Peak 44: Mt Aicken

Arthur’s Pass. Popular, yet totally unpopulated. My run up Mt Aicken (1858m) left me stunned at the lack of people who are on the east side of the valley in this tourist centre for mountains, stunning day-walks and (of course) the occasional Kea. I’d never ventured up the eastern slopes, so this was totally new for me!

View up the Bealey River, Arthur's Pass Village
View up the Bealey River, Arthur’s Pass Village

The drive to Arthur’s Pass from Christchurch is around 2 hours, Roman straightness towards the hills, then weaving it’s way through the Craigieburn Valley to hit the Waimakariri before you see the white capped mountains in front of you.

The sign, pretty accurate
The sign, pretty accurate

Mt Aicken is on the eastern side of Arthur’s Pass – which gives incredible views across towards Mt Rolleston, Lancelot, Guinevere and Murchison to the east – and Mt Scott, Oates and Franklin to the west. It has a track for the first part of the route through the beech forest, but after that, cairns and the bare ridgeline lead you to the double summit – over the back of the main slope.

The route in the Arthur’s Pass guidebook says that it’s steeper than that of Avalanche Peak (on the western side of Arthur’s Pass). I started, crossing the Devil’s Punchbowl Creek and hit some steps so wondered if the track had been upgraded like that of the Kepler, Routeburn and others – for all types of users. It turned out that this was only for the views of the waterfall – and if you’ve not yet been, it’s well worth a visit!

The actual Mt Aicken track was rugged, rocky, steep and incredible to climb with loose rock and quite a bit of exposure (I’ll get to that later)…

I started running in the sunshine – but glimpses of snow on the summits had caused me to think about safety, so I took my ice axe with me, just in case I needed it further up. More as a walking pole than anything – as the snow would be mushy now that we’re pretty much in summer.

Just up from the bushline with Mt Rolleston behind
Just up from the bushline with Mt Rolleston behind

So, after splitting from the main track I headed up the gullied route towards the bushline, wondering how far it was to I get to the blazing sunshine. It wasn’t far before I got hit by the heat and was in amongst the grasses and away from the towering trees.

After the bushline, there was a respite in ascent – cruising gently up to around 1600m – before the next steeper section began – here the views were stunning of the Blimit bowl and the Cassidy-Blimit traverse – which I totally need to do one day, probably better in Winter!

A little bit of rock scrambling before hitting pt.1844m meant that I had to go on all fours to do some route-finding and work my way up to the peak. Once at pt.1844m I traversed to pt.1863m (which is actually five meters higher than the true summit of Mt Aicken), the running got easier – and thought I’d be there in well under 10 minutes as it was only about 1km to the summit.

From pt.1844m - From left to right: Mt Cassidy, Mt Blimit, pt.1862 & the True summit of Mt Aicken on the right.
From pt.1844m – From left to right: Mt Cassidy, Blimit, pt.1862 (center), the sketchy ridge & the true summit of Mt Aicken on the right.

How wrong I was. The next section to the true summit was pretty narrow. Lose rock and scree guarded the route, with a few lethal drops either side. I opted out of using my ice axe, needing both hands to climb on the rocks, but took it seriously slowly. What should have taken five minutes, took around 25 – as I tiptoes my way across the jagged football sized stepping-stones towards my goal.

After a few tingling experiences where pieces the size of dinner plates, simply snapping off in my hands – leaving me in mid air grasping… I made it to the summit and celebrated with some Billtong (made in Canterbury, none the less). Yum.

Peak 44 - with the nasty ridge behind me.
Peak 44 – with the nasty ridge behind me.

Peak #44, you beauty! Now, just to retrace my shaky steps and run back down to Arthur’s Pass for a nice drink and rest.

The return trip along the ridgeline wasn’t too bad. I got more confident with what was going to break off and what wasn’t and trusted my gut. Back to pt.1844m in no time and off down the slope towards the trees. Yippeeeee!!

The view back down to Arthur's Pass
The view back down to Arthur’s Pass

My legs did feel a little like jelly through the trees, as descending 1000m in 1.8km is pretty tough on your knees – but at least it was over quickly… back across the bridge at the bottom, a final glance at the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall and I was done. Another peak, another week.

M

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