Roaming A Ridge (Part Two) – Rome Ridge

“On a Mish” #138 Roaming A Ridge (Part Two). Rome Ridge. Arthurs Pass National Park. 2.9.2014. Many people are afraid of heights. Being close to a big drop can send them into a panic and unless they are taken away from the precipice they are no use to anyone. I am definitely not not afraid of heights, as I am fully aware of the consequences of falling. It isn’t the height that will kill you, it is the sudden stop at the bottom! With this in mind I approach difficult / steep terrain with respect and I do my best to stay within, and not push, my limits. As I began my mish up the Coral Track towards Rome Ridge I knew I was going to be in for some excitement, and also some potentially skill testing scary situations….

To reach Rome Ridge you need to find and then follow the very steep Coral Track to get above the treeline. The track starts from a very small roadside car park and gives off no vibes of the epicness that it leads to. I am sure that a few people have stumbled across the track and then followed it to find themselves in true mountaineering country.

Not long after starting the track it passes a ‘This is a mountaineering route’ sign. To some people this would be enough of a message that this isn’t a simple walk in the park, and might lead to ground that they aren’t prepared for. Others will see this as a challenge (like me), and hopefully they have the required experience needed or they might need help from the local Search & Rescue team. I did have my locator beacon with me (as per normal) but I really didn’t want to have to call upon the help of anyone!

Ferns, tree roots and mossy rocks needed to be climbed before the abrupt end of the trees and the beginning of the open tops.

Once above the treeline, to get onto the ridge itself involved clambering up a tricky 10 metre or so patch of loose snow and rock which crumbled around me as I clung to the side of the mountain. A classic situation of easy ground only being a short distance away, but to get there I had a mini side mish. As the rocks broke away and disappeared into the forest directly below me I hoped I wouldn’t be taking the same journey back down towards the road. It is safe to say that I was very happy when I finally gained the ridge and got onto the easier ground above.

Once on the ridge the way forward was easy to follow but did have a couple of places where the track became more like a ladder, as previous climbers had kicked steps into the hard snow. And with each foot placement I had to just trust that the snow would hold my weight.

My training kicked in (literally in places) and a few steep sections had me using both of my ice tools as I climbed higher and made my way through the huge bluffs that act like giant steps up the mountain.

I was making good progress until I reached the infamous ‘Gap’ in the ridge. This was a place where I thought I might have some trouble. I stopped and looked down at the near vertical cliff and as I did there was a huge crash. I looked up in time to see an avalanche peeling off Mt Rolleston’s Low Peak(2122m), and smashing its way down towards the Otira Slide. I watched the mixture of snow, ice and rock disappear and was faced with a tough decision, do I go on or retreat?

To tackle the Gap without a rope alone is a mighty challenge, and with a snow pack on the move it was a risk I wasn’t prepared for. As the avalanche had run directly over my intended route, turning back was an easy decision to make and, with the sun now brazing in the sky above me, I knew there would be a high chance of more avalanches.

Sometimes when I turn back I am left with thoughts of ‘what if I had kept going?’, but on this occasion I knew I had made the right decision and had no issues with retreating.

I made my way back down the enjoyable exposure of the knife-edged sections of the ridge, always aware of the huge drop down to McGrath Creek on my right and the Bealey River to my left.

The snow was very soft by the time I got to the lower sections of the ridge, and I had to be careful that it didn’t ball up under my crampons and send me on a very fast, unexpected journey to the valley floor.

After getting to the bottom of the ridge I took my crampons off at a point just above the tree-line. I had to prepare myself for the loose section above the forest, and due to the heat from the sun the snow and rock was much looser than when there in the morning. Any tiredness from the adventure was put to the side as I slowly slipped and slid down to the top of the Coral Track. Once on the track I knew the tough stuff was over and, for the first time since leaving the track on my way up, I was back on easier ground.

As I descended closer to the highway I came across a young couple, which brought me back to the reality of how close civilization is to the mountaineering routes. From the look of their running shoes / jeans / down jacket combo, I’m pretty sure they weren’t really ready for a mish on Rome Ridge!

Looking Down the Bealey Valley to the Waimakariri River From Near ‘The Gap’

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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