Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur’s Pass National Park NZ

Fabulous scenery on this classic and somewhat adventurous walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

The excellent but somewhat notorious routes to the summit of Avalanche Peak attract many hikers of various abilities, and have killed 11 of them apparently. Nevertheless, both routes to the summit are marked, and the views are just fabulous, especially after a bit of snow. This was our first time in Arthur’s Pass National Park and it exceeded already high expectations, with pleasingly steep and rugged tracks up through beautiful beech forest, then epic views of mountains, ridges and valleys in all directions. The opportunity to make this a circuit walk adds to the appeal.

You should take safety preparations seriously, but experienced hikers will be fine in good conditions. (Best avoid low cloud, heavy snow, and high winds). We walked it mid-week, but there were still quite a few hikers on the mountain. I imagine this walk gets pretty busy on the weekends, but if that’s the only time you can go it will still be worth it.

Track notes at the end, and I have linked to useful websites for assessing the weather and current conditions on the mountain.

Avalanche Peak Circuit: The Scenery

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The 80m Avalanche Creek Falls.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
There were clear sections where the track looked constructed, but I think this may have been natural.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
It was often steep in the beech forest, but rocky enough to provide plenty of good footing.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Nice lighting.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking down the Bealey Valley towards the Waimakiriri Valley.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Views from just above the tree line.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Not the summit, but a nice spot to take a short rest and admire the views. I’m not sure why the cairn is so big here as this isn’t even a minor peak.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Into snow by now.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia contemplates the final climb to the summit of Avalanche Peak. The route goes to the right, then there’s a short, narrow and rocky ridge that runs lefts to the summit.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia backed by Avalanche Peak.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
We had never done a proper snowy winter walk until this one. It was fun to get in amongst it.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia with Devils Punchbowl Creek Valley behind. I loved the look of this valley so much that I returned two days later to climb Mt Aicken, to the right in this shot, just so I could get a good look up this valley. That was an equally good walk with almost nobody on the route.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking towards the Waimakiriri Valley as we ascended the Avalanche Peak Track.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
This was the scene that awaited me as I poked my head up above the ridge to the summit. It was a fabulous sight. Mt Rolleston pictured.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston 2271m
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
A New Zealand Falcon / kārearea. It just sat there patiently on the short summit ridge, and it was such an unusual opportunity to get a good shot of a rare and beautiful bird that I felt quite nervous, and my hands were shaking as I was trying to take the photograph. Good job my Lumix GX85 has stabilisation in the body and the lens!

Pictures now taken on the summit…

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The Crow Valley. You can only see this from the summit, and hence travelling along the short but narrow ridge to get there is well worth it (so long as it’s safe).
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Crow Valley and Jellicoe Ridge panorama. Fabulous scenery.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The Crow Valley.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston. I’ve probably included a few too many pictures of this mountain, but it looked rather grand all dressed up in white. I think this particular angle was from the summit of Avalanche Peak.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston panorama from the summit of Avalanche Peak. Pretty grand.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston, 2271m
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia and me on the the summit of Avalanche Peak (1833m). The Crow Valley and various high peaks on the Jellicoe Ridge behind us.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia and me on the the summit of Avalanche Peak (1833m). Mt Rolleston behind us. Shame about the glare, but I’ve got plenty of other shots of only the mountain so I didn’t try to touch it up.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia as we walked away from the summit.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
I cropped one of my other shots to get this wide angle landscape of Sophia on the ridge to the summit (looking away from the summit here). Best viewed in landscape so it fills up your screen.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston again.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National ParkAvalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia looking down from the ridge to the summit. You can also see one of two young women we passed having lunch in that spot. They were walking on snow for the first time and were not confident to take on the ridge, but I suggested they give it a go because the views of the Crow Valley and Jellicoe Ridge were so good. I hope they made it.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Very rugged.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Mt Rolleston viewed from a bit further down the Scotts Route.

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
I took a lot of variations of this basic shot.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Sophia on the edge of the cliff looks rather exposed. This looks a lot more precipitous here than I remembered it.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Cliffs lining Devils Punchbowl Creek Valley. Fabulous topography.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The Bealey River down in the valley, and Mt Aicken to the left, which we climbed a few days later.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The beech forest was very attractive, although quite hard to photograph.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking back at peaks from lower down on the Scotts Track.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking up the Bealey River
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
Devils Punchbowl Falls. It was an impressive sight and I knew I’d have to visit it one day. That day was the same day, as it turns out there is a short track to a good viewpoint that starts near to the end of the Scotts Track.
Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
The 112m Devils Punchbowl Falls.


Track Notes

Avalanche Peak Circuit, Arthur's Pass National Park
We walked the route in the recommended clockwise direction, taking the Avalanche Peak Track up, with a short side trip to the summit, then returning on the Scotts Track. There is then a short walk back along the road. We also did a short walk to Devils Punchbowl Waterfall marked in blue.

They recommend hiking up the Avalanche Peak Track/Route and down the Scotts Route/Track, and this is what we did. The final ascent up the Avalanche Peak Track to where it meets the Scotts Track is quite steep and there was lots of snow when we did it. The short and rocky ridge to the summit has steep drop offs both sides but it felt fine, and I’m not all that comfortable with heights. It definitely helped doing it in fine and calm weather. The Avalanche Peak Track starts over the road from the visitor centre, just a short walk over a lawn area and along a gravel track. It’s a very steep climb through the forest that requires a bit of scrambling. You have to walk back along the road from the end of the Scotts Track.

Further Information

There’s plenty of information on this track on the DOC website and on the Arthur’s Pass website, including mention of people dying on the mountain. These would probably be some of the less lucky of those people who decide to climb it in sneakers after snow, like we saw. Otherwise you are unlikely to get into trouble in good weather if you are well equipped and somewhat experienced. There is avalanche risk in winter and early spring, and you could certainly slip and fall in snowy or icy conditions. You could also get blown off the final ridge to the summit in high winds. The Arthur’s Pass website has info on weather and snow/ice conditions, and the Met Service has a section dedicated to the often wild and woolly weather in Arthur’s Pass National Park, including for Avalanche Peak specifically.

Having said all that, we had a great time and the only moment I was in danger was in the very final two to three metres of the Scotts Track, which I basically slipped down, luckily managing to stay on my feet. Just goes to show you can get into trouble hiking at any time if you lose your concentration.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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