I arrived at Arthur’s Pass Village around 8pm to find that the only hostel was full. I wandered around town in the rain until I found a place called “The Sanctuary.” The way it works is that you call up the manager (who lives in Christchurch), and he gives you the code for the door. You pick a bunk, and then put $15 in the “honesty box.” That’s right, it’s $15 NZ (about $8 US) for a bed for the night and access to a lounge, kitchen, and showers/baths. The deal is that you just have to keep the place clean while you use it, and apparently the honesty box works really well. NZ is awesome.
I walked over to the only place that was open (The Wobbly Kea) and tried to order food and a beer. I was told that they were no longer making food and I could only have one beer, as they were closing soon. I was a little sad, but the beer was really good, and then I happened to run into Chris (who I’d met while hiking the Kepler Track) who had half a vegetarian pizza that he couldn’t finish. Score!
In the morning, I visited the DOC office and got a route guide for the Avalanche Peak->Crow Valley route. The woman behind the counter asked me if I was planning to run it. She informed me that every year there is a race up Avalanche peak and down into the crow valley and then out to the road. The fastest runners do the 23km mountain race in less than 3 hours. I told her that I just wanted to hike it, and set out.
The hike up Avalanche Peak is really more of a scramble straight up. I often found myself using exposed tree roots as handholds as I climbed up steep rocks. There were some awesome views along the way, but when I got to the top I was inside a cloud and could only see 20 feet. I sat down for lunch with a few other hikers, only to find that there were 7 Kea (alpine parrots) hanging out at the top waiting to harass hikers for food. Kea are REALLY smart, and a few of them would distract me while another snuck up from behind to steal my food.
After lunch, I set off the back of Avalanche Peak for Crow Valley. This track is unmarked, but it’s pretty well beaten down and someone had built 15ft. long arrows out of rocks in a few key places to point the way. The important thing about this track is that you can’t go down the wrong scree slope, or you fall off a bluff. I eventually reached the right one and started down. It was incredibly steep and every time I stepped the rocks would slide out from under me. Eventually, I got the hang of “rock surfing,” where I’d start a bunch of gravel-sized rocks sliding and then stand in them until they stopped moving. It took me almost an hour to get down, during which time I twisted my ankle several times, fell down a lot, and banged up pretty much every part of me on the rocks. I couldn’t believe that people ran down this.
When I reached Crow hut I was hungry, tired, and cold, and as I walked in the door it started raining. Luckily, this hut had a woodstove and an ample supply of wood, so I started a fire and began making dinner. By time dinner was ready the hut was nice and toasty, so I curled up with a 5-year old magazine and ate dinner by the fire. I hadn’t seen a single other person since Avalanche Peak, and I had the 10-bunk hut in this gorgeous river valley all to myself.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny, and I hiked out down the Crow river to where it met up with the Waimakariri river. During this section my boots got very wet for the first time on this trip. My boots are waterproof gortex (thanks mom!), so my feet had stayed completely dry for my entire trip–until I had to wade across a thigh-deep river. When I started down the banks of the Waimakariri, I looked back to see glacier-covered peaks in the valley behind me. I hadn’t seen these the day before due to the clouds, and man were they awesome. This is another park I’ll have to visit with mountaineering gear.
4 hours after leaving Crow hut I made it to Klondyke Corner, where I hitched a ride with a couple from Holland back up to Arthur’s Pass. It was a pretty excellent hike, and I was ready for a break. For the record, this whole trip was about 9 hours of hiking + 1 night of rest for me. I want to know who the hell can run this in less than 3 hours. How do they not break every bone in their ankles/knees/hips? HOW?