Lake Wilson and the Valley of the Trolls

  • 2 – 3 days
  • Return by the same track
  • Medium

An overnight or multiday scenic diversion from the Routeburn Great Walk. The Valley of the Trolls is easily accessed from Harris Saddle and provides overnight camping for those wanting to get away from the crowds, while Lake Wilson provides stunning alpine lake vistas with numerous peaks to climb.

Lake Wilson Panorama • By Yarmoss. Licence: C.
Key information
5 hr – 9 hr
2 – 3 days
Return by the same track
Return by the same track
Snow is present well into January in the south facing gut used to climb to Lake Wilson. An ice axe should be carried. Any attempt to climb Mt Erebus will require ice axe/crampons late into Summer. Grades explained
No bookings — open access
No — open access
Routeburn Shelter, Queenstown end of the Routeburn track. But you could also add this trip onto a South-North walk of the Routeburn from The Divide, or even from the Three Passes route if coming via the Serpentine Range from North Col.
Distance from you: ()
Harris Saddle.
480m – 1,434m
Altitude change 954m

From the Routeburn Shelter the Routeburn track is followed all the way to Harris Saddle. Being a Great Walk highway, speedy travel can be achieved. It takes about 2 hours to reach Routeburn Flats where the Routeburn Flats hut is located, a short detour of the main track. There is a picnic table here which is a great spot for lunch looking up the north branch of the Route Burn. The track now climbs up to Routeburn Falls which are reached in another hour. If this is your first time on the Routeburn it is well worth dropping off your packs and admiring the waterfall. The southern most falls can be accessed in their gorge for a chilly swim by climbing down to the river behind the helicopter pad. 

Continuing on, the track climbs steeply up past the falls and then climbs up and around a large alpine valley, at the top of which lies Lake Harris. It takes about an hour and a half to reach here and travel through the bluffs over looking the lake. At the top of the lake a low valley is clearly visible, this is the Valley of the Trolls.

Routeburn Track • By lgwaddel.

To reach the Valley of the Trolls you need to be just past the Lake Harris bluffs where the ground just starts to open up on the southern side. You wont have reached the Harris Shelter yet, which is a couple of hundred metres away just out of sight. Leave the track and head northwest, straight for the southeastern flank of Conical Hill. At the edge of the hill you'll be looking down a steeply sloping bank which drops all the way down to Lake Harris. Descend down this bank, near the bottom of which you might find a blue DOC triangle and a pest trap. This is the start of a DOC trapping line which runs right around the western shore of Lake Harris and on into the Valley of the Trolls, although the traps weren't present in January 2017. A light ground trail marks the trapping line, generally at or close to the waters edge, and it is this you follow around the lake. Travel is slow but not difficult, it takes about 45-60 minutes to get around the lake to the entrance of the valley. Theres flat ground for camping here by the Route Burn river mouth as it flows into Lake Harris. 

To carry on into the Valley of the Trolls, stay on the True Right of the Route Burn and climb up and through the boulders that guard the valley entrance. There is a small rock bivvy located in among the boulders, it might hold 3 people somewhat uncomfortably. Once around the last boulder the valley opens up as a swampy grassland which is squelchy underfoot but not difficult to cross. Despite the abundance of boulders around there is precious little shelter from where to camp in the valley if theres a cold northerly wind blowing down from above. The flat land is boggy, the valley head is rough underfoot. There is a good bivvy located about halfway up the valley on the western side, about 40 metres above the valley floor. You would fit about a dozen people under the overhanging cliff here in various degrees of shelter, and theres room to pitch a couple of tents. Theres no water source here though so carry all the water you'll need for the night with you before the steep climb up! It takes about 30 minutes to reach this bivvy from the entrance to the Valley of the Trolls.

To reach Lake Wilson, make your way up to the head of the valley, follow the true right of the stream up valley, crossing over to the true left a short distance from the falls. An obvious grassy gut climbs up the hill parallel to the falls, which is the route to lake Wilson.  About half way up the gut, a nasty metre high rocky step is required to be climbed up, but otherwise the gut is a straight forward climb. The upper reaches of the gut are snowbound in early January and probably stays this way into February, so an ice axe is required. At the top of the gut a rocky shelf runs south-north, its southern end providing a magnificent view over the Valley of the Trolls towards Harris Saddle and the peaks around, while at the northern end of the shelf lies Lake Wilson. There is camping here above the lake outlet with a fine view up the lake if somewhat exposed to northerly winds blasting down the lake. It takes about 60-90 minutes to reach here from the Valley of the Trolls.

Lake Wilson from the outlet • By Yarmoss. Licence: C.

Another possible route for reaching Lake Wilson would be to follow the stream which flows down to the Valley of the Trolls from the north flank of Mt Xenicus on the topo map. At about the 1400m contour leave the stream and climb northwards to gain the ridge line running southwest from point 1578. There is camping on flat patches along this grassy ridge but locating water might be a problem. The views from here are outstanding. There is a rock bivvy on the eastern side of a small ridge, roughly between Point 1578 and the letter "k" of "Lake Wilson" on the topomap. Looks like it would hold 3-4 comfortably.

What to do at Lake Wilson? The two obvious suggestions are a tour of the lake, and a climb of Mt Erebus. Summiting Mt Xenicus is also a possibility but it looks a much more serious challenge then Erebus.

The outlet is easily forded, its barely over the tops of your boots, and from the western shore of Lake Wilson Peak 1647 is easily climbed and the ridge line north as far as Peak 1680 followed. There is flat ground for camping near the small island on the western shore and also near the small lake that lies northwest of 1647. The ever changing vista of Lake Wilson remains superb throughout.

The southern approach of Peak 1680 is rocky and tricky, some route finding trial and error is required, but the view from the top is rewarding. Drop down the steep northern flank of the peak to the saddle between 1680 and 1772, from which a steep slope provides a short glacade when the slopes at the head of the lake hold snow. In January 2013 there was a lot of snow around up here but very little in January 2017.  There appeared to be pleasant camping near two streams which flow into the lake at CB09 180389 and CB09 182388, and there is good camping on terraces up on the 1500m contour.  Pass under the western flank of Mt Erebus at about 1550 metres to gain the flatish land at point 1578, skirting the edge of a large boulder field. From here the ridge line that runs southwest is easily followed back down to the lake outlet. A circuit of the lake takes at least 3 hours and could last all day depending on how many of the peaks you feel like climbing. Theres good swimming in the lake near the outlet and probably at the lakes head when the snow is gone!

Camping at Lake Wilson • By Yarmoss. Licence: C.

Climbing Erebus can be done by at least 3 different routes. Two go up the western flank from point 1578, the third route goes up the stream that runs down from the north side of Mt Xenicus. This stream goes all the way up to just below Peak 1829 from where you'll follow the ridge line around the east flank of Peak 1821 and then all the way up to Erebus. I went up the west flank picking my way through bluffs to gain the ridge line at about 1860 metres, and down via this stream route, but snow on the main ridge line potentially makes things difficult. You'll almost certainly need an ice axe into late Feb. The views from the top are splendid. You'll need about 4 hours for the climb up and down.

To leave Lake Wilson, follow the route you took to get up here via the Valley of the Trolls to reach Harris Saddle. It takes about 5-8 hours to return to Routeburn Shelter.

ID 8531

About this track

Added 3 April 2013 by YarmossYarmoss. 13 revisions, most recently 16 April 2017 by YarmossYarmoss.
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