Mt Rolleston (lower peak), 2212m, New Zealand

December 2, 2007 / Grade II, 40° snow & ice

Friday, November 31st: After a stop in Okitika to buy a couple of jade stones, we drive to Arthur's Pass (boy that road is steep!). Arthur's Pass has a few very accessible peaks, which should make it the perfect place to get in shape for bigger objectives further south.

We have our heart set on Mt Rolleston, the highest peak in the park. We're thinking about the Central Direct route in the middle of the Otire Face. We stop by the DOC (Department of Conservation) visitor center to inquire about the conditions and forecasts. While there, we talk to Graeme (the guidebook author) on the phone about Mt Rolleston. It turns out that the Central Direct is much more technical than we thought (up to AUS grade 16), and - according to him - currently out of condition as it is still partially covered in snow, and the weather has been unusually warm, so the snow is isothermal and very unstable. He indicates two possible alternatives up the peak: the "Rome Ridge" or the "Otira Slide". Given that the "Rome Ridge" has two steep exposed sections that are reputed to be risky with warm, unstable snow, we decide to give the "Otira Slide" a go. This is one of the easiest routes on the mountain and should be straightforward.

We spend the first half of the afternoon preparing the packs, then stop by the NZAC (New Zealand Alpine Club) lodge and chat with a local climber (in his sixties and quite knowledgeable). Then off to the Otira trailhead to spend the night. To bed early with the alarm set to 2:30AM. Hoping to start hiking by 4AM.

Saturday, December 1: We wake up to the alarm as planned. Clouds and fog all around us. It's been warm all night. We decide against climbing, and go back to sleep. I'ts still cloudy when we get up again at 7AM. It's been much cooler the last few hours. We're hoping for better conditions tomorrow.

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Rolleston seen from the highway. "Rome Ridge" is the left skyline.
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Otira Valley is the trailhead for the Otira Slide route.
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Spending the night at the trailhead in our van.
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Leaving early morning.
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The "Otira Slide" follows gentle snow slopes to the notch at the left of the picture, then up the ridge to the summit.

Sunday, December 2: The sky is clear when we get up at again at an insane hour. After gulping down some breakfast, we leave the camper around 4AM. The trail is pretty obvious for a while, then become more difficult to follow in the dark after we cross a small footbridge across the creek.

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Climbing the gentle snow slopes below the notch.
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Looking back toward Mt Phillistine and the Otira valley.
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View of the Otira Face, another Rolleston classic route.
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Looking back at Lucie from just below the notch.
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From the notch, the route takes the narrow gully close to the ridge.

We reach the head of the valley around sunrise. It's pretty foggy, but we can see occasional patches of blue sky between the clouds. There's hope. We decide to push on and ascend the boulderfield, then the gentle snow slopes of the Otira Slide toward a notch in the ridge. From there, the route follows a small snow gully, staying close to the crest. Looking back toward the valley, we can now see other climbers making their way up (it's Sunday after all...).

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Some steeper snow climbing near the ridge...
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...and scrambling in the upper couloir leads to the summit.
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Summit shot.
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Summit views.
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Looking toward Rolleston's high peak, probably another hour away.

The angle in the gully steepens to about 40°. More snow climbing and some scrambling on rock formations lead to the summit (it took us 5h30 from the trailhead). Another party reaches the summit at the same time. They just came up the "Rome Ridge". They are climbers from Christchurch who have climbed the mountain several times before. They are concerned about getting down before snow conditions deteriorate too much. They ask us about the conditions on the Slide, the normal descent route. We tell them it is pretty soft already...

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Coming down the gully...
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...and the boulderfield.
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View of the Otira Valley.
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Pretty vegetation.
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The Otira Valley, like many in NZ, has numerous small waterfalls.

Given the soft snow conditions, we decide against continuing toward the high peak. Judging by the abundant avalanche debris in the Otira Slide, it might get dicy soon. A couple of cereal bars and summit shots, and we start down the gully, passing a party of four on their way up. It's about 10:30AM when we get off the snow. At that point, we meet another party starting up the slopes - seems pretty late to us to start the climb...

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Back on the Otira Valley trail.
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Crossing the footbridge.
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Pretty flowers.
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Last stretch before we're back at the trailhead.
 

We're back at the camper just in time for lunch. A good day. Nice and accessible training climb with good views.