Sunday, 23 December 2007

James McKerrow. Five ascents of Mt. Pisgah.

Mt. Pisgah (taken by Burton Bros. Dunedin)

After the posting yesterday stating that James McKerrow did the first ascent of Mount Pisgah on 3 January 1863, on futther research this morning I discovered I was wrong. He did the fifth, not the first ascent of Mount Pisgah on that day. On 30, 31 December 1862, and, 1 and 2 January 1863, he climbed Mount Pisgah, but had poor visibility. It was on 3 January he got the visibility he required. On each ascent he was accompanied by John Goldie. At this stage he was quite desperate to find a route to the West Coast so he decided to secure a sight of Casswell Sound, and to fix on any route to the coast. which might be cut through with probability of success. It was decided that an attempt should be made on the only peak handy and that was Mount Pisgah. Goldie and McKLerrow blazed a trail through the bush, and zigzagged their way up onto a spur leading to the summit. A disappointment was in store. On all sides was a dismal and confused array of peaks, shrouded in fog, but of Caswell Sound there was no sign. Drenched with rain, and smeared with wet moss they slithered down the mountain side and spent a miserable night without a fire, and suffering from the unwelcome attention of swarms of sandflies.

On three consecutive days they ascended this same peak, but each time a climb of four hours had for its reward nothing but the tantalising sight of snow and black rocks looming through the mist. Damper was again low, the meat "had come to life" once more, and the sandflied were keeping up a persistent attack. They decided on a final attempt. To their delight the fog gradually lifted during the ascent, and there, lying to the west, was Caswell Sound, with the island at its mouth and the surf beating on the rocks fringing it clearly visible through the telescope. George Sound was not in view, as a mountain peak obscured it from sight. "We wave our caps, give three cheers, and down we hurry to the tent, glad to have verified our position and glad to get away from our blood thirsty tormetors the sandflies." wrote McKerrow.

" There was a good deal of public interest at the time as to who should be the first to sight the West Coast from the interior of Otago. I am not aware that anyone did before the third day of January 1863 the date of the fifth and last ascent. I named the mountain 'Pisgah' in recollection of a moumtain of that name in another and distant country from which a long expected and promised land was seen on a much more important occasion.

From the summit of Mt. Pisgah it appeared that the wooded saddle separating Caswell Sound from Te Anau might yeild to determined bushwhackers, but the paucity of his supplies, and the realisation that a permanent route could only be calved out at a prohibitive initial cost and yearly maintenance, dissuaded McKerrow from making the attempt.

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