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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Craigieburn Traverse

It is the quintessential Canterbury skyline that accompanies many a trip to Arthurs Pass and beyond. The undulating scree tops of the Craigieburn Range provide a wild ride either side of the seasons, be it on foot in summer or skis in winter, the ‘burns are sure not to disappoint.

Our party of four stealthed our way up the Porter’s ski-field access road and snow-less ski slopes, shrouded in a cover of darkness to emerge on the summit ridge of the range en cue for a mysterious sunrise, obscured by waves of sleet mist. Glistening in beading sweat after the long uphill grunt, we were soon snap-frozen by the cool westerly, numbing our fingers and ears before we had a chance to pull on fleece gloves and balaclavas. The screaming barfies elicited several shrill whines amongst us as hot blood rushed to our extremities...

Winter had announced her intentions on this wild and barron range, coating the upper flanks of the mountain line with a fine layer of frost. Slippery if caught unaware, but equally, bonding the loose choss together in a solid freeze, resulting in no loss of traction on the up-hills – of which there were many. After a series of steady climbs through increasingly thick ice mist we found ourselves at the trig station of Mt Enys, the highest point on the range at 2194 metres. 

Accurate bearings off the high-points were essential to stay on the main range, as the many inviting spurs could easily drop the un-suspecting off the ridge into a blind abyss as punishment for not checking his map and compass. The cloud persisted as we snaked northwards for hours more before the sight of civilisation returned – the Cheeseman ski-tow gear shed – no better place to stop for a rest and momentarily escape the elements. We had eclipsed thirty kilometres already after six hours, our spirits were high and we were now confident of finishing ahead of schedule.

Further on, as we crested the mighty Mt Hamilton, the clouds began to part, rewarding us with sensational views into the Harper and Cass valleys, and out into the Craigieburn basin, with hypnotic fingers of mist lingering through the bushy spurs diving into the valley. Our legs screamed out for mercy on the last few climbs onto Baldy Hill, the northern most high-point on the range, clocking up an accumulative three thousand vertical metres over the forty-three kilometres of ridge-line traversed. The sun shone in victory as we descended onto the plains, surfing through waves of scree, a celebration of Canterbury’s fundamental element, functioning at her finest. The Craigieburn Traverse. A celebration of choss.

43km, 3150m vertical, 10 hours 15 minutes

All photos by Peter Joynt.

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