The Cass Valley, Memorial and Lady Emily Huts, “The Scorpion” ski tour loop, Gamack Range

“The ‘Scorpion”  is a well traveled and rewarding backcountry ski tour, taking in some gorgeous valleys, a fine alpine pass, and lovely some bowls.  A deservedly popular backcountry ski loop.

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

Access: The route up the Cass Valley passes close to the Glenmore homestead, and works its way up the braided Cass river. Initially the route takes the true right of the river. The first crossing of the river is often the deepest, so if you get past that you should be able to make it up the valley a ways.

River crossings on the way up Cass Valley. Can be done in a van but its a little hard on it..

After the river crossing the route follows the true left of the river. The difficulties start around 2.5 kms short of Memorial Hut. A tributary river  constantly washes out the track, creating a massive gravel fan, which can be impassable for lower clearance cars. There are 2 routes to cross; one going high over the fan (it might take some scouting to find, but is good if the Cass river is high) and one going low close to the Cass river. The last couple of kilometres  are on the true left of the Cass, and due to the ever changing nature of the river bed can be a little rough for a standard AWD vehicle. Having said that, I have seen an AWD Toyota Hiace (and shovel!) all the way up at Memorial Hut.

 

Memorial hut, looking down valley

Memorial Hut is clean, well situated, has a fire, sleeps 10,  and makes a great base to launch tours from. Generally it is an hour or so below the snow line, so expect a little walking. For other routes from Memorial hut on this website check out the Mt Hutton via Huxley Glacier Mt Hutton via the Faraday Glacier,  the Liebig Range ski loop.

Memorial hut and the route up to Lady Emily Hut, Cass Valley

The route to Lady Emily Hut from Memorial Hut is a steep but picturesque tramp for about an hour. It It is a good ideas to take some shoes as it would be quite uncomfortable hiking the slopes in touring boots. The most expedient route follows a spur on the true right of the waterfall and stream, WSW of Memorial hut. It is also quite common for ski touring parties to fly via helicopter directly to the Lady Emily Hut. Flights can be made from Tekapo or Mt Cook.

Cold start to the morning, crossing near memorial hut to head up to Lady Emily hut.
On the route to Lady Emily Hut

Lady Emily Hut is well situated on an old medial moraine. Cleverly designed, there are 2 different ‘cabins’ in the one hut. It is insulated and has a fireplace. For mote info please inquire with Glenmore Station.

Lady Emily Hut, Cass Valley

The Lady Emily Hut is popular and often booked well in advance. There are many ski touring options from this hut, as well as a lot of short steep couloirs to climb and ski. I suggest it would make a great practice ground for those wishing to tackle the greater couloirs and faces in the Southern Alps. However the obvious tour from here  is The Scorpion.

Wandering over to the north branch for the Scorpion route, October 2018

The Scorpion is a loop  which is best done in an anti clockwise direction(!). That is, starting in the northern valley, passing south through the col (marked as 2300) then returning in the southerly valley.

View Larger Topographic Map

The northerly valley is initially very low angle and  ground can be covered quickly. This gives way to a series of short steepish steps, leading to the col. These steps can be ascended on the left or right depending on conditions.

Touring up north branch on the Scorpion Route, Cass valley
Touring up the north branch Scorpion route, at about 1500m
Touring up the north branch Scorpion route, at about 1700m, October 2018
Headwaters of the north branch, with the Col 2300m in the centre of picture

3 hours to the Col would make an average time. The views from the col are magnificent with sights of Mt Cook, Malte Brun, Mt Hutton and in the background Mt William Grant. Interestingly, a google search of who was William Grant, come up with the Whiskey distiller, and founder of Glenfiddich single malt. Quite fitting really.

Approaching the Col at 2300m Scorpion route. Mt Hutton in centre background

Skiing south from the Col 2300m Scorpion route

From the Col, moderate slopes, and really fun playful fall line skiing lead down into a large basin. There is an alternative route on the true left for those looking for a steeper line (see photo).

The Scorpion , 2 route ptions down from the Col; skiers benching across at 1950m

The map shows the basin as glaciated. We skied this in October, and I did not see any crevasses at that time. At 1950m it is possible to bench around to the true left to pass back into the southern valley leading back to the Lady Emily hut.

Skier in background benching across at approx 1950m to saddle on the right

Recognise that there is a half hour uphill skin to get into the headwaters of the southern valley. On the way up there are good views into Tin Hut Stream, and it is possible to see the new ski touring hut situated in the valley. Another longer option is to not take the bench at 1950m, but to ski the full basin down to 1700m, then ascend back up over to the southern valley.

Broad gentle slopes lead down the southern valley back to the Lady Emily hut. Expect around 6 hours for the return tour from Lady Emily Hut, and another 2 if based out of Memorial Hut.

South branch leading to Lady Emily Hut

Here is a video of the action. The first half is the Cass valley Mt Hutton ski tour, the second half is The Scorpion.