Mt Arthur Tablelands and Mt Peel – 23-26 July 2011
I woke up in the night in Balloon Hut with a freezing arse, and stuffed my foam pad inside my sleeping bag to cover the cold spot. It did the trick! Well I did pick a weekend with the coldest weather forecast for 15 years. Could have been a lot worse; I’d turned down an invitation to snow-hole on the ridge somewhere between Mt Arthur and The Twins. I wondered how Mike and Tony were getting on….
On the plus side, the day dawned calm and clear, just like a fairytale scene. The bush was liberally dusted right down to sea level, Motueka recording the first snowfall since 1974. There was heaps of fresh snow, about 20cm having fallen the day before as I skinned my way from Salisbury Lodge, and overnight, to cover the nearly half meter already on the ground.
I had parked my 2WD van at Flora Saddle 2 days earlier, and tramped 4 hours to Salisbury Lodge, slipping on my skis for the last 30 minutes to the hut across the open clearing. Found the hut already occupied by 2 sisters with a boy each, enjoying some family time, with a coal fire roaring away in the enclosed burner. They took off back to their car in the morning. I carried on to Balloon Hut (2 hours), donning my skis after the initial climb up through the bush, with the wind rising and fresh snow falling. I took my skins off for the short run down to Balloon Hut at the bush edge, and brewed up using the hut’s gas cooker.
The 5km/400m climb on skins to Mt Peel was accomplished in a few hours, taking frequent stops to enjoy and photograph the stunning scenery. I had lunch on top in the lee of the summit, gazing at the views across the ranges and up the Cobb Valley, and the fresh ice at the head of the reservoir. The ski back to Balloon Hut took less than half an hour, even after stopping a few times for photos.
Next day back to the car park at Flora Saddle, where I found the road was not negotiable in my 2WD van, even with chains. Luckily I met 2 others who had come up for the day, and walked out down the Graham Valley with them to their wheels, and a lift back to Nelson. 5 days later my wife dropped my off near the top of the access road, where I was able to climb up to the car park, and drive out. To my surprise there was still snow in the Motueka Valley farm paddocks, where the sun hadn’t reached.