OverviewAvalanche Peak is arguably the most popular mountain in Arthur's Pass National Park. It's easily accessible for day hikers by both the Avalanche Peak Track and by Scott's Track, and you can combine them to make it a circuit. From the summit you have great views - weather permitting - and more than a fair chance of having a close encounter with a cheeky kea.
If you want to make it more interesting, from Avalanche Peak you can descend into the Crow River valley instead. You'll get even better views towards Mount Rolleston and the Crow Glacier, you can run down a 600m scree slope and you get to spend the night in a Backcountry Hut. On the hike out the next day, you get more scenery and experience a tranquil day of easy hiking out along the Crow and Waimakariri rivers.
To make things really interesting, you can get to Avalanche Peak by first climbing Mt Bealey, then scramble along the ridge to Lyell Peak and then Avalanche Peak.
The first day ends at Crow Hut (10 bunks, mattresses), where you can spend the night. The next day is an easy hike back to Arthur's Pass along the Crow and Waimakariri rivers with no elevation gain to speak of. You could in fact do both parts in one very, very long day.
In fact, the annual Avalanche Peak Challenge is a gruelling mountain run over 26km that does just that, and the record holder is Keith Murray in 2:25! Amazing! To be precise, the run starts with the Avalanche Peak track and finishes at the Bealey Hotel on the SH73 instead of returning to Arthur's Pass, but that's just a minor distinction.
Getting ThereThere are three ways to get to Avalanche Peak.
To get back to civilization from Crow Hut, follow the Crow River downstream, heading south, until it joins the Waimakariri River. Now follow the Waimakariri downstream, heading east, and eventually you'll reach the road from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass (and beyond). It's 7 km to the north along the road to Arthur's Pass.
Disclaimer: I have no personal knowledge of the route downstream along the Waimakariri River. I was on a much longer trip, and after reaching the Waimakariri River, instead of going downstream and hiking out, I crossed it and went upstream, deeper into the wilderness. That said, I estimate the walk back from Crow Hut to Arthur's Pass to be roughly 6 hours.
Route DescriptionThis route is a way to descend from Avalanche Peak only, because it involves descending a 600m scree slope. There is no rule saying you can't go up that slope, but it won't be fun.
The time required for this descent route is roughly 2 hours, but it can be much faster if you run down the scree. Of course, you have to climb Avalanche Peak in the first place, and together that requires one day for most people.
Crow hut lies at an altitude of around 1020 m in the Crow River valley, east of Avalanche peak. Avalanche Peak is one of the peaks on the long S-ridge from Mt Rolleston, but there is just one relatively safe way down from the ridge into the valley: along a scree slope about half an hour north of Avalanche Peak. There are many other scree slopes, but many end in sheer bluffs and only one flattens out as it reaches the valley floor, so it is vital to go down the right one. If you get the wrong one, the worst scenario is that you'll notice too late while running the scree and fall off, at best you'll find yourself struggling back up the scree.
Even though the scree slope lies north of Avalanche Peak, from the summit the route actually starts by descending just a little bit on the south side - one or two minutes perhaps - until you see an easy way across the scree to your right. After that, skirt around the west side of the mountain, to a saddle just north-west of the summit. From here, follow the ridge north to north-east. You can choose whether to hike around the various little bumps, or scramble over every one of them - the latter is much more fun of course!
After a solid half hour or so (and certainly longer if you scramble over everything), you should reach the top of the right scree slope. This is the crux of the route, finding the right slope. When in doubt whether it's the right one, continue north along the ridge. We were getting tired, yet we kept on scrambling, so it took longer. Do not go down the scree slope unless you're absolutely sure it's the right one. If you cannot find it, go back to Avalanche peak and descend along Scott's track or Avalanche Peak track.
How can you be sure you've found the right scree slope?
After reaching Crow River, look for a place to cross it, which should be easy this far upstream, and about one kilometer downstream you'll find Crow Hut on the true right side of the river.
When to goBest from very late spring to autumn, when there is no or little snow. With more than a little snow, the route is a whole lot harder and on top of that, you'll have to deal with avalanche risk.
And make sure to avoid the day of the annual Avalanche Peak Challenge!
Essential GearSturdy hiking boots.
Gaitors are recommended, to keep the rocks out of your boots on the scree slope.
Stove and cooking gear (or bring cold food only).
The water in the Crow and Waimakariri rivers is said to be safe to drink, but I had a water filter with me to make sure.
Maps and booksTopomap K33 - Otira (1:50,000)
Tramping in New Zealand, Lonely Planet, Jim DuFresne. ISBN: 9781740597883
External LinksDOC route description
All about the town of Arthur's Pass, including accommodation.
The Avalanche Peak Challenge is a gruelling annual mountain run. Starting at Arthur's Pass, it goes up along the Avalanche Peak Track route, descends to the Crow River and then back out along the Crow and Waimakariri rivers. It doesn't go all the way back to Arthur's Pass, the finish is at the Bealey Hotel.