Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Mount Pisgah first climbed by James McKerrow

Mount Pisgah, Southwest Arm, Middle Fiord, Lake Te Anau

This is the law of Fiordland and ever she makes it plain : ( Apologies to Robert Service )

" Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane;

Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;

Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;

Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as a bear in defeat,

Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.

Send me the best of your breeding, send me your chosen ones."

James McKerrow was the first person to climb Mount Pisgah in Fiordland in 1863. McKerrow noted that 'from its summit, the mouth of Caswell Sound and the ocean beyond, were seen on 3 January 1863. At that time there was a strong desire to find an overland route to the West Coast. 'The sighting of the West Coast from the interior for the first time, so far as I know, brought to my mind the sighting of "The promised land" by Moses from Pisgah, hence the adoption of the name."

In 1995, Julian Royals and Stan Mulvany repeated this climb. Here is an account of their ascent.

Pisgah is a mountain lying deep in middle Fiordland.

Party : Julian Royals and Stan Mulvany

Statistics : 54 kms paddled and 900 feet af ascent and descent

Date : 2/3 September 1995

In June 1994 Jon Taylor and I travelled to Pisgah. It is a 27 km paddle from Te Anau Downs up the Middle Fiord and South West arm of Lake Te Anau. We arrived near its base at 4pm and with short hours of daylight we never had a chance to climb it. This winter I went on a voyage to the Yukon and Alaska and although my arms felt strong I felt the need to work out on a mountain closer to home. Julian was conned into this venture.

Friday night was wet in Invercargill so we got everything ready for an early start next day. By 6am we were on the road with my Feathercraft K2 Double lashed on the roof rack and the boot full of climbing gear. Two and a half hours later we pulled into Te Anau Downs Motor Inn where Pam Hicks agreed to look after the car for the weekend. The weather was fine and sunny with a moderate westerly breeze. We launched from the beach below the hotel, Julien in the front cockpit and I in the rear cockpit.

Once out of Boat Harbour the waves built up and we paddled into a headwind in a direct line for Rocky Point. There were whitecaps out in the sound and once across we tended to hug the shoreline where headlands offered us some shelter from the westerly. The K2 handled well in the blusterly conditions and we slowly passed the islands on the south side of the middle Fiord. On a headland before Arran Island we stopped for lunch. Then it was into some rough water around the big bluff separating the main fiord from the South West Arm. It was with some disappointment we entered this Arm to find a strong headwind blowing down it. At 4 pm we beached just north of the Doon River at the base of Pisah. The mountains here were covered in SW cloud and it was gloomy and unfriendly. We resisted a strong temptation to stay in the hut at the Junction Burn.

After hiding the kayak in the forest we loaded up our packs and headed up. After a few hundred feet I found a deer trail in the dense forest and followinf this we climbed about 800 ' before nightfall. On the crest of the ridge we found a mossy and rocky clearing with just enough room to pitch the tent. Down below the sound stretched away between dark mountain walls. We cooked a hot meal and settled down for a good nights sleep.

At 6 am the alarm went off amd by 7 we were away. The plan was to leave most of the camping gear at this spot and go light weight to the summit. It looked like our ridge went up a way then turned to the right for about a kilometer keeping fairly level before rising again to the summit. The bush on it however proved to be exceedingly dense. Soon after starting our deer trail vanished so we had no option but to retrace our route and decided to take all our gear to the bushline. We battled our way up and Julian on his first trip to Fiordland found it hard going. So hard was it that one of his Koflack climbing boots fell apart with the sole coming off entirely. I suggested he bind it back on with his crampons which he did.

On the level ridge we found another deer train which took us along fairly easily for a while. In places it ran over rocky out drops which afforded us good views of the surrounding country. The snow was down into the bush. at the end of the level ridge we headed strainght up on vague deer trails and higher up we hit the snow. This was soft and we went down to our knees in it. The country was also very steep so it was a merciless slog upwards. It was noon before we pulled clear of the bush. The snow from here on was hard and easy going.

Julian looked exhausted at this point but after quoting the above poetry he seemed to find some deep reserve of hidden energy for the final push. We left our packs under some alpine scrub as I had espied some circling Keas lower down. Then we cramponned quickly upwards to the corniced summit ridge. Here we entered cloud and so to the summit. We had only a minute on top as I was in a panic now that the time was 1.30 pm. I practically ran all the was down to the packs leaving poor Julian struggling in thhe rear. In the bush I tried to take a more direct line down but alas this did not work out. After years of climbing in Fiordland I can tarzan through the bush quite easily but for Julian it was a nightmare. I had to badger and exhort him to keep going all the time. I was silently cursing myself for not returning on our ascent route as it was hard to know exactly where we were. Eventually after climbing several trees I picked up the vital level ridge and was able to guide ourselves onto it. Here we picked up the good deer trail and this time I followed it like a blood-hound. This eventually took us back to the sound which we reached at 5.30 pm.

We launched and started power stroking down the sound. An hour later it was dark. Julian was cold. wet and tired and I promised him a short respite and dry clothes when we reached our Saturday lunch stop in the middle Fiord. There was a half moon shining through a thin viel of cloud and enough light to travel . The wind picked up a bit and we could surf on small waves in the dark. After a few hours we landed on a headland where Julian got on dry clothes and then we were off. Once in the main lake I headed too far north till I saw the looghts of Te Anau Downs Hotel. We arrived there at 11.15 pm. Needless to say everyone had gone to sleep so I had no option but to tap on Pam Hick's bedroom window. She very graciously got up to get our keys and also hot drinks before we hit the road.

"This is the law of Fiordland, that only the strong shall thrive;

That surely the weak shall perish, and only the fit survive.

Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,

This is the will of Fiordland, - Lo, how she makes it plain.