Castle Hill Peak (aka Mt Philistine)

15 September 2021

Flexibility is becoming an essential part of tramping. Yet again, the forecast for Raymond’s Sunday trip to Mt Philistine involved 140kph north-west winds. The following Wednesday forecast looked good and a delay of several days might allow the snowpack to settle down but the avalanche advisory for Arthurs Pass remained stubbornly high for the top basin. It was too good a day to waste so four headed towards the Craigieburns, possibly Mt Cloudsley. The view of the snow cover from Foggy Peak to Castle Hill Peak looked fantastic as we approached Springfield and that seemed a better option than the high snowline on Mt Cloudsley that Raymond had noted on the webcam. So, another change of plan.

There was another car at Porters Pass and a line of footsteps preceded us through the hoar frost crystals up Foggy Peak. The conversation level diminished slightly as many cobwebs were blown away with the climb. The scree was still frozen solid, helping progress, and we made the top of Foggy Peak in good time with no wind at all and views in all directions.

We still couldn’t see the footstep makers ahead of us, so they must have started early. The traverse along the ridge was delightful with firm, packed snow and the occasional drift. We had almost reached the last climb to the summit when the footsteps stopped, there was a large excavation in the snow, then ski tracks but still no people. We had almost reached the top of Castle Hill Peak when we saw two people coming up behind us. Hmm, another group. We had a perfect lunch stop, views to Mt Cook, the Arrowsmiths and Mt Evans, and still not a breath of wind. We were above the 2000m mark, with snow well above the top trig pole. The two behind caught up and turned out to be two guys from the Canterbury University Tramping Club who had been ahead of us. They skied off down towards Ghost Creek and climbed up for another go—the energy of youth! They skied off the top for another run towards Ghost Creek while we headed back along the ridge. Views continued, little wind and then the final descent back to the car. A fantastic spring day, with plenty of opportunity for views and conversation. After a succession of nor-wester cancellations, it’s nice to remember what tramping can do for mental health. Mt Philistine will have to wait.

Trampers: Raymond Ford (leader), Geoff Spearpoint, Peter Umbers and Gary Huish. (GH)

Approaching Castle Hill peak, the highest point of the Torlesse Range. Photo by Geoff