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Weta Prowl, Steeple Peak

Updated: May 2, 2023

A contender for the worst rock in the Alps would have to be Mt Huxley, which sits at head of the Ahuriri River with the Chosspile Peaks immediately south and Shingle Hill not far away. Funny then, that on an autumn 2012 trip to climb Huxley via the South Temple Stream, my eye was caught by Steeple Peak. Grovelling up henious scree slopes to V-Notch Pass we could look downvalley and see, inconceivably in the circumstances, some solid-looking rock. We knew some routes had been put up there by the likes of McLeod, Hersey et al. – and shelved the idea for the following summer. Weta Prowl, a reasonably popular 300m grade 14 seemed like an excellent weekend trip idea.

It took almost two years to forget the scree grovelling and return to the Temple. Researching Weta Prowl online wasn’t entirely helpful – reports varied between ’20 hours return from South Temple Hut’ to ‘only a light rack needed.’ We packed a pair half ropes and a full rack of cams up to #3 and regular and offset wires. Tiff Stephens and I decided to leave work early on Friday so we could walk up and camp at bushline in the North Temple, which was an easy 1.5 hours in the dark to the old hut site. After a warm night under the stars and with a nice NW breeze we woke up before dawn to start up towards Gunsight Pass. A pair of rock wren and some kea made the walk up to the pass fairly enjoyable and we were able to go at a good pace. Descending from the pass we left our gear at a bivvy ledge on some tussock and headed off for Steeple Peak.

The route was a fun easy trad climb, no hard moves, gear if and when you need it, reasonably sound rock and great views of Mt Barth, Huxley, Hooker, Dechen, Ward, Hopkins, Sefton, Cook – the whole lot! The rock is an excellent photogenic reddish colour but it has the habit of appearing good looking up but chossy looking down. You can run out full rope lengths and move quickly, two standout pitches are the last pitch before the summit ridge and the second pitch on the ridge. The summit is nice and spacious and the scrambling descent straightforward (no abseiling!).

After a excellent afternoon’s climb we descended scree and open creekbeds to the head of the South Temple, where we had another lovely bivvy in the grass. With no pressure to wake up early (except mild sandfly pressure) we had an easy walk down the South Temple, got to the car at lunchtime and were able to spend plenty of time on the drive back to Dunedin, stopping at Kahu Cafe in Omarama and Elephant Rocks for a spot of bouldering. All weekend trips should be like this!


Access – 1.5 hours to the head of the North Temple on an easy DoC track. 2-3 hours to Gunsight Pass up the obvious chossy gully (reliable water until near the top). Descend scree from Gunsight Pass and sidle hard under the Butterfly Buttress of Bruce Peak (it helps if you don’t lose unneccessary height on loose scree) to head towards Steeple Peak (1-2 hours from the Pass). Adequate bivvy ledges and reliable water can be found in a strip of tussock. This is probably the best place to leave your bivvy gear as reliable water is hard to find unless you descend right to the valley floor. Easy route finding to the face. If you are planning to make a round trip then we highly recommend going up the North Temple and down the South. Going up Gunsight Pass would suck when coming from the South, and ditto going down from the Pass into the North. It’s also a question of speed – you can get to Weta Prowl in 5-6 hours from the carpark via the North Temple whereas you’d be looking at 7-8 from the South Temple. Leave the carpark on Friday night or early on Saturday morning, move fast, stash your gear and climb on the Saturday afternoon.

Gear – a light single rope (60m ideal) is adequate if you take plenty of long (60cm) quickdraws. We didn’t need half ropes. A basic set of wires and no more than half a dozen cams size 0.4 – 2 should be fine. No abseiling is required so no need to carry abseil tat. We carried way too much rack considering I used 2-4 runners per 60m pitch and gear for belay anchors was easy enough to find. Gear can be fairly spaced out though so a few 120 or even 240cm slings are handy for anchor building.

Route – we scrambled about 60-70m up easy (grade 10) slabs to an obvious scree ledge where the face properly starts. Then 4x 55m pitches (12, 12, 12, 14) finding any old route up the centre of the face took us to the ridge. The line shown on the photo in the guidebook is pretty accurate. The fourth pitch has a great belay ledge and goes into a nice corner to the left of a buttress. From the ridge we did four 30-40m pitches. The first was easy traversing on the skyline (or just below) to a small notch with a chossy ledge dropping off on the left (north) side. We descended 15m on the ledge to the base of an awesome crack system and 30m pitch back to the skyline ridge (solid 14 but the best rock and gear of the route). The views are awesome here. From the skyline again a ramp traverse (30m, 13) on the right (shady) side takes you to a chossy gully which is an easy (10) 40m to the summit.

Descent – scramble the rotten rock south ridge (initially heading east then a ledge leading to the south ridge) to an easy scree col, then scree down to the base of the route and then back to your gear. People have abseiled the ridge but this seems unnecessary and would probably be much more unpleasant, scary and dangerous than downclimbing.

Time – we took four hours on the route moving at an average pace and placing minimal gear. It would be perfectly soloable for someone used to climbing grade 20ish and happy dealing with exposure.

Rock – the rock is fairly good, i.e. holds won’t break and gear appears reliable. There are plenty of small loose rocks and gravel on the numerous small ledges which aren’t much of a death risk to the belayer but may be quite annoying. You probably wouldn’t want more than one team on the route at once.

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