Philistine-Rolleston Traverse

Philistine-Rolleston Traverse

Hamish Cumming and Caroline Bellamy

Friday evening Hamish and I made our way to Arthurs Pass, time passing quickly with good chat soon arriving at the cmc lodge. Roasting by the fire in lodge we organised our gear for the early morning start of 3.30am! I was pretty pumped to reach the summit tomorrow.

Before I knew it Hamish was shaking me awake and we had a fed before driving to the Otria carpark. A light mist rain was clearing and the stars were starting to peak through allowing us to hope for firmer snow. After crossing the footbridge we headed directly up a snowy ridge that lead to a cairned route leading to Warnock bluffs. The snow was soft which made tough work. We travelled quickly up and over the exposed Warnock bluffs that had a good mix of rock and snow making the climbing enjoyable. Reaching the top of the bluffs the sun began to rise over the eastern mountains lighting up Rolleston in the distance, making us realise how far we had to go.

Heading up to Philistine at sunrise
Heading up to Philistine at sunrise

A slow snow plod followed along with strong gusts of wind as we made our way up to Mt Philistine. We made the summit at 9.00am getting a view of the Philistine ridge we were to follow. We were both feeling unfit but both had good endurance so the soft snow did not stop us. After you go pass Mt Philistine there is no bail out options before Mt Rolleston so its a big commitment.

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Looking back from where we came.
Looking back from where we came…

We pushed on along Philistine ridge where there was a mix of reasonably flat travel and tricky rock and snow narrow exposed sections, where careful down climbing was required. The cornices were very overhanging and open as the snow cover was not super deep. At point 2000m we got a direct view of the climb up to the summit of high peak Rolleston. An obvious snow gut lead straight up to the summit. Easy. However before the final climb we had to down climb down a very exposed part of the ridge were the snow was becoming soft due to the heat of the day. A mix of straddling, crawling, and down climbing the ridge was requiring to pass safety haha. Enough stress for me. Hamish did a sweet job of leading and finding a good route through this.

Philistine ridge
Philistine ridge
Overhanging Cornices
Overhanging Cornices
View of rigde
View of ridge

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After a quick snack we continued our snow plod up towards to summit. Legs were pretty shattered by this point. As we made our way up the snow gut bits of ice and snow were cracking of the rocks from the heat and flying down at speed towards us. They hurt if they got you!

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Popping out at the top of Rolleston high peak the views were stunning! Elevated above the cloud we could see over towards Mt Alexandra and down towards the Arrow smith range. Views down the Rolleston river were also pretty awesome! We didn’t have to much time to take in the view as it was about 3pm. The snow was very soft and slushy on the top making the traverse very nerve racking. A mix of tiredness, soft snow and exposure made some sections very challenging and scary! It is very easy to psych yourself out so you have to be very focused on what you are doing at that moment. Quite mentally draining.

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Coming down the last section Hamish set up an abseil on an existing sling off a rock to get pass a icy step and down to the base of middle peak Rolleston. I was very grateful for this.

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We sidled down and around middle peak then climbed back up into the ridge that lead to low peak.

By the time we reached low peak the sun had started to set and there was not a breath of wind. Low cloud had settled in the valleys and atmospheric high cloud spread out across the sky, changing colour as the sun lowered. We each go a photo on the rock that marks where you drop down onto the Otria slide. Being on top of a mountain when the sun is setting is a little concerning. Was an incredible moment though!

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Making a way down the slide was a piece of cake compared to what we had tackled throughout the day. Making sure to go slightly left to avoid the bluffs as the light faded we descended into darkness stopping third of the way down for a snack as we we both about to hit a wall (lacking a bit of concentration). Half way down the snow became very soft and we were sinking in up to our mid thighs! A push and a huff and puff and we emerged out at the footbridge. After decramponing and rehydrating we finished the final walk back to the car. Both extremely shattered. The trip clocked up at 17 hours! The longest day I have done!

An absolutely awesome day out, great views, great company, and a sweet route. Highly Recommended.