Cass Valley – Liebig Range

A ski tour loop with stunning views down into the Murchison Glacier.

The Cass River lies on the western side of Lake Tekapo. Access is solely through Glenmore Station and booking ahead is necessary as the run-holders rent out the huts on a nightly basis to ski tourers, hunters etc. For bookings call Will Murray on 03 6806 752 or 0211869087.

The access road is generally pretty sweet as Will runs a grader up there to keep the access easy. Most cars can make it up to just shy of Waterfall hut. After that a little clearance is required but any street SUV should be able to manage the track until to a tributary about 2.5 ks south of Memorial hut. The final 2 ks might take a nudge more but is nothing too strenuous.

Memorial hut makes a good base.  Lady Emily Hut is up in the valley to the west of Memorial hut, some 400m higher, and the new Tin Hut is in the drainage further to the south.. Memorial however gives a fair few options. Three good trips from here are: a) The Scorpion – a loop around the basins in the drainage to the West  b) An ascent of Mt Hutton via the Huxley Glacier  c) Head up the Ailsa valley to the Liebig Range.


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Ailsa stream holds snow very well and even in a sparse year the snow level can be quite close to the hut. There are multiple aspects and lots of shady bowls so powder turns can be had even when you might least expect it.  The Ailsa valley is narrow and threatened by avalanche activity from above and is a terrain trap to be mindful of, given conditions. However once in the head of the valley there are broad open slopes. The ski touring terrain offers many options and one could spend the day just in the head of the valley sessioning and seeking out lines.

Travel up the Ailsa is reasonably fast and should take most tourers somewhere around the 2 hour mark to the head of the valley. On our route we headed south for a look into the Jollie river, then headed up over the Liebig divide to ski wonderful corn snow on the western faces. Views are into the Murchison Glacier and the Malte Brun Range, excellent! This is prime heliski terrain so expect the area to be heavily tracked and to be sharing it with helicopters, sightseers, heliskiers etc.

We skied along the western faces of the Liebigs, then ascended to cross back into the Cass Valley just south of Rutherford Pass. If you have plenty of energy left the Ridge Glacier is well known for holding quality powder turns. Otherwise head straight down the Cass, or, alternatively ski tour SE to cross over Kehuna Pass back into the Ailsa. Kehuna pass is straightforward on the northern side but the southern side is steeper – around 40-45 degrees for the final 50m as a guestimate, and so would I would expect it to be more enjoyable to tackle the pass as a ski from the north, rather than a climb from the south.

The upper Cass doesn’t hold snow as well as the Ailsa, so if descending that way trainers might be the go. Luckily the valley isn’t bouldery, it is quite easy going shingle.

There are many possibilities in this area, from ski tours to ski mountaineering. A week based out of the hut would be a grand idea!

Further info update 31.5.16: via email from Glenmore Station

The ultimate location for touring and purpose built for ski touring groups. At 1500m the hut is located within some of the best ski touring terrain in the country. The West Wing of the hut was built in 2013. It sleeps 4 with room on the floor for 1 extra if required (mattress provided). It is fully self contained including a gas stove, pots, plates, cups, cutlery etc. A large log burner makes melting snow a breeze and makes the hut warm and cosy. Solidly built boot and gear drying racks ensure your gear is warm and dry. Firewood is provided. The East Wing was built in 2016. It can sleep 6 plus 1 extra on the floor if required (mattress provided). It is also fully self contained (as above) with a gas stove and has an adjoining door to the west wing to share the heat of the log burner. Both huts have solar powered lights. All you need is food, sleeping bag and own pillowcase. We would also prefer you bring your own bottom sheet to keep the mattresses clean.

ACCESS

There are 3 options: 1. Depending on snow conditions, drive to Memorial Hut (2 hours from Tekapo township) and walk in to the hut. Directly west of Memorial Hut there are two waterfalls. Walk up the true right hand side of the true right waterfall. The climb flattens out, then you cross the creek on your right and follow a moraine ridge up to the hut. It is a straight forward walk. Allow an hour. 2. Fly in, drive out. Drive to Memorial and get picked up by helicopter. You can then drop your gear at the hut before getting dropped off up high making the most of your first days touring. 3. Fly in, Fly out.

