Optimistic Ski Touring
By Nick Pascoe
In Canterbury there’s an awkward in between kind of season where the weather is cold and dreary, but the snow hasn’t quite built up enough for the clubbies to open up shop for the season. However touring missions are great to fill this gap!
I’ve been running a hectic over-committed schedule all winter long, but I don’t know if it’ll ever hold a candle to that of Charlie Murray. So our organisation for this particular weekend trip in early July consisted of a couple texts, a loose idea of where we were heading, and some very optimistic/selective reading of the weather (primarily for norwest gales and rain). Naturally our organisation didn’t extend to any sort of packing, so we found ourselves leaving Christchurch late enough that we could bargain the supermarket deli guy down on the lasagna topper prices for our dinner.
Our optimism didn’t waver though as we hopped on our bikes at 10.50 pm, with the strong norwest winds keeping the evening nice and warm for us. We then biked and walked our way up and across the Harper River, and tried to aim for a bench up above to set up our camp on. Our night time navigation led us straight through a swamp, and so we figured a bee line up the hill would be a better option, straight into straggly scrub. At this point (2 am) even our optimism started to falter, and we decided to pitch the tent and figure out exactly where we were in the morning.
Morning broke to gusty winds and rain pelting the tent, and so we slept for a while longer. We finally motivated for a late morning start, and set off walking up the hill, pleasantly surprised at the success of the previous nights navigation. By some miracle of nature, the sun broke through and the wind let up half an hour into our hike, and the weather stayed nice for the rest of the day. After some quad burning climbing we topped out on the ridge, high enough to catch the last light of the sun and have a view out over the divide and Canterbury plains. While we appreciated the view, we also transitioned quickly so we could use the last of the light to ski. The previous nights norwester had not been kind to the snow-pack, and I pulled out my ice axe to ski off the top with some vague hope that I could self arrest with it if I started to slide. Luckily it had warmed up a bit further down, and we had some almost nice corn back down the ridge to snow line. A couple of kms of walk out back to the tent, by now in the dark, through the native bush, and a wee creek crossing followed. The final test of the day though was whether we could navigate back to our tent in amongst the scrub, which we thankfully passed.
The next morning we woke up to yet more rain, but knowing we had to cross the river again on the way out we made a hasty start. It hadn’t risen too much, and so we wandered across with no worries. We would have been a sight to see as we made it back to the car though. The rain hadn’t let up, and we were now soaking wet and covered in mud. The general vibe was high though as we pulled on some dry gear. We’d made the most of a weekend that should probably have been written off for movies or books, and explored another great corner of Canterbury!
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.