Fire & Ice, Ball Pass Ski Adventure

What makes a great adventure?

I think these 3 things

  • A quest
  • An unfamiliar environment
  • An element of risk

I turned the big 50 in July and to celebrate I planned a ski touring adventure with my good mates Anthony and Andrew. None of us had ever been ski touring before but we have been on lots of great adventures in the backcountry.

Ski touring looked like a great way to explore Alpine country and spend time in the mountains. As with many adventures a bit of Youtube inspiration is a good starting point. I found a great clip showing a trip on Mount Sibbald, after a message to a mate in Christchurch a plan to stay at Macauley Hut and explore that area was hatched. We booked a week into our calendars and the excitement started.

I started to get a bit nervous about the plan so I signed up for an Alpine skills course, I also explored a few guided options. While my backcountry experience has grown we had never been ski touring and had none of the Alpine gear.

I found a few options that looked nice but most looked like they were aimed at a slightly different type of adventurer. 

I was looking for a quest, unfamiliar environment and some risk. I phoned Axel from Alpine Recreation to see what options he could recommend, after a short chat on the phone he suggested we could do a ski touring trip to Caroline Hut / Ball Pass. With this warning on the website it looked perfect for an adventure. “A solid level of fitness with aerobic training prior to the trip is expected. Ability to carry moderate to heavy backpacks (8-10kg) for 6-9 hours if required. Expect ascents of 800-1200 vertical meters. Some discomfort expected due to long days and exposure to elements. Prior multi-day hiking/trekking/tramping trips through rough untracked terrain are recommended” 

As we got close to our trip it looked like there was going to be a short window of clear weather after some fresh snow then all hell broke loose. 

We didn’t think much about the fire station alarm when it started in Tekapo on Sunday, nek minnit there was a huge forest fire on both sides of SH 80. This closed the road.

We came up with lots of options: do we fly to Mt Cook from Tekapo, do we get a chopper from the east side of the lake. We waited and waited, watched a great film by the Alpine Rec team  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/symphonyonskis that got us more excited to get into the hills. We watched a few instructional videos on how to do kick turns and then the snow arrived.

Tekapo transformed from a dry 20 degree summer holiday location to a winter paradise. We hit the road hoping for a mid day road opening. The focus now was the avalanche danger going to stop us from heading to the hut?

Wednesday morning we were on the move! This was one of those days you dream off in the mountains. Clear skies, no wind and heaps of fresh snow. The landscape is so extreme, it is mesmerising.

We had a full on day to get to the hut, 11 hours of walking, crawling, bush bashing and ski touring. After the first 5 hours Andrew announced he wouldn’t be attending my 100th birthday adventure. We did get time for one beautiful ski run in the fresh snow. A taste of what was to come tomorrow.

Caroline Hut is very cool and in a great spot. I have no idea how they got permission to put a private hut here, but pleased they did. The hut has everything which helps to keep the pack weight down given all the ski touring gear. We are fast packers so big packs are not our thing.

Thursdays is best summed up by our guide Mark’s comment, I think that was the best days ski touring I have had. It was awesome! The snow was perfect, weather beautiful, an excellent day in the mountains. We enjoyed a hot dinner and a whisky to celebrate.

The weather was forecast to change on Friday so we potted our route down to Cove stream, this is where we had a few scary moments. The wind picked up and we had to break out the ski crampons, after a few technical issues we were able to ski up the ridge and across the crust to safety. It’s interesting the mind game when you get in these situations, I keep reminding myself that we had all the gear and we just needed to keep calm and follow the plan. Hard to do when the adrenaline starts pumping.

As we got back to the car Andrew confirmed he was definitely not coming on my 100th birthday adventure and we reminisced about some of our mellower adventures.

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