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Popes Nose, 2700m

11 September 2010

Coordinates 44°23.474′ S, 168°44.755′ E 

Mount Aspiring and Popes Nose from the edge of the Kitchener Cirque. The standard route (snow slope left of the summit) and the east face are both visible in this picture. Photo D Hegg

Popes Nose is a small bump marking the eastern extremity of Mount Aspiring’s Coxcomb Ridge. It has a prominence of only 50m, which hardly makes it stand out as a mountain – and yet, with its east face precipitating 700 vertical meters into the head of the Kitchener River, Popes Nose has a reputation in mountaineering circles for offering some of the hardest alpine climbs in the country. To the north, the mountain drains into the Volta Glacier and the Waiatoto River, while to the south gentle snow slopes feed into the Bonar Glacier and the Waipara catchment. 


The first ascent of Popes Nose via the west ridge from the Bonar Glacier is hardly worth a note. H.J. Stevenson, R.D. Dick and D. Lewis climbed the mountain on 11 December 1936, during a quick afternoon jaunt from a campsite at the toe of Mount Aspiring’s south-west ridge. The next day, the same party completed the first ascent of this classic route on the highest peak in the region, a much more coveted prize. Stevenson carried a clinometer and measured the angle of the slope on Popes Nose at 47 degrees [1]. This hasn’t changed much today, and the route followed by the first ascent party remains the only easy way to the summit. 

The first ascent of the north-east ridge by L.D. Kennedy and D.B. Innes on 8 February 1969 was much more of an achievement, both because of the technical difficulty of the route, and the difficulty of the access. Kennedy and Innes completed the climb from a snow cave under Aeroplane, after walking in from the Kitchener River via Moncrieff Col. On the same trip, they succeeded in the first ascent of Scylla, a traverse of Mount Aspiring via the north-east and north-west ridges, and the first traverse of all three peaks of Mount Avalanche [2]. Quite a remarkable exploit! 

Popes Nose and Mount Aspiring from Sisyphus Peak. Photo D Hegg

The east face of Popes Nose was first climbed by N. Cradock, B. Alder, D. Fearnley and L. Clay on 31 July – 1 August 1990. The party flew into the Kitchener cirque and topped out onto the Bonar Glacier the next day, after bivvying on a ledge they cut in the ice [3]. The face has seen a few more ascents since, none in winter, but has only ever been accessed by helicopter. “A challenge still exists for a party to walk in and climb” [4]

Route description – the standard route from the Bonar Glacier

Popes Nose Map. 1 grid square = 1km. Left click on map to enlarge

Rating: Alpine, Grade 2                    July 2010 

The easiest approach to the mountain is up the Matukituki River West Branch and French Ridge. From Quarterdeck Pass, cross the Bonar Glacier to gain the snow slope between the two summits of Popes Nose. Depending on conditions, the schrund at the base of the slope may well be the crux of the climb. The slope itself consists of two pitches at an angle between 45 and 50 degrees. The summit is then reached via a short but exposed scramble up the west ridge. Popes Nose offers excellent views onto the Coxcomb Ridge of Aspiring, the Volta Glacier, and into the Waiatoto and Kitchener Rivers. Allow one day for the return trip from French Ridge Hut

On the summit ridge of Popes Nose. Photo D Hegg


[1] Stevenson, H.J.: A Traverse of Mt. AspiringThe New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol VII, No 24, 1937, p14-18. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  

[2] Kennedy, L.D.: Beyond Moncrieff Col. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol XXIII, No 56, 1969, p120-125. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  

[3] Clay, L.: The Kitchener Cirque Face on Popes Nose – a first ascent. The New Zealand Alpine Journal, Vol 44, 1991, p15-17. Published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.  

[4] p105-106 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.

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