It was a chilly -6 degree centigrade as we pulled on our trail running shoes at dawn in Arthurs Pass Village for an adventurous day summiting Avalanche Peak and running out of Crow Valley underneath the mighty Mt Rolleston. Arthurs Pass village is sandwiched in the valley between two very steep valley walls which provides one of the few highway routes directly across the southern alps of the South Island of New Zealand. The autumn snow on the peaks was shining white in the early morning sun but it was dark and cold on the valley floor as we crunched along the highway to the start of Scott track west of the village where the humbly sign posted path abruptly becomes a single trail and heads directly up the valley wall.
After a steady 45 minutes, avoiding the frozen water and puddles on the track, Ben, of www.skindermatology.co.nz, and I broke out above the bushline. The Devils Punchbowl waterfall thundered down opposite and there wasn't a breath of wind in the valley.
The sky blue day beckoned and crisp superfresh air filled our lungs and we headed always upward thru the mountain grasses and then above into rocky terrain.
Fresh snow lay across the trail which had reduced to route finding up the ridgeline where three points of contact on the craggy rocks was necessary for quick progress.
After more than hour we could see the summit of Avalanche Peak and Mt Rolleston to the right was stunning in the morning light.
The ridgeline fell sharply away on both sides, our pace slowed as we picked our way up the last few hundred feet to the summit of Avalanche Peak.
We enjoyed a snack and drank in the 360 degree view for a few minutes before scrambling around the bluff of the Peak overlooking Crow Valley and then began to jog westwards in soft snow on the ridgeline towards Mt Rolleston. Ben graciously turned and ran back up to entertain my photo taking.
Just before we could go no further without climbing equipment, we came across a peg marking the descent down a steep chute on the side of Mt Rolleston to the Crow Valley floor below.
Descending the chute was a mixture of snow and loose rock in the shadow of the mountain. We made good time and I was loving my weather proof gaiters in the cold conditions and paused occasionally to marvel at Rolleston's hanging glacier above and to our right.
Once on the valley floor we skipped across a rock garden, enjoying been back in the sun.
In no time we were at Crow Hut, a gorgeous little Department of Conservation hut, thoughtfully turned to the sun and with views up the valley to Mt Rolleston. This would be a wonderful overnight excursion.
A group of six overnight hikers were preparing to leave on our arrival after enjoying a leisurely morning in the perfect conditions and chuckled to themselves as we stopped only long enough for a quick chat while we stuffed some snack bars and nuts into our mouths, before heading off on the well marked track out of the valley.
If your a trail runner, the trail from Crow Hut to where the Crow Valley broadens into the great Waimakariri river valley is true running paradise. In my mind, the perfect forest trail follows the contours of the land and the natural path of human movement through the terrain. The Crow river trail was a wonderful mixture of undulating forest path through beech trees typical of the area, across old landslides and stepping across the cold snow melted water of the stream. There are no wooden stairways or benched walkways manufactured to iron out the path, just a well trodden and uneven surface where with quick soft steps and a keen eye are needed. Ben and I fairly whizzed thru the valley, enjoying every minute of it.
After an hour of exhilarating trail running we popped out rather suddenly on the broad river plains of the Waimakariri River with broad views across to the Southern Alps moving further south in the distance.
We followed the true left of the river, fording it several times, to the highway and before not too long a generous motorist picked us up and we drove in comfort back into Arthur's Pass village to complete a highly recommended circuit in about 6 hours. This time is much less than the Department of Conservation's estimates but we are trail running, even across uneven terrain with only day packs, water, sufficient warm clothing and a Personal Locator Beacon.
Note, Avalanche Peak is a straightforward summit and return, but if you are going over the Peak and into Crow Valley, I strongly recommend you are fit, have appropriate gear for the time of year and visit the DOC staff at the local office in Arthurs Pass Village. Be wary of using this route in high winds or icy conditions.