Two Seasons in Torlesse

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There are so many adventurous options for alpine exploration available near Christchurch. It may seem a bit unimaginative to choose to climb the same hill twice within six months. But Mt Torlesse is an especially convenient peak for a day trip—and our local tramping club has run two trips up it already this year. Once in summer once in early winter.

Only a short drive from Christchurch, and standing at a lofty 1961m (or about 1200m above the valley below) it’s just tall enough to be interesting, but just short enough to be fun.

Our first trip up was in January in the height of summer. Nothing like choosing an especially warm day to climb a steep hill.

The benefit of the long summer days was that we had plenty of time to take it at a relatively leisurely pace. No rush meant plenty of snack breaks (also known as ‘opportunities to catch your breath, while eating chocolate’.) Furthermore we were able to take a detour—continuing along the ridge to Red Peak before dropping down an inviting looking scree slope.

A much more interesting plan than just turning around and going back from whence we came.

The scree decent from Red Peak made for a pleasingly quick trip back down to the valley. Although getting closer to the bottom there were some menacing loose boulders as well as small bluffs and outcrops to avoid.

Following the stream back down to the hut was a mix of easy terrain and questionable detours around waterfalls. (The main question being: “Why did we go this way?”) But all up, it was exactly the kind of walk that makes for a fun summer’s day out.

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Since it was such a fun day out in summer it only seemed right to head out again in early winter. A great opportunity to sink my crampons into some snow for the first time this season.

I wasn’t the only person who had thought this—an enormous mob of 21 trampers had signed up to the trip. Not really the way to get peace and quiet in the outdoors, but awesome to have so many keen to get back out adventuring post-lockdown.

It all started with a frosty trudge up the shaded valley. A bit of a temperature shock after hopping out of the warm car. It was easy enough to forget about the chill while photographing all the frosty foliage and icicles decorating the river bank.

It didn’t take long to warm up after passing the Kowai Hut to follow the same spur up as we had in summer. Oddly, the change of seasons hadn’t made the spur any less steep. Well, it’s not so much steep, just a steady consistent unrelenting incline that keeps going (and going) up for 1200m. Luckily, the views provide plenty of opportunities to stop to get your breath back, whilst claiming to have paused to take a photo…

Trampers silhouetted along the ridge.
Looking back at the spur we had walked up. In the valley below, it’s looking a bit sunnier and warmer than before.

At the summit things suddenly became significantly windier and colder. Jackets (and sandwiches) were rapidly deployed as we scarpered to the most sheltered spot we could find for a snack.

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Post lunch stop the group split into two, some turning back to return down the same way we ascended. Rather than retracing our steps, we opted for a different plan. Heading southeast from the summit, we followed a gentle ridge until we were almost directly above the hut. A quick scree-descent returned us to the creek beside the hut, where we met the others. leaving only a final stroll back to the cars along the river valley.

Probably the most impressive feat of the day was arriving back at the cars with a full compliment of 21, we had assumed we would misplace at least one or two. It appears that the tenacious crowd had heard mention of hot chips and beer at the Sheffield pub—no one would want to miss out on that by being misplaced…

It looks like a few trampers have passed through here.
This ice-encased tussock is both very photogenic and musical, every time you kick the ice with an errant boot the broken ice crashes to the ground like the jingling of a thousand bells.

I’m not a big fan of the cold, but it was worth persevering. It’s a far more scenic trip in the winter with all the snow and ice. I suspect it won’t be my last visit to Mt Torlesse, so perhaps I’ll see what it is like with a bit more snow on the ground sometime in late winter or early spring… it is conveniently close to home after all.


The path up the Kowai river up to Mt Torlesse crosses private land so you need to get permission from Brooksdale Station. (Or just tag along with the tramping club and they’ll sort that out for you… convenient!)


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