Mt Fox Route to 1646m, West Coast NZ

Grandstand views of New Zealand’s highest peaks from a vantage point at 1646m above Mt Fox on the West Coast.

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast

The ridge above Mt Fox offers grandstand views of the Fox Glacier and Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moanna, but only if you have the right weather. On this occasion we learned from past experience and chose to camp high on the mountain to give ourselves the best chance of views. These came the following morning, with just enough time to reach our planned vantage point at 1646m before the cloud rolled back in. Our reward for this planning and a lot of hard work were panoramic views of New Zealand’s highest mountains, on this occasion after unseasonable snowfall. One of the grandest vistas we’ve seen to date.

The opportunity cost of this timing was missing out on views further down the ridge, which would have included better views of the Fox Glacier and surrounds. But I don’t think day-walkers got any views on either day, so mustn’t grumble. Let’s get to the views now, and I’ll discuss weather and route notes afterwards.

Mt Fox Route to 1646m: The Scenery

Day 1

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Setting off into lush West Coast forest.

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
The Cook River Weheka and Fox River.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
These are the views we got on the way down actually, somewhere between 1345m and the Mt Fox summit (1021m). I was happy to see something, however it looks pretty spectacular and it’s a shame we missed out on the full experience. Mustn’t grumble considering what we did see higher up.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Somebody made a snowman at 1345m.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
If you are up there in typical West Coast weather, then this is what it might look like, except possibly minus the snow.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
The big tarn.

Day 2

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Our campsite. In the background I think it’s the Balfour Range, then the Navigator Range. We saw nothing of this the previous day.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
The Mt Fox glacial valley.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Sophia in amongst it at point 1646m.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Aoraki Mt Cook (3724m), and in front Mt Hicks / St Davids Dome (3198m).
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
The top of the Fox Glacier, with other glaciers feeding into it.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
La Perouse (3078m), looking somewhat different than the Sydney suburb of the same name.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Craig Peak (1914m) at the front and Mt Tasman (3497m) at the back. You get better views of Mt Tasman from further down the mountain, but of course we were clouded in both on the way up and down.
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Aoraki Mt Cook
Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
Panorama of the highest mountains in the Southern Alps Kā Tiritiri o te Moanna from 1646m above Mt Fox.

Route Notes

Mt Fox to 1646m, West Coast
It’s a very steep climb up the Mt Fox Route, and very muddy higher up. From 1345m along the ridge is comparatively easy, although it requires route finding which can be difficult in low visibility.

Planning around the weather

In 2020 Sophia and I visited the South Island’s West Coast for the first time. On that occasion we climbed nearby Alex Knob as a day-walk, hoping for views of the Franz Josef Glacier, which we got only briefly from half way up. The problem is the clouds move in during the morning most days and obscure the views before you can reach a decent viewpoint. This can be the case even on days when it is clear over the coast. Prevailing north-westerlies blow in moist air from the ocean which condenses up against the mountains. This is especially common in the summer months.

You have the option of starting before dawn and getting up the mountain quickly, but on a route like Mt Fox that would be challenging. Your best option is to carry your tent and be there in the evening and morning – times of day when it is more likely to be clear.

Mt Fox Route to 1345m

There is a marked track to point 1345m, which sounds reassuring, but this is a consistently rough and steep track. You’ll clamber and scramble almost as much as you’ll walk, and it’s very muddy higher up. If you are travelling light as a day-walker then you can move fairly quickly by using your hands a lot. Progress is slower with a full pack, as you’re less mobile, and you’ll want to avoid slipping with all that extra weight.

You won’t see much of interest to the east until about the 1200m contour, so you need to be higher that before the cloud blows in. You can see views from there and point 1345m in this post by Southern Alps Photography, who walked in winter when the weather is often clearer. He continued on along the ridge all the way to Crozet Peak.

Camping and Point 1646m

From 1345m be careful not to set off in the wrong direction if visibility is bad. You are heading left, not straight ahead. Continuing along the ridge is reasonable straightforward, though you won’t be on the crest of the ridge the whole way, dropping down on the south side sometimes.

As we climbed to a relative highpoint at roughly 1450m, we had just enough visibility to see a couple of tarns in a basin below us to the south-east. This was our intended campsite. We chose what I think was the second biggest of those tarns to camp next to. (The largest is in a hollow and out of sight until you get much nearer).

It was early March and we had not expected such cold conditions, and had never camped in the snow before. Our Kmart sleeping mats, which have been very good, were not really up to insulating us from the cold. And of course we’d set off expecting it to clear at night – we were there for the views after all – so the temperature dropped to goodness knows what overnight. Plenty of frost. Anyway, none of this was life threatening and we got up to sunny skies and headed off to rejoin the ridge, leaving our tent up to save time and travel light.

Continuing along the ridge to point 1646m was easier than any of the walking the previous day. There was just a bit of navigation required over the last couple of hundred metres, but it’s worth going that far for mostly unobstructed views of the alps (Craig Peak gets in the way a bit). Going further than this is a bit more technical, and would have required an extra night’s stay for us, which we didn’t have time for.

Times and more info

DOC has more info on the Mt Fox Route to 1345m. They estimate 8 hours return and I think with full packs it will take at least that much. Fit day-walkers will move faster. From 1345m to the tarns might take you an hour, especially in low visibility. We were never really sure of the correct route and that slowed us down. From the tarns to 1646m might take another hour. Returning to our campsite and then point 1345m was quite quick for us.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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