Gertrude Saddle Route: Alpine Tramping (Hiking) Series | New Zealand


Tucked away in the southwestern corner
of the South Island lies a 1.2 million hectare time capsule, of a beautiful,
prehistoric New Zealand. Luckily, keen adventurers can explore
Fiordland’s unique landscape through one of the many walking tracks that weave
through this glacially carved land. One of the most challenging tramps (hikes) in Fiordland offers a truly unique experience The Gertrude settle route is a tough,
challenging and exposed seven kilometer route that takes you from the side of
state highway 94 up Gertrude Valley to the top of the saddle and back down. This
route can often be mistaken as a simple day walk, but this is definitely NOT the
case! It’s a very demanding climb and should only be attempted by those with a
high level of backcountry alpine experience and fitness. Gertrude Saddle Route should only be attempted in the peak of summer, as snow covers the route from early autumn to late spring. The route also crosses many avalanche
paths making this tramp (hike) simply impassable during winter. Summer sees an average daily temperature of 8 to 9 degrees (C) and remember this is the
heart of Fiordland, so rain can be expected for over 200 days of the year.
You’ll need to cross multiple rivers and traverse steep granite slabs on this
route. If rain or snow is present then DON’T GO, as this makes the route
extremely dangerous! You’ll need warm + wet-weather gear as well as a strong
pair of tramping boots to comfortably bring you home. Keep in mind there is no
cell phone reception so a personal locator beacon is recommended. As with
all walks and tramps in new zealand’s make sure you leave your intentions with
a trusted contact, and inform them when you’ve finished your tramp. You can find
out more about leaving your intentions at the Mountain Safety Council website. Before you begin the tramp, make sure
you’re in the right place! A small sign on the main road marks Gertrude Valley and this is where you’ll find the start of the route. This is important as the
entrance to the Homer Saddle Alpine route is a kilometre down the road and
occasionally people have mistaken the two! Your day begins in an alpine meadow
along a well formed and well mapped route. This well formed section of the
track quickly turns into a basic route with very limited markings so you will
need good route finding and tramping experience past this point. There are no
alternative routes or shelters on this tramp so do not go any further if the
weather is poor. If you get caught out in bad weather, make sure you take
extreme care to stick to the route as wandering off route has lead to
multiple fatalities. From here you will start the climb up to the saddle. This is
where a good footwear will come in handy as the terrain consists mainly of
rock and scree and gets steep fast! Make sure you stick to the
route as unstable rock and exposed cliff faces are everywhere. After a bit of climbing you will reach the waterfall area. This has proven to be
one of the most hazardous parts of this tramp so pay close attention here. Just
below the waterfall there is a river crossing point, marked by large orange
triangles. It is absolutely essential that you cross at THIS POINT. It is easy
to miss this crossing, especially on your way back down. If you miss this crossing,
then immediately turn back and re-trace your steps until you find it again. After
the waterfall the route becomes quite steep again, but now you have a decent
climb on some very slippery loose rocks. You’ll need to do a mixture of tramping
and scrambling to get up here as rocks can easily slide out from underneath you
and roll down toward anyone behind you. Stay as a group, and talk about your
movements, help others out and ensure you take your time to pass through the
section. As you move up the route the scree will eventually give way to big
granite slabs. Take extreme care when you are on these slabs as they can be very
slippery when wet or icy and one slip here could be fatal!
Follow the orange triangles along the granite slabs, as they will lead you
along the safest path. This will greatly reduce your chances of slipping.
Continuing along the slabs will bring you to a steep section with steel cables
installed. Use these cables to help you get up to Black Lake. Black Lake is a
good spot to have a break but don’t linger too long as it’s not too far to
the saddle. From here you’ll have more granite slabs to climb. Again there are
some steel cables to use, but be careful as it can get very slippery up here. After a bit of rock scrambling you’ll eventually reach the saddle. This is one of the most exposed spots on the route and high winds can be a problem. However, if the weather is good this is a beautiful spot to have some lunch and
take some photos. From up here you’ll see if any bad weather is coming in from the
west and if you’re lucky you’ll have a great view of Milford Sound. Make sure you stay back from the edge of the settle as there is a seven hundred meter
drop to the valley floor! Also, don’t wander too far from the saddle as
climbing the higher peaks is only suitable for highly-skilled and properly
equipped mountaineers. It’s important to remember that the top
of the saddle is only the halfway point. You now have to do everything again
but in reverse. The descent is always much harder than the ascent and injuries or
getting lost are much more likely to occur on the way down. Take extra care with your foot placement and allow plenty of time to make it down safely. Remember to pay special attention to the waterfall area as the crossing point can
be easily missed! Look for the orange marker poles and move from one to the
other. It’s essential to only cross at this marked crossing point and not to
keep following the river down as there may be very large cliffs and unsupported
slopes below which have resulted in multiple fatalities. Then you just need to keep following the route all the way down and out of the valley. Although this trip could be considered a short option it is one of the most advanced day trips
and New Zealand’s. Its difficulty should not be underestimated, but it is a
rewarding challenge for those who have prepared accordingly and have the
appropriate experience. Remember not to attempt this tramp
outside of summer or in less than perfect weather conditions. If conditions aren’t good or you’re not sure Gertrude Saddle is right for you, then we
highly recommend alternatives such as Lake Marion or Key Summit. Both of these tracks are also accessed from the Te Anau Milford highway. Make sure you check out the official Fiordland National Park weather forecasts at Finally, seek advice on the latest information on track conditions by
talking to the DOC staff at the Fiordland National Park visitor centre in Te Anau. No matter what, you can’t escape the beauty of Fiordland #MakeItHomeNZ


6 Responses

  1. Sidetracks - tours, tracks & trails in New Zealand

    June 18, 2019 8:48 am

    Brilliant Video, just love the way it's made. Very informative and inspiring!

  2. Thomas Nielsen

    November 13, 2019 10:01 am

    Couldn't be more correct about the mid way river/water fall crossing. Always make sure you are within the markers 100%!


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