Sunday, November 21, 2010

Arthur's Pass

A short bus trip from Christchurch New Zealand took us to Arthur’s pass, the corridor through the western Alps on the south island. This was our first contact with the harsh and cold conditions of the New Zealand alps, far away from the heat in Brisbane Australia.

Day 1:

We were planning to do a track that would take us up the Avalanche Peak, along the ridge, down to the valley on the other side and rounding the mountain range back to the road. We were advised not to by the man at the information center because of the windy conditions and risk of avalanches. He was also bothered about the word ‘possibly’ in front of heavy rain in the latest weather forecast. With heavy rain the creeks could be flooded and impossible to cross and with a slope too steep to climb back up, we would end up stuck in one of the huts down the track. Instead he recommended us to wait and go for another mountain range some kilometers south of Arthur’s Pass. The four hour walk up to the 1350 meters wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. It might be because we were constantly rewarded by stunning views over the snow covered Alps. Undoubtedly the best view so far. At that time we pretty much knew that bad weather was expected but it didn’t prevent us from pitching our tent right on the mountain ridge, totally unshielded from the lurking storm. This was a perfect opportunity to put our tent to the test. It was to be a quite windy night and none of us got more than a couple of hours of fragmented sleep. It looked as we would have to wait another day before the Avalanche Peak attempt.

Day 2:

It says that if the mist hasn’t lifted by noon in a mountainous environment it will turn to rain in the late afternoon. By noon it didn’t look good. These prediction methods are not ‘rock solid’ and by 3 o’clock we headed out to explore the mountain ridge under a perfectly blue sky. We realized that it was pointless to bring our packs up to 2000 m summits so we only brought day-packs. In higher mountain areas water is not usually a problem where snow is abundant or easily accessible from creeks. To be on the safe side, however, we always bring purification tablets, even on short day trips. You never know what might happen. Walking on the ridge was a thrilling experience. Some sections felt like balancing on a roof top with steep slopes all the way down to the valley floor. After 3 hours we reached the 2000 meters summit and the highest peak on the range. That night we spend in a mountain hut together with a friendly couple from France. They recommended the Copland Track, an 18 km walk with hot springs as a rewarding end. A perfect spa for a Wildman! It was a really cold night and our sleeping bags, including the ‘Fjäll 350’, just weren’t good enough. We have to buy new sleeping bags.

Day 3:

Back at the information center by noon we had another pleasant chat with the same man as before. Lacking alpine equipments, he didn’t tell us not to, but kindly discouraged us from doing the whole Avalanche Track. Tempting us with a beautiful hidden campsite just some 500 meters up the road he advised us to descend the same way back thus making it a day trip. Impressed by his expertise and professional approach we followed the advice. The track was definitely the steepest so far with some technical sections near the summit. Standing on the top we felt the urge to go further but it would be too dangerous without a map, crampons and an ice axe. We definitely need to take our mountaineering to the next level by buying alpine equipments.

/Chris and DJ

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