Ball Pass is a two to three day alpine crossing requiring basic mountaineering skills in the Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park on the South Island of New Zealand.
If you are unsure of your current skills, it is possible to hire a guide for this route. Alpine Recreation owns the Caroline Hut on Ball Ridge, and offer three day tours with instruction, crossing the pass from the Tasman Valley to the Hooker Valley.
The route crossing over Ball Pass is accessed from Mt. Cook Village.
From Christchurch, head Southwest along highway 1 towards Timaru. At the small town of Rangitata, turn West onto highway 79 towards Fairlie and Lake Tekapo. Continue West onto highway 8 at the junction in Fairlie. Around 8 kilometers before reaching the town of Twizel, turn North onto highway 80 and continue along another 45 minutes until reaching Mt. Cook Village at the road's end.
Access to Ball Pass is from either the Hooker or the Tasman Valley. Follow the signs in Mt. Cook Village to the Whitehorse Campground for access to the Hooker Valley, or to the Blue Lakes carpark for access to the Tasman Valley.
Ball Pass can be climbed from either the Hooker or the Tasman Valley. For routefinding and safety reasons, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) suggests people begin the tramp in the Hooker Valley. This way the difficult routefinding above the Playing Fields is encountered early in the trip on the ascent.
Starting at the Whitehorse Campground, follow the well traveled trail up the Hooker Valley. Pass the Alpine Memorial and cross over the first footbridge spanning the Hooker River. At the second footbridge, do not cross over to the West side of the river. Instead, go through the gate and follow a faint climber's trail as it sidles along a steep scree field. From this point on the Ball Pass crosing becomes a route rather than a marked trail.
Continue up the Hooker Valley, looking for the occasional cairn or traces of a climber's trail. At points travel is interrupted by shingle fans or narrow streambeds that require some routefinding, though generally the cairned route is not too difficult to follow through this section. After three to four hour's travel from the campground there is a large shingle fan below a narrow gully. Just beyond this fan there is a small grassy patch suitable for camping at the base of the ridge.
From the shingle fan, climb steeply up the obvious steep gully to the northwest. This gully is often filled with snow and ice, so crampons and ice axes may be necessary at this point. Otherwise, it is a steep scramble initially up a loose unpleasant scree slope, and later up larger talus and boulders. Some class 3 scrambling is required here.
At the top of this gully the route exits to a flat grassy area known as the playing fields. The view across the valley to Mt. Sefton and La Perouse is incredible from this spot. The alpine vegetation here is fragile, so take care when stepping among the Mt. Cook buttercups and gentians. Above the playing fields the route makes a large Z heading east up more scree, passing between several large bluffs. At the top of the Z look for a cairn (which may or may not be present due to avalanches) that marks the safe route acros the cliff ledges.
Above these bluffs the rest of the route to the pass becomes visible for the first time. Descend via a series of scree gullies and rocky ribs to meet up with a strong climber's trail heading towards the pass. The route runs into a small glacier just below the pass. Ascent is generally easier on the ice rather than up the scree and loose rock to the climber's right, so here is a good spot to gear up for a trip up the ice to the pass. One final scree slope puts you on the 2110 meter pass. If the wind is reasonable a camp on the pass itself is possible, and there are several sheltered sights just below the pass on the glacier.
Descend the glacier, staying to the right near a rocky rib to avoid the crevasses. Here the Caroline face of Mt. Cookl rears above you. Travel around the rocky point and turn south down onto a flat section of the glacier, where a small saddle on Ball Ridge is clearly visible. Gain the ridge here and continue down for another hour and a half or so to the Caroline Hut. The easiest travel generally sticks to the ridge crest, but some routefinding is necessary. Take care in snowy or icy conditions, as fatal accidents have occurred on this route. This ridge would be quite unpleasant to descend in low visibility. A final steep, loose descent leads to the private Caroline Hut, where there is a water tank for public use.
Routefinding is again somewhat tricky just below the hut. Initially stay to the east side of the ridge to avoid a tricky section, before regaining the ridge. There is another good campsite on a flat section of the ridge, about 750 meters below the hut. Follow the occasional cairns making steady progress downwards. Lower down the trail becomes more distinct. Follow this trail as it drops steeply to the east at the end of a brief level section rather than continuing all the way down the ridge, as slips have made the ridge itself impassable lower down. Continue this descent until reaching the track to the Ball Shelter (1030 meters).
From the Ball Shelter it is easy travel along an old road, making the occasional detour where the road has slumped due to a collapsing moraine wall. Two to three hours of valley travel brings you to the Blue Lakes car park, where it is usually possible to hitch a ride out from a friendly visitor. Otherwise, another 8 kilometers of toil await along the dirt road out to Mt. Cook Village.
In addition to the standard New Zealand tramping equipment, for an unguided crossing you should carry and know how to use:
4 season sleeping bag
Map 260-H36, Mt Cook (available at DOC in Mt. Cook Village)
Depending on current conditions, you may consider carrying a rope for the crossing, especially if the gully or Ball Ridge are icy.
You might also consider bringing along a GPS in addition to the map and compass, which is quite helpful for routefinding in low visibility.
External LinksDOC info on Ball Pass
South Island Weekend Tramps book