When: 15-Mar-2020

Summary

  • Distance: 9.2km
  • Duration: 5.5h including a 1h summit matecito break
  • Elevation gain and loss: a little over 1000m each
  • Arthur’s Pass village sits at 780m in Arthur’s Pass National Park
  • Avalanche Peak reaches 1833m
  • The Avalanche Peak Track starts behind Arthur’s Pass visitor center and is well marked with yellow markers all the way up.
  • For the way down we took Scott’s Track which is marked with orange markers.
  • Link to information on the track and warnings provided by DOC (Department of Conservation NZ).

Location

Difficulty Rating

Below is my personal grading of the track including some key points. Check out the intro page to the SB scale here if you want to know how I do the rating.
The overall difficulty rating for this track is (with 10 being the hardest): 4 / 10
This is made up of the following categories:

Category A: General - 7.5 / 10

Distance: 9.2km
Duration: 5.5h
Elevation gain/loss: 1000m up, 1000m down

Category B: Terrain - 7 / 10

Going up Avalanche Peak Track you start out with nice forest ground occasionally covered by big tree roots. These can get slippery when wet. The closer to the bushline the more rocks. Some parts may need a wee bit of scrambling. The last few hundred metres are along the ridge line. The terrain is nearly the same on the Scott’s Track with the difference that it isn't as steep which is why we chose it for the way down.

Category C: Weather - 1 / 10

We had the most beautiful weather, almost no clouds and sunshine. The morning was cold, getting warmer with the sun rising. No rain prior to our hike either, so ground, tree roots and rocks were dry. And even more, no wind, almost none at the summit either. Don't forget sun screen, hat and sun glasses. Once above tree line it's quite set out.

Category D: Special Conditions - 1.5 / 10

We went up with small daypacks. Some parts of the track may require a bit of scrambling. We didn't need any special gear.

Important note: We did this track in late summer/early autumn. The conditions vary greatly depending on the season. Please check the link to the DOC's page that I've provided above for current warnings regarding this track.

Category E: Individual Condition - 3 / 10

Darryn and I were in good physical condition, fit, healthy, had an early and good night’s sleep at the campground before. Nice breaky and coffee in the morning.
Darryn started having issues with his bad ankle on the way down. Not optimal given the steep downhill.

My Experience

Arthur’s Pass National Park is one of my favorite locations in the South Island of New Zealand. Coming from Christchurch and taking the SH 73 you will find yourself driving along a picturesque landscape. Once you leave the Canterbury Plains behind, you'll pass the crazy boulders of Castle Hill, just to arrive within the first mountain bits of the Southern Alps.

When attempting Avalanche Peak trail I recommend to arrive the day before and sleep in or close to Arthur’s Pass village. We camped at Klondyke Corner which is a 10 mins drive away from the village and the start of the tracks. It’s a DOC campground which means you pay a small fee for using it. A kitchen area and toilets are provided. If you intend to use DOC campgrounds without paying in advance or having a pass, make sure to bring some cash with you. It works on trust, meaning you put money in a box. This one was $8 per person when we slept there.

We, as in Darryn and I, walked the trail in early March 2020, so beginning of autumn. The weather conditions were in our favors which made this hike quite a relaxing walk for us. Can't go on without giving a bit of a warning though: DOC set up signs at the beginning of both tracks making sure people are aware of the dangers. A lot of people underestimate the difficulty, start too late in the day or with bad fitness and little experience. They then find themselves getting lost in the dark or similar worst case scenarios. Avalanche Peak didn’t get its name for no reason. That said, there is risk of avalanches depending on season and weather.

Pack enough food and water. Put on and pack the right clothes. Be mindful of weather. Watch your steps. Be careful. And you’re good to go.

As mentioned before we walked Avalanche Peak Track up and Scott’s Track down. We parked the car in the car park for the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall. You can do this as a loop or walk the same track up and down. I would say, both are of the same difficulty. Scott’s Track felt a bit more relaxing for my knees than I’d imagine Avalanche Peak Track to be. But that is just interpretation and no real experience as I've only done the loop once so far. As a reference, DOC also recommends going up Avalanche Peak Track and coming down Scott’s Track.

 

 

Given season and weather conditions, I considered this a fairly easy hike for the level of fitness and experience I was in by that time. But I’d say that it definitely requires a certain level of both of those to give you full enjoyment. That said my eyes were on the path for most of the time watching out for roots and rocks. The underground changes from forest ground and tree roots to rock once you cross the bushline. One of the reasons why with rain/snow on the same or previous day(s) the hike becomes far more challenging.

I should mention that I favor steep hikes and this is definitely one. The entire track is well marked. The start of the Avalanche Peak Track is just behind the Arthur’s Pass Visitor center. You will come by a memorial made up by a hiking boot.

 

 

We started Avalanche Peak Track around 9am and left Scott’s Track around 2:30pm. We arrived at the top around 11:30am and enjoyed a nice and long Mate break with astonishing views for about an hour before we headed back down.

We passed a few smaller waterfalls on the way up. On the way down the Scott’s Track we were rewarded with some neat views of the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall on the other side of the highway. If you have time, have a stop there afterwards. It’s just a small walk from the parking lot.

The last few hundred metres to the actual summit of Avalanche Peak are along a mountain ridge. If you have issues with fear of heights or falling this part may be a bit of a challenge. There are enough rocks to hold on to feel safer and the path is wide enough. With hardly any clouds we had the chance to take in some mesmerizing views of the Southern Alps. Summit matecito time at its best.

 

 

Scott's Track faces the West of Arthur's Pass NP. So again, nice views guaranteed if weather permits.

Really not ideal was that Darryn started having some issues with his bad ankle on the way down. Guess, the over 2 months long lockdown in 2020 came just on time for some forced recovery. This is future me talking though. Obviously we didn't know by the time we did this hike that a bit more than a week later NZ would announce a nationwide lockdown.

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