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January 2011 Issue
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Easy way up

Lake Dumb-bell from Mt Sutton
3-4hr return
Ohau Skifield is on the Lake Ohau Road, gate key available at lodge
H38 Ohau
Mt Sutton, Lake Ohau

Like a lot of trampers I have a certain love-hate relationship to ski field roads. They slash up mountainsides with grim zigzags that can be seen 50km away and at the top is usually a junkyard.

On the other hand, these roads get you into alpine places with satisfying ease and open up walking possibilities that you wouldn’t normally consider. For example, the drive up to The Remarkables Ski Field near Queenstown is a superb and easy way to access the beautiful Rastus Burn tarns.

Mt Sutton is 2007m high and overlooks Lake Ohau. It would be some slog from the lakeside, but the ski field road to the Ohau Skifield solves the problem. I’d take a topo map, lunch and back-up clothes, but even so on a nice day Mt Sutton is a great day out for not much effort.

First you need to pay a fee for a gate key from Ohau Lodge and take the road slowly because a few rocks collect on it. Most cars can get up here though and the views are stupendous. You can still see parts of the old narrow ski field road, and I can remember in about 1979 being crammed on a truck with 20 other keen skiers and reversing up some zigzags.

The top car park is at 1500m in a basin cluttered with the usual paraphernalia of towers and machinery sheds, but Ohau is the tidiest ski field I’ve seen in years. The day shelter and toilets are kept locked.

From the car park, the most direct route to Mt Sutton is to tramp due west, scrambling up beside pretty rivulets and striking rock outcrops. The scree is mostly big rocks and stable, and it doesn’t take long to reach the broad ridgeline about 400m climb from the car park.

Amazingly, that’s all the effort needed. The ridge is broad, flat, and speckled with vegetable sheep and half a dozen brightly coloured alpine plants I can’t put a name to. Turn south for 20 minutes of flat walking and you can have lunch on top of Mt Sutton. Barely 1.5hr from the car park.

This is a view to die for and many famous mountains are beautifully framed by the lesser stuff.  Aoraki/Mt Cook of course, as well as Mt Barth, Mt Huxley and more peaks than you can poke a stick at. If you peer over the edge of Mt Sutton you look hard down on Lake Dumb-bell, a gleaming turquoise oasis.

There’s not a whiff of wind today and it’s a pleasure to wander back along the broad ridge. At one point you can see the tiny coloured dot of Maitland Hut, almost a 1000m below. At the ski field saddle, just follow the roads as they wander through the towers back to the car park.

I slot the car into first gear and trundle slowly down the road. It’s been a good day out, I didn’t see a soul, and I’m feeling grateful for the road after all.

– Mark Pickering