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Dragon’s Teeth High Route – the “Wireless Staircase”

Adelaide Tarn is my favorite spot in Kahurangi. Tiny tarn, nestled in snowgrass basin, surrounded by five tall peaks. The Needle, the Eye of the Needle, the Haystack, Mount Douglas and Trident have great views over the main attraction – the Dragon’s Teeth.

Jagged raw slabs poke at strange angles skyward. Around the base and along the steep faces of the teeth lies the “High Route” , also known as the “Wireless” after the wire rope was removed in the 1990’s, or the “Staircase” after the steep steps on the final section.

The track is now well marked with cairns, tin lids and orange canvas. Tricky branches are sawn clear. The path is easy to follow, and much faster than the alternative “Low Route” or scrub bashing up the “Middle Route”, which climbs from Anatoki River to Anatoki Peak.

Even with my 10 day pack, there was plenty of stunted manuka and dracophyllum to hold onto. The sheer drop and sometimes scary climbs of 2-3 meters provide excitement! The track is designed to be followed from north to south, as the climbing up is much easier. The track marking is also easier to find from this side. However to climb down the route is possible.


From the saddle overtop of Adelaide Tarn cairns lead to forest. A short sidle goes to the first, small tooth. A longer climb through cliffs eventually finishes on the snowgrass ramp leading to the largest, middle teeth. More sidling, back in bush, across the “creek” in the centre, to a dry rockfall. Then its time to climb! 100m of near vertical, conveniently stepped into rock and scrub sections. Excellent!

Thanks to Warwick Briggs for track work. Warwick has been climbing the teeth since the 1970’s, and often guides people through. The hut books in Adelaide and Lonely Lake are full of sagas of hardship and woe, struggling through the teeth. The track now is better than ever.

The track emerges onto Anatoki Peak spur, for the final rocky sidle to Lonely Lake. High Route time – 3 hours from Adelaide Tarn to Anatoki peak, then 2 more hours to Lonely Lake.


Comment from Rob
Time: January 29, 2010, 11:25 am

Hi Tristan – 3 of us are doing this over Easter – I was going to do the low route, but if weather is ok It looks like the high route is much better now (previous articles I have read are fill to horror stories).
We are experienced trampers from the Auck Tramping Club.
Can I call you to “pick your brains”
Phone number please
Cheers Rob

Comment from Terry Conaghan
Time: March 6, 2010, 1:01 pm

Hi Off of to the Draogons teeth in 7 days time. We asre going south to north wich is the more difficult for navigation. Can you give me any hints on finding our way through the points to decend the steep shoulders.

Thanks Terry

Comment from Wayne
Time: April 6, 2010, 11:17 am

Hi Tristan, I’ve enjoyed reading your site – including your tramping philosophy. 3 of us completed Dragons Teeth 2 wks ago – low route because of rain, but explored 1/2 the high route. There is a good alternative low route to the DOC route, dropping into Anotoki from high on the ridge behind Adelaide tarn, splitting off from the start of the high route track.
What a fantastic trip it is.

Comment from bill woollcombe
Time: March 4, 2013, 9:15 pm

Hello Tristan,
Can you tell me how I can contact Warwick Briggs?
I tried the lower route of the dragons teeth last year from lonely lake and got as far as the upper SW branch of the Anatoki and got rained out. Spent night underneath a rock the size of a house. regrouped @ Anatoki hut and went up to Adelaide tarn hut via Yuletide peak. Want to try again this year. Brgds., Bill.

Comment from Justin LeSueur
Time: February 10, 2014, 10:02 pm

Hi Tristan. Thinking of doing dragon teeth route at Easter. What’s your view in the rock climb grade for the final climb portion on to anatoki spur? Did you use a rope?

Comment from Tristan Riley
Time: November 21, 2014, 10:20 pm

No rope! No grade! Just a scramble and hold on tight!

Comment from Andrew
Time: April 24, 2014, 10:32 am

It’s great to hear about the high route over Dragons Teeth. I tried it with a friend about 17 years ago and nearly came a cropper, had to be rescued by helicopter. I think we were on a more difficult variation of the “Wirelesss Route”. I would love to go back some time armed with some better route info and a short length of rope.

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