A winter climb of Mt Bealey showcases the beauty of Arthur’s Pass National Park.
The park has sometimes been referred to as the ‘poor cousin’ of national parks. It doesn’t have the same reputation for spectacular scenery or the outstanding Great Walks as other national parks, yet the braided rivers, large scree-covered mountains, steep valleys, cascading waterfalls and extensive beech forests are features that make it distinctly unique. Being close to Christchurch, it’s also a place where many have gained their initial mountaineering skills.
In the right conditions, a winter climb of Mt Bealey provides an alpine experience within the capabilities of many trampers. It lies at the end of the ridge running south from Mt Rolleston, one of Arthur’s Pass’ most popular peaks. Mt Bealey is often climbed as part of a longer Mt Bealey to Avalanche Peak traverse but is a worthwhile destination in its own right. This is particularly true in winter or early spring when days are shorter but you are still seeking a true alpine experience. And the views from the top are some of the best in the park.
From the trailhead just south of the Rough Creek bridge, the track climbs steeply to the bushline at 1360m. Even the views from this point are spectacular, and it’s worth taking a breather here to soak it all up. Mt Rolleston can be seen emerging from behind Avalanche Peak. It gets bigger and more impressive the higher you go.
It’s a straight forward walk to the low peak of Mt Bealey at 1760m with easy slopes and a good ridge to follow. From there, the ridge narrows and steepens in places. While technical climbing skills aren’t required, crampons and an ice axe will be necessary in winter conditions.
We put crampons on at the low peak and dropped down to a small col before making our way to the top of Mt Bealey at 1836m. We had mixed snow conditions – at times we cramponed comfortably across the top of a perfect icy crust; other times saw us breaking through to ankle depth. The occasional knee-deep snowy drift was hard work, but the views from the top were worth every bit of effort.
Mt Rolleston dominates to the north with the broad neve of the Crow Glacier and its distinctive pointed low peak. To the south, Mts Murchison and Greenlaw stand out above the braided Waimakariri River. We were surrounded by ridge after ridge of snowy peaks rising above snow-filled basins and dark steep-sided valleys.
Just below the high peak, there’s a perfect lunch spot on a flat section of ridge where we brewed coffee and lingered for a long lazy lunch in the snow.
We retraced our steps back to the bushline, but not before stopping for another coffee along the way. The perfect views in this beautiful national park were too good to leave too soon.
Note: In summer the walk is straightforward. In winter, ice-axe and crampon skills are required.