Craigieburn Haute Route
By Stu Waddel
The Craigieburn Haute Route is in its fourth season and we recently completed a great trip from Craigieburn to Mt Olympus. I share our joys and hard work as a script of changing fortunes.
On our first day starting from Craigieburn, we were turned at the ticket office as the tows were not rolling due to a broken gearbox and closure of the ski area. For many it was onward to another mountain, one of the benefits of the Chill Pass. For us, we were committed to travel over the top to Broken River, and we re-started at Big Bend. Our first stage was boot packing and skinning up to Whakamaru Day Lodge.
I was thrown in the deep end, as I was starting with brand new boots brand new skis and bindings. They were fitted the day prior, don’t try this at home! My decision to fix the heel was in the balance and could go either way. The first steps in hard sole boots were tricky, I tripped on numerous occasions and the flat sole was a complete change to the rolling step of a tele boot. However, with no turning back, at the transition to skins I confessed my nerves to the team.
With no need to look back, we skinned up to Whakamarua Day lodge. Touring with new tech bindings offered an exact or more precise step from skin to ski than my tele set up, which admittedly wasn’t as well appointed at this one.
At the day lodge we were greeted with a fine lunch and a very quiet ski field. This was a good chance to gather ourselves, a rewarding moment to muster the crew. We had a couple of Australian chaps, an Irish fella now living in CHCH and a keen young man also from CHCH. One snowboarder, two on tech bindings and one on a frame binding setup. Anna Keeling was lead guide and I was tail guide.
For the remaining afternoon, skinning through fresh snow, we climbed to the top of Hamilton Peak, achieving approx 750m of climbing today. From here it was a good challenge to negotiate the ski into Broken River, the snow was tricky, and firming to face the closer we got to Palmer Lodge. While we missed skiing at CV we also missed the chance to get use to skiing with a backpack, and I laughed, standing at the top of Hamilton I had no idea what my skis were like! Pain and suffering come to mind rolling into Palmer for a BR larger and welcoming Tele-mark crowd. We’d arrived to the telemark festival at BR, I wasn’t sure if I should be hiding my fixed heel setup.
By night at BR and dining at Lyndon Lodge, everyone was dressed with attire from the dress up boxes, combining mid week antics with a 50th birthday celebration. By day (following) we were out the door and back up to Palmer. The clouds surrounding the ski area had promised snow overnight, but there was little in the air and a strong possibility the the storm had passed.
At Palmer we soaked up some early morning antics, re-packing and sorting gear, sipping on cups of tea and eventually riding the tow to the top. Looking back, there was a beautiful collection of telemarkers gathering to enjoy another day free heeling. Unfortunately, within 200 meters from leaving the top tow, one of the ski bindings of our Irish guest broke. The product recall of the Kingpin toe piece suddenly became a reality, rendered useless. We walked back to BR, saying goodbye to the rest of the team.
Anna and team, were able to continue onto the Yukon and then Mt Wall before making their way to Cheeseman Ski Area. We, on returning to BR were surrounded by our friendly telemarkers. While laughing off the situation, a new adventure was beginning for us. This time walking 750m downhill, we opted for the low route, sorted new skis, played 500 and had a ski on the T Bar at Cheeseman and a good chance to try my skis out.
Anna and the Haute Route team turned up after an epic day, and we settle into Snowline Lodge. The day had delivered, and food with fine beer settled us for the evening.
Day three started with blue sky and awesome sunshine. After a short re-pack and espresso coffee in the day lodge, today was promising. Everyone was back on board, and on route to Olympus Anna picked three great lines. The first from a short drop into Tarn Basin that lead to a sweet walk out. Then we skied a longer line into Tim's Stream, sitting in the mid morning sun. Today was all about timing, the sun was soaking up the early overnight freeze and leaving us with ‘hot pow’ and all we could take in one run.
Our last line, was off the top of Mt Cheeseman and into The Ryton. We arrived as another crew met us coming from MO. They were part of the car shuttle for us, and it was a welcoming crossover. Anna saved our best run for last, a sunny face all the way to the last of the snow in The Ryton. The Ryton undoubtedly has superb terrain for all abilities, and a number of different pitches to choose. Alas the walk out was a little longer that we’d wanted, this season the snow line is high, leaving approx 2.5km walk.
The welcoming committee at Mt Olympus started from the access road and kept going to the tows and into the lodge. Within 20 min of settling we were helping serve a delicious meal and a full lodge. It was a late night for some, and a quiet night for the haute route crew. Sunday was another promising day in the mountains.
It was hard and fast all round on day four, although after skinning to the top of Mt Olympus, the sun soaked slopes had softened the snow and we skied three pitches before skinning back up on return to the ski area. It’s rugged terrain on The Ryton side of Mt Olympus, but there are a number of rolling bowls nestled among the cliff faces. Four days of touring and today, while shorter, was as good as it gets. Our weather window had provided plenty of opportunity to ski some remarkable snow and earn every turn. Thank you to the great crew on the trip.
For my gear, a big rap to my lovely boot fitter Duncan, no blisters, a sore big toe but no bruises and I’m fixed on the technical touring set up, esp when carrying approx 8-9kgs in my pack for four days.
The Craigieburn Haute Route
Runs each season over four days, starting at Craigieburn and finishing at Mt Olympus. Three nights at Broken River, Cheeseman and Mt Olympus. You can join a group with a max of 5 people, plus lead and tail guide, or organise a private group.
Read more here.
Ski - K2 WayBack 96mm under foot
Binding - G3 ION
Boot - K2 Pinnacle touring boot with new generation precision fit liner
Poles - G3 Scepter
Pack - Black Diamond Cirque 45L
Chill Alpine Guided Tours
All of the Chill ski areas access great backcountry terrain. A number of ski area tows finish at a peak or the ridge line, opening a variety of terrain choices. In association with Anna Keeling Guiding we offer courses to equip skiers and snowboarders with the knowledge and skills required to travel in the backcountry. Also on offer is the Craigieburn Haute Route, a multi-day alpine journey from Craigieburn Valley to Mt Olympus.