Three carloads spilled out into the carpark at Rainbow ski field after an icy drive up early on a Sunday morning. There was much chatter as people introduced themselves, booted up, checked packs and conferred custody of the carrot cake. We all looked at each other and then at Debbie, who arranged us into a circle, so that plans could be agreed and instructions given. Our target for the day was Peanter Peak (1880m) with an option of Mt McRae (1878m) on the side. With a range of experience and fitness levels, we divided into two groups, a fast and a not-quite-so-fast, to avoid having people strung out across the hill. Front and back markers volunteered for each group and we set off.
Initially, conversation flowed as we struck off up the hill, we admired Ken’s wooded shafted ice axe and woollen trous. Debbie told us that two previous attempts at Peanter peak had been abandoned due to snow conditions but today looked good. There had been snow during the previous few days but accompanied by strong winds leaving a hard wind-blown crust over softer snow underneath – hard work at the best of times but not impassable. This day was sunny but cool with light wind, so everything looked set for a successful trip.
Soon after setting off, the crust became quite hard, so we stopped to put on crampons. This was where different experience levels started to become apparent as people stared at unfamiliar ironmongery, many of which had been borrowed for the trip, and tried to work out which way up they went. Some, having fitted crampons, set off again whilst others waited for everyone to be ready. As we set off again, several people had to stop to refit crampons that fell off and soon, despite Debbie’s best efforts, we were strung out across the hill, twelve individuals coincidentally out for a walk in the same direction. The rest of this story is told from the perspective of the sweeper - the person at the back.
We contoured gently upwards around a couple of bowls and over a couple of ridges underneath Mt McRae for an hour or so to a small col on a ridge running down from McRae. About halfway along, the not-quite-so-fast group stopped for a rest and let stragglers catch up. As is the way of hill walking the world over, no sooner had the stragglers caught up than the first to arrive were off again…and we were strung out across the hill once more. Along the way I eyed up potential avalanche slopes that people in front had gaily stomped across – the forecast risk was low below 1800m as there was no new snow but what snow there was, was layered and the slope steep enough with a convex drop off at the bottom. In what these days they call an abundance of caution, I dropped back a bit just to ensure a decent gap between people crossing.
From the col we could see our target and the route up onto the ridge between McRae and Peanter that would take us to the top. Spectacular views down into Six-Mile Creek also opened up. It took another hour of uphill trudging to reach a saddle on the ridge between McRae and Peanter. Having looked at the view down into the Travers Valley, four of the not-quite-so-fast team led by Ken, peeled off to return to the café and a hot chocolate. From the ridge, we could see down to the Paratitahi and Paraumu Tarns and a party of ski tourers crossing them.
Peanter still seemed a long way off and as the day warmed up, the snow was getting softer, giving cause for concern for the return trip – was it time to think about turn-around times that would get us back before the café closed? Anyway, the last few of us plodded up the ridge to the summit, meeting people from the fast group on their way down. Apparently, they’d spent an hour at the top enjoying the sunshine and admiring the view, which was worth the effort. We had views back towards McRae and Lake Rotoiti, not quite to the sea as it was cloudy along the coast. In the other direction there was the Travers Range with excellent views of Hopeless and Cupola – I had my map out and was planning the next trip.
As the last of us left the summit, that hot chocolate in the Rainbow café was looking optimistic. The snow was now very soft and I finally did what I should have done ages before and took my crampons off. As we dropped off the ridge, out of the sun, the temperature dropped and at the same time the wind got up, making the return to the col below McRae a bit on the chilly side. The trudge back seemed as interminable as they always do but improved as we emerged into the last of the sunshine on the other side of the col, where the remaining stragglers regrouped for the final leg. We ambled the last couple of kilometres chatting generally about this and that, during which time I seemed to have found myself volunteered to write the trip report – how did that happen? The café was closed by the time we got to the ski area but the breakaway group and the fast group had made it in time. By the time we’d sorted ourselves out, collected up the club kit and the last of the carrot cake had been handed round, the car park was almost empty, the skiers having all gone home. So we joined them.
Participants: Debbie (leader), Claire, Ken, Yumi, Chris, Mary, Andrea, Michele, Ben, Astrid, Olivier, Bruce, Guy (Scribe) and Esther.
- Trip Grade: Fit
- Trip Duration: Day Trip
- Trip Area: Nelson Lakes National Park