By Nick Pascoe.
The end of May brought with it a good fall of snow and some sustained low temperatures. The clubbies were still sitting idle for the season and Christchurch was breaking records for rain, fog, and just general gloominess.
I thought it was a good opportunity to try and tick off some of the vague trip ideas I’d put down in bullet points, and with an extra day over Queens birthday weekend an overnight trip was on the cards.
Not every trip has to be up and moving pre-dawn, and so myself and American friend Tenaya Driller made a leisurely 10 am start from Christchurch. As we pulled through Porters Pass the clouds parted and we got to look back over the Canterbury Plains blanketed in fog, always a good validation of any decision to get out of town. This trip just had the general outline of a plan, which was to tramp up from Bealey to Lagoon Saddle Hut and see if we could find some good skiing for two or three days.
We rounded into the Waimakariri and the temperature became obvious, with a thick frost in every shaded spot. The sun was out though, and the excitement was still high for a couple of hours with ski gear and heavy packs walking up into the mountains. Half an hour later we were slogging uphill through beech forest, trying to keep the skis on our backs from hooking on any overhead tree branches.
Hopping and jumping through the mud that a week of snow melts causes as we sidled around the mountain on the track had us exhausted. However the sight of 30 cm of dry powdery snow in amongst the trees on the shaded side of Lagoon Saddle was easily enough to bring our excitement back up. We quickly made our way down to the basic little tin shed that was to be our our home for the night. It wasn’t lavish by the high standards of New Zealand huts, but more than made up for it by the fact we could put our skins on and tour from the hut door. Hastily we dropped our gear off and made our way up to try for a sunset powder lap. We toured up past the lake and had stunning 360 degree views over Arthurs Pass, Mt Rolleston, and back towards the Craigieburns. Enjoying the views until it was practically dark, we left ourselves just enough light to make some great powder turns through the trees back down to the hut.
A few cups of hot tea and some cards by torchlight got us into bed at a reasonable hour. We woke up in the morning and I had a read through the hut book over breakfast. A note from a few nights earlier had mentioned a ‘crazy freezing night’ and we couldn’t agree more, the tin shelter didn’t do a whole heap in terms of insulation. We warmed right up though as we bush bashed upwards from the hut, skis in touring mode. As we got higher we had more stunning views of the the Waimakariri and the snow cover only got better. The terrain was perfect for touring, and we made quick progress up towards Mid Hill. It steepened up near the top of the 1831 m peak, with some great lines over the back that I added to the list of things I needed to come back to ski. The ski down consisted of nice varying wind buff and powder all the way down to the hut.
While we were descending the weather had only become more ominous. Over a late lunch at 3.30 pm, naturally with more tea, we made a snap decision to walk out early that day and try and beat the rain. We hastily toured back up to the top of the saddle, and then transitioned to running shoes. It was rapidly starting to get dark and so we rushed our way back through the mud into the trees. As soon as we entered the trees the head torches had to come out of our packs, but we managed to make good progress back down the track. The rain held off, but ten minutes into the drive back to Christchurch it pelted down onto the windscreen. Over some snacks we agreed it was definitely a spot to come back to, toasting to some good weather, great timing, and even some early June powder!
Images from top to bottom:
Sunset over Lagoon Saddle and the Craigieburns.
Fun lines and great snow up high.
Getting geared up tour from the door of Lagoon Saddle Hut.
Looking over lagoon saddle.
Tenaya picking her way through the forest.
View from the top of Mid Hill over the Waimakariri.