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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mount Oates Traverse

Dawn on Temple Col. The eastern peaks of Arthur's Pass sketched out the horizon in black against the morning glow rising over Christchurch. It was midweek and most were still enjoying their last hours of sleep before heading to work; we should have been too. But today Elisha and I were up at 4 and on the crest of the Main Divide by 6, primed and ready for a full day of exciting ridge-line negotiations and some stupendous scrambling. Work could wait for another day...

Sunlight slowly chased us along the ridge from Temple Col to Goat Pass
The route from Temple to Goat was more precarious and involved than we'd expected. We'd timed it perfectly and after a short rest on the col, daylight began to light up our path to Goat Pass. The DOC guide alluded to 7 hours for this section; we thought that a bit generous for such a short distance. However, after dropping 100 metres, traversing a scree bench then descending 300 metres, sidling a buttress, ascending a loose rocky gut, and traversing numerous hairy ridge-tops before the main descent... we agree it is fair to allow plenty of time for the trip.

Easier terrain down the ridge past tasty little tarns led to thick scrub around the Goat Pass plateau. We crossed at right angles the route recently followed by the past weekend's stampede of Coast-to-Coasters, hopping over the well trodden board walk and back on the off-track climb straight up to Lake Mavis...

Lake Mavis
Originally we'd planned for the more straight forward tramping route over point 1978m following the Main Divide, and following the chossy ridge northwards towards Taruahuna Pass. But now taking in the glistening Mavis and gazing up to Mount Oates, I yearned for the more adventurous option. The West Ridge was described as a classic AP scramble, even deserving a star in the guide book. To bag the summit was very tempting and the day was still young; we took it by the reigns, hopped the Mavis outflow and set off for the col marking the base of the West Ridge...

Fantastic scrambling on great rock - the West Ridge of Mt Oates
 The rock was fantastic and within moments we were standing on top of Oates. A hearty morning's work, and the day was still cool. Unlimited views stretched over towards the Alps and back to Christchurch, lunch break in the city too. Sandwiches slid down easily as we contemplated the next stage, a tricky traverse across to the high peak.

A bluebird day in Arthur's Pass - Mt Oates low peak. Mingha on the right, Edwards on the left.
 My prolific friends Nina and James had down-climbed an optional 20 metre rappel; we found the terrain steep but the holds and cracks plentiful. Another mental game that we took carefully and patiently and soon stepped upon our second summit in quick succession.

Climbing to the high peak of Oates

Descending late season snow to escape the ridge and drop onto faster terrain
Eventually the constant exposure became wearisome, and we hungered to move faster on some more moderate terrain. At the first chance, we spotted a snow chute from a col on the ridge, a quick escape, and soon we were powering across level rocky benches littered with tarns, a bountiful playground for hunters and their prey...

Chamois on the run...
The long Williams ridge south of Mt Oates stretched on into the early afternoon. After a refreshing wash in one of the tarns, a reprieve from the onset of dehydration in the hot sun, we made efficient progress to Williamson Saddle over fast terrain. Dropping into the Edwards required a keen eye to spot a safe descent - at first we were bluffed out before bushy sidle had us back on a safe route down into the stream.

Williamson Saddle, Edwards Valley
Edwards Hut sheltered us from the sun momentarily, but the remaining two hours down the river sucked us dry. State Highway 73 was a very welcome sight. The first car was successfully flagged down, delivering Elisha and I back to Temple Basin exactly 12 hours after we had started that morning. A perfect day in Arthurs Pass...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alistair
    Was looking for aome first hand knowledge of climbing Mt Aspiring and the walk in.
    Any chance I could call you and have a chat.
    My friend and I are aiming for early March.Morison

    Andrew Morison