Avalanche Peak - Arthur's Pass

South Island, New Zealand

January 26-27, 2008

Dave and Jill Svilar



On top of Avalanche Peak with a real mountain in the background, Mt. Rolleston.


Sometimes adventure can be found in unusual places.  However, if that unusual place is the simple minutiae of everyday life it's time to re-examine.

We left the United States and my teary mother on Monday and by Saturday morning my bags had yet to join me in Christchurch.  By this time an oily film had developed on the inner lining of my underwear, which, after five days had begun to smell like I had opened a can of tuna in my pants.  This isn't all that remarkable except for our simple inconvenience of living with two total strangers.  Just before my patience had reached its end a knock on the door revealed my long lost luggage.  Within two hours of applying a new layer of undies our rental car was pointed across the Canterbury Plains toward the reason we had come to New Zealand...  the mountains and fresh outside adventure.

This trip had no real goal except to get out of the city rathole and try and get a lay of the land outside Christchurch.  Arthur's Pass, a moderate section of the Southern Alps and only 2.5 hours from the city seemed a logical first destination.  The frustrations of our first week - 24 hour plane delay, no shelter, no Mom's food, no money - seemed to drop behind us as quickly as we rose out of the plains.  After some lazy snooping at the visitor center we decided on a track that would suit a moderately ambitious afternoon outing.  Avalanche Peak, the high point on a ridgeline directly above the pass with a "roundtrip" track looked like it would give us the best opportunity to sample the areas' sights.

Unlike popular tracks in the U.S. the builders of this trail were not paid by the mile.  From the instant we left our rental car the steep grade did not relent until we reached the top some 1,100 meters (3,000 + feet) later.  Views were outstanding as we broke the bush line while the pass seemed directly beneath our feet.  As pleasing as the views were, I have a hard time completely enjoying any peak that doesn't hold year-round snow.  Soon though we had views of a "real" mountain - Mt. Rolleston - that contained an actual glacier.  After a quick bask on the summit of our own peak we took the other track straight back down to the pass.  This was no less steep than our ascent track and at one point had to go into a full-on class 3 scramble.

Upon reaching the car we hurriedly sought free camping down valley.  A dirt road along a wide, braided river valley supplied us a surprisingly easy and enjoyable camping with views of glacier-clad peaks up valley.  The plan was for Jill to spread out in the backseat and for me to sleep out on a sandbar.  However, as I lay down to sleep I spotted, with the aid of my headlamp a black creature slinking in the grass near my camp.  I'd never seen anything quite like it, and the thought of awakening to this mysterious black creature knawing on my head was more than I could accept.  Like the coward I am I retreated into the confines of our rental car and proceeded with a night significantly more uncomfortable than sitting upright in a 747. 

The area in the vicinity of Arthur's Pass showed potential, but I put it on my list for late fall and winter when the peaks were more likely to have a dusting of snow.  It appears that the more beastly peaks of New Zealand are all concentrated near Mt. Cook some ways south.

In the meantime Jill and I would return to the frustrations of carving out a new life for ourselves in an overpriced city. 

Getting down to basics: Jill feeling more like home with a PB&H atop the rental car.
Jill takes a breather at the bushline.  Arthur's Pass can be seen in the distance.
Outstanding views on our tramp.
A stone's throw from our night spent camping in the rental car.

-written February 2008