Climb Mount Earnslaw, Mount Aspiring National Park

Rees Valley Trailhead, Mount Earnslaw, New Zealand

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    16.8 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    8000 Feet


Climb the second tallest peak in Mount Aspiring National Park with an elevation of 2830 m (9284 ft). Be sure to bring an ice axe and crampons to traverse the Birley Glacier. Overnight in the Esquilant Biv perched high in an alpine basin. 

Start at the Rees Valley Trailhead, approximately 30 minutes from Glenorchy. The trail begins as a dirt road that passes through grazing land and small tributary creeks that flow into the Rees. The first 4.4 miles (7 km) of the trail hugs the Rees River and stays in the grassy and often boggy river flats.

Approximately 15-20 min. after crossing the bridge over 25 Mile Creek, begin to look for an advantageous place to cross the Rees River. This crossing is unmarked and requires walking through the knee-deep river (when not swollen by recent rain).

Cross the valley diagonally, aiming for just right (north) of Lennox Falls, which is the most prominent waterfall visible when looking directly across. This section of unmarked travel takes only around 30 minutes, but does require a few fence crossings – be careful, they are electric!

Once through the pastures that separate one side of the valley from the other, you will see a yellow and green Department of Conservation sign just at the forest edge. This sign indicates the trail to the Earnslaw Hut and beyond.

The gentle valley walk ends here and turns into a grueling 6,000 foot climb, if traveling directly to the Esquilant Biv. Before reaching Esquilant Biv, you will pass by the derelict Earnslaw Hut, two nice rock bivs, and plenty of camping spots, if you prefer to break up the climb.

The trail is easy to follow until reaching the treeline, where the orange markers end. From here, the trail becomes smaller, but is still very visible as it ascends the grassy slopes of Kea Basin. When the path reaches the rocky shelves above Kea Basin, it is marked by cairns. This section of the climb affords breathtaking views of the Rees Valley below and surrounding mountains.

The rock-strewn path leads over small waterfalls to the base of a steep snowfield. This section is the first of two that require the use of an ice axe and crampons. In the summer, a stepped path is visible through the snow.

A brief section of rock ledges separates the snowfield from the Birley Glacier. Gear is again required to cross the glacier. Steps are not visible in the hard ice of the glacier, so watch where you tread in order to avoid crevasses.

A gradual but steady climb up the glacier leads you through Wrights Col and into the basin that holds Esquilant Biv. The biv is only 20 minutes from the top of Wrights Col, and in summer conditions requires on crossing scree. Esquilant Biv sleeps six and is owned by the New Zealand Alpine Club. The jagged outline of Pluto Peak dominates the skyline behind the biv and makes for excellent photos!

There are many summit routes in the region, but the easiest is the standard ascent of Mount Earnslaw's East Peak (2830 meters or 9284 feet). Consult the detailed guidelines posted on the wall of the Esquilant Biv. The route is a cairned scramble that is mostly straightforward, but a little difficult to follow in the gully. Verglass ice is a hazard, so it is wise to wait until the sun has warmed the route before beginning travel. In late summer and early fall the standard route does not contain snow, but it is a possibility at any time of year, so bring an ice axe and crampons just in case.

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Sturdy waterproof boots
  • Warm layers
  • Camera
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Is there a specific track name for this climb? I found the Bivvy on the D.O.C. site but no track. I'm looking for feasibility consult for winter tramping there. Mahalo! Jeff

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

I just moved to NZ. I can't wait to get up Mt Earnslaw. Beautiful photos on all your adventures! Im glad I found you on the Outbound! Your adventures are wonderful!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Crystal Brindle Explorer

I'm Crystal, a park ranger for the National Park Service in the United States and the Department of Conservation in New Zealand - you'll find me floating between hemispheres as the seasons change. I am an avid landscape photographer and wilderness explorer committed to capturing the scenes and moments that inspire me and require dedication to experience. Living in national parks throughout my life, I've developed a deep appreciation for the natural world. This appreciation drives my passion for protecting wild places today. My first job as a ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park inspired me to spend my time exploring the depths of the park’s wilderness and instilled a sense of adventure that extends into all areas of my life. I now actively seek backcountry recreation that takes me into remote corners of mountainous regions all over the world. I have had the opportunity to live and work in some of the most intriguing places our world has to offer - from the high places of Colorado, to the South Island of New Zealand, to the rugged Alaska Peninsula, and many locations in between. I feel that the only way to truly get to know a place is to meet it on its own terms and to embrace its challenges through which its beauty is revealed. To me this is the definition of wilderness and the foundation of my photography. Since I began this journey of photography three years ago, I have honed my interests to focus on high-alpine mountain landscapes inaccessible to all except those who travel on foot. These are the landscapes that captivate me. I feel drawn to share their remarkable qualities through the visual narrative of photography and short stories of personal experience. This is a craft that I am refining daily and my photography is only a work-in-progress but I feel that this effort is worthwhile as I strive to let the landscape tell its own story and act as a vector for its message. What's next? After a summer of living with brown bears and climbing mountains under the midnight sun in Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, I'm heading back to New Zealand to further explore the wonders of the South Island and work as a Hut Warden on the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park.

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