The upper névé of the Balfour Glacier is remote and access is not easy. It is cut off from the lower glacier by a 700m cliff, over which the glacier plunges, not to mention the infamous Balfour Gorge. The peaks surrounding the upper névé are spectacularly steep. On the northern side there are demanding ice climbs and classic rock spurs on Torres Peak and Mt Tasman. On the southern side are a series of rock buttresses on Mts Magellan and Drake. These buttresses are comprised of arguably the best quality rock in the region and can only be described as outstanding. The area’s remoteness and lack of huts, however, makes climbing a more demanding undertaking. In the Lower Balfour, Kupe (name pending approval) is situated between Drake and Vanguard on the Balfour Range.
From the east the best route is from the Grand Plateau over Silberhorn or Graham (see Routes 6.23, 6.24 and 6.25). An alternative route from Empress Hut is also possible. This involves traversing the La Perouse Glacier, climbing the South Face of either Drake or Magellan and then descending in to the Balfour (possibly using the abseil routes on either of these mountains), not a suitable option for those with big packs. A traverse of Clarke Saddle and Teichelmann from the La Perouse also allows access to the head of the Balfour. From the summit of Silberhorn the route is straightforward, but sometimes complicated by crevasses.
From the Fox Névé, Katies Col provides the best access: sidle round snow slopes below the first subsidiary spur of the West Ridge of Torres, moving across to an obvious small col/notch on the Left Rib of the South Face of Torres. Descend a steep gully on the south side of the col to the Balfour Glacier. The right hand side (looking down) of this gully is now equipped with two double bolt belays that allow the slope and schrund below to be abseiled safely. Under some conditions, when crevasses are closed, it may be possible to cut around under the toe of the rib. It is possible to fly to the Big Mac landing strip, north-west of Katies Col.
The Balfour Glacier is narrow and prone to avalanches, especially off Mt Tasman and under Mts Graham and Teichelmann. Shelter usually involves bivvying, snowcaving or tenting. Remember to site your abode away from any avalanche danger. A ledge on the Satellite Buttress, under Mt Drake, provides a good-weather perch for those climbing on Drake or Magellan.
Pioneer Hut - Katies Col 2-3 hours.
Katies Col - Balfour Névé 2-3 hours.
Grand Plateau - Balfour Névé via Graham Spur or Silberhorn 6-7 hours.
The nature of alpine rock routes means the climber generally needs more route information to ensure s/he is on route. The descriptions that follow are brief, so for those intending to visit this area Balfour Rock is recommended. This is a separate and more detailed guidebook that provides pitch-by-pitch descriptions, topos and equipment requirements (for more details see the back section of this guide).
Many of the routes on Mts Magellan and Drake have been established using rockshoes and these peaks have been equipped for abseil descent. Other descents involving snow may be possible but only with mountaineering boots and equipment. It is therefore advisible for those parties wearing only rockshoes to carry one ice axe, in case snow is encountered on summit ridges etc.