Avalanche Peak – Crow Valley

3-4 July 2010

Winter tramping always involves a lottery with the weather and so it proved as we enjoyed cloudless winter views of the Torlesse and Craigieburn Ranges on the way to Arthurs Pass after a forecast of doom and gloom earlier in the week. The avalanche risk was rated as moderate, meaning human-triggered avalanches were a distinct possibility. Kerry wondered out loud whether yodeling counted as a risk, which prompted Raymond and Gary to reply that if he planned to bring the hills alive with the sound of music he should desist.

We left a bike at the Klondyke road-end and warily eyed the cloud lurking in the west as we set off up Scott’s Track in clear but breezy conditions. Wet footprints ahead promised that someone might kick steps in the snow but unfortunately we caught up to the couple who were quite happy for us to take over the lead. We hit soft knee-deep snow at the bush-line and floundered our way upward on tussock and rock ribs where we could find them. Three hours from the road, the cloud had closed in by the time we lunched on top of Avalanche Peak, obscuring earlier views to the east. A strong westerly was blowing spindrift and ice particles across the ridge.

Gary took the direct route north from the top causing a few problems for Kerry in soft snow on the rocky start to the ridge but Kerry found the traverse under the second pinnacle more to his liking. The ridge alternated between deep snow drifts and bare rock sections where the keen wind had scoured the surface. We were glad to reach the large cairn indicating the descent scree after another hour. We thought the sight of snow to the base of the scree promised easy travel but we were disabused of that notion when we found the lower half consisted of soft powder concealing but not supporting the loose underlying rocks. It was like walking on unseen ball-bearings. The upper valley was still covered in snow from the previous week. Despite the conditions, we reached the hut by mid-afternoon. The wood burner was a welcome sight. Raymond soon cranked up the fire, Gary trampled down the snow to the toilet and woodshed while Kerry demonstrated different methods of lighting an MSR. For the remainder of the afternoon we settled down to several brews and a three course meal. Once fired up the wood stove warmed up the hut and certainly proved better at simmering the meal than the intemperate MSR.

In an effort to improve our vocabulary, Kerry had introduced the weekend word ‘verisimilitude’ and stretched our credulity, by demonstrating various different meanings and challenging our efforts to pronounce it. Raymond decided it was a neologism and the word should be expunged from the language.

Sunday dawned calm, with a bracing frost. The early morning tranquility and Sunday lie-in was abruptly shattered by the remarkably early arrival of a feathered alarm clock outside the hut. Despite the raucous screeching, we resisted the temptation to leave the warmth of sleeping bags, until Kerry finally succumbed and went outside to remonstrate with the parrot, throwing a snowball in its direction. Breakfast was a solid affair. Kerry produced a large home-made sultana bread loaf and a bread knife and proceeded to slice off thick slices, lightening his pack considerably in the process.

There was not a cloud in the sky as we reluctantly left the Crow Hut for what is usually a 4hr walk to the road. Half-way down the Crow we stopped to remove a layer of clothing and were treated to a birds-eye view as two blue ducks splashed down near us, apparently telling us this was their river. In these frigid conditions we weren’t about to dispute their rights.

Snow-covered boulders, hoar-frost crystals, and frozen gravel in the Waimakariri in the middle of the day was an indication of how little winter sunlight reached parts of the valley. The slippery footing made travel down the river an interesting test for the leg muscles. Nonetheless, we made good time and Gary went on ahead and biked back to Arthurs to get the car, leaving the others in the frost at Klondyke Corner with the verisimilitudinous statement that it would only take twenty minutes.

The trip participants were Raymond Ford (leader), Kerry Moore and Gary Huish. Thanks to all for a brilliant winter trip and the erudite discussion! (GH)