Pay-off for the tough technical climbs are the views – along the Avalanche Peak Loop, Selwyn District, New Zealand
Distance: 7 km total loop – but with a total of 1150 m ascent and descent. Plan on taking 3 hours.
Terrain: Steep climb, hard descent, mostly technical except for 1km of flat road at the bottom. Rocky and loose in the treeline, typical alpine schist above it.
Directions to Trailhead: The trailhead is at the Arthurs Pass Café and store, Arthurs Pass New Zealand (approximately 150 km/2 hrs from Christchurch, or 95 km/1:15 hrs from Greymouth). Park at the Arthur’s Pass Café and Store, or the nearby Train Station if parking is tight.
1. Head NNW up West Coast Road for about 500 m, until you reach the Scotts Track trailhead (marked with DOC signs) on the west (left) side of the road.
2. Follow the orange arrows up, up, up and away.
3. The trail will head in a North-Westerly direction for about 1km before turning South-South-West and following the dominant ridgeline and orange markers/poles all the way to the craggy, obvious summit (about 3.5 km). After about 1 km of this you’ll leave the tree line and head into an open area with some incredible views.
4. 300 m or so from the summit you’ll hit a rocky section that dips into a small saddle before continuing up to the main peak. In this small saddle you’ll see a line of poles heading off to the left (SE). Return here once you reach the summit.
5. Returning from the summit to the junction in the small saddle, turn SE (now on your right) and follow the line of poles through a series of switchbacks and into a large, open saddle.
6. Continuing to follow the poles, climb toward the small peak on the opposite side of the saddle before contouring around this and joining the dominant spur.
7. Descend along this spur for about 1 km, descending 400 m, before turning a hard left (NE) and re-entering the tree cover (keep following those poles!).
8. Once back in the tree line you’ll head in a (mostly) NE direction, now following the orange arrows again.
9. Once you hit the groomed trail at the very bottom, and return to flat ground, turn left and follow the trail over a small bridge (Avalanche Creek) and into town for a well-earned coffee.
Highlights: An extremely rewarding climb with some banging technical descent, perfect for practicing technical mountain running straight out of your car. Unparallalled on the bang-for-your-buck scale. Incredible views from the summit, plenty of options to add km exploring the high ridges, and lots of Kea (alpine parrots) to keep you company. Post-run bonus: The Arthur’s Pass Café and Store do reasonable coffee and food and you’re pretty much guaranteed a visit from a Kea if you sit outside. The Mountain House YHA Hostel is a cheap, comfy, very central place to stay and means you explore more of the area’s incredible trails.
‘Ware the conditions in winter – don’t disregard the name – make sure you check local conditions with the Department of Conservation (DOC)
More Info: Online maps and info on the Avalanche Peak Loop here, or find free searchable topographic maps for New Zealand at http://www.topomap.co.nz/ (search for Avalanche Peak). There is an annual 16 km mountain running race which climbs up to Avalanche Peak, albeit via a different route (cancelled in 2015 but in the works for March 2016) – info here: http://www.chriscox.co.nz/avalanche-peak/).
Photos and article by Tegyn Angel. Tegyn is a trail runner, ultramarathoner, and adventure running expedition leader with WildPlans. He is also Associate Editor and photographer for Australia’s Trail Run Magazine.