Murchison Glacier

(3 routes)

Type: 
Valley

The climbs of the eastern Malte Brun Range, at the head of the Murchison Glacier and those on the Liebig Range, north of Nun’s Veil, are described here. The Murchison Valley, a strangely neglected area, provides good climbing. The peaks of the Liebig Range are generally easy, but Mts Ronald Adair and Conrad offer promising rock routes. On the Malte Brun Range the climbs are long, mixed snow and rock routes of excellent quality. Some winter ice lines have also been developed (Mt Chudleigh). The head of the valley is heavily glaciated and the routes are predominantly moderate snow climbs. It is a ski touring region par excellence, with the run down the Mannering Glacier, in particular, standing out. Expansive transalpine and ski touring trips are also possible, such as those taking in the Godley – Murchison – Tasman – Franz Josef (and Fox) glaciers.
An advantage of the Murchison Valley is that the weather can be quite good when poor elsewhere in the Aoraki/Mt Cook region.

Access: 

Glacier Explorers Ltd run guided boat excursions on the Tasman Lake and can provide transport to the Murchison side for climbers. At the time of printing an arm of the lake had extended toward the Murchison Valley and saves some walking. Boat rides are only possible when normal trips are running and these can be arranged at the Hermitage. Once on the other side, parties can cross the Murchison River if it is low. Alternatively, follow the river to the Murchison Valley and find crossings there. There is no longer a bridge across the Murchison River. Crossings are possible further up on the broader river flats. Beyond these, easy river beds lead up the south-east of the valley to Liebig Hut. Alternatively, the lower Murchison Valley can be reached from the Ball Hut road by crossing the Tasman Glacier from Celmisia Flat. It is possible to fly by helicopter to this hut. If the north-western side of the river is followed, travel is easy until just before Onslow Hut. At this point it may be possible to sneak around the water’s edge. If not, use a high sidle around a steep gut, to avoid the river. The river itself is often hard to cross (but have a look just in case it is low), and the travel between Liebig and Onslow Huts may involve traversing round the head of the large glacial lake at the toe of the Murchison Glacier. Travel up the main glacier is desperately tedious. It is probably just as easy to reach the head of the glacier via the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Saddle, or even better, by ski-plane. Murchison Hut is located on the north-east side of Mt Cooper.
Shelter
Liebig Hut. Owned and operated by AMCNP. It has six bunks, blankets, a radio, and some kitchen equipment (~1000m, grid ref: 928-274).
Onslow Hut. A small 6 bunk hut owned by the NZ Deerstalkers Association. Few facilities and there is no radio. This hut is sometimes referred to as Steffan Memorial Hut (~1040m, grid ref: 926-296).
Murchison Hut. A 10 bunk hut owned by the NZAC, kitchen equipment, and a radio (~1900m, grid ref: 994-399).
Times
From Celmisia Flat to the Liebig Hut 5-6 hours.
From Liebig Hut to Murchison Hut 6-8 hours.
From Tasman Saddle to Murchison Hut ~2 hours.

Reference Name Grade Quality Length Comments Actions
5
0
  Grade 5 Multi-day, hut-based. From Kelman Hut, or standing on the Tasman Saddle itself, you get a stunning view to the North across the upper Murchison Glacier. The Murchison is often skied from the huts of the upper Tasman, by descending the Murchison headwall onto the upper glacier. In the upper Murchison you can find slopes which face North, East and South, so it’s worth exploring from the huts to find the good snow. Beware of the headwall of the Murchison, it is a steep slope and at times may be prone to both slab avalanche and rockfall. It may be necessary to remove skis and ascend on foot. With the increasing number of guided ski touring parties, if you are lucky you may find that a group has been this way before you and cut a nice track all the way up the headwall slope back to Kelman Hut! The NZAC-owned Murchison Hut (currently closed) alpineclub.org.nz/product/murchison-hut/ is also used as a base. The hut has 10 bunks, kitchen equipment and a radio. Elevation 1900m, grid reference 994399. Ski planes from Mt Cook village can land in the upper Murchison and from there it’s only a 150m climb to Murchison Hut.
0
  Standing outside Murchison Hut you look across to two of the best ski runs in the Mount Cook region, Classen Saddle and the Aida Glacier. To reach Classen Saddle, ski down from the hut onto the Murchison Glacier and then with skins on, zigzag your way up through the crevasses to point 2178 on the ridge (SE of Classen Saddle), about 2 hours from the hut. It’s usually straightforward to find a way through the crevasses in winter or spring. From here you can ascend Phyllis Peak on skis - or for mountaineers, cross Classen Saddle itself and around a plateau and ramp under Whataroa Saddle for an ascent of Mt Mannering (2669m) on the main divide. It’s a 750 metre vertical descent from Phyllis back down the West-facing slopes to the Murchison. The Aida leads up more gentle slopes, then through a crevassed icefall in the middle, and up to Mt Sydney King for a similarly exhilarating ski back down.
0
  From Murchison Hut ski back onto the glacier and around in a broad arc up to Starvation Saddle in 90 minutes or so. From there you look down another classic run, the Mannering Glacier, an 800 metre ski descent. If based at Kelman or Tasman Saddle you must descend the Murchison headwall and then take a climbing traverse to either Starvation saddle or the saddle west of point 2283. Both saddles are possible, the western one is quicker but more hazardous regarding slabs than the eastern one. If you strike it right the south-facing slopes of the Mannering will give powder skiing at the top and excellent spring skiing at lower levels. From the bottom of the Mannering, it’s a long haul back up the huge expanse of the Murchison Glacier back to your base hut. A round trip of about 4-5 hours from Murchison Hut, or 5-7 hours from Kelman.
Attribution: 
Alex Palman
This place appears in: 
Aoraki Mount Cook: a guide for mountaineers

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