I've been thinking for a while of heading off on a solo mission and overcoming a few fears that have been lingering in the back of mind. I wanted to climb something that would be physically challenging but also make me practice my route finding skills without having someone else to rely on. Mt Cassidy was a pretty perfect option for this. At 1850m the summit towers over Arthurs Pass Village and boasts sweeping views across the valley to Mt Rolleston, Avalanche Peak and Mt Philistine. With a steep track leading to only just above the bush line, I was going to get plenty of navigation practice and lots of rock scrambling.
I left Christchurch at 6.30am and headed out to Mum and Dad's for an early morning beacon pick up before making my way inland to Arthurs. It was already 9.30am by the time I parked up amongst all the tourists at the beginning of the Devil's Punchbowl track. The weather forecast was promising rain later in the afternoon so I was already eyeing the cloud cover a bit warily as I headed off on Con's Track just on the far side of the first bridge (if you cross a second bridge you've missed the turnoff - it's a bit overgrown and easy to miss coming from the car park).
If you've ever climbed the popular Avalanche Peak Route you'll be familiar with the part walking part climbing nature of the tracks in this part of the park. Unfortunately having been the first person on the track in a while I was eating spider webs every two metres and had to walk with my trekking pole held out like a light saber most of the way up. While there was nothing too challenging or exposed to worry about the heart rate was definitely up by the time I cleared the tree line an hour later. A warning sign reminding me that this was a mountaineering route was super comforting as I took in the bluffs immediately above me and the sparsely placed poles disappearing into the distance.
I made my way up past the first few poles before taking a wrong turn and having to back track to find where the route began traversing around to the north-east. After making my way across a few smaller scree slopes three poles indicated the start of the climb up to the main ridge. This slope is reasonably steep and I had to stay off the shifting rock to make any real progress up it. Head slightly to the right when you reach a fork about half way up - there are plenty of rock cairns but I found most of them on the way down rather than on the way up.
Once you pop over the top onto the main ridge the going gets a lot easier with a large boulder field making for some rock hopping goodness. Continue heading straight from the scree slope and you'll run into the first of several more rock cairns heading to the top of the ridge. Follow these to point 1810 and then onto the summit itself. I made good progress across the top and made it to 1810 by 12.45pm just as the clouds were really starting to close in and totally obscure the ridge in front of me. I had made it through all the parts of the climb that had made me nervous so decided to call it a day and head back down while I could still see the way.
The return trip was a lot more straight forward now that I had the route figured out and I made it back to the bluffs by 1.45pm. The cloud had raced down the valley and covered all of the surrounding peaks making me feel better about bailing on the top. I was back at the car an hour later with a different group of tourists looking a lot less sweaty and disheveled than myself. A cheeky iced chocolate at the village and it was back to Christchurch again. While I wouldn't normally go adventuring by myself (I'm pretty social by nature) it was pretty awesome getting to test out everything I've learnt in the past couple of years and practice keeping a cool head. I'll be honest, I cried twice and phoned my husband three times but I also kept going when I was genuinely scared because I knew I was totally capable of crushing this mountain. Now I just need to go back a smash out that last 500m!
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.