The challenging climb of The Marquee (2421m), in Canterbury’s Arrowsmith Range, offers a real experience of alpine grandeur. You get panoramic views of multiple glaciated peaks in the Arrowsmith Range, which tops out at Mt Arrowsmith (2780m). In other directions you lord it over many high mountain ranges, and the upstream Rakaia River snakes away to the north-east.
For mountaineers, climbing The Marquee along the south ridge is a straightforward, non-technical climb. However, for mere mortals it represents a challenging scramble along a 2km ridge of broken rock, with some real exposure to keep things interesting. You’ll be kept busy mentally and physically as you navigate around obstacles on this section.
Before this you need to find your way from Cameron Hut across the fast flowing, glacier fed Cameron River. (Fast flowing in mid-summer at least, perhaps not in winter). Then up about 700 vertical metres of steep scree slope. But you will be amply rewarded by the views all along the ridge to the summit. And you get to brag of summitting a proper Southern Alps peak.
Route notes at the end.
The Marquee from Cameron Hut: The Scenery
Video from the summit…
Heading back here…
Cameron Hut is situated in a spectacular setting at the head of the Cameron Valley, with the Arrowsmith Range towering overhead. It’s a 16km walk up the valley from near Hakatere Heron Road in the Ashburton Lakes District. See my blog post on that route here. And you can jump straight to DOC info on the hut here.
I did this walk in January and the route was entirely snow free.
Crossing the Cameron River
From Cameron Hut you’ll need to first cross the Cameron River. This was wide and fast flowing enough in summer that I had to walk at least 1km up stream to a point were the river split into three channels. (Dotted line on my map becaause I didn’t note exactly where I was). There were a few boulders to hop across so that I didn’t need to chance stepping in the river and getting knocked off my feet. And these rocks were mercifully grippy, even the wet ones.
I’m not very experienced at crossing rivers, but another experienced tramper I know also had to take this detour to cross safely. Take note where you crossed for the return journey. I didn’t take note carefully enough and wasted time finding the spot again on the way back. From here climb over ridges of moraine to the base of the mountain.
I took about an hour to get to the mountain, and because I missed my crossing spot I took a similar time on the way back. You should be able to save time here.
Scree Slope and South-West Ridge
Begin the steep climb up not very pleasant scree to gain the ridge. It took me about 1.5 hours up and an hour back down.
The ridge traverse is never more than a scramble, but you scramble a lot, and almost always on crumbly rock, so take care. There are sections of exposure, but even when not exposed it wouldn’t take much to lose your balance or slip and fall, or to dislodge a rock onto your climbing partner’s head. (A helmet would be good idea).
My wife Sophia wasn’t keen on this climb and stayed back at the hut. Doing it by myself was a bit intimidating and I had many decisions to make about how to navigate around obstacles on the ridge – over, besides, or down and back up. I sometimes found it harder on the way back, but descending was still faster. I took roughly 2 hours on the way up, and a little less on the way back (maybe 1:30-45?).
So an 8 hour day plus time for food and photos. I had considered walking back to our car that afternoon but didn’t have time, and I don’t think my body would have appreciated it anyway. We walked out the next morning and spent a relaxing night in the hut, just the two of us.