Mt O’Malley ascent, Arthur’s Pass National Park NZ

Excellent views, a lovely tarn, and a bit of adventure as you make your way through rocky terrain to Mt O’Malley (1703m) in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O’Malley (1703m) is the lesser known neighbour of Mt Aicken, but you don’t compromise on scenery by visiting this peak. You take the same Mt Aicken Track through beech forest to the bushline. From there you soon veer south-east,  travelling on tussock grass at first, but then moving into very rocky terrain. There are rocky ridges and basins to cross, with a very picturesque tarn one of the highlights of the walk. The views from the summit are spectacular and top off yet another excellent walk in Arthur’s Pass National Park.

There’s a bit more navigation required than for Mt Aicken, but the distance is similar, and experienced walkers shouldn’t be too challenged. See my track notes at the end for guidance.

Mt O’Malley ascent: The Scenery

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
What a beauty!
Mt Aicken ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park
The rocky path was steep but there were plenty of footholds. (This shot from when I climbed Mt Aicken.)
Mt Aicken ascent, Arthur's Pass National Park
It was an attractive climb up through beech forest. (This shot from when I climbed Mt Aicken.)

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
The track is generally pretty steep. The beech forest is quite stunted in places so you get views even before the treeline. (Obviously not if you are walking up through a cloud inversion!)
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
I was very satisfied with the cloud inversion. That’s Mt Rolleston across the valley.
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Devils Punchbowl Creek. Blimit down the far end, which I climbed last year with Sophia. That’s a great walk.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
I had left the Mt Aicken route by now, heading south-east towards Mt O’Malley. This is looking back towards Mt Rolleston of course.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
First views of Mt O’Malley and the tarn. This was a nicer colour from other angles, as you’ll see in photos to come.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

On the summit…

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
The view north-westish from the summit of Mt O’Malley (1703m).
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Looking south from the summit.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Lots of cool mountains to the north-east. I had a go at identifying some of them from the topo map. I think on the far right are Mt Wilson and Mt Scott in the Polar Range. In the next range closer, to the left of those, is Mt Oates, and a distant centre is Mt Franklin I presume. Centre left at the back must be Mt Aicken.
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
The view west.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Leaving the summit…

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Making my way back.

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Navigating this bit was probably the hardest part of the route. I’ve included a marked photo in the track notes showing my route. I took this picture on the way back as more of the scene was in sunlight. 
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Devils Punchbowl Creek again. It cuts a very narrow gorge.
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Back into the forest.
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
I got a couple of decent fantail shots for the first time. Those buggers don’t ever sit still! This photo makes me look like a competent wildlife photographer but I was shooting at point blank range.
Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
So many interesting mushrooms. This is just a selection.

Track Notes

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Follow the Mt Aicken Track to above the treeline. From there you can climb on this same route for a while, but before long veer south-east to the crest of a ridge. From there navigation is a little trickier but see the photo in my track notes for guidance. Make your way up to another ridge running NE-SW, where you get the first views of the tarn. From there drop down into a basin and then sidle across the hill to join the ridge to the summit.

This walk starts at the Devils Punchbowl Track car park just off the highway near Arthur’s Pass Village (see the embedded map at the bottom). You walk towards Devils Punchbowl Falls, turning right onto the Mt Aicken Track about half way along. Climb steeply to above the treeline. From there you can climb on this same route for a while (there are a few extra orange markers after the sign that says the marked route has ended). But before long veer south-east and climb to the crest of a ridge (of sorts). From there navigation is a little trickier but see the photo below for guidance. You have to make your way up onto the next ridge. 

Mt O'Malley ascent, Arthur's Pass
Here’s my route to the second ridge. On the way there I actually went up higher but ended up having to come back down through a rocky gut. This route roughly follows the same contour and avoids the worst of the terrain. I returned in winter to do this walk and this exact route was not good due to slippery snow covering the rocks – instead head a little to the left to go above those near rocks and then follow the same route after that. You might need your ice axe as the slopes are steep.  

You get your first views of the tarn form up on that ridge, and you might like to take some time to enjoy the views and take a few photos. From the ridge drop down into a basin and then sidle across the hill to join the ridge to the summit of Mt O’Malley. Return the way you came. It should take about 6-7 hours plus time for lunch and photos.  

If you want extra guidance, or an alternate (slightly sketchy) route back, have a look at the Hiking is Good blog by Michal (who I met on Mt Philistine one day). 

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

3 thoughts on “Mt O’Malley ascent, Arthur’s Pass National Park NZ”

  1. Thanks. Great idea for a summit I haven’t actually visited. Does it look as though there might be a level spot to camp at that tarn? The fungi are amazing at the moment. I saw some dark purple/navy ones that were nearly black, that I’d never noticed before.

    1. Hi Honora. I read on another blogger’s site that it looked good to camp next to the tarn, “but a bit bumpy”. That was ‘hiking is good’ (a good blog with lots more overnighters than mine) and I think he had some pics from down near the tarn.

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