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June 2012 Issue
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Wye in winter

Lake Wakatipu from Wye Creek. Photo: Jodie Burton
Remarkables Ski Area Road. Upper Wye Creek is reached from above Lake Alta. Access to the bottom of Wye Creek is 5km south from the ski area access road on SH6
Wye Creek, Remarkables Conservation Area

The snow had fallen to low levels signalling winter’s arrival to the Southern Lakes. A couple of text messages later – ‘snow levels low, keen to go touring then ski out Wye Creek tomorrow?’. A quick check of and weather sites and before the kettle had boiled for a cuppa a plan was in place. The ease of technology can be great when embraced in the right way.

Up at 6am to defrost the windscreen with The Remarkables silhouetted above and the Milky Way stretched across the night sky – metvuw proved right, the weather was perfect.

Meeting at the Remarkables access road meant a quick car shuttle could be done. A few minutes’ drive down the Kingston Road is a farm fence providing access to the base of Wye Creek. Plenty of car parking space is available in the paddock. Gear was piled into the other car for the 30 minute drive up to the Remarkables Ski Area.

Wye Creek is located behind The Remarkables and is a popular area for both winter and summer recreation. It is well outside The Remarkables Ski Area boundary, therefore a knowledge of avalanche awareness is essential along with carrying the required avalanche rescue equipment before venturing out during the winter months. Intentions can be left in the book outside the patrol room.
Our day ahead involved an hour skinning uphill to Wye Saddle before packing the skins away for a long downhill ski/walk out to the Kingston Road, 11km (and hopefully less than eight hours) away.

Wye Creek Saddle can be reached from the base building in under an hour, and on a crisp, moonlit morning like we had, headtorches weren’t required.

Stopping on the ridgeline was short lived, with the wind ripping through and providing no incentive to take photos. Dropping 10m provided a pleasant spot to assess the snow conditions and get ready for why we came – skiing powder.

Dropping into the Wye Valley a steep headwall must be negotiated. This requires sound knowledge of assessing snow conditions and safe travel techniques in avalanche terrain. We managed to put in some satisfying turns, debating whether to put in laps here all day. Continuing down the valley provided spectacular alpine scenery in which to immerse ourselves and with a fairly generous snow cover, the skis remained on for a further 5km. A few hidden treasures in the form of rocks greeted our skis, but once resigned to the fact that a visit to the ski tech would be required the colourful language ceased.

The crux of the trip comes when the contours get closer together and the creek gradient steepens. In summer this area is a well marked route, winter is a different story. With the snow changing the appearance of the area, the true right appeared more appealing for skiing. We were wrong.  Skis were unceremoniously strapped on packs and some hard yards began. Rocks and hebes loaded with snow plus the occasional speargrass thrown in for good measure meant careful foot placement was paramount as we gained less than 100m in 30 minutes. It wasn’t a difficult decision to cross the creek, foregoing the dry feet to reach some easier terrain. The skis came out for a final 30 minutes of tussock turns and rock hopping. A sigh of relief was heard when the familiar orange triangle was spotted, marking our route into the trees and the final descent to the car below.

Emerging from the trees to the deep blue of Lake Wakatipu far below, sparkling under the surrounding snow-covered peaks, the reply to be given when asked ‘Why the Wye in Winter?’ became clear.

– Jodie Burton