Rome Ridge – Avalanche Peak Circuit

16 Nov 2012

I have to confess at the outset, much of the enjoyment from tramping comes from the wide-ranging conversations that wander back and forth within the group, and finally settles on a few points of agreement. As we toiled up Rome Ridge,

we pondered on the nutritional merits of almond icing and why had it had fallen out of favour as a source of tramping fuel. The conversation naturally meandered onto the concept of wilderness areas, paused for a while on the management of the conservation estate, and picked up speed on economic management of the country and by mutual agreement finally came to a halt when we reached the bush-line.

Out on the open ridge, above the edge of the beech forest, was a good place to take stock and to catch a breath. Thick cloud and misty drizzle obscured Mt Rolleston, the upper slopes of the leading ridges, and out to the west. There was no prospect of the weather improving. We agreed that our earlier decision to abandon the Mt Philistine – Mt Rolleston traverse had been the right one.

This proved to be the pattern for the previous week. What had started out as a plan for an ambitious trip between Elcho and Broderick passes, rapidly diminished as the weather models pointed to a combination of heavy rain and low snow levels for the weekend. Other options were considered, such as a climb from Broderick Hut, and discounted. The forecast did, however, suggest that a fine break on Friday, between the oncoming succession of fronts, would allow enough time for a climb in Arthurs Pass before the rain and nor-west gales arrived in the evening.

Gary kindly offered the family bach as a base, so after an exchange of emails and phone calls and a reshuffling of the party, we decided to travel up to the Pass Thursday night and make an early start Friday. Our early start went awry as the alarm didn’t go off. Breakfast was punctuated by an unresolved disagreement over who had the best night’s sleep and who snored the loudest. The weather didn’t look promising. Cloud hung over Mts Rolleston and Philistine. We met three climbers at the bottom of the Rome ridge track. They had departed at 3am to attempt the Crow Face, but returned discouraged, saying the snow pack was isothermic and very soft. They were right. The snow conditions were awful; but fortunately for us, we were able to take advantage of their steps most of the way up the ridge.

At the junction with the Avalanche Peak ridge, we paused, debating whether to continue up to Mt Rolleston or head along the ridge towards Avalanche Peak. Faced with indecision, we procrastinated and adopted the usual tramper’s ploy—stop and have a snack. The wind was starting to pick up with passing showers of light snow and the tops remained enshrouded in murk. It didn’t take long to reach a consensus, Avalanche Peak it was. The snow pack was very unstable. Small avalanches sloughed off—sometimes with a little assistance—broke away, hissing down the slopes and flowing over the bluffs into the headwaters of McGrath Creek.

Just short of the Crow Valley turn off, the sun broke through briefly so we stopped on a sheltered patch of rocks to have lunch. The discourse resumed again as we discussed the forthcoming ‘Gardens’ trip, the past, present and future prospects for tramping clubs, and on the descent, Geoff recounted how a few tenacious individuals in Otago made the extraordinary efforts to open up the Milford Track for all trampers.

Travel along the remainder of the ridge was straightforward, but the weather began to deteriorate. By the time we reached Avalanche Peak, the cloud enveloped us and light snow and drizzle settled in as we descended Scotts Track. On the summit, we met one other person, who obligingly took a group photo. At the track-end Gary headed back up the road to collect the car while the rest of us hastened down the road with Geoff complaining about having to keep pace with long, leggy blondes. We’d promising to have a brew ready for Gary but he turned up with the car and transported the weary crew the last few hundred metres back to the bach.

Thanks to everyone for an enjoyable day, great company and conversation.

Party: Liz Stephenson, Gary Huish, Geoff Spearpoint, and Raymond Ford (RF)