Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area, Canterbury NZ

A challenging route up Mt Princess (2126m) in the St James Range, with excellent views of Princess Bath & over countless peaks & valleys.

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area

Mt Princess (2126m) is a significant peak that I first learned of when visiting nearby Mt Tennyson on a drive into the St James Conservation Area and Molesworth Reserve. It’s a long and potentially tricky route up no matter which way you go, but the views are really excellent, and the gnarly terrain only adds to the satisfaction.

We were lucky to have a good amount of snow remain in late October when we climbed the mountain, adding to the scenic views. (Except perhaps of Princess Bath (a cirque lake), which was still frozen over and so didn’t make so much of an impression.)

The area is easily accessed from Hanmer Springs, and I got a few tips for the route up from Tristan, the owner of Hanmer Backpackers, who is an avid tramper.  One section of our route involved a difficult scramble with significant exposure, and because of this only I made it to the summit. I mention other options in the track notes.

Mt Princess ascent: The Scenery

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
The Princess Stream, or perahps already the Clarence River, near the start. Our target, Mt Princess (2106m), is at the back.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Looking back at the start here, with Mt Tennyson centre left.

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Sophia approaching point 1906m. I was already there.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
The view of Mt Princess from point 1906m. Pretty impressive.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Mt Princess from point 1906m.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Waiau Uwha Valley

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
A clear shot of Princess Bath, completely frozen and covered in snow.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Steep terrain.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
The view of the south west ridge, my route up. It looked more spectacular in real life.
Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
My wife Sophia took a picture of me on the summit: I’m the small dot on the very top.
Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Crystal Peak (2020m).

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Looking north from the summit.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
There was weather threatening from the west pretty much all day but it stayed fine for us, which was pretty lucky.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
A panorama looking south from the summit.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
The upper Waiau Toa / Clarence Valley.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
My route up was from the far left up onto the ridge to the summit.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Leaving Mt Princess (2126m).

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Some pretty steep slopes tested our nerve but were in fact easy to walk down due to deep slushy snow.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Waiau Uwha River

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Pretty rugged ridge travel.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Looking back at Mt Princess in the afternoon.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Heading back down.

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Looking back to the start.

 

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Nice alpine and subalpine vegetation.

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area

Track Notes

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
An easy walk on the St James Cycle Trail to near Mailing Pass, then off track up to 1572m, then 1906m, and the final rocky ridge route to the summit. There was one spot that required difficult scrambling with significant exposure, so most definitely not a beginners route.

This was one of our gnarliest walks to date. Our route along the south-west ridge started on the St James Cycle Trail, and it’s fast progress to near Mailing Pass, where the ascent starts in earnest. (Note that you can drive along this cycle trail for a few hundred metres in a 4WD to a gate, and walk from there. And I think you can continue through the gate all the way to Mailing Pass, however we thought you couldn’t and so walked from the gate).

You make your way up through heath vegetation, then into the alpine zone. From point 1906m there is a rugged ridge all the way to the summit, and about half way along there was one section requiring a difficult scramble with significant exposure. A fall here could be quite serious, so consider alternate routes to the top if this does not sound like your cup of tea. It turns out Sophia took a picture of this spot, so I’ve now posted this below. Hard to get the scale but it was quite steep and the drop off on the right was significant.

Mt Princess ascent, St James Conservation Area
Here’s the tricky scramble on the south-west ridge. I couldn’t see any easier way up, although without snow there might have been better options a little to the right.

After this it was a pretty straightforward walk to the summit.

Alternate Routes

Many of the alternative routes I’ve read about involve visiting Princess Bath first, the cirque lake to the south of the summit. You can walk there via the south-west ridge we took, Mt McCabe and the south-east ridge, or even up the Princess Stream Valley. From Princess Bath you can then climb  up steep scree slopes to the ridges, or almost directly to the summit up a central gully. (There was quite a lot of wet spring snow on these scree slopes so we weren’t sure about avalanche conditions, and hence stuck to the south west ridge.)

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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