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Arthur's Pass: Avalanche Peak - Crow River Route

Alert/Important notice

November 2014: Spring conditions in alpine areas

Spring conditions exist. Snow still affects many higher tracks and routes. Ice axe, crampons and avalanche skills may be required. Please check with the Visitor Centre for current conditions in all alpine areas.

Track category

Route

Time:  

2 days

Description

Arthur’s Pass Village - Crow Hut

Time: 6 - 7 hr

There are two tracks which head to Avalanche Peak.Avalanche Peak Track is steeper and more direct.

Scotts Track climbs more gradually, has better views, and is easier on the knees. Both tracks are marked to the summit.

Avalanche Peak Track to summit

Time: 3 - 4 hr

This track travels along a narrow ridge and is precipitous in some places. Beware of steep drop offs and rock fall.

From the Visitor Centre follow the bush edge northwards to pick up the start of the track behind the first house and before the bridge over Avalanche Creek.

The track is rocky and steep in parts, and goes up through mountain beech on the south side of Avalanche Creek.

As you climb, the track moves away from the creek and emerges from the bush line (1200 metres) to give good views down the Bealey valley to Cora Lynn Station, the Black Range and Mt Bealey. You are halfway to Avalanche Peak summit.

Follow the ridge which runs between the Rough Creek and Avalanche Creek catchments. From the bush line, a worn trail leads through tussock and subalpine vegetation. Beware of steep drop offs as you travel along this narrow ridge. Yellow markers on stakes mark the route all the way to the summit. Mt Rolleston/Kaimatau, with the Crow Glacier on its southern side, rises majestically to the north above the ridge.

The prominent ridge suddenly flattens out at 1680 metres. From this point, climb steeply to the ridgeline above you, following the worn track and snow poles. On the exposed ridgeline, Avalanche Peak track joins Scotts Track. Orange and yellow stakes mark the last ten minutes to the summit.

Scotts Track to summit

Time: 3 - 4 hr

Scotts Track climbs more gradually to Avalanche Peak. If you are doing this route in reverse it is the better track to come down.

The track entrance is signposted from SH 73, 200 metres past the northern end of the village directly opposite Devils Punchbowl Falls. The marked track climbs through the bush, crossing a few streams. Orange stakes mark the track above the bush line and a foot-worn track goes through the tussock. Take care where the ridge has steep drops into McGrath Creek. Ten minutes before the summit the track joins Avalanche Peak Track.

Avalanche Peak Ridge to scree slope

Time: 1 hr

The ridge line from Avalanche Peak is narrow and rocky so the unmarked route often sidles below the ridge.

The route to the main ridge behind Avalanche Peak starts in the opposite direction to what you would expect. From the summit, drop down the south side of Avalanche Peak onto the top of a shingle scree. (As you walked up from the village, south was on your left, the large peak, Mt Rolleston, is to the north.) From the shingle scree, head north-west under the main peak to a saddle between Avalanche Peak and the main Rolleston ridge. From the saddle, sidle on the eastern (village) side of the ridge, down to the main ridge towards Mt Rolleston. Continue along this ridge about half an hour until you reach a marked point indicating the descent point into the Crow Valley.

If you are doing this trip in reverse do not be tempted to drop into the upper basins of McGrath Creek to avoid climbing over Avalanche Peak. The basins end in bluffs and are not a ‘short cut’.

Scree slope to Crow Hut

Time: 1 hr 30 min

The route leaves the ridge and a scree slope takes you all the way to the Crow River. It is vital to find the right descent into the Crow River.

Do not attempt to descend to Crow River before the marked point, because earlier screes finish in bluffs. There are four features to check that you are at the right place:

1. This point is marked by stakes and a rock cairn.
2. You can see the full length of the scree, from the ridge to the Crow valley.
3. The full drop of Devils Punchbowl Falls is visible on opposite slopes.
4. Just after the correct place to descend, the ridge you are on rises more steeply towards Mt. Rolleston.

This scree provides a good, bluff-free descent, but is avalanche prone in heavy snow. Take care not to dislodge loose rock onto people below you. Beware of rock fall.

Towards the bottom, this long scree narrows before fanning out. From here you can see Crow Hut on the true right bank of the Crow River. Follow the riverbed downstream for 20 minutes to the hut. Look for a crossing as far above the hut as possible, if the river is high.
The 10-bunk hut stands in a clearing on the bush edge. The Crow face of Rolleston at the head of the valley is a popular winter climbing route.

The name Crow was inspired by the sighting of a kōkako (orange-wattled crow) during an 1865 exploration of the area. Last seen in the park in the 1930s, the South Island kōkako is probably extinct. 

Crow Hut - Klondyke Corner

Time: 4 hr

From Crow Hut, travel down the river on the true right bank. The route alternates between easy river-bank travel and sections of marked track in the bush, where the river runs close to the bank. Approximately 15 minutes downstream from the hut is an active rock-fall area. Cross it quickly, with appropriate caution.

Cross Crow River where it opens out before joining the Waimakariri River. Then cut the corner on a marked track through a flat tongue of beech forest to the grassy Waimakariri flats.

If Crow River is not easily crossed, travel further downstream to where it joins Waimakariri River. There is no track this way but crossing may be possible where the river widens.
From Crow River travel changes between large grassy flats and shingle riverbed. Because the Waimakariri River flows against steep bluffs, you must at some stage cross the river then re-cross to reach the Waimakariri valley road end. A gravel road takes you the final short distance to Klondyke Corner. The second lower river crossing may present more difficulty under some conditions. In these circumstances it is possible to traverse the huge scrub-covered fan (Turkey Flat) opposite the Crow confluence to join the marked track that climbs above the river and descends to the road bridge at Bealey on SH 73.

If the Waimakariri River is high or in flood you must find a safe place to wait for river levels to drop.

Getting there

The trip starts from Arthur's Pass Village on SH 73, 150 km from Christchurch.

Regular bus services run daily to Arthur's Pass, as does the famous Tranz Alpine express train journey.

Plan and prepare

  • Experience: Suitable for well-equipped people with previous back-country tramping experience.
  • Best season: mid summer to late autumn
  • NZTopomap50: Otira BV20

The route of Avalanche Peak is unmarked, steep, and exposed to the weather and should not be attempted in poor visibility or high winds. In winter and spring, the route over the peak is prone to avalanches. Consider walking in and out by the Crow River.

The track is not continuously marked, and at times you need to be able to find your own way.

Warning: if the Waimakariri River is high or in flood you are best to find a safe place to wait for levels to drop.

Safety on Arthur's Pass routes

  • Allow adequate time. Note the times given for each section are guides only.
  • Check snow and weather conditions. Mountain weather forecasts are available from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
  • Know your ability. Arthur's Pass National Park is mountain country. Navigational skills and ability to judge weather and river conditions are essential. Be prepared to turn back if conditions are not safe.
  • Never travel alone. This route is difficult. .
  • Take a map and compass. Topomaps for the area are available to buy or hire from the Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre.
  • Cross rivers safely. Take care with river crossings especially after heavy rain. If in doubt, wait it out.
  • Note: True right and true left refers to the sides of the valley when looking downstream.
  • Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

     

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Contacts

Arthur's Pass National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 318 9211
Address:   State Highway 73
Arthur's Pass
Email:   arthurspassvc@doc.govt.nz
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Rangiora Office
Phone:      +64 3 313 0820
Email:   waimakariri@doc.govt.nz
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