Barron Saddle Hut; Mt Bannie and High Traverse to Sawyer and Hoophorn, Sealy Range, Mt Cook

Joel O’Rourke & Hans Anderson. On the weekend of the 22 and 23 September 2018, Hans Anderson and myself flew into Barron Saddle Hut in search of an adventure.

Barron Saddle Hut and surrounds

We flew in with Helicopter Line from Glentanner Station (flight cost $770).

Hans excited for heli-rides (and his reflective sunglasses)

The flight into Barron Saddle offers ample opportunity to have a look around the surrounding mountains, there is a surprising amount of awesome skiing to be had on the south side of Barron Saddle and Scissors… But they were not the objective for this trip.

Barron Saddle, the Scissor (foreground ridge) Mt Burns and Mt Bannie (background ridge)

Barron Saddle hut is not frequented by skiers and is far more frequently used by climbers during the summer climbing season. We were the first skiers, according to the hut log book, since the end of August. The hut itself is a very well tied down tube, it can accommodate up to eight people and was luxurious for two. Despite what DOC says, there is ample utensils, plates, pots etc. This hut is a replacement for the Three Johns Hut which was blown by strong winds off the mountain, killing the four occupants in 1977. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere near that windy for our trip.

Hans digging our way into Barron Saddle Hut

DAY 1 – Mt Bannie

Our objective for the first day was Mount Bannie, a mountain on the far side of the Mueller Glacier from Barron Saddle. We had great weather – sunshine and light winds.

Mount Bannie and the Bannie Glacier

Descending from the hut, we made our way to the Mueller Glacier and onward to the base of the Bannie Glacier.

Barron Saddle and Mueller Glacier access route
Hans skiing towards Mount Bannie

Mount Bannie is a NZ grade 2 mountain climb and is relatively straight forward climbing up the well-filled in glacier amongst the icefall and towering ridge lines.

Hans preparing to start skinning up the Bannie glacier
Hans skinning up the Bannie Glacier
Hans skinning up Bannie Glacier
Hans reaching the bench before the summit slope on Mount Bannie

The final summit pitch is a fairly steep climb up but easily done with the reassuring boot penetration of the snow conditions on Saturday.

Hans cramping up the summit slope on Mt Bannie
Joel and Hans on the summit of Mt Bannie

The ski down was mostly wind affected with some pockets of good snow to be found in more protected areas.

Hans skiing the rime ice on the summit of Mt Bannie
Hans skiing the summit slope on Mount Bannie
Hans skiing the upper pitch on Mount Bannie after jumping the bergschrund
Hans skiing below the Icefall on Mount Bannie with the Vampire looming above
Hans skiing the middle icefall on Mount Bannie
Hans after skiing Mount Bannie

Back on the Mueller glacier, we had more daylight to spend so we had some exploration around the lower Welchman Glacier (and found poor ski conditions) and ended up skiing some corn on the solar slopes of the upper Mueller.

Hans skiing spring conditions on the lower Welchman glacier

On the walk back to Barron Saddle hut for the evening, with the sun setting behind the head of the Mueller glacier, a cloud flowing over Mt Montgomerie gave us a show.

Rainbow in the clouds on Mount Montgomerie

DAY 2 – High Traverse to Sawyer & Hoophorn

So, now, we need to get back to civilisation from Barron Saddle… The next time I come out to this hut, I’ll have to stay longer to explore more! There are three obvious exits from Barron Saddle Hut;

  1. A descent down the south side of Barron Saddle into the Dobson valley, you’ll need to have made prior arrangements for access out of the valley to Ohau; or
  2. A ski down the Mueller Glacier and a battle up the steep slopes of the flanks of the glacier to Mueller hut; or
  3. A high traverse by sidling around under the Williams glacier onto the Sladden glacier, through the Sladden Saddle and onto the Annette Plateau and choice of options from there.

We, of course, chose to do the High Traverse with the aim of skiing Sawyer Stream, into the Hoophorn and back to the highway.

Barron Saddle High Traverse Panorama and Route (click for large size)

The crux of the high traverse is getting around the spur of Mt Darby that separates the Williams and Sladden glaciers.

Barron Saddle High T Crux

We had strong NW winds which kept the snow firm and a little scary getting through the crux, there doesn’t seem to be much between you and the glacier, almost 400 vertical metres below, at that point.

Hans negotiating the crux on Barron Saddle High Traverse
Hans coming out onto the Sladden Glacier with the spur of Mt Derby behind. Mt Bannie, Isabel and Eric in the background.

With the crux over with the rest of the high traverse to Sawyer stream is simple.

Hans skiing from Sladden Saddle

Making it to Mt Annette Plateau we were pushed by the wind to the top of Sawyer stream were velvety snow of the upper slopes and consistent corn of the lower slopes of Sawyers awaited us.

Sawyer Stream as seen from the valley bottom
Hans skiing into Sawyers Stream with Hooker valley and Tasman valley in the background
Hans skiing into Sawyers Stream
Hans skiing the lower slopes of Sawyer stream, the valley of sawyer stream visible below
Hans skiing Sawyer Stream

The trick with Sawyer stream is getting out. Unfortunately, you cannot just follow the stream out to Unwin lodge in the valley below as this will take you over bluffs. You need to make an uphill choice on which direction you’re going to go, over to Red Tarns and out to Mount Cook Village (see route description in post Sawyer Stream ski tour from Annette Plateau); Sidle around the bluffs and try to descend the steep grass slopes above the gravel pits; or the best option, to climb the Hoophorn Spur and have another run into the Hoophorn stream and out the easy stream-bed.

Looking down Sawyer Stream
Climbing Hoophporn Spur from Sawyer Stream
Hoophorn Spur Panorama as seen from Hoophorn Stream

We chose to ski the easiest line from the spur into the Hoophorn, primarily on the fact that it still had snow and secondly, the slope had sunlight on it with skiable corn snow unlike some of the icy shady snow found along the ridge line.

Hans skiing Hoophorn
Hans skiing into the Hoophorn
Hans skiing Hoophorn 2

Safely at the Hoophorn stream, the only thing to do is walk out to the road. There is a 4wd track that takes you 1.5km up the Hoophorn stream from the highway, but we only had one car which was parked at Glentanner station. So, we walked to the highway and took turns trying to hitchhike back to Glentanner. After 30 minutes of rejection, a kind driver stopped. Thank you!

Hans in the Hoophorn stream valley about to start the easy walk to the road


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