Otira Slip and Slide – Part One

“A Mish a Day” #165 Otira Slide – Part One. Otira Valley. Arthurs Pass National Park. 26.8.2014. For one of New Zealand’s smallest national parks, Arthurs Pass sure packs a lot into a small area. Not only are there many hikes throughout, but it also has a massive range of environments within the small mountainous area. The difference between the east and the west side can be worlds apart sometimes. The West Coast side is constantly ravaged by nor’west storms, of which only a small percentage push over Kā Tiritriri o Te Moana (The Main Divide).

Kinda stuck in the middle are the upper reaches of the Otira Valley, a small but very fascinating place to visit. Due to its location, each winter it is prone to filling up with snow, therefore the valley has a reputation for avalanches. I caught up with my French exploring buddy Cèline, who is also keen on wandering amongst the mountains of the world. Together we traveled from Christchurch to the small car park located a couple hundred metres down from the Dobson Memorial on Arthur’s Pass(920m) mid afternoon. A truly spectacular place to begin a hike from, so motivation was flowing through the veins from the first step. The sun was already low on the mountains so it was lucky we didn’t plan to hike very far. Wearing a thick coat of crisp winter snow, we enjoyed the frosty crunch with each step as we made our way up the track away from the road and into the valley. The track finishes at a small bridge across the Upper Otira River, and we set up our camp just above the bridge on a flat spot on the snow.

Winter campsite in the Otira Valley

We had to set up our tents in the classic winter style, by burying our tent pegs in the snow, and using rocks from the river to keep the tent secure. After pouring some water from the river over the rocks the resulting freeze meant the tents weren’t going anywhere. It didn’t take long for the locals to come see what we were up to, and the arrival of Kea at a campsite gets your nerves going. The campsite was incredible, with a view across the valley of Phipps Peak(1965m) and Mt Temple(1913m) standing tall above the Temple Basin Ski Area. As the valley sees little sunlight during winter it makes it a cold place, and as the sun’s presence left Arthurs Pass the temperature dropped like a rock. Needing warmth, with a huge amount of effort we somehow managed to start a small fire. By elevating the wood above the snow we could keep it burning and this worked as not only a heat source, but also work to keep us busy on the very chilly evening. For only a couple of hours, the mish was going really well and we were excited about our adventure up the valley the next day. As evening turned into night we gave into the cold and retreated to the warmth of our sleeping bags. Well done Otira Valley. So far so good…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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