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Hi everyone, I know there are some old threads on this topic but wanted some up-to-date advice..... Me and a mate are planning on doing the Routeburn late September. Planning on starting at Glenorchy end, and making the final call at Routeburn Falls whether or not we cross the Harris Saddle depending on snow levels, ice, avalanche risk and weather. We don't have a heap of alpine experience, will be packing PLB, crampons and ice axe. If anyone one has been up there recently could tell me if we are crazy or have a good plan that is relatively safe? After everyone i have spoken to i am struggling to discern between overly pessimistic/cautious warnings and sound valid advice.
Do you know how to use your crampons and self arrest with your axe? Here’s some photos from a month ago when the OTMC went up to Lake Harris. How much of this snow will have shifted by late September (6 weeks later)? Some, but not all, in my opinion. https://tomassobekphotography.co.nz/photos/index.php?/category/184 Personally I wouldn’t attempt a through crossing until mid October at the earliest.
DOC often fly all the trampers around the harris bluffs above the lake when the main tramping season starts in oct because of the avalanche risks, they can keep doing this into december you have to be able to know how to assess avalanche risk. if you havent had experience you can't just look at a slope and predict what the risk is https://www.odt.co.nz/regions/queenstown-lakes/doc-monitoring-routeburn-track
Avalanche risk is showing moderate(2) at the moment: https://www.avalanche.net.nz/region/12 I wouldn't consider it unless it was down at Low(1) for a while and still I'd want to have the experience to evaluate the specific situation once I was up there. Even discounting any danger from avalanches, you would almost certainly be in several situations where you would be on crampons and ice axe on a steepish and icy slope with a big bluff below. One slip and you're gone. There are quite a few places where the track threads through between bluffs. The track is benched and wide enough that it's safe in summer, but winter snow will fill in that bench to the extent that you are on a steep snow slope and can't always be sure where the underlying track is so it's easy to get off track and into trouble. It is doable and people do go through in winter, but you need real alpine experience, both in terms of being comfortable on steep snow and ice and in terms of evaluating conditions as you go. Avalanche risk can go through the roof very quickly with a change of temperature and or some rain. Even without a change in conditions, specific little bits of terrain can create nasty traps. You could get through to past say Ocean Peak Corner, you're nearly there, you can see Lake Mckenzie and the Hut below you. You get through the steep section between the bluffs and breathe a sigh of relief. The next slope looks easier, but it's a continuous snow slope that squeaks a bit when you start to kick steps or put your ice axe shaft in to it. Nice cohesive snow, you can get your ice axe shaft in all the way and steps seem solid. Are you relieved that you're nearly there and thinking about that brew at McKenzie as you zigzag down that slope or scared as hell and looking for a way around that specific little piece of terrain, seriously considering going all the way back to Routeburn Falls rather than going down that slope? From Avalanche.net: >Current Snowpack Conditions The main pack is well consolidated at present. A few isolated pockets of sensitive wind/soft slab snow may be found above 1700m from 10cm of southerly wind affected snow from Sunday 2/9/18. Which is moderating out fast, given the warm weather lately. Glide slabs have been active below 1500m. **The Harris Saddle on the Routeburn track is very active at present with glide slab avalanches.** Now in a couple of weeks time it could be better, but it could also be much worse with spring warming and significant warm rain up high on that winter snow pack creating extreme danger.
For a pleasant winter experience, just go up to Routeburn Falls as Yarmoss and co. did and or go up to Luxmore Hut on the Kepler track for a couple of nights, returning the same way.
@Yarmoss Interesting to see the amount of avalanche debris at the bottom of the bluffs on the right hand side of this picture. I assume none of you had a go at going up to Harris Saddle and Conical Hill on this trip? ![Lake Harris and Conical Hill](https://tomassobekphotography.co.nz/photos/_data/i/upload/2018/08/15/20180815085124-41b41a1b-me.jpg)
I wasn’t on this trip (I was on the Rock and Pillars that weekend instead), but my understanding is they only went up to about where that photo is taken. It was too dangerous to carry on through the bluffs, the track was probably buried as mentioned above.
1 deleted post from Pro-active
Yes, I'd say early spring - September - October is generally the worst time to try going through there. Plenty of snow up high, conditions will either be some combination of warm / wind / rain making the winter snowpack slide or new wind driven snow on top of frozen or rain washed crust that'll either remain as dangerous windslab or slide as it gets warmer again. Some of all of these things going on in the next week, it'll likely snow to 500 m on Monday. My theory (without wanting to encourage anyone) is that early winter is a better bet, you can get a couple of cold and clear, stable weeks after the first big snowfall and things can stabilise enough, but you have to be able to judge it and move fast and confidently on hopefully hard frozen snow.
Absolutely agree with you about doing it in early winter. I did it over two days in early June 2013 and it was a fabulous experience. Even then the track was completely snowbound and difficult to find. I certainly wouldn't even consider doing it at this time of the year.
early winter can easily become too dangerous from high snowfall and avalanche risk
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