With daylight savings stopping the previous week, it was time to tackle some day hikes that were achievable in the reduced hours and I was keen to have a crack at the ‘twin peaks’ of Foggy Hill and Castle Hill on the way into Arthur’s Pass. The usually reliable DoC Website had wide ranging hours in terms of effort, particularly compared to some of the other websites I usually check (of course, Nathan had done it already – great blog here). I also found this awesome drone footage that really made me want to give it a go:
It’s only 1 hour from Christchurch airport and yet you’re transformed into a completely different environment. The stopping area is not well signposted, but the key is once you’re through Springfield and start climbing you do one dramatic 180 degree corner / switch back and then it’s only a couple of kilometers to the ‘car park’ on the right of the highway for the start of the track.
Route Map & Description
View Larger Topographic Map
As others have noted, there is no sign post of the start of the track, but for the first couple of hundred metres there are some orange poles to follow. I was doing this with my mate Brad and it was pretty chilly getting out of the car, as we’d left Christchurch at 7am and were climbing just after 8am. The sun had not yet risen over the top of Foggy Peak so we were starting in the cold with a nippy wind, so I donned the jacket and beanie to keep warm.
After the orange poles disappeared it was a matter of finding your own route to the top, but there were hints higher up of a reasonably well worn track. We made our way towards that, but it was only on the descent that we realised we had deviated too far right and probably gone a bit of extra distance.
Hint: If you’re going to give this a go, make sure you explore to the left of the last orange pole as there are a number of small cairns to follow on the path. Whilst we eventually rejoined this further up, it would have saved us some time on the ascent which, quite frankly, was quite challenging in places. There is a lot of scree and loose stones and so it was slow going, but with the views opening up, pretty rewarding:
We were overtaken by a keen hiker with poles who was also intending on heading up to Castle Hill Peak – we ended up chatting with him in the carpark at the end of the hike. The view was stunning and with the sun out and working hard from the ascent, it got pretty hot so was able to remove the jacket and beanie and enjoy the task in front of us of getting up to Foggy Peak.
We had pristine visibility on the day, but can imagine it would be pretty challenging finding the route if there was fog in the region. At the top of Foggy Peak we paused and enjoyed the scenery, before headding down in the saddle between Foggy Peak and Castle Hill Peak. It was still pretty wide pathways at this stage, and after the strenuous ascent (around 800m in a couple of kilometers) it was nice to walk on the flats before dipping down into the saddle.
After rising out of the saddle and approaching the final ascent towards Castle Hill Peak, both Brad and I started to feel we were reaching our limits of confidence. There was more snow on the ground at this stage and it was quite steep so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we hit pause rather than pushing ourselves beyond our comfort levels.
After dropping back down into the saddle and climbing out of it retracking our steps towards Foggy Peak, we decided to sit out of the wind behind the large cairn at the top and have a sandwich. I snapped this photo looking back across the Canterbury Plains – not a bad place for an early lunch!
With the hill climbing out of the way, we were able to attempt the steep descent back down to the car. It was here that we realised we had not taken the fastest route up, and could follow a path all the way down to the orange poles. It was steep and slippery and we both got sat on our backsides at pace when we slipped – the rocks are sharp!
We stopped and had another sandwich in the car park and saw the hiker that overtaken us returning as well. He had summited Castle Hill Peak and confirmed that without poles or an ice axe it would have been pretty dicey, so I think Brad and I made the right decision to turn back when we did.
This was a very cool hike – we did 10km in 4hrs exactly (3:33m moving time) with 1,101m elevation gained. The best part was we left home at 7am and were back home by 1:30pm. Even though we did not summit Castle Hill Peak I think the time estimates I’ve seen on the internet were pretty generous, although I suspect a lot of people would probably like more regular stops given the steepness of the climb in places.