New route on Cow Peak, Arthur's Pass
Over the summer of 2018, a group of four climbers set out to climb a new route on Cow Peak, in Arthur's Pass National Park. A new route was successfully established, however, it is unlikely to be a classic.
During a busy climbing season, Ben Gibbins, Ben Sowman, Jasmine Gibbins and Latham Gibbins set out to climb in Arthur's Pass with the intention of establishing a new route. In recent years, several new routes have gone up in Arthur's Pass. These have predominately been rock climbing/scrambling routes and this particular route is no different.
While looking online for places to establish new routes, I came across a route called 'Greet the Sacred Cow'. Established by Ryan Nicol & Ellie Watson in 2015 on Cow Peak. It looked like a great summer rock route which is described as having relatively good rock. Not only did the route look good, it also looked to be surrounded by virgin rock which I hoped would be equally as good. The team agreed that it was worth having a look and if a decent route couldn't be found, then a least they could climb the already established 'Greet the Sacred Cow'.
Cow peak, located at the head of the Anti-Crow river is a rarely climbed peak. Surrounded by much more classic Arthur's pass peaks such as Mt Greenlaw and Mt Murchison, it is often passed by climbers and trampers as they cross nearby Gizeh Col which serves as the main access between the Anti-Crow and Avoca valleys. Additionally, it is one of the shorter peaks that surround the head of the Anti-Crow, making climbing other peaks a more attractive prospect.
With the weather looking good and the prospect of climbing a new route, we set out on the 21st of January in high spirits. We parked at the road end near Klondyke corner and headed for the Anti-Crow hut for the first rest stop. It took a little over an hour to reach the hut, and we quickly realized that stopping here for too long was not a good idea as the place seemed to be a breeding ground for sand flies and they continued along the track.
The turnoff from the walking track to the Anti-Crow river is not marked but it is easily seen from the track itself. The start of the Anti-Crow follows a narrow gorge and requires a few river crossings. However, the crossings are easy, as the river is reasonably shallow. There may also be river crossings on the walk to the Anti-Crow hut, but as the Waimakiriri is a braided river, it deviates and changes course from time to time.
At the head of the valley there is a broad alpine meadow which was the intended camp site. There is a short, steep slope to tackle before the reaching this point. The slope is not particularly difficult but it does require a little scrub bashing and does have the dreaded Spaniard plant doted about the place which can be painful if you accidentally grab it of fall on it!
The alpine meadow at the head of the valley is a beautiful, broad grassy area surrounded by a cirque of mountains that dominate the valley. It didn't take too long to find a nice flat spot and there is plenty of water from a nearby stream. This makes it a great area to tackle any of the surrounding peaks or to rest before crossing one of the many saddles into the adjacent valleys.
The camp site had the advantage of being close enough to Cow Peak to go and have a peek at a potential route before we set off the next day. So once a good site was found and tents were set up, myself and Latham set out to see if a viable route existed somewhere next to 'Greet the Sacred Cow'. In less than an hour, the two were directly in front of the rock face and began discussing the plan for tomorrow.
The already established line' Greet the Sacred Cow' was an obvious line up a pinnacle on relatively solid looking rock. It is easy to see why this line was picked to climb. The rock to the right of this pinnacles looked rather loose, however, the rock to the left looked as good as on the pinnacle and it also looked less steep. However, a clear line was not visible as it looked like a jumble of small bluffs dotted around the place and any new route up here looked to zig zag around these bluffs. It also looked like if we began climbing and didn't want to continue, retreat would be relatively easy which gave up peace of mind. We decided that it looked like it was worth a go the two headed back down to let the others know.
The next morning, we were up at sunrise and after a quick breakfast began scrambling on good rock at the bottom of the route (first arrow in photo). After a great start and in very warm weather, we came to a bluff requiring a short 10m pitch. I lead the first pitch which was relatively easy (grade 10-12 - second arrow in photo). It did however, have a lot of loose rock and when I got to the top of this pitch I had to be careful not to dislodge rock onto the team below. After a lot of searching, a good belay spot was found and he was able to get three pieces of solid pro in to make an anchor.
At the top of this short pitch the route continued along a short ridge which the team mostly climbed unroped (arrow three in the photo) but did a short traversing pitch around an exposed section of the ridge. At this stage we were all worried about the rock quality as it didn't look as good as it had from below. There were small sections of good rock, but also a lot of loose rock. Each step seemed to dislodge rock which fell off the ridge and into the gullies below. We also knew that we were not far from the top so it was decided to push on.
At the top of this ridge line was a large vertical bluff. It looked like it would require a couple of pitches and it looked like difficult climbing. A more confident party might attempt this line but protection might be hard to find. We decided that instead of attempting this, we would traverse the bottom of it and look for an easier route. We traversed along the base of the bluff and scrambled up easy ground to another ridge (dotted line in photo). We did this section on rope but no good protection was found until the next ridge line was reached.
Thankfully, the top of the route could be seen from this point and they knew it was only one more short scramble away (arrow four in the photo). After everyone arrived at the anchor, the team began scrambling and reached the summit ridge in the early afternoon. The route does not top out on the summit of Cow peak but rather its lower summit between Cow peak and Gizeh col.
After deciding not to head to the summit of Cow Peak itself the team headed down Gizeh col and back to the tents. From there it was back down the Anti-Crow to the car, making the whole trip done in a weekend. It was topped off by a cold beer and a meal at the Bealy Hotel.
We decided to named the route Gibbins-Sowman since there were three Gibbins's and a Sowman climbing. We also decided to grade it 2+. Its certainly more than scrambling, requiring a few pitches in places. It also has small exposed sections on loose rock. It is not a recommended route as its so loose. There is certainly room for new scrambling routes in these bluffs, however, I would imagine they would be similar to this one. 'Greet the Sacred Cow' looks like the best rock route up Cow peak and this route is recommended by the first ascensions.