Arthur’s Pass Base

29-31st July 2022

It was all about timing! I last ran a traditional winter AP Base in July 2020, having run numbers of these over the decades. In 2020 it was a pleasant surprise to get the Catholic Outdoor Club house at 10 Sunshine Terrace for a standardized occupation period of 5pm Friday to 5pm Sunday—very practical for two full tramping days. This time it was 4pm to 4pm.

Base excursions are usually interesting logistical exercises but this one was relatively easy. Well, for most of us anyway. Pre-trip we had eleven, but Mary withdrew, so that she was home to support Lynda Janks who was likely to be discharged from hospital before the weekend. Then Maureen had doubts about taking her van to the pass, so pulled out too. So, down to nine but that was still fine for a sociable weekend. Last time at the house, the roofing iron had been replaced and the outside walls painted. This time, the windows had been fitted with double-glazed aluminium, except for one. As usual the overhead infrared heaters took time to get the house cosy on the Friday evening, but after that, no problem. The weekend forecast wasn’t the best. The NWer might be restrictive on Saturday and not sure about Sunday. But that’s the joys of base camps; we can cope with whatever weather comes along. Saturday morning, we settled on Mt Bealey as offering easy access from the house and we could always retreat if need be. Whichever the destination, the snow cover was going to be fairly significant and mostly soft, even below the bush-line. Five of us were away from the house at 8.50am, with Bonnie, Mary-Jane and Glenda following.

At the bush-line the snow was mostly firm and there was only an occasional puff of westerly wind. Higher up, we stopped to put on crampons before eventually stopping at 1600m. The steeper climb to point 1760m was ahead and beyond that, the saddle, before climbing again to 1836m Bealey. However, off-put somewhat by the forecast (that is, the leader chickened out) we headed back to the bush-line for lunch in lovely conditions, before returning to the house at 2.15pm.

In the B team, Glenda had stopped at a nice spot in the bush and Mary-Jane also stopped before the bush-line. Bonnie continued up to the bush-line where he was joined by Joanna for the walk back to have lunch with Mary-Jane and Glenda. They then returned to Sunshine Terrace and walked to the village, on to Punchbowl Falls, followed by a compulsory stop at the store café. Merv walked to the village to find Glenda, who hailed him from the café window. Looking out from the café they could watch as snow started falling at 4pm.

Walking back from the village on this windless afternoon, the scene became increasingly picturesque. Rich however was thinking ahead and picturing the possibility of a delayed highway opening keeping him from his job on the Monday. Most of us would be happy to be stuck in AP for an extra day but he could not take that risk, so packed quickly and headed home.

Saturday evening followed the usual base camp formula—drinks and nibbles, then a vast array of mains and desserts. Joanna probably brought the biggest lasagna ever, or at least the biggest since our last base. Somehow, we managed dessert. Outside, the snow continued to fall, setting quite a scene, including the build-up on power lines and on Bonnie and Mary Jane’s vehicle. It probably stopped sometime after midnight.

Sunday morning dawned a picture with 30cm of snow and high cloud, gradually clearing from the south. The local plough had been around the village streets before 9am, so we could walk most places. Highway 73 was closed east of Rough Creek due to closures further east. The conditions made for a pleasant walk to the village and on to the Bridal Veil Track. Back at the house for lunch and a clean-up, we learned that the highway had opened at 1.30pm so our jigsaw puzzle would not get finished. We left shortly after that, although it seemed a shame to leave so early, on such a beautiful day. The highway people had cautioned not to leave too late. Because Bonnie and Mary-Jane had travelled up separately, the three that arrived with Rich could fit into the remaining cars.

Travelling east, we soon found that a good number of the population of Christchurch had hurriedly packed their toboggans and plastic sheets and headed with the kids for the snow. Any place you could park a car near Porters Pass and Lake Lyndon was teeming with people. The Castle Hill Tors car park was also crowded.

This was a very memorable weekend. We were: Rich Ainley, Bonnie & Mary Jane Bonsell, Joanna Frampton, Rosemary Goodyear, Kyung Sang Lee, Glenda & Merv Meredith (Leader) and Kerry Moore. (MM)