Consumed by Clouds – Bowen Peak(1631m)

“A Mish a Day” #111 Bowen Peak(1631m). Queenstown Area. 4.11.2011. There are many reasons why Queenstown is one of the most popular towns for tourists to visit in Aotearoa. From most places in the town you can get some sort of mountain + lake view. The place is a mecca for adventurous people, and one of the most challenging day hikes in the Queenstown Area is the closest ‘big mountain’ to the town, Ben Lomond(1748m). To the east of Ben Lomond is the slightly smaller Bowen Peak(1631m), and on a wintry November day in 2011 I set out to climb Bowen Peak(1641m)…

The peaks rise out of Lake Wakatipu into twin cones, and because of their altitude the mountains must be treated with respect. It was early in the guiding season and I was on my first days off with a rather poor forecast for all mountain areas around Lake Wakatipu. I figured why not have a go at the peak directly behind the Routeburn Track guide flat in Hamilton Road?

Lake Wakatipu from above Ben Lomond Saddle

I was up and away on the mission early-ish, as there were snow showers forecast for the afternoon (the morning didn’t look much better as well!). I took the Tiki Track, which zig-zags up through the cold shaded forest below the gondola, and by the time I got to the edge of the forest the clouds had cleared slightly. I was in snow from this point, and it got deeper the higher I climbed. Not long after getting into the open ridge above the forest I came across an occupied tent, pitched right in the middle of the track! I continued along the snow-buried track until I got to Ben Lomond Saddle(1316m), and from here I turned east into the snow covered tussock below Bowen Peak(1631m). I got to about 100 meters away from the summit and the clouds (laced with face-stinging snow) swallowed the mountain, dropping visibility down to a couple of meters. I kept going until the mountain sloped downwards, and I took this as a sign I was on the summit. I then immediately turned back and blindly retraced my steps in the snow back down the west side of the peak towards what I thought was the Ben Lomond Saddle. Due to the tussock I lost my track, and after 30 minutes or so the cloud cleared enough for me to see I was now well down from the saddle on the (wrong) Moonlight Track side. I had to climb back up to the saddle in the increasingly deepening snow. This was a real reminder that even though I was a stones throw away from a busy town, I may as well have been on the moon and it wasn’t a place to be making mistakes. After getting my bearings again I was back on the Ben Lomond(1748m) track, and I followed this all the way back to Queenstown for a Ferg Burger. Ironically as I got to the forest again the clouds cleared and I finished the hike in the sun! The mish was a real taste of Queenstown’s mountainous surroundings, and also a reminder to take extra care when high up in the mountains no matter how close to a town you are!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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