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Mount Barff, 2252m

25 August 2010

Coordinates 44°24.722′ S, 168°39.239′ E

The twin summits of Mount Barff from above Arawhata Saddle. Photo D Hegg

Mount Barff is one of the most enjoyable non-technical climbs in the Mount Aspiring region, and can be easily achieved in a weekend, with an overnight stay at Liverpool Hut. With its beautiful glaciated south face, the mountain is a real eye-catcher when seen from the Matukituki River West Branch down valley of Pearl Flat, or from French Ridge. To the west and north, unappealing broken rock-walls drop steeply into the Arawhata River. The mountain culminates into twin summits, the eastern one being slightly higher.


The history of Mount Barff stands out for how poorly it is recorded. Here I will summarize what little information I have been able to dig out, but I will be grateful to anyone who can point me to any additional sources. The first riddle is the origin of the name Barff. Most likely, the peak was named by Gerhard Mueller after Mr Edmund Barff, a member of the House of Representatives for the Westland constituency from 1863 to 1870, and again in 1876. As a miner, Mr. Barff was a strong voice for the goldfields of the West Coast. He was generally known in politics as the framer of the Mining Act of 1877, known as Barff’s Act [1]. It should be noted that Bevan and Bonar (a nearby peak and glacier) also served for Westland in the House of Representatives during the same time period. All three features would have been named from the West, possibly after being surveyed from the summit of Mount Ionia.

Mount Barff was first climbed by Gordon Speden, solo, on Christmas Day 1929, via the south-west face from below the Arawhata Saddle [2,3]

Descending the glacier on the original route. Photo D Hegg

The second ascent was completed by an Otago party of eight on 27 December 1939, during the Cascade Climbing Camp. The climbers were J.W. Aitken, L.R. Stroud, J. Toomey, B. Quelch, E. Miller, D. English, A. Black and L. Chant [3]. It is not clear from the NZAJ article what route exactly they followed, except for the fact that it was a new route. According to the NZAC climbing guide to the Aspiring Region, they climbed to the glacier below the south-east ridge, then sidled onto the south face [4]. Another party of four (F. Gallas, L. Blackie, S. Parker and D. Green) repeated the route four days later [3]. According to the NZAC climbing guide, this party made the first ascent of the south-east ridge [4], but this interpretation of the facts is not supported by the available literature. I believe that the party led by Gallas followed in a highway of footsteps visible all the way from the valley floor [3,5,6]. In this case, the earliest recorded climb of the south-east ridge would be the one by A.S. Goodyear and B.J. Bowden on 26 December 1948 [7], although they did not claim a first ascent. It is possible that the first ascent of the south-east ridge was not recorded, or that the new route climbed by all of the above parties was actually the south-east ridge and not the south face.

Other notable climbs on Mount Barff are the north ridge (D. Brown and M. Hutchins, October 1966) [8], and the western slabs from the Arawhata valley floor (Greg Aimer and an unnamed companion, some time in 1984/85) [9].

Route descriptions

Mount Barff map. 1 grid square = 1km. Left click to enlarge. 1 = original route, 2 = SE ridge


Mount Barff topo. Left click to enlarge. 1 = original route, 2 = SE ridge. Photo D Hegg

South-east ridge

Rating: Alpine, Grade 2-                              July 2002 

The south-east ridge of Mount Barff is a most enjoyable climb, and a fairly popular one, too. The lower section of the ridge rises in a series of difficult gendarmes, and is better avoided – the key to the route is NOT to follow the whole ridge from the hut. A poor route choice at the lower elevations has caused many a miserable failure on an otherwise straightforward climb.

From Liverpool Hut, follow a ground trail to the west instead, over a low ridge at first, then sidle several hundred meters into a gully to cross a creek and climb to a grassy knob at CA11 545715. Strike up a gully west of the slabs to reach the glacier and the south-east ridge above the gendarmes. The crux is a steep slope just below the junction with the north ridge. Depending on conditions, a 50m sidle onto the south face might be required, followed by a gully that exits onto the ridge again through a break in the cornice. This section may need one or two pitches. The summit cone is easiest from the west. Time: 3.5 to 5 hours from the hut to the summit.

The upper section of the south-east ridge. Photo D Hegg

South-west face (original route)

Rating: Alpine, Grade 1                       July 2002 

Gordon Speden’s route is the easiest approach to the summit when in good condition. The glacier can be heavily crevassed nonetheless, and the slope is avalanche prone in winter and early spring. In mid to late season, the top of the glacier is cut off by a system of large schrunds, and the bottom turns into an ice-fall. Even though the south-east ridge is technically more challenging, it is a better year-round route. 

From Liverpool Hut, follow the route to Arawhata Saddle onto the obvious medial moraine at the head of Liverpool Stream. Follow the moraine for 1km to the 13oom contour, then descend into the basin to the north before climbing to the toe of the glacier, which is followed all the way up to the saddle between the two summits. Beware of crevasses. This route is longer than the south-east ridge. 

The original route to Mt Barff is up the glacier at centre-left image. Photo D Hegg


[1] p483 in The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 5: Nelson, Marlborough and Westland Provincial Districts (1906). Published by the Cyclopedia Company Ltd., Christchurch 

[2] First ascents and explorations. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol IV, No 18, 1931, p155. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[3] Sim, A.J.: Camp Three. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol VIII, No 27, 1940, p155-166. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[4] p80 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  

[5] First ascents and explorations. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol VIII, No 27, 1940, p290. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[6] Confessions and Impressions by the “Cascadians” (1940). Typescript published by the Otago Section of the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[7] Goodyear, A.S.: Matukituki – Dasrt – Rees I. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 13, No 36, 1949, p72-73. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[8] Brown, D.: The north ridge of Mt. Barff. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 22, No1, 1967, p196-197. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club. 

[9] Aimer, G.: Not the north ridge of Barff. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 38, 1985, p44. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.

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