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The 23 Year Stash

The objective was climbing and skiing Mt Hutton, a 2822m peak in the Leibig Range between Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo. From early in the piece it was apparent that there were other events of interest on this three-day circumnavigation ski tour and we were not the first people there…

Pete Oswald

In his usual fashion, Jeremy Lyttle, called me late one evening declaring that we are leaving at sparrow’s fart the next day. In his old short wheel based 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeremy and I spent the three-hour drive from Queenstown to Tekapo discussing our route and looking at a topo map. The last part of the drive is 20 kilometres of slow going rocky river bed up the Cass Valley from the Glenmore high country farm station. Station owner and keen mountaineer, Will Mackenzie, runs a bulldozer up the riverbed road about once a year to maintain access to grunty 4WDs only. Permission must be gained from Will before venturing up the valley, which Jeremy had obtained. At about midday we reached the Memorial hut at the termination of the Ailsa Stream into the Cass River. Gear exploded from the back of the truck, then was carefully positioned or attached in or on our packs as we determined exactly what was absolutely needed for the route and current conditions. 

3km up the Ailsa steam we transitioned from shoes to skins. 3km after that a hidden gem revealed itself to us; a couloir running from very near the Summit of Mt Lucia (2617m) all the way to the valley floor at 1550m. 1000 vertical metres of shady, south facing, steep, rock walled dry snow feeding on to sunny, low-angle, spring-corn scree fans leading directly to where we were standing at the bottom of the valley. Tomorrow mornings’ plan was immediately confirmed. 

By 4pm we were at 2000m on a plateau at the head of the Ailsa valley where we planned to dig in and sleep. The plateau is a big area of about 500m in diameter littered with dozens of rocky outcrops that create cylindrical wind scoops in the snow around the rock – perfect for digging a snow cave for shelter. After walking around the plateau and a little deliberation we settled on one particular rocky outcrop and started to make camp by digging in to the wind-scooped snow. 

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