Bryant Glacier (21st-22nd Feb, 2016)

Bryant Glacier

Described route to Sleepy Hollow (Blue) and our actual route around Bryant Glacier (Red)

Ever since I had read a trip report about Sleepy Hollow in 2013, it has been right at the top of my (very extensive) list of weekend tramps. Generally you are supposed to start in Kinloch, walk up the Glacier Burn, take a very steep gut up to point 1731, traverse the tussock bench, over the saddle at 1913 then down to Sleepy Hollow. The next day you descend the ridge to the east to the Caples River, walk out to the Greenstone car park and hitch a lift back to Kinloch. Simple right? I thought I would be clever and kill two birds with one stone and check out Bryant Glacier on the way. As you can see from our actual route my plan did not quite come to fruition, although it does rank as my favourite weekend trip.

Since this was supposed to be a reasonably strenuous off-track tramp, I decided to only invite reliably hardy people. So as a result, only Cleo come with us. We drove to Kinloch on Friday and spent the night in the campground to give us a full day to get to Sleepy Hollow. Saturday morning dawned slightly cloudy, however the warm breeze suggested that the cloud was going to quickly burn off and the day was going to turn into a typical Otago scorcher. After half an hour slogging up the road we got to the Glacier Burn track which turned out to be a nice leisurely amble through the Beech to the treeline. Now by this time the low cloud was lifting, but as we were climbing we still didn’t have a view of the valley. This was a bit of a problem, as I still hadn’t fully decided to go via Bryant Glacier and was keeping the original route as a back-up. By the time I had checked the GPS we had blown past the turn off to point 1731 which effectively made the choice of route for me.

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When slogging up the true left of the Glacier Burn we followed a scree ridge which, for the most part, made the climb was quite easy but gradually led us slightly away from the creek towards Point 2016. By the time I realised that we needed to get off the ridge and follow the creek more closely we had climbed quite a long way the ridge had turned into quite the incised gut whose sides were composed compressed gravelly scree, which was quite the challenge to traverse. After my small navigational hiccup, it was a straight walk to the outlet of Bryant Glacier. We got to the outlet 1-ish and thought it was a good time to have lunch. During lunch, while listening to the Glacier creak and groan and watching rock falls, the cloud finally burnt off and we got our first good view of the Glacier Burn Valley and the Dart River, it turned out the Glacier had shrunk much more than what even I was expecting, down to about a fifth of the size depicted on the map, with the ice just north of Point 2195 completely gone.


Bryant Glacier Terminal lake and newly exposed rock below Point 2195. (Note the patch of ice on the skyline was were we tried to access Sleepy Hollow)

After lunch and a bit of exploring, we started the very slow rocky climb up towards point 2105 in order to get above a couple nasty ravines. The plan was to skirt around 2105, as low as possible, and regain the original route. However, the ravines pushed us quite high into fairly slow going technical territory. By the time we crested the ridge it was getting to about 4 pm and we still had a quite difficult 300 m down-climb to reach the original route, with the distinct possibility that we were going to get bluffed. After spending most of the day climbing 1800 m we were also getting quite tired. So after a rest, some photos and a discussion about what we were going to do next I made and executive decision to turn around and head back toward Bryant Glacier to camp a tarn we had passed earlier.

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With some creative use of our ice axes as rudimentary shovels we had two somewhat flat patches of rock to pitch our tents on. After the tents were up it was still quite warm and I suggested a swim. Cleo joined me, but Rebecca was worried that it was too cold and she wasn’t going to warm up afterwards, so declined. Rebecca was right of course it was quite cold, and immediately after our swim the sun ducked behind a cloud and was then obscured by Mt Bonpland. Immediately after that, the wind picked up and it turns out that camping at 1900 m a cross from the glacier is cold, irrespective of how warm the day was.

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Despite not willing to go for a swim, Rebecca still wanted to get to the rocky outcrop in the middle of the tarn which was a bit to far to jump to. So I proclaimed I was going to build a causeway for her (chivalry is not dead). The girls thought I was crazy. I proclaimed that despite a ten-hour day there was plenty of gas in the tank. After spending the next half an hour throwing the largest rocks I could find into the water, in what was looking like a very futile attempt at proving my masculinity, I gave up and agreed that I was indeed crazy.


Trying and failing to combine chivarly with masculinity.

After a very chilly night we woke up to an amazing inversion filling the whole Dart Valley with Mt Earnslaw poking above the cloud. So the girls went crazy with the photos.

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I still hadn’t  given up on Sleepy Hollow as there was an alternative route via the saddle between 2195 and 2187. After scrambling up to the saddle we found that the map was slightly wrong and the south face was completely covered in ice. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem, however we had  left the crampons in the car. So after taking some more photos it was back to Bryant Glacier, down the Burn and back to the car.

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At Bryant Glacier I decided to have a swim in the terminal lake, which required me to smash through the ice to get to (I did say it was cold the night before). I knew it was going to be freezing so I rushed in and out as fast as possible. After I got out and was finished swearing over how bloody cold it was, both Rebecca and Cleo pointed out that my knees were bleeding quite profusely. Turns out that the hole I smashed through the ice was not quite big enough and that thin ice is very sharp and strong in the horizontal direction. Despite all this excitement I managed to convince Rebecca to go for a swim (Yay peer pressure!). Thinking this would also convince Cleo I asked her if she was keen. She is usually quite reliable however just looked at me as if I was crazy and laughed, so no Cleo.

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Rebecca went for a dip and, admittedly, made it look much more elegant than I did. Then she decided that we needed a couples photo in the water so it was back in for both of us with Cleo playing photographer. After that is was back down the Glacier Burn to the road. Halfway down the valley we  saw a group of day walkers near the bush-line, I decided to see if we could get a lift back to Kinloch our car. So Cleo took off into the bush to catch them while I stayed with Rebecca, whose leg problems were flaring up. By the time Rebecca and I got out of the bush Cleo was waiting for us with the car we piled in and headed back to Dunedin.


Heading back down the Glacier Burn


2 thoughts on “Bryant Glacier (21st-22nd Feb, 2016)

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