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The Canterbury Westland Alps

The Warrior. Jagged Peak. The Great Unknown. Ivory Lake. The Thumbs. The Garden of Eden. The names alone are an invitation to climb, and they are all in the Canterbury Westland Alps, which are the mountains of the Southern Alps between Mt Cook and Arthur’s Pass National Parks.


As well as the Main Divide peaks, they include the arterial ranges such as the Arrowsmiths, Armoury Range and the Adams Range.

At the head of the Wilberforce and Avoca valleys are the peaks of the Shaler and Black Ranges, but these are more accessible from the Waimakariri side.

The Unknown, Gibson, and Griffith tributaries of the Wilberforce, and the Mathias headwaters, have many peaks up to 2300m, most of them offering few difficulties.

The head of the main Rakaia River, comprising the Ramsay and Lyell Glaciers, is a heavily glaciated area with many spectacular peaks. There is a tedious 30km walk up the Rakaia River, followed by a long approach over moraine to the peaks. Mt Whitcombe (2644m), a striking massif that dominates the Ramsay Glacier, is a long climb. Mt Evans (2637m) is an impressive peak to the west which is accessible from the Ramsay Glacier via the Bracken Snowfield. Malcolm Pk (2514m) is the most attractive of the Lyell peaks. The major peaks have also been climbed from the Wanganui River headwaters to the west by rather devious routes. Generally, this is a serious area with long climbs on steep mountains.

The Arrowsmith Range is a group of about 20 peaks, including nine over 2500m, standing to the east of the Main Divide. The Cameron valley, with Cameron Hut as a base, provides the easiest access to the range. Mt Arrowsmith (2795m), Couloir Pk (2644m), and Jagged Pk (2720m) are long climbs from Cameron Hut. But other, easier peaks are readily accessible.


The Lawrence valley has some excellent climbs, including North Pk (2659m). The easiest route on Arrowsmith is from the Lawrence.

North and Jagged peaks can be climbed by long routes from the Jagged valley. The Reischek Glacier has short climbs to the surrounding peaks, including North Peak.

The Ashburton valley has generally easy though rather long routes to various peaks, including Arrowsmith.

In the Rangitata headwaters, the Armoury Range is a small group of peaks which is usually approached from tributaries of the Clyde River. The Warrior, the highest at 2591m, is usually climbed from the McCoy valley.

The Garden of Eden is a large snow plateau at the head of the Clyde and Perth rivers. A snow cave is usually used as a base, and several peaks such as Mt Farrar (2433m) and Mt Tyndall (2534m) can be rapidly climbed. Mt Kensington(2446m) is nearby. The garden of Allah is a similar plateau adjacent to the Garden of Eden, from which Mt Lambert (2430m) can be climbed.

The Cloudy Peak range has good climbs on Cloudy Pk itself (2400m) including some hard rock climbs, and Trireme Pk (2377m).

The Two Thumb Range has some interesting rock peaks, of which The Thumbs, Alma and Archilles are over 2500m. These are reached from side streams of the Rangitata River.

The major Rangitata Main Divide peaks are Outram Pk (2400m), Mt Edison (2338m), and Sword Pk (2497m), which all have good routes from the Havelock, but are not climbed from the Perth. The dominant peak of the Rangitata headwaters is Mt D’Archiac (2865m), which can be climbed from the South Forbes tributary of the Havelock, although the routes from the Godley Glacier are easier.


The Canterbury Westland Alps (NZAC/CMC, 2010), by Yvonne Cook and Geoff Spearpoint

Rock climbing routes on Cloudy Peak are also described in South Island Rock (2nd ed, 2004), by Lindsay Main and Tim Wethey.

Other resources

The Southern Alps (part one) by John Pascoe (Pegasus Press, 1951). Out of print.

‘Spotlight on the Arrowsmiths’, New Zealand Alpine Journal, 1967, pages 49–92.


Topo50 series:

BV19 Lake Kaniere

BV20 Otira

BW16 Whataroa

BW17 Harihari

BW18 Whitcombe Pass

BW19 Taylors Camp

BX16 Mount Elie De Beaumont

BX17 Mount Sibbald

BX18 Lake Clearwater

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