The sawn log bridge over a now-dry, side creek is the first bridge on my return from the incredible views at South Buller Pass. A small cairn resides at the base of the tree holding up my hiking poles. This is the junction where the virtually indistinguishable trail to North Buller Pass, decommissioned in 1981, meets the main trail to South Buller Pass.
The North Buller Pass trail turns north-east, directly towards 2,805 m (9,203 ft) Mount Buller.
I leave a marker at the trail junction to assist new acquaintances, Bill and Dave, with the Rosebud Theatre, in the location of this trail junction. It is reminiscent of a marker left for my son, Bill, and myself ten years earlier at a subtle trail junction on the headwall approach to our summit of the 3,000 m (9,843 ft) Fortress in August of 2002. The memory gives me a smile. The indistinct trail swings around the tree.
Almost immediately the trail improves. Although faint in places, it is clear and easy to follow. Decades of neglect require easy negotiation of deadfall. Parts of the trail have minor overgrowth from lack of regular use. The trail gains elevation gradually above a crystal-clear-water, cascading white-water creek. Sounds of rushing rapids reverberate against surrounding rock at the valley narrows. Notice the color of the water.
Occasional openings in the forest provide spectacular views, to my right, of rugged rock walls with spires separating cliffs from the scree base. The trail drops out of forest, over an easy-to-navigate drop, into a spectacular, open valley where the trail tracks close to a creek.
The trail disappears into rock on the east side of the creek. I continue to the top of a rise which provides a view of the canyon ahead. It becomes obvious this route may be compromised but the S-shaped canyon in front of me is spectacular, as you can see in the following brief video.
From the top of the rock rise, I cannot see a trail on the opposite side of the creek but it is intuitive that is where I need to be. As I make the short retreat from the rise, Bill and Dave are hiking over the earth ridge and into the valley. My half hour has expired but they will need to continue through the valley and over North Buller Pass to return to their campground beneath Ribbon Lake and past Ribbon Falls. We spend a few minutes together referencing map and guide. I share what I have learned before we continue in opposite directions. Very nice gentlemen.
At the trail junction I continue west on the main trail, beneath the south face of Mount Buller, through the variety of forest and feature experienced earlier in the day. Soon I pass the beautiful waterfall whose color is accentuated by later day sun and also compromised by shadows.
Descent is quick on switchbacks through forest and burn areas, on trail which improves in quality and become increasingly level. Gross and net elevation on this hike are very similar. The sun is swinging into the western sky as I arrive back at the trailhead. From the Smith-Dorrien Trail, there is good light on Mount Buller, Mount Engadine and the valley separating them which leads to North and South Buller Pass.
The North Buller Pass trail resides in a phenomenally beautiful valley. Although I did not complete the hike into Ribbon Lake over North Buller Pass, I end this hike with a strong feeling the North Buller Pass trail deserves to be improved and preserved. Fellows hikers, I urge you to use this trail. If you happen to pause and create a cairn at a key intersection, another wanderer who follows may benefit from your effort. Increased use will accentuate the path. A group of socially conscious young people, or perhaps a hiking club, could possibly improve the trail. This trail has the potential to be a link in a world-class circuit, in either direction, of both the North and South Buller Pass. I will return here one day to complete the North Buller Pass trail, in both directions, and take advantage of the opportunity to round out the day wandering around in the bowl containing Ribbon Lake. It is a very beautiful and inspiring place.
Accessing Ribbon Lake by Guinn’s Pass, or either Buller Pass, avoids the chains at Ribbon Falls.