Memorial Hut. 

Situated near the head of the Cass Valley this hut was built as a memorial to Arthur Major who lost his life mustering in 1923. Another great base to tour from with plenty of options to find un-tracked powder. The hut sleeps 8 and has a large open fire (wood provided). You will need all your own cooking gear, etc. After a heavy snow vehicle access to the hut can be difficult, however, again helicopters are always another option.

Tin Hut

Situated half way up the Cass Valley the head of the Tin Hut Creek offers some superb skiing. The hut sleeps 8 and has a large open fire (wood provided). You will need all your own cooking gear, etc. Depending on snow conditions, you could expect an hours walk before you can put your skis on but it is definitely worth it.

Hut Fees

Lady Emily $50 (incl) pp/night
Memorial Hut $30 (incl) pp/night
Tin Hut $30 (incl) pp/night

NB: There are no landing or track fees.

HELICOPTERS

The Helicopter Line Mount Cook ph 03 435 1801 or Tekapo Helicopters ph: 03 680 6229

To book or for further information phone Emily or Will on 03 680 6752 or email glenmore@farmside.co.nz

 

View up the Cass valley past Birdcage Hut. Mt Hutton south face in background with a good looking ski line possibility down the south west shoulder/glacier
View up the Cass valley past Birdcage Hut. Mt Hutton south face in background with a good looking ski line possibility down the south west shoulder/glacier
Ski touring up Ailsa Valley
Ski touring up Ailsa Valley
Ailsa valley from about the 1600m mark
Ailsa valley from about the 1600m mark
Ailsa valley at the 1900m mark, pt 2320 in background on left
Ailsa valley at the 1900m mark, pt 2320 in background on left
Ailsa valley at about 2000m mark with Kehua pass centre skyline
Ailsa valley at about 2000m mark with Kehua pass centre skyline
Southern end of Ailsa valley with Jolie Saddle to the left, the pass we took is at centre right.
Southern end of Ailsa valley with Jolie Saddle to the left, the pass we took is at centre right.
Ailsa Valley, looking North
Ailsa Valley, looking North
Looking down Ailsa valley on a poor snow year
Looking down Ailsa valley on a poor snow year
Ailsa Pass on the left, Mt Tamaki centre.
Ailsa Pass on the left, Mt Tamaki centre.
Our route from Jolie Saddle up and over to the western side
Our route from Jolie Saddle up and over to the western side
Looking down Jolie Valley from Jolie Saddle
Looking down Jolie Valley from Jolie Saddle
Looking down to Jolie saddle on right, upper southern Ailsa valley; touring west over to the Murchison
Looking down to Jolie saddle on right, upper southern Ailsa valley; touring west over to the Murchison
Taken from 2300m as crossing the divide from the upper Ailsa to the Murchison faces. Pt 2405 is the rock outcrop.
Taken from 2300m as crossing the divide from the upper Ailsa to the Murchison faces. Pt 2405 is the rock outcrop.
Skiing the Murchison faces of the Liebigs.. Mt Tamaki and Mt Hutton in background
Skiing the Murchison faces of the Liebigs.. Mt Tamaki and Mt Hutton in background
Great corn skiing on the western Liebig range
Great corn skiing on the western Liebig range
Skiing down the western faces of the Liebig range, Murchison Gl in background
Skiing down the western faces of the Liebig range, Murchison Gl in background
Western face of Liebig range
Western face of Liebig range
Ski touring back up tho the ridge from the west, heading to point just south of Rutherford Pass
Ski touring back up tho the ridge from the west, heading to point just south of Rutherford Pass
Ridge Glacier, Mt Hutton in backgound
Ridge Glacier, Mt Hutton in backgound
Skiing down into the Cass Valley from point just south of Rutherford Pass
Skiing down into the Cass Valley from point just south of Rutherford Pass
Kehua Pass from the North, in the centre of photo
Kehua Pass from the North, in the centre of photo
Skiing down the Upper Cass Valley at about 1700m on a poor snow year
Skiing down the Upper Cass Valley at about 1700m on a poor snow year