Traverse of the Alps

09:54, Nov 03 2011
Southern Alps traverse
The start of day two on Saint Arnaud range.
Southern Alps traverse
Whitehorn Pass.
Southern Alps traverse
Black Tower and Mount Hopkins.
Southern Alps traverse
Descending from Mount Brewster.
Southern Alps traverse
Lake Lucidus.
Southern Alps traverse
High camp on a glacier.
Southern Alps traverse
Lake Harris and the Routeburn.

Queenstown adventurer Erik Bradshaw completed the first ski traverse of the Southern Alps when he reached Fiordland after 800 kilometres on snowy ridges, glaciers and plateaus.  

Bradshaw began his journey on August 8 from St Arnaud in the Nelson Lakes and finished on October 26 in Fiordland.  He skied along the spine of the South Island - a journey with the vertical-metre equivalent of climbing Mt Everest 6 times.

This is the first time the Southern Alps have been traversed on skis and the second ever winter traverse - Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain traversed the Alps during the winter of 1971.

To complete the journey Bradshaw invented ski equipment including a unique exoskeleton binding that fits over a walking boot to transform it into a ski boot with crampons.

"Without doubt it is the hardest thing I have ever done," said Bradshaw.

"I had to know what would work and what was too dangerous. If I was too timid I would never succeed, but if I was too bold I wouldn’t make it home.  I pushed myself very hard for 12 hours per day, skiing and climbing then camping in sub-zero temperatures."

The traverse was completed in several legs with Bradshaw stopping to restock and repair equipment. At one point he broke a pair  skis and had to  make a replacement pair.

During the traverse Bradshaw survived sub zero temperatures and raging storms in a tiny tent.

"Sometimes it was miserable, in a small tent coated in ice being flattened by a storm knowing you are a long way from home. But other times it was breathtakingly beautiful with towering snow capped mountains, blue skies and amazing snow."

Highlights of the trip were remote areas such as the Snowball and Volta Glaciers, the Upper Hunter and Te Naihi Rivers and the Garden of Allah and Eden Ice Plateaus.

“It was a real treat to visit such places and some areas such as the Te Naihi have probably never been visited on skis before. We have fantastic powder skiing in our mountains that I hadn’t experienced before."

Bradshaw started backcountry skiing when he was 15 and has been a keen mountain climber since he could walk.  He has climbed and skied throughout New Zealand and Antarctica. In 2006, with partner Christine Ryan, he was awarded a Royal Humane Society Bravery medal for the rescue of trampers in the Matukituki Valley near Aspiring National Park.

He and Ryan  run a tourism-specific software business which provides comprehensive management systems for some  New Zealand tourism companies. They have a 15-month-old son and live in Queenstown.