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Avalanche Peak (1833m)
Avalanche Peak (1833m)
Country: New Zealand
Location: Arthur's Pass National Park
Accommodation: Hotel, Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson Youth Hostel and backpackers accommodation
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 - Otira (1:50,000).
Trip Date: 4 December, 1995
Also See:
A hike up Avalanche Peak by Scott A. Yost
Kories Travel Page
Introduction

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 plains.

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 Scotts Track.

Route

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
Avalanche Peak (1833m) from the bushline on Mt. Aicken

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