"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

8 March 2013

Purple Hill - 11 July 2012

A cracking winter day greeted us for our climb up Purple Hill, the prominent peak on the other side of Lake Pearson when driving on State Highway 73 from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass. At 1680m the climb promised to be no walk in the park but tramping mate Iain and I were rearing to go having not been into the hills for some time.

Having parked the car at the northern end of the lake we set off at 10am, with the sun starting to warm the air after a solid July frost. We skirted round the boggy sections at the head of the lake, aiming for the low saddle at the foot of the northern face of Purple Hill. We reached the saddle in quick time, had a brief glance up at the steep face rising in front of us to pick out a route, then on we went.  From the saddle we forced our way through some bands of matagouri - yep, we were tramping again! - before the gradient steepened and our climb began proper.

The slope was unrelentingly steep so we opted for a zig-zag approach, slowly but steadily working our way up. While it didn't seem it while looking up the slope, we were gaining height quickly, as shown by a glance over our shoulders to the ever expanding view of the Cass basin below us. After almost 2hrs we reached the top of the first crest (as it appears from below walking up) and by this time we were ready for a snack. Eager to see what lay ahead we made it a short snack and continued on.

As we came up over the rise the route ahead was clear...up, up, and up! What had been a broad face narrowed now to a more defined ridge, and got steeper, but it didn't appear to be too far to what looked like the summit. We pressed on, inspired by the views and the promise of more as we gained height. It was about now that I started to suffer from cramp in one leg, and while not totally crippling it was inconvenient enough to slow me considerably. I watched Iain disappear up the ridge, the distance between us growing by the minute.
I settled into my own rhythm, slowly but surely working my way up the steepening ridge. After about an hour I reached where Iain lay sleeping at the top of the ridge. I pulled out lunch, camera, and map and we set about picking out peaks and valleys, recalling previous trips and checking out future ones.

Our study of the map revealed that we weren't at the summit, so we started out again, climbing up over the next crest to find a flat plateau at around 1450m carpeted in knee deep snow.We made our way across, looking south now down the length of the Craigieburn Range, Lake Pearson still partially frozen 800m below. To our left another ridge led up to the summit of Purple Hill, still some distance away but as the ridge was free of snow it looked very achievable. We set off across the snow again, but my leg was nearing the end of its strength, so the call had to be made to descend.

Our day was done, but we'd had a great day in the hills, with the promise of many more to come.

Looking across the northern end of Lake Pearson from the lower slopes of Purple Hill

Zig-zagging up the steep face

Gog, with Mt Binser in background

Looking north over Lakes Pearson and Grasmere to the mountains of Arthurs Pass

Lake Pearson and Pt 1790 on the Craigieburn Range

Coal train heading west

Lunch stop at 1400m, looking down the line of our ascent

Hitting the snow, just above our lunch spot

On the snowy plateau at around 1450m, looking north-east to Mt Binser 

Iain takes in the view along the Craigieburn Range, with Flock Hill Station just beyond the lake

Spectacular views in all directions - but time to descend

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Turn off State Highway 73 at the northern end of Lake Pearson and follow vehicle tracks to the lake shore.

Time: 4hrs to the summit, 2-3hrs return

Map: BV21 Cass

Hut: None

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