When winter is in full swing, southern faces of ice and snow always present the challenge of the season. With technical skills on rock and ice honed at the Remarkables training ground, I searched out a new venue to test my repertoire. The Arrowsmith Mountains presented relatively easy access to high and challenging peaks near Christchurch. In particular, the Jagged-Upham Couloir caught my attention and inspired my imagination. Peter Dickson and I walked up the peaceful Cameron Valley only to find that ‘JU’ was bare of ice and snow. Although Peter was a choss specialist, we decided to leave our load of technical equipment at Cameron Hut and grab an ascent of The Couloir instead. A classic route in the Arrowsmiths, the Couloir climbs steeply to the summit of Couloir Peak, visible from well down the valley. Our eyes traced a long gash of ice and snow incised on the rocky peak from the glacier floor.
With light loads, we followed dawn towards the base of the Couloir through variable winter snow reaching the crux steps by mid-morning. After hopping the schrund, two steep pinches provided the excitement for the day. Perfect snow and ice conditions through these steps meant the ropes could stay safely in the packs, as we cramponed and hacked our way through the difficulties, swinging the axes with joy.
Above, the couloir offered firm snow that we climbed easily. The angle was consistent and unrelenting, steepening again only in the final ten metres below the summit ridge. Popping my head into the sun was a stark surprise, the warmth of the sun was exuberant and the sudden onslaught of peaks in all directions was a bit too much all at once. I couldn’t believe the lack of wind, the air was still even at 2640m. Unlimited views stretched from the north of Arthur’s Pass to a bank of cloud resting in the west, and south towards Mount Cook and friends.
A precarious traverse along the summit ridge placed us with a good lunch spot where we picked out peaks of the past and future. Such a vista in full winter was a true treat for the eyes. Instead of down climbing the couloir, we traversed the summit and descended a different couloir to the south, completing a round trip at the base of the Cameron Glacier. Ten hour round trip from Cameron Hut.
Couloir Peak – a worthwhile venture and aesthetic line in the Arrowsmith Range with extraordinary views of the Southern Alps.
This article originally appeared on Alastair’s ‘Mountain Adventure Blog’ on 24 August 2014 and is reproduced here with permission.