Altitude: 374m to 1616m. Gain: 4203m. Loss: 4085m . Gradient: 7 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Prolonged scrambles (4/7) - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
The classic Five Passes (in reverse) with the addition of Lake Nerine and an exit down the north branch of the Routeburn.
Starting from the Lake Sylvan carpark, the tramp heads north past the lake and up the Dart River to the Beansburn. River valley travel up the Beansburn finally becomes a steep snowgrass climb to Fohn Pass and alpine tarns framed by Sunset, Corinna and Brenda Peaks (a great side trip). Descending to the Olivine Ledge, the route turns south and climbs again to Fiery Col - aptly named for the ultramafic rock of the area.
Another descent to Cow Saddle and down again along Hidden Falls Creek to a point below Park Pass. A relentless 600m climb to the Pass brings you to a choice: continue to Lake Nerine or choose the traditional Five Passes tramp and head down the Rockburn. The pass also gives access to a glacier, 400m above.
To Lake Nerine, the route is only suitable in good weather - wet, snow or poor visibility make this section very dangerous. It's a sidle over very steep snowgrass, scree and rock that leads to the 1550m tarn and a great skyline.
Another sidle (high or low routes) across grasses, scree and rock to reach North Col and then the final descent along the North Routeburn and a brief section of wide benched track to the Routerburn Shelter. If necessary, it's approx 2km along the road to return to the Lake Sylvan carpark.
Altitude: 374m to 528m. Gain: 266m. Loss: 230m . Gradient: 4 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
A well defined track through the beech to the lake and along the eastern flank - boggy in dry weather, very wet after rain.
From the northern tip of the lake, the track climbs steadily paralleling the creek until attaining the saddle above the Rockburn / Dart confluence. A short descent leads to the hut ruin (now a campsite).
Altitude: 393m to 399m. Gain: 11m. Loss: 14m . Gradient: 0 deg (Flat)
Skills: - Prolonged rivers (4/6)
Cross the Rock Burn below the hut and continue along he edge of the Dart River as far as possible (very dependant on flow level).
Scramble up onto the forested bank and pick up a footpad and head upstream, staying close to the river. Drop back to the river when possible and look for a marked entry to a track that cuts through the bush to the Beans Burn confluence with the Dart River. Cross the Beans Burn where shallowest.
Travel time is highly dependant on flow level in the Dart River.
Altitude: 396m to 864m. Gain: 804m. Loss: 336m . Gradient: 6 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
Just back from the gravel is a marker to the start of the track up the Beans Burn. Under beech, the track rises to a fixed bridge spanning the burn, crossing to the TR. A steep climb to a saddle and a short descent reaches a grassy flat with good campsites. The track resumes at the northern end and climbs away from the burn to 800m and roughly follows this contour back to the stream. There are several major slips and side streams to cross.
Eventually, the track breaks out from the trees and the rock biv can be seen more that a km at the other side of the clearing.
Altitude: 861m to 985m. Gain: 133m. Loss: 12m . Gradient: 4 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
200m upstream of the rock biv, cross to the TL and head towards the obvious saddle, picking up a useful footpad. From the saddle, follow a rocky gut almost to the river and pick up a dry (in normal flow) anabranch and follow to just short of the climb point. Pull out of the shallow rocky bed and cross to the TR and the climb point.
Altitude: 979m to 1544m. Gain: 726m. Loss: 244m . Gradient: 21 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: Prolonged scrambles (4/7)
Initially in a small gut, the climb to Fohn Pass is fairly simple - go up. As altitude is gained, the pass comes into view - just head for it.
From the pass, climb to the right. Follow a square gut down until the lake come into view then traverse, losing altitude, to the lake. Distributed camping in sheltered tussock is readily available.
Altitude: 593m to 1547m. Gain: 1217m. Loss: 1504m . Gradient: 11 deg (Moderate)
Skills: - Streams (2/6)
Cross the lake outlet and circle the knoll to follow the outlet stream down a spur turning right with the stream and descend easily to the Olivine Ledge (1 hr).
On the broad shelf, head towards the knoll at 1200m (with tarn - camp possible) taking great care as many deep channels and holes could easily break a leg of the unwary. From here the terrain becomes more rocky and Fiery Col comes into view.
Cross the TL arm of Fiery Ck and pick up the footpad that climbs to the Col. Descend into the bowl below the col and stay on the TL of the obvious gut. The route down is cairned and stays close to the gut edge.
At the valley floor, cross a stream and stay close to the slope until through Cow Saddle (as the saddle is quite boggy). Once in Hidden Falls valley, travel is (mostly) fastest on the boulders/rocks in the dry river bed (the water is underground) until around the 780m contour.
Pull out of the creek bed on the TR, to avoid forest on the TL, and descend to the treeline at 720m and cross to a track on the TL. Follow the well defined track through a clearing (good campsite) and continue on the TL until a major side stream is crossed. Now look for where the track turns away from Hidden Falls Creek and immediately begins the very steep climb to Park Pass.
Altitude: 1174m to 1583m. Gain: 675m. Loss: 377m . Gradient: 14 deg (Moderate)
Pick up the footpad west of the tarn and climb the spur to the large cairn, 1.2km from the pass. Leave the spur, descend and negotiate a small shallow depression (outlined on the map by the 1220m & 1240m contours). The route is infrequently marked with cairns but it is a steeply rising sidle across tussock and scree - dangerous in adverse conditions. Aim to approach the marked stream above the 1400m contour and continue to climb (on the TL) to 1500m. You can travel above the tarn or around to it's outlet - both routes rejoin in the lower saddle (1600m). Continue through the saddle and down to the small tarn (close to the left rock wall is easiest) and proceed to the Lake.
Altitude: 1474m to 1616m. Gain: 171m. Loss: 58m . Gradient: 6 deg (Moderate)
From the north shore of Lake Nerine, walk to the west side and climb to the low saddle. From here there are two routes to North Col.
This route stays high. From the saddle above Lake Nerine, negotiate the large boulders and climb a little to 1560m. Now it's route-finding at it's best - lots of rocks and ridges provide a few challenging moments but the plan should be to stay at 1560 - 1580m, climbing and descending as required.
If visibility is questionable, use the low route.
Altitude: 695m to 1587m. Gain: 77m. Loss: 967m . Gradient: 6 deg (Moderate-hard)
Skills: - Occasional rivers (3/6)
In Feb 2013, snow and ice was easily avoided. However, even in summer, the south side of North Col can be fully covered in snow / ice. Without appropriate gear, attempting the descent in such conditions would be stupid.
In good conditions, it's a long descent on boulders, scree and snowgrass. The line is occasionally cairned and obvious. From 1200m contour, aim for the gully to the right of the flattening spur. At 1020m contour, cross to the TL of the burn and pick your way down until a slip suggests easier travel on the TR (870m elevation).
From here the going is easy through grass flats - the start of the marked track clearly marked. Continuing through grassy flats, then around a significant tarn and into the bush, the track rises a little then descends to the final flats leading to the Routeburn Flats Hut. There is no bridge crossing the Left Branch but low flow presents no problem.
Altitude: 477m to 710m. Gain: 123m. Loss: 343m . Gradient: 4 deg (Gentle)
From the Flats Hut turnoff, carry on down the flats and through bush to reach the car park at Routeburn Shelter.