebook.

Third edition

The Mount Aspiring Region, 3rd Edition

The third edition was published in 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Aspiring. Edited by Allan Uren and John Cocks, it maintains much of the character of the previous volume. The size has increased to 162 pages, thanks to the addition of the southern section of Mt Aspiring National Park (Humboldt Mountains and Routeburn Valley, Richardson and Forbes Mountains, Barrier Range and Snowdrift Range). Another notable change is the addition of a ‘committment grade’ that takes into account the route’s length, any objective danger in accessing, climbing and descending the route, the security of protection and belays, isolation and the regularity of in-form climbing condition.

On the paper, this volume sounds like an improvement to the second edition. However, I am compelled to state that I found it to be a huge disappointment. The newly added regions in southern Aspiring National Park are poorly researched and described, so much so that their inclusion into the guidebook seems almost pointless. No historical notes, scant or non-existent route descriptions, inconsistent technical rating, omissions and mistakes just make for a poor and unreliable guidebook. Sharks Tooth, the NW ridge of Mt Aspiring and the traverse between the East and West peaks of Mt Earnslaw for instance all get a technical rating of 2. Now if I’ve climbed the Sharks Tooth and expect the Earnslaw traverse to be of comparable technical difficulty, I may be up for a bit of a surprise, or worse, I may end up getting myself into some serious trouble. Routes on Pluto are described from Pluto Col, yet there is no mention in the guidebook on how to get to Pluto Col. And the ‘east ridge’ of Emily Peak from Emily Pass gets a technical rating of 1 – a shame that Emily Pass is at the foot of the west ridge, the climb is a lot harder than 1, and the standard route (which would indeed be a 1) is the south ridge, accessed from Lake McKenzie…

While the committment grade may seem like a nice idea, I’m not quite so enthusiastic about it, either. It just includes too many factors, to the point that I don’t know what to make of it – does a certain route get a committment grade of III because of the high objective danger, or because of its length? I’d rather have a few more words in the route description giving me specific information about the relevant factors. And again, the committment grade seems to be applied inconsistently throughout the guidebook. How does Mt Barff, a short and safe climb from Liverpool Hut, get a committment grade III, while the Earnslaw traverse, a long ridge with no escape routes, only gets a rating of II? I’m afraid I cannot trust the information provided in this guidebook’s most recent additions – which really defeats the purpose of having a guidebook.


Uren, A. and Cocks, J. (2009) The Mount Aspiring Region – a guide for mountaineers. 3rd Edition. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 162 pages

One Comment leave one →
  1. Muz permalink
    18 January 2013 12:09 pm

    This is a real shame, the region deserves far better in the way of a reliable guidebook. Something in the style of Moirs North: The Otago Southern Alps 8th ed. would be fantastic and maybe the authors of that book would consider it?

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