Mt Rolleston Via Rome Ridge

“Pumped to get out of the city and climb a mountain”! Saturday evening the four of us, Hamish Cumming, Chris Sillars, Alan Williams and I drove through the falling snow in Porters and onwards to the CMC Lodge, Arthurs Pass. There had been talk of climbing Mt Rolleston via Rome Ridge for sometime. With the weather not looking ideal we were still keen to give it a crack.

After a quick pub snack and an intense P90X core session in the hope of getting some fabulous abs we were all tucked up getting some shut eye before our 4am wake up call. Consumed by deep sleep, warm and content, Hamish’s alarm activated, jumping us all right awake. With no time to waste a good 4am breakfast was hastily arranged, my body complaining about eating so early in the morning.  There was quite a variety of breakfasts from oats – pizza – toasties – rice and tuna. Yum Yum.

Rome Ridge
Rome Ridge

Vivaldi melodies set the mood on our quick drive to the start of the Coral track giving us the motivation we needed for the steep climb ahead. We loaded our day packs full with snow gear, leaving only one or two layers on for the heated climb. The rooted, wet track weaved up through the beech forest at a steady climb. Before we knew it we  approached the bush line just as the sky started to lighten. Low misty cloud hovered over the surrounding mountain ranges (looking across to Temple Basin) with the faint sunrise light filtering through, illuminating the snowy undulating Rome Ridge. A brisk morning wind kept us moving into the unknown, low cloud obscuring our route. Packed snow covered with a fresh layer of soft powder snow gave a little but was pretty good to walk on.

Low cloud obscuring route
Low cloud obscuring route

All three guys had been up Rome Ridge to Mt Rolleston before and knew the route well so I knew I was in good hands and ready to take on what was ahead. As the terrain steepened we all stopped and put on our crampons and harnesses.

The ridge became much more technical as we navigated steep icy sections and gullies. My semi rigid boots were not ideal for front pointing and a lot of pain was inflicted on the achiles tendons. Dealing with this distracted me from the sheer drops surrounding us. Having the two ice tools and crampons I felt secure however the thought of how far I would fall if my crampons or ice tools failed was a bit terrifying. You had to make sure each ice tool and crampon point placement was solid and secure, able to hold your weight. It took a lot of concentration. Hamish being so helpful cut ledges for me to rest my ankles so they did not fail on me half way up an icy wall. It was tough work.

Hamish climbing over a cornice
Hamish climbing over a cornice

The solo movement of the ice axes and foot work was quite thrilling, especially on the steep icy sections allowing you to go straight up without hesitation and no protection.

We took a little detour before the ‘gap’ missing the left side diversion, and continued to follow the ridge which became exposed and dangerous. Chris being keen went straight in, testing out the route while navigating small rock outcrops. We all followed, soloing, taking our time carefully picking our way up the ridge above the sheer drops. Reaching a large cliff we realised we were meant to drop down to the left and bypass this technical section of the ridge. Haha time to practice our down climbing. I very carefully made my way down the ridge we had come up. Some awkward footwork made some pretty scary climbing. Only for crazy people.

We all made it down alive and continued up and around the left reaching the gap with ease. The ‘gap’ marked the steeper ascent to the Low Peak of Rolleston. Avoiding the ice covered rocks we negotiated the steep gullies before reaching the steep ridge leading up to the peak. The snow was becoming very crusty and slab avalanche prone so we really had to make sure our foot work was secure as the crusty lose snow would break away. The few last sections were super icy and steep. Not able to look up to see how far to go, you just had to keep moving, staring at the solid ice wall in front of you hoping a rest was coming. The solid ice allowed fast travel with only front points and picks. The ridge crest made a good spot for a small rest before the last climb to the Low Peak.

Chris risking his life
Chris risking his life

One last push and we stood on the plateau of Low Peak, engulfed in cloud with the sun trying to push its way through. It was an awesome feeling to have reached the top (2212m). I was fully knackered from the full body climbing. It is quite cool what you can get your body up and how high you can climb.

We proceeded onward down-climbing the Otria slide. A steep and direct route obscured by cloud. A bit of bum sliding was also added into the mix. Approaching the bottom the sun started to peak through and we were able to see some of the surrounding mountain peaks that looked liked some awesome climbing (across to Mt Philistine).

A pleasant walk out the Otria valley brought us to the Arthurs Pass road where we hitch hiked back to the car in no time. A well earned feed was consumed at the fantastic Bealey Pub. Great tasteful music was supplied to keep us all awake in the car ride home. Despite the cloud cover my face got very burnt and is now peeling… beautiful times.

Looking back up the Otira Valley
Looking back up the Otira Valley

Awesome trip though! Highly recommend especially for those starting out in mountaineering. It is a great route with some fun climbing and good challenges that are not overwhelmingly exposed. I definitely will be back on a clear day!

Date: Sep 20, 2015
Tramps: Caroline Bellamy, Hamish Cumming, Chris Sillars, Alan Williams

Words & images by Caroline Bellamy