Danger Only Meters Away – Mt Philistine Bluffs

“A Mish a Day” #57 Mt Philistine Bluffs. Arthurs Pass National Park. 28.5.2015. The ease of access to some of the parks’ big peaks in Arthurs Pass Village has kept me going back again and again. Mountain grandeur can be viewed from the comfort of your car as you travel through this magnificent location. The easy access has sometimes caught out a few unfortunate souls over the years, especially in winter. Snow to village level is common during the winter months, and I personally think this is when the place looks it’s best. Of course with snow comes additional danger to an area which should be treated with respect no matter what time of the year it is…

On this particular visit to the area I wanted to have a go at climbing Mt Philistine(1967m) from the Otira Valley, via Warnocks Knob and the Philistine Bluffs. I drove through a very chilly Arthurs Pass Village to the Otira Valley car park late afternoon, and from here I ditched the comfort of the car for the freedom of my hiking boots. A lot of the upper Otira Valley remains in shadows all day, and this makes the place a cold one when the days are short in winter. Not long after leveling the car park I was in icy snow, and the white frozen stuff would remain the theme for the remainder of the trip. I was at my campsite in the snow just above 1000m after about an hour of walking, and I enjoyed the warmth of a hot drink after pitching my tent. I watched the last of the day’s light slowly disappear from the mountains which make up the Temple Basin Ski Area, then I retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag. During the night to my surprise, another unforecast 1cm to 2cm of snow fell, upping the chill factor to around 11 out of 10.

Cold Camping in the Otira Valley

An early-ish start in the dark from my very cold camp had me zigzagging in my crampons up past Warnocks Knob(1167m) and towards the snow covered Philistine Bluffs. I have read about the avalanche danger on the bluffs after snowfall and after only 30 minutes or so of climbing up through the bluffs I saw a powder snow avalanche pour down a gully about 20 meters away from me. It didn’t take me long to decide to turn around, and as I did another load of snow and rocks smashed its way down the same gully. Casual enjoyment turned to an exciting dash back down to the valley floor, and for the rest of the down climb I didn’t look up. I got back onto safer ground and stopped for a drink and a snack. As I pondered my next move I heard the sound of a huge avalanche from somewhere up the valley close to Mt Rolleston(2275m). The place was alive and as I quickly packed up my tent I had the feeling that humans didn’t belong in the Upper Otira Valley when the mountains are angry. I wandered back down the track towards the sound of cars, buses and trucks making their way over the pass, happy to be out of the valley and near the safety of my car.

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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