As part of the Torlesse Range, Castle Hill Peak offers views all the way from the Canterbury Plains to Porters Ski Field and Castle Hill Village. Just over an hour west of Christchurch along State Highway 73, Porters Pass marks the start of a relatively steep but enjoyable walk. In summer this is a non technical but challenging walk however in winter an ice axe and crampons are likely to be needed nearer the summit. There is a small gravel area to leave your car at when you reach the pass and the path begins as an indistinct route marked only by the occasional rock cairn. If you cannot locate the rock cairns, the ridge is still easily navigable as you head towards the obvious high point of Foggy Peak.
Most of the height of this climb is gained in the journey from Porters Pass at 1000m to 1733m when you reach Foggy Peak. There is a lot of loose rock and deeper gravel once you get above the tussock layer which is slow on the way up but pretty fun coming back down. We set a leisurely pace as I was still recovering from the Spring Challenge a week earlier and my calf muscles weren't so keen on the incline initially. We reached Foggy Peak in a comfortable 1 hour 30 minutes.
The trip from here is much easier on the legs and lungs as the ridge drops down to a wide saddle at 1600m where a convenient directional arrow fashioned out of large rocks indicates the correct way to traverse. A few patches of snow dusted the tops as we made our way north east towards the summit. The ridge peaks early at 1842m before another drop down precedes the real deal. The wind was beginning to pick up when we finally hit proper snow necessitating the donning of jackets and gloves before the final ascent. Two unknown persons had been about half an hour ahead of us since we left the road and we were looking forward to following their steps all the way to the top. Alas, two drunken polar bears couldn't have made more of a mess of the slope so we headed out onto clean snow and kicked our own path towards the trig. The ridge is not too narrow at this point and we made our way up the last 200m without any trouble.
We were standing on the summit exactly 3 hours after leaving the car and just in time to greet two young guys heading back down the way we had just come. I kept the polar bear comment to myself and instead involved myself in a friendly conversation about weather, snow and other typical summit small talk. We found a clear patch of rocks to settle in for some fine Pak N Save cuisine and savoured our surroundings for a bit. The view from the top towards Mt Torlesse was interrupted only by patches of low lying cloud and we could see out to Lake Lyndon and Mt Enys behind us. At 1998m this was the highest mountain I had climbed to date and if I jumped high enough I could legitimately say I had been to 2000m finally - well almost. We demolished our bagels in a couple of minutes and were back on our way as the cold started to seep in through my soft shell.
The return trip was fast and when we hit Foggy Peak again it was all down hill. The shingle and rock along the ridge isn't exactly a scree slope but it was definitely manageable to run and slide down large sections rather than trying to negotiate the steep terrain at a walking pace. The whole walk took only 5 hours and 10 minutes with a few stops along the way. The overcast weather held nicely all day with only occasional periods of gusty wind while we were near the top. This is a very achievable climb if you have a relatively good level of fitness and the snow will be all but gone by the end of October if you don't enjoy kicking steps on the edge of a ridge.
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