Hamilton Peak

4 October 2009

It was a bleakish morning; there had been snow in the hills overnight and Christchurch was in for a bad day – hail and sou-westerlies. However the best combination for Arthur's Pass and Canterbury High Country (ignoring the “snow showers” part for one of them) indicated possibly clearing weather. The four of us who turned up were keen to go, especially Faine, fresh from her recent snow course.

We left the car at the start of the Broken River Ski field road at 9.30am and walked for half an hour up to the tractor shed. Then it was probably another half hour up the track and iced-over snow, past the ski field buildings to the bottom of the ski tow. We hoped the odd snowflake falling was the last we would see.

Even though it was dull and grey there were plenty of skiers on the field enjoying the previous night’s few centimetres of fresh snow. That fairly thin layer however, was covering a hard, icy layer. There was no snow covering the hard layer on steeper parts and as we got onto the ridge leading up to Nervous Knob we had to get the crampons out. We were intrigued that the “off-piste” skiers on and around the ridge seemed to be quite at home with such conditions.

Merv led the way and as we neared the top of Nervous Knob, with crampons barely cutting in, fine snow began to fall giving about 5-10m visibility. At this point we crossed a sign-posted ski path. A team of cheerful skiers emerged from the murk and then plunged down a near-vertical drop between two rocks into what would have been the valley on our right if we could have seen it.

It was a bit of a slog up the knob. The wind picked up from behind, beating the snow at our backs. We came over the ridge and dropped into its shelter. At the same moment, the clouds parted, snow stopped and the sun began to shine inviting us to have an earlyish lunch! We indulged in our 10 minute ration of sun and then the weather came at us again. We quickly packed up. There had only been time for a quick bite and drink but not enough for the icicles in the moustaches to melt.

We took off along the ridge with 5-10m visibility again; just following the highest ground. We momentarily considered aborting and going straight down into the valley but pressed on to attempt the full circuit. At Hamilton Peak we couldn't see where the ridge carried on so, sheltering behind a dog kennel-sized construction, Merv got out the map and compass. We were just about to trust to the bearing and drop off in the general direction when, oh happy day, the clouds parted revealing the path we should take. This way was quite close to our compass bearing but practically opposite to the path I had first suggested, which was actually the way we had just come.

From then on it was full-steam ahead, plain sailing, along the ridge in full visibility. A couple of us took an exhilarating bum-slide down to Camp Saddle. We took the crampons off at the bush line and then walked in patches of sun, down to the tractor shed car park. From there it was another half hour and we were back to the car by 3.55pm; coffees at Springfield; Church corner, 5.45pm. We all agreed it was a great day out – Good for the body and the soul! Thanks Merv. We were Faine K, Bill Templeton, Merv Meredith, and Ken Rapson. (KR)