A traverse of undulating tops to the summit of Mount Griffin. Good camping next to pretty tarns, striking cliffs, and an old serpentine mine.
The Griffin Range lies west of Arthur's Pass and immediately east of the Alpine Fault. Striking, near vertical cliffs mark its northern flank. The rock of the range is schist, while the large pudding shaped mountains to the north (and across the Fault) are Fiordland granites. A band of serpentine runs along the range from the Razorback Ridge, and a small outcrop of this was once mined via an improbable aerial cableway dropping off the northern flank of the range.
This route is maintained by volunteers and is rough and very lightly marked. Look for permolat markers as well as informal plastic ties, or even cut branches. On SH73, drive west past Jacksons and the Taipo River. Cross Griffin Creek and then Harrington Creek, and either look for a small car park on the right, or turn off onto an old section of highway through a farm gate on the left after Harrington Creek. The track commences on the true left bank of Harrington Creek at the end of this piece of disused road.
The track follows a fenceline briefly before crossing the creek and beginning a climb up a long spur. It is easy to lose the trail on this climb (and even easier on the return journey) so make a note of each marker you pass. Markers often indicate changes in the direction of the track. Eventually, the track climbs up the side of a slip, and passes some impressively large rata trees before leaving the forest behind and pushing into sub-alpine scrub. A boggy junction marked by a rusting water tank is nearby. The path left leads down to Griffin Creek Hut but there is a a good lunch spot at a viewpoint just a few minutes along.
Take the trail to the right, which rises through a long stretch of scrub and onto the tussock tops near point 1126. It ends here, with the route continuing along the tops. Note the point where the trail enters the scrub for your return journey.
Several scrub-covered slopes form barriers to the otherwise easy walking. Look for cut tracks on the right edge of the two slopes between point 1126 and Wilson Knob. There are good views of Mount Griffin and the Razorback Ridge from the knob.
Beyond Wilson Knob, a series of pretty tarns offer good camping. Where the tops narrow at a small slip, another climb through scrub begins. There seems to be no track cut here, but you can avoid the scrub by keeping to the left. The serpentine mine is just a little further on, with rusting winches and cables, and a mined rock outcrop. Serpentine is a green fibrous rock related to asbestos and greenstone. Weathered pieces are scattered on the ground.
The final climb onto Mount Griffin is steeper but not difficult, and rewards with a spectacular panorama, The schist of the summit is tilted on edge and split by the fault movement, and nearby orange boulders mark the point where the serpentine band crosses the Razorback Ridge. Walking along the ridge is initially easy, although it is reported to become impassible further on.
Walking times are:
- Road to junction: 2 hours 30 minutes (2 hours down)
- Junction to point 1126: 50 minutes (30 minutes down)
- 1126 to Wilson Knob: 50 minutes
- Wilson Knob to serpentine mine: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Mine to summit: 30 minutes