Arthur’s Pass is the highest of the three passes allowing to cross the Southern Alps and the most direct route to go from Christchurch to the West Coast (and vice versa). At an altitude of 920m above sea level, it is also the gateway to Arthur’s Pass National Park, its twenty 2000+ peaks and countless hiking opportunities.
May, 2015 – Arthur’s Pass Village, New Zealand
Among these hikes is Avalanches Peak Track, an expert route, one of the best-known in the area, offering grand views of the surrounding peaks. Staying in Arthur’s Pass just a for a day, I couldn’t miss the chance (and couldn’t really resist) to go take a look around…
The hike is actually a 1100m vertical climb from the village (over 2,5km horizontal) to the 1833m summit. It’s steep, crazy steep! But the panoramic view at the top is really worth it. Bob, who’s the owner of the backpacker I stayed at there gave me a few tips to complete the hike, and said I wouldn’t regret an early start but also warned me about the strong winds up there and the inherent danger. Bob was a great host, he even lent me a pair of hiking poles, if you need to stay in Arthur’s Pass check out the Mountain House Backpacker.
So I got up early and started the ascent in the early morning. The track is rocky and, as expected, steep. It goes along Avalanches Peak Creek, unveiling beautiful waterfalls, surrounded by mountain beech. As the sun rises panoramas of the valley are superb. I reached the bush line after an hour, Mount Bealey rises on the left, with Bealey valley and a basin dotted with creeks appears on the right.
The track now follows a narrow ridge with several drops offs, I understood why the DOC (Department of Conservation) recommend not to go further in case of poor visibility. About 100m under the junction with Scotts Track, which leads back to the village, the route is mainly rock and gains in elevation to reach the tracks meeting point (1680m). The way to the summit is on a rocky ridge, it is dizzying but amazingly beautiful. The views of Mount Rolleston (2275 meters) and Crow glacier are incredible. On the other side, towards the valley, you can see Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall and Mount Cassidy and Aicken.
The wind picked up and blows too strong to reach the summit. In places, the “way” is actually a slight wide passage of only 1.50m on rocks made slippery by the melting snow with ravines on each side. Being on my own, I didn’t take any risks and headed down when the wind was less severe after I enjoyed the panorama.
The first part of Scotts Track is equally breathtaking with a few impressive steep drops on the left hand side. Alpine views are stunning though and walking along that ridge offers grand views of Mount Rolleston and the surroundings peaks. A sea of clouds forms north of Arthur’s Pass making the whole panorama even more spectacular. After reaching the bush line, the track descends gently into the forest, sometimes flooded by small streams. 45 minutes later I reached the road that took me back to the village, exhausted but cheerful…!