Snow Caving

It was a fine day in Christchurch when eight of us headed off to Temple basin for a snow caving adventure. The forecast was for bad weather from Saturday evening till Sunday lunch time but we figured we would spend this time ensconced in a “cosy” snow cave. Unfortunately the weather was a bit ahead of the forecast and it was already a bit claggy at Arthur’s Pass when the 2 cars met up for coffee and morning tea. We headed up the good (but steep) track to the ski field and almost made it to the day shelter before the weather turned. We had this large day hut to ourselves for lunch and we made good use of the facilities – which was just as well since, as we headed out, the ski patroller caught us up to ask us where we were headed and to enquire as to whether we were carrying poo pots. As it would be a short walk (<1.5 hrs) back to the shelter in the morning our intention was just to hold on. Later that night this topic did generate some lively discussions about alternative strategies. Some of the suggestions would not (to put it mildly) have gone down too well with Brian our quartermaster. But fear not, we all held on so no one need have any concerns over the state of the Billy tea.

Heading upwards from the ski field huts we were hit by a very cold wind as well as some light snow. As the weakest link in this party I would like to thank the guys up the front for blazing the trail as once we left the ski field we hit deep snow in places. At the basin just below Blimit we stopped and Geoff and others inspected two possibilities before deciding on our home for the night.

Geoff drew 4 circles on the side of the snow bank and we set to digging in. We only had 6 shovels for 8 people but it wasn’t long before everyone was involved as the job of removing the snow out of the growing hole was as strenuous as the digging. Two holes went straight in at the level of the sleeping platform and quickly joined into one cave. As we got further in removing the snow was the limiting factor so we placed a tarpaulin in the entrance hole, piled snow onto it then pulled out the whole lot. Later these two holes were backfilled and closed off.

At the other end they started digging their entrances downwards and then upwards to create an area you could stand up in. They then began digging the platform at about hip height which joined up with the other cave. Meanwhile the weather was getting worse. It was snowing out and the wind was icy. After a couple of hours we stopped for a brew to warm up those who had been working outside pulling the snow out of the cave (definitely the worst job).

Another hour and the job was done. At 6pm packs were pulled inside and after that we only left the cave for the necessities. One of the conveniences of a snow cave is that water is handy –just scrape the walls. When we laid out our bedding we realised we had slightly overbuilt as there was easily room for another three. Due to the light reflecting off the snow only three candles (placed in purpose built alcoves) were required to light the cave.

We all got changed into dry clothes, snuggled into our sleeping bags and enjoyed a second round of soups whilst admiring our handiwork. All except Geoff, who proceeded to cook dinner for us all. We were so grateful to him for providing this service that no-one complained that we didn’t eat dinner until 9.30pm.

We all spent a comfortable night in the cave, completely isolated from the bad weather outside. It snowed quite heavily overnight so that, in the morning, those with the weakest bladders had the job of clearing the snow that built up in the entrance. We had a very leisurely start to the day, taking photos and enjoying breakfast in bed. I think we were all a bit reluctant to leave out excellent cave. Eventually we started packing up and the advantage over a tent was noticeable. We could pack up while still inside even if for space reasons we had to do so in shifts.

Outside the sky was clear, although the wind was cold, so the trip down to the day lodge was considerably more pleasant than the trip up. After a food (and toilet) break we headed down to the cars and on to Arthurs pass for a hot lunch and early arrival back in Christchurch.

Thanks Geoff for a fabulous experience –one ticked off the bucket list.

Geoff, Kevin, Heather, Liz, Garry, Andy, Andrew, Doug. (HM)