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Grade 5 2 to 4 days, 50km, 4000 vert metres.
First described as such by Gottleib Braun-Elwert in the 1986 New Zealand Alpine Journal, this four pass traverse from the upper Godley Valley to the Fox Glacier is about 50 kilometres long and involves around 4000 vertical metres of climbing. People have started referring to this as a Kiwi version of the European Haute Route, although the terrain is much less frequented than in Europe and you need to be a strong and experienced ski mountaineer before attempting it. Gottleib, Franz Waibl and Daniel Frey did the full traverse non-stop in about 18½ hours (!), but subsequent parties have usually taken about three or four days for the trip. Only a few parties per year attempt the crossing. All parties must be fully self-sufficient and prepared to either sit out storms and/or to walk out on rough glacial terrain if necessary.
The traverse begins at Rankin Hut (private hut, Godley Peaks Station), at 860m elevation, up the Godley Valley from Lake Tekapo, which requires high ground-clearance 4WD access up the bouldery riverbed. The crossing of the Liebig Range from the Godley to the Murchison is most conveniently done at Armadillo Saddle. Beyond Rankin Hut travel is on foot up the gravel riverbed to Rutherford Stream. The Rutherford is often choked with avalanche debris and can be hard going until the point is reached when skis can be used. Continue up to the head of the valley, where Armadillo Saddle (2180m) can be seen on the left, and this can be approached direct. Another unnamed saddle can be seen to the right (approx 2170m, grid ref 021375) between the Ant Hill and spot height 2220, and this has also been used for crossing.
There’s an initial 100m steep (±45º) descent from Armadillo Saddle to the NW, and then turn west (skier’s left) to go straight down to the Murchison, avoiding the bluffs on the skier’s right that overlook the stream draining the Harper Glacier. 30-degree slopes descend to the Murchison. If coming from the alternative saddle as mentioned above at 021375, you can traverse skier’s right (north) to avoid bluffs, and then descend into the Harper Valley from where it should be straightforward to the Murchison.
Another route is via the Ant Hill. From the saddle near spot height 2220 ascend the Ant Hill and along its northern ridge. Ski around the eastern side of point 2429 to gain the basin east of Mt Richmond. Then ascend towards Mt Acland and gain the ridgeline at about 2400m, to descend into the Aida Glacier and down into the Murchison.
Once down on the Murchison Glacier, put your head down and do the slow grind 6 horizontal and one vertical kilometre up the broad expanse of the Murchison, around the corner and up the final steep headwall slope to the Tasman Saddle, and to Kelman Hut. Raise your head from time to time, and this big-scale landscape will remind you just how small you really are. It adds up to 2320m of ski ascent. That’s enough for one day for most people!
The next day get an early start for the crossing of Graham Saddle. Ski down from the hut to De La Beche corner and climb up the Rudolf Glacier to Graham Saddle as described earlier. From Graham Saddle ski across the Franz Josef, via Centennial Hut and West Hoe Pass, to reach Chancellor Hut on the Fox. See the Westland chapter for descriptions of these routes.
The Murchison, De La Beche and Centennial Huts are also options to break the journey.
Purists who are going for a full traverse would of course eschew a flight out from Chancellor and instead walk out, for the full east–west traverse experience. An alternative and more challenging exit is via the Fritz Range.