Matthews: North Saddle to South Saddle
13 January 2021
The idea of walking the ridgeline between Matthews’ North and South Saddles, a ‘Grand Traverse’, has been with me for many years. An attempt in November 2017 was stymied.1 But delay has had its advantages: predator control operations by the MOA group have resulted in much-improved access to the North Saddle via Matthews Stream together with a cut track of sorts all the way from that saddle to Matthews’ top - at which point DOC takes over.
So, in over the Orongorongo Track and up the river, familiar ground. Then up Matthews Stream, its lower reaches no longer subterranean as on an earlier visit. Higher up, the buddleia still kept at bay and the going good apart from the occasional log pile-up.
Arriving at the North Saddle, we found the wind brisk (sun hats were at risk of being twirled away and Paul’s drone could not safely be released) but in the beating sun, wind was welcome.
The climb out of the North Saddle was exposed but still a cakewalk in comparison with the Knife Edge, bright in the midday sun. Paul went first and eschewed the easier route which involves dropping a few metres to less steep terrain. Instead, he stayed at the ridgeline all the way2, in places gripping the top with both hands, (fingers on the south side, thumbs on the north side)2 while his feet sought precarious holds in the crumbly grit and rock below; then bestriding the ridge and proceeding cheval style for a few metres before a tricky climb out onto safe territory3.
Lunch was taken in contemplative silence atop the 750 m bump that overlooks the Knife Edge from the west. A 200 m climb to reach the top (941 m), then one last (crazy) variation: some 150 m northwest along the DOC track, where it briefly descends to avoid a slip, we instead hewed to the ridgeline - through a leatherwood thicket.
From the South Saddle out to the Catchpool via the Goat Stream track took about 2’ 20” (twenty minutes more than the canonical Peter Jagger time); 9’ 20” for the round trip.
See Paul McCredie’s The Knife’s Edge of Matthews on Vimeo.
1 The Tramper, December 2017, No Gin and Tonic. When the party arrived at the North Saddle (from the east via the Wharekauhau Stream west branch) they found the wind too strong to permit safe travel along the exposed parts of the ridge.
2 It must be stressed that there was an element of danger in this. A fall could result in serious injury. The much safer ‘easier route’ is indicated by a couple of non-DOC orange triangles.
3 At the Knife Edge the ridge line runs pretty well east-west.
- Party members
- Colin Cook (scribe), Paul McCredie