The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 4 (July 1, 1939)
Moonlight on Mt. Rolleston — An Easter High Camp In The Southern Alps
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.
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 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.
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