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Mount French, 2356m

6 August 2010

Coordinates 44°24.692′ S, 168°42.949′ E 

Mount French from Quarterdeck Pass. Photo D Hegg

Mount French is the highest point in a 500m long flat section of ridge just north of Quarterdeck Pass, on the Main Divide of the Southern Alps between the Matukituki River West Branch and the Waipara River. The east face is a snow slope that only drops about 150m to the vast ice plateau of the Bonar Glacier. From the Bonar and from Quarterdeck Pass, Mount French is not at all a prominent peak. However, it is an excellent viewpoint on Mount Aspiring, and it makes for a good consolation peak for those climbers who make it to the Quarterdeck and fail to conquer any more ambitious targets. 


Mount French was climbed by J.K. Inglis, A.E. Duncan and J.R. Murrell on 30 November 1914 [1]. Note that both the name and the date reported in the NZAC guidebook are incorrect [2]. On its first ascent, the mountain was baptized after Field Marshal John French, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in the first World War, which was raging at the time [1]. It is ironical that John French should have a mountain named after him, since he suffered from a pathological fear of heights [3], and climbing would have been at the very bottom of his list of priorities. 

A party of five, including H.F. Wright and H.E. Hodgkinson, left for a trip during which “they were 20 days absent from Dunedin, and there was not one day during that time fit for high climbing”. The party reached the Bonar via a new route to the left of French Ridge, probably making the first crossing of the Breakaway. After an aborted attempt on the NW ridge of Mount Aspiring, where they had to turn around near the top of the Ramp because of high winds, they crossed back over the Bonar and split into two groups. Wright and Hodgkinson claimed the virgin Mount Joffre, while the rest of the party climbed Mount French via the north-west ridge [1]. Wright refers to “first ascents of two peaks on either side of the Quarter Deck Saddle, which we named Joffre and French” [4]. It seems that he was confused about the actual location of the Quarterdeck, and that they were on the Breakaway instead. 

The party returned down valley to Cameron Flat, then set off into the Matukituki River East Branch, over Albert Burn Saddle into the Albert Burn South Branch, down and up into the North Branch and over a pass west of Mt Twilight into the Wilkin River. The whole country between the East Matukituki and the Wilkin was previously unexplored [1]

On the summit of Mt French, looking up to a real mountain. Photo D Hegg

Route description – south ridge from Quarterdeck Pass

Rating: Alpine, Grade 1                  March 2010 

From Quarterdeck Pass, it’s a 20 minute walk to the summit along a snowy ridge. Beware of cornices. The climb can easily be completed as a 5 to 6 hour return trip from French Ridge Hut.

Mount French map. 1 grid square = 1km. Left click to enlarge.


[1] Wright, H.F.: Round About Aspiring – Some trying experiences. Otago Witness, 15 December 1915, p38-40. 

[2] p103 in 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 

[3] John French, 1st Earl of Ypres. From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia, online, accessed 6 August 2010

[4] Wright, H.F.: Cold Lakes Hinterland. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol III, No 10, 1921, p19-24. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

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