A steep series of stacked waterfalls in an enclosed slot, with plenty of flow. High up in the cirque beneath Mt Barth’s glacier, this canyon has only partially been descended… Its decent-sized canyon, a long way from the road, so there will normally be an advanced base camp needed.
Thanks to Toine Houtenbos and Mark Norman for the photos, information and topos.
BZ14 Mount Barth
Approach by car:
From Omarama drive in the direction of Cromwell heading towards the Lindis Pass. At Dunstan Downs turn off into the Ahuriri Valley on Birchwood Road. Birchwood Rd is prone to rocky washouts. Follow this gravel road for 26km to the car park at the very end. 4×4 recommended for the last few km, otherwise park in the 2WD carpark (there’s a DOC sign just before the first rough gravel ford)
Approach on foot:
From the carpark follow the track north for 2km. At the sign turn left and follow the Canyon Creek route around the lower gorge. There are several great camping spots between the upper and lower gorges. A suggested spot is here. Almost at the base of the canyon the markers stop and cairns take over. The track zigzags through the bluffs on the TL and then traverses above the bluffs of the amphitheatre that holds the canyon. The entrance is at 1230m. It is worth taking extra time to get to the rim of the canyon to get an idea of the level of the canyon and to potentially pre-rig an escape below R15m.
Medium to high flow. Fed by a sizable glacier so care should be taken with rising levels due to snow and glacial melt. There is a tarn surrounded by steep cliffs and a small hanging glacier just above the canyon on the TR. Rocks or chunks of ice could fall into the tarn which could hypothetically send a pulse of water down the cliff and into the canyon, it is likely that the water will be dispersed across the flats above the canyon rather than sending a wave down it but it is something to take into account.
Expedition style bolting, full anchor kit advised on repeats, more anchor kit for the lower (unexplored) section.
Minimum of 2 x 50m rope, consider taking an extra 30m rope to pre-rig an escape
Upper section notes from Mark Norman
Quite an easy descent to start with, that closes in towards the end, gets more vertical and committing. You could easily enter the creek a little further down from the very top (approx. 100m) or escape early if needed. But the canyon is quite short overall so you’d miss a couple of fun little jumps near the start. Look for hidden rocks in the jump pools. The ‘zig zag’ 2m downclimb is a little tricky and is the main flow so be cautious there (I slipped here). R1 and R2 anchors were placed high up on the TL and largely keep you out of the main flow as you abseil. For R2, stay locked onto the rope while rigging R3 as there’s potential to wash over here. The bolts for R3 are around the corner to the right in a protective position. No one has abseiled this pitch yet (to my knowledge) so the I’m unsure if you’ll be in the flow at all* There wasn’t any tricky hydraulics to deal with in this top section from memory so it’s not overly technical.
*Mark’s crew escaped using a rope they had pre-rigged between R1 and R2
The final pitch here is marked as 50m, although Toine’s crew assessed it as 40m… Take plenty of rope and tell us who was right ;0)
Middle section notes from Toine Houtenbos
The 50m pitch of the topo above is the same as the ’40m’ pitch described below;
The 40m abseil leads straight into the slot. Care should be taken between J6m and J3m as the pool flushes with not much room to get out. Below J3m are several chockstones which require delicate climbing and create dangerous siphons. The last escape is between R8m and R15m on the TL which leads to steep and exposed terrain outside the canyon. The pool at the bottom of R15m recirculates quite badly, it is possible to avoid entering the pool by delicately abseiling on the TL. After R10m the pinball machine starts where the water bounces from wall to wall down a steep chute that leads to a 40m waterfall.
Not sure exactly what comes next…. ****This canyon has not yet been fully descended!***
Lower section : Undescended
It looks quite vertical, constricted and committing. Anyone attempting to first descent this section should probably attempt it in low to average flow.
Photos below by Dan Clearwater, showing views into the lower section whilst on the approach route.
- Vehicle park to start of the canyon 5-6h
- Canyon descent unknown
- Return to vehicle 4-5h
- Total unknown
Flash Flood Danger:
Easy escape between R8m and R15m on TL. Possible escape between R12m and R7m via a slab on TR but might need bolts to protect the climber.
First descent R40m to R10m: Alain Rohr, Pete Choate, Kaden Anderson and Toine Houtenbos. 4 March ’19. First descent top to R40m: Alain Rohr, Mark Norman and more Ozzies. April 2019
First explorations by Toine Houtenbos, Alain Rohr, Peter Choate, Kaden Anderson, March 2019