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Tasman Glacier


Tremendous variety awaits the climber venturing up the well-trodden route from Ball Shelter. On the Main Divide there are long mixed and snow climbs of moderate difficulty, while on the Malte Brun Range there is a lot of good rock climbing away from the first onslaught of westerly weather. The Upper Tasman is a must for anyone who wants to savour the Aoraki/Mt Cook region. Whether it is alpine climbing or high level traverses over Graham Saddle, Tasman Saddle, or over the Malte Brun Range, the scope of options is almost limitless. The upper Tasman Glacier is also the main alpine skiing area of the Aoraki/Mt Cook district and is frequented by large parties of ski-plane-transported day skiers between July and October. The neighbouring Murchison Valley is also great ski country and can be gained easily via Tasman Saddle.


On the east side of the Tasman Glacier the Reay Stream provides access to routes on Mts Johnson and Chudleigh. The best travel up the lower Reay is on the southern tussock slopes. Delightful campsites exist near the stream’s junction with the Walpole tributary.
The next major stream up the Tasman on the east side is the Beetham. To reach the Beetham Valley traverse off the Tasman Glacier and onto easy rocky moraine slopes on the true left of the Beetham Stream. A few cairns and a vague track will become evident. Follow the track to a rock bluff where a three-wire bridge can be used to cross the Beetham Stream. In normal flow the stream may be crossable (400m upstream). However, there have been two fatalities here and so the bridge is strongly advised. If crossing the bridge in windy conditions use your harness and a sling for security. Beetham Hut was removed after it was damaged by an avalanche in 1995 and so tenting and hiding under rocks are the best options for accomodation. A cave in the scree slope across the river from the old hut site is reportedly worth a look (the old hut site is on a shelf above the basin containing excellent bouldering rocks).
To get to Malte Brun Pass, follow the south side of the Beetham Stream and then climb a long snowslope that lies under Aiguilles Rouges. To reach the western approaches to Malte Brun, head upstream from the old hut site for about 10-20mins before scrambling up scree slopes to a saddle on the lower West Ridge. On the northern side of the saddle descend to a rocky shelf and traverse to the Malte Brun Glacier.
Almost directly opposite the Beetham Stream at the junction of the Rudolf and Tasman Glaciers is De la Beche Hut. The hut cannot be seen from the Tasman; to reach it cut straight in from the Tasman white ice and ascend the easiest looking slope in the moraine wall. From the Beetham Valley or De la Beche Hut the upper Tasman Glacier provides good travelling to the Tasman Saddle. Kelman Hut is sited on the ridge between Mt Abel and Tasman Saddle. A bit over one kilometre west across the glacier is Tasman Saddle Hut situated spectacularly on a rock outcrop in the glacier. Final approaches to the hut should be made around under Mt Aylmer to the north or via the slopes from under Mt Green, Mt Walter, and Hochstetter Dome. There is a more direct route 400m west of the hut up a slope known as the Nose Dive, which runs through the icefalls. In winter beware of slab avalanche conditions on the Nose Dive and on the cornice slopes that run from below Tasman Saddle Hut towards Mt Aylmer. There are ski-plane landing strips opposite Climbers Col and at various points up the main glacier to the névé below Tasman Saddle.
De la Beche Hut: An 8 bunk NZAC hut that has blankets, kitchen equipment, solar lights and a radio (~1420m, grid ref: 872-363).
Tasman Saddle Hut: A 14 bunk hut, owned and managed by AMCNP. Contents as above (~2300m, grid ref: 950-403).
Kelman Hut: A 30 bunk hut owned and managed by AMCNP. Contents as above (~2460m, cell coverage (025), grid ref: 966-398).
From Ball Shelter to the Beetham Valley 5-7 hours.
From Ball Shelter to the De la Beche Hut ~6 hours.
From Ball Shelter to Tasman Saddle Hut or Kelman Hut ~10 hours.

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Type Name
Mountain Mt Darwin


Reference Title Grade Length Pro Quality Operations

  • P1
  • Alpine (Technical) 5

It is usually easy to find a good line to ski through the crevassed icefalls west of Tasman Saddle Hut, passing through the 2200m contour at grid ref 944404, although there are a few places where you need to be able to turn sharply on steep and narrow terrain. The gradient then eases and it becomes a cruise down to Darwin Corner, about 30 minutes from the hut. Darwin Corner (i.e. the junction of the Darwin with the Tasman Glacier) is a common location for a ski plane pick-up for a return to Mt Cook village. This should be pre-arranged on the hut radio of course. Arranging this pick-up for the afternoon allows time for some skiing in the Darwin and Bonney during the day while awaiting the flight. Alternatively you can go down to the region of De La Beche Hut for a flight out. If there’s enough snow and you’re keen, you can ski and walk out all the way to the Ball Hut Road. Glacial moraine is tough walking, especially with a full pack and skis on the back, but you need to be prepared to do this if necessary, as suitable weather conditions for flying cannot always be relied upon. One full day’s travel on ski and foot from Tasman Saddle or Kelman Hut to the Ball Hut Roadend.


  • P1

The Darwin and Bonney Glaciers are good for a day’s fun. At least this tour begins with a downhill ski run to Darwin Corner, rather than a climb on skins! In winter and spring, the Darwin is shaded through most of the day and hence keeps it’s powder for longer. It’s less than an hour’s climb up to the head of the Darwin, so there’s time in the day for a few runs. Mount Hamilton is an option for the experts, ascended from the basin underneath Mt Haeckel via the small saddle near point 2633. The Bonney Glacier is a branch of the Darwin. It’s possible to wend your way up through the crevasses in around two hours, from the Darwin/Bonney junction to the upper basin of the Bonney. Progress is usually best on the true left. The Fyfe’s Couloir climbing route on Mt Malte Brun (3199m) can be accessed from there. Consult Alex Palman’s Aoraki/Mount Cook Guidebook for route information. The Turnbull Glacier is a hidden gem of the Mt Cook region, accessed from the upper Bonney, and a good challenging ski descent 900 vertical metres back down to the floor of the Tasman Glacier. Getting off the moraine wall of the Tasman can be a problem, so scope out the route from the bottom before skiing down.


  • P1

De La Beche Hut site is another 6 km down the glacier from Darwin Corner, and is reached after a 150m climb onto the toe of the De La Beche ridge. !!The De La Beche hut has been removed!! From De La Beche Hut site the Rudolf Glacier may be used to access Graham Saddle and thus cross the main divide to the Fox Glacier nevé. It’s a long way up the Rudolf, and really suitable only for strong skiers with mountaineering equipment and experience. Ascend the middle of the Rudolf Glacier to avoid avalanches and rock fall from the De La Beche Ridge. Climb steeply up the couloirs on the right (south) of the Rudolf icefall to lead into the upper basin under Graham Saddle, which is the left (western) of two cols, 2635m. Times vary considerably, but count on at least 6 hours from De La Beche Corner. The Rudolf is expert ski mountaineering terrain, and a challenging ski descent.


Access to the Beetham Valley via the Beetham stream did not look particularly simple (safe) due to moraine erosion when we visited in Feb 2014.
We were perhaps being overly sensitive but decided to instead continue on and approach the Bonney Glacier via the Darwin glacier. This was straightforward and probably didn't take much longer when all things considered.

Wed, 12/02/2014 - 10:20 Permalink
Alex Palman