Ayres Ridge on Haidinger to Douglas Peak


The often looked at, definitely baulked at, rarely climbed Ayres Ridge was the focus of my attention this week as I edged closer to the end of this epic project.

This piece of real estate is one of the hidden gems of the Southern Alps. It doesn’t get any recommendations and most ignore it for fear of loose, crappy rock and a nightmare traverse.

I teamed up with Pat Gray to attempt the traverse and despite a failed attempt in June due to avalanche danger, and another failed attempt this week due to strong southeasterly winds, we completed what I call a classic. Conditions are extremely important for this route. Too much snow and it’ll be tricky to find the solid snow and ice, too little snow and ice and the rock won’t be welded together.

Recent storm events stuck large amounts of rime ice to the ridge and headwall and paved the way for a very exciting round trip taking in Glacier Peak (another 3000er) on descent.

According to the guidebook – ‘an unrelenting ridge… with many rock towers varying in soundness. The final rise to the summit of Douglas is probably the hardest section. … in 1977, Dave McNulty described this as the most technically sustained section of the Elie de Beaumont to Harper Saddle traverse, a view affirmed by Phil Penney and Allan Uren during their 1990 winter traverse.’ All I can add to this description is my three stars for variation, engagement, adventure and challenge.

It is as classic a line as the Central Gully on the South Face of Douglas Peak (one of the great ice climbs of NZ), but only if this type of adventure is your cup of tea.

Ayres Ridge near Douglas Peak
Pay Gray on one of the final rock towers on the Ayres Ridge between Mt Haidinger and Douglas Peak

The worse weather days did not go to waste. We made single pitch ascents on quality rock routes on Mt Haast and Humdinger, then walked out to Fox Glacier township via Chancellor Hut.

Kahu on Mt Humdinger
Pat Gray on pitch 2 (21) of ‘Kahu’ on Mt Humdinger on the Fox Glacier

High pressure, no wind and a vast ocean created a lot of trapped moisture laden air, and the Fox Valley was locked in a drizzly haze…. no flight out. We waited until midday before descending quickly through the unstable glacial moraine, rock and valley river beds. Just four months after my last visit the route out of the valley has changed significantly due to more flooding events.

It looks like we may have some more high pressure in about 7 days time, in which case I’ll be rested and ready for the last great climb, on Mt Magellan.

Until the next episode,



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