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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 4 (July 1, 1939)

Moonlight on Mt. Rolleston — An Easter High Camp In The Southern Alps

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Moonlight on Mt. Rolleston
An Easter High Camp In The Southern Alps

An Easter group on the top of Mt. Rolleston (7,453 ft.), South Island.

An Easter group on the top of Mt. Rolleston (7,453 ft.), South Island.

The Primus roared, chops sizzled away in the dark on an old battered tin plate, and four storm-coated figures squatted around on the rocks of the low peak of Mt. Rolleston. Unrolled sleeping-bags, a coil of alpine rope, ice-axes, and the dim outline of Mts. Temple and Franklin in the starry distance showed that an unusual bivouac was contemplated. Yet the bivouac was comfortable in spite of its seven thousand feet elevation.

Mt. Rolleston has been a landmark of the Arthur Pass region since the early days. With its five giant ridges, three glaciers, and rugged cliffs it had been called everything from the “Monarch of Otira” to a “Hen-cackle” (the Canterbury mountaineers’ patois for “easy day for a lady”). Guy Mannering's party had made the first ascent of the low peak in 1891 and some twenty years later, tunnel engineers completed the first ascent to the high peak. Energetic railway men, notably Bill Frazer and Drew Snowden, had competed for numerous climbs on the peak under all conditions. Overseas mountaineers visited the region. But most active of all were the young men of Canterbury who, in the depression, scored new routes and competent traverses of the Rolleston ridges. Such experienced men as Bert Mabin, Boney Chester, and Evan Wilson had learnt the art of hissing up and down mountains with zest, when they made variations on Rolleston themes. Our case was different; we had no new routes in mind, no times to lower, no foul conditions to overcome.

Arriving at Arthurs Pass by the mid-day express we gloated over a high barometer, and swore with exuberance at the cloudless sky above. Obviously it was the weather for a summit camp,
The High Peak of Mt. Rolleston as seen from the Low Peak.

The High Peak of Mt. Rolleston as seen from the Low Peak.

and where more salubrious than on Rolleston's low peak? With swags full of tucker, clothes, sleeping-bags, a bottle of beer, fuel for the sooker and equipment, we wandered up the Otira basin at an easy pace. At the crest of the Goldney ridge we had a spell. Easy rock scrambling and firm snow led us to the low peak. A scarlet sunset on the West Coast put the high peak, 7,453 feet, in relief against the space beyond; in the foreground, chill snow sloped gently to the tormented depths of the Crow Icefall. We sought shelter of flat rock slabs, and thought how pleasant was the outlook below, and more pleasant the outlook above. After an orgy of chop-eating, tobacco, and reminiscence we page 42 page 43 settled down into the bags for the rest of the just. Bert, more venturesome, nestled between snow and rock; Doug. had a perch above the Rome Ridge; Neil and I sedately kept the flattest of the rocks for a mattress. Sleep was sound, but in all mountain camps I have found that a certain awareness of the scenery creeps into consciousness. So that when you do wake for a moment, it is to gaze at a glacier, or to think how much more exciting cliffs are than backyards; suspense than suburbs. On Rolleston, the pleasure lay in peeping at the moonlight silhouetting the ranges below, and then sleeping again in warmth and ease—how different from my benightments on two of the Rakaia mountains when the sleeping-bag lay down in the valley camp!

At dawn we saw the breadth of the South Island. To the south-east the Banks Peninsula hills reflected the warm glow of the sun; to the north-west the Westland lowlands lay in a plum-coloured shroud. The colours deepened and we cooked breakfast. Material needs are ever the means of focussing appreciation of jagged scenery. After two hours of eating and lazing we traversed to the high peak of Rolleston. There, on my ninth visit to this summit, I could see familiar mountain territory in all directions. From massive Cook to upthrust Evans, gaunt Torlesse to forested Alexander, the topography was revealed as clearly as in a contour map. Two of us thought of the North Island hills, and how they faded in comparison with those of the South. Dreary Waitakeres, the pillow shape of Ruapehu, the sombre grass monotony of the Tararuas—they were poor imitations of the glaciated mountain personalities of the Waimakariri ranges to our west; only the symmetry of Egmont had the right to challenge the Southern mountains, but even Egmont was insipid compared with the fantastic outlines of Arrowsmith.

Another fine view from Mt. Rolleston showing the peaks of Mts. Philistine and Alexander.

Another fine view from Mt. Rolleston showing the peaks of Mts. Philistine and Alexander.

Another Canterbury mountaineer joined us; he had climbed from Arthur Pass in the small hours. On two ropes we descended steep snow slopes to the Upper Waimakariri glaciers. We dumped the swags, rushed up Mt. Armstrong to gaze at a maze of silent Westland valleys, and returned to yet another high camp at the head of the Waimakariri river.

On the third day we returned to Arthur Pass, by a leisurely tour down the Waimakariri to the Bealey. Mountain holidays are all too short.

Interesting to smokers! Professor Shelcraft, an English analytical chemist of repute has been experimenting with nicotine, and solemnly warns smokers of the danger of using habitually, brands of tobacco containing a heavy percentage of this well-known poison. Although, says the professor, it is possible to use such brands for years without ill-effects manifesting themselves it can only be a question of time when they do. Then the smoker's nerves may go to pieces or heart trouble develop as the result of smoking the wrong tobacco! Such cases are common although their origin is not always suspected. Happily Dominion smokers are not exposed to risks of this kind, because our New Zealand tobacco contains so little nicotine that it really doesn't count. The special purifying process to which it is subjected in the factory removes most of the nicotine content. Hence its unusual purity, fine flavour and delightful fragrance. The smoker never tires of this tobacco. There are five choice brands: Riverhead Gold, Desert Gold, Navy Cut No. 3, Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10.*

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