||A Hike up
Avalanche Peak (Arthur's Pass)
||Country: New Zealand
||Location: Arthur's Pass National Park
||Transport: Trains and buses to Arthur's Pass village
from Greymouth and Christchurch. A taxi is available for local trips.
||Maps: Parkmap Arthur's Pass (1:100,000); Topomap K33 -
||Trip Date: 4 December, 1995
Arthur's Pass is the main pass through the Southern Alps of New
Zealand's South Island. It connects the wild West Coast with the tranquil
Canterbury Plains. A road and rail link travel through the pass - the railway
actually goes under the pass in a 9 kilometre long tunnel. The train ride in
from either Greymouth or Christchurch is well worth the detour from the normal
tourist route straight along either coast. The road is narrow and torturous -
the zigzag coming up from Otira Gorge has to be seen to be believed (but has
been tamed somewhat by an enormous overpass). It is also prone to closure by
rock-falls or snow. The pass runs north to south with the Otira River flowing
northwards to join the Taramakau River heading for the West Coast and the
Bealey River flowing southwards to join the Waimakariri River heading for the
The settlement of Arthur's Pass is situated about 4 kilometres eastwards
from the summit (920m) of the pass. It provides a good base for exploring the
area with the Sir Arthur
Dudley Dobson Youth Hostel, backpackers hostel, shop, information centre,
etc. Around the village is the Arthur's Pass National Park - 95,000 hectares of
very mountainous terrain (the highest point is Mt. Murchison at 2408m). The
hikes in this region are tougher than most with many untracked routes over high
alpine passes, close approaches to glaciers and wild river valleys.
Avalanche Peak is directly to the west of the village. The 2 tracks up
to it are the Avalanche Creek Track and Scotts Track. The former is direct but
steep, the latter zigzags a bit but is kinder to the knees. The most
interesting way to climb the peak is to ascend via the Avalanche Creek Track
and descend via Scotts Track. However I took the lazier option of just using
Start the hike by registering your intentions at the Information Centre.
While this is "just" a day trip you are still venturing into alpine territory
and should be prepared.
Hike north along the road from the village for about half a kilometre.
The track starts just around a corner from an old seat on the hillside past the
first stream that you reach. If you get to McGarth Creek then you have walked
much too far!
The start of the track is at a height of 780m. Your heart will get a bit
of a work-out as the track rises steeply until it is free of the roadside.
However this section is short and the track soon begins to sidle across and up
the slope. Within half an hour you come to a small bridge across a stream. This
is a good spot for a rest and to refill your water bottles. In another half
hour you come to the next good spot. Just short of the 1000m contour the track
breaks out of the mountain beech forest and into a clearing. From here there
are good views along the valley and a peek across the pass. You may also think
that you hear a jet engine - the roar is the Devils Punchbowl Waterfalls across
the valley (the rock walls around the falls focus the sound on this slope).
Back into the bush, the track swings up onto a ridge leading south above
the slopes you have just traversed. The bush soon becomes scrub on either side
of the exposed ridge. At one point (at about the 1200m mark) you can look down
and across Wardens Creek to the roof of a house in the village - about 400m
below you. The ridge is not gentle as it rises 300m in a distance of 500
metres. Take your time and admire the views as they open up across McGarth
Creek to Rome Ridge and Mt. Rolliston.
After an hours walking, you ascend a final steep section to emerge onto
a small tussock-filled plateau. This is where I took the photo at the top of
the page and where the first patch of snow was met. The path can be seen
winding its way up the right-hand ridge. The Avalanche Creek Track climbs the
left-hand ridge, avoiding the steep slopes near the summit by rising through
the top snowfield to join Scotts Track.
Follow the track upwards and onto the ridge. There are a few steepish
pitches on the way to the top but nothing to worry about. At a couple of points
it is worthwhile to detour (carefully!) onto the rocky points overlooking
McGarth Creek. The hardest thing I found about this section was a strong and
cold west wind blowing me away from the ridge. When you start to thread your
way through some large boulders then you are nearly at the top. The last
challenge is the knife-edge ridge leading to the top itself. It is less than 20
metres long but will test those without a head for heights.
The top is a splendid place for lunch. It is a bit small - no flat space
at all - so you may find yourself sitting a little down-slope from the summit.
The views are out of this world. Mt. Rolliston (2275m) looms to the north with
Crow Glacier extending westwards to a vertical icefall. If you are lucky then
you may hear ice thundering down into the Crow Valley. Straight across the
valley are the ramparts of Jellicoe Ridge. If you look beyond the end of
Jellicoe Ridge there is the sharp peak of Mt. Greenlaw (2315m) with Mt.
Murchison (at 2408m the highest mountain in the park) to its right. Swinging
further to your left there is the ridge leading to Lyell Peak and Mt. Bealey (a
track climbs from the village to Mt. Bealey). Looking back along the track
there are the many peaks on the other side of the pass - Mt. Temple, Blimit,
Mt. Cassidy, Mt. Aicken, etc.
Having drunk in the views and fortified the inner person, it is time to
return. If you are returning via Avalanche Creek then follow the pairs of poles
marking the track back until a set of posts dive to the right down the slopes.
I contemplated returning this way but took the better part of valour after
looking at the steep snowfield I would have to cross.
The photo below shows Avalanche Peak (in the clouds at the centre) from
the other side of Arthur's Pass. The Avalanche Creek track uses the ridge to
the left, Avalanche Creek can be seen spilling over the basin below the peak
and Scott's track climbs by the right-hand ridge.
|Avalanche Peak (1833m) from the
bushline on Mt. Aicken