The Otira Slip & Slide (Part One). Mt Rolleston Low Peak (almost)

“On a Mish” #165 The Otira Slip & Slide (Part One). Otira Valley. Arthurs Pass National Park. 26.8.2014. There have been a few wild stories coming out of a small steep strip of mountainous land in Arthurs Pass National Park. For all the wrong reasons the Otira Slide has etched its way into New Zealand’s mountaineering history. Due to the fact that people have met their end in the area really makes you more aware of the dangers of your surroundings. On a chilly couple of days in August I headed for the slide with the aim of returning from the mish ALIVE…

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 from low valley to high alpine within the small mountainous area. Fun can be found and it seems as if that fun could be endless if you really put your mind to it!

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 on over Kā Tiritriri o Te Moana (The Main Divide) to unload their watery payload.

Stuck in the middle in almost an in-between area are the upper reaches of the Otira Valley. Small in length but massive in elevation, the valley is a small but very fascinating place to visit. Snow and ice covered giants tower either side, with delicate alpine flowers, scrub and bush down low. Bring a camera because you will need it!

Due to its location and aspects, each winter the valley is prone to filling up with snow and then depositing that snow in the form of massive slides, therefore the valley has a big reputation for avalanches.

Even though there is much danger found in the area, the views and climbing is so good that I had to head there to test out my winter climbing skills. I caught up with my French / Honorary Kiwi exploring buddy Cèline, who is also keen on wandering amongst the mountains around the world. Our goal was climbing Mt Rollestons Low Peak but I was weary that the snow conditions might be against us.

Together we travelled 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 mountain motivation was flowing through our veins right from the first step outta the car.

Winter campsite in the Otira Valley

The sun was already low on the mountains and the valley had had its tiny amount of sunlight for the day. Wearing a thick coat of crisp winter snow, we enjoyed a frosty crunch with each step as we made our way up the snow buried track which took us from the road into the valley.

The track finishes at a small bridge across the Upper Otira River. We set up our camp just above the bridge on what looked like a flat spot on the snow. In reality we were perched on plants that were completely buried in deep snow. 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 meant the resulting freeze would secure the tents to the frozen ground and weren’t going anywhere.

It didn’t take long for some of the locals to come see what we were up to. The arrival of a couple of Kea at our campsite got our nerves going. It seemed at that stage they didn’t want to destroy anything just yet.

The campsite was incredible and one I will never forget. Incredible views across the valley of Phipps Peak(1965m) and Mt Temple(1913m) were standing tall above the Temple Basin Ski Area. It was an epic spot to be, as a few years before I had completed a winter mountaineering course at the ski field, and now I was in similar conditions but on the opposite side of the valley.

The sun’s presence left Arthurs Pass while we prepared our dinner and within a couple of minutes the temperature dropped like a rock. We could see the ice forming on the outside of the tents. To say it was cold would be a massive understatement. We needed warmth and were at a point where we had nothing else to do, with a huge amount of effort we somehow managed to light 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.

We had been in the mountains for only a couple of hours so far and the mish was going really well. It was as if we were doing our best to not think about the next stage of our adventure, attempting to climb Mt Rolleston(Low Peak) via the notorious Otira Slide…

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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