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Jagged-Upham Couloir, Arrowsmith Ranges

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Jagged-Upham Couloir is an awesome little ice and mixed gully in the Arrowsmith Range within weekend striking distance of Christchurch. The route is around 500m long with steps of waterfall ice and snow slopes interspersed with a few WI3-4 steps then a final tricky mixed pitch with some slightly loose rock that is around M4-5. Overall it is given a MC5. Depending on the amount of snow the slower half of the route may be filled in with snow reducing the length of technical climbing by about a half.

Rose and I opted to tackle Jagged-Upham as an early mentoring trip together, given Rose's fond memories from an earlier ascent, as a chance for me to put my winter experience cragging at the Remarkables and general mountain experience on various winter MC1-3 mountains together on a technical mountain route. In the conditions we found it, it provided a great place for me to put my limited experience leading ice in Wye creek into practice on an alpine route.

As we weren't planning on breaking any speed records, we decided to bivy at the base of the route and start early before walking out the same day. Three days would make for a more relaxed itinerary! This worked well for us, and we had an awesome time with interesting climbing. We can't recommend the route highly enough as a mid-length winter line in easy access from Christchurch. Checkout our beta (based off a few different ascents).

Beta

The Arrowsmiths are like the smaller brother of Aoraki Tai Poutini National Park, tucked away in the Canterbury region, only a couple of hours drive from Christchurch. The remote-feeling yet accessible routes from the Cameron Glacier provide some excellent climbing in late winter and early spring.

There are loads of classic winter routes in the area ranging from the MC3 central couloir on Mt Arrowsmith (the largest peak in the area), to the classic main couloir on Couloir Peak, to more technical lines on both the South Face of Mt Arrowsmith and the South Face of Jagged Peak. For all except the South Face of Mt Arrowsmith, the Cameron Hut is a great option for a pre-climb bivy. Jagged-Upham Couloir is the dominant feature splitting the South Face of Jagged Peak and is arguably the most reliable and classic ice route in the area.

Access

Walk to Cameron Hut (4-6 hours) and then head up the North Cameron Glacier (2-3 hours). We bivvied in the middle of the glacier, near the base of the couloir, and started climbing around 1.30am the next morning. Given the route is entirely south facing, on a cold forecast it can be climbed at any time. Other options include sleeping at Cameron Hut and leaving such that you arrive at the base for dawn, or if you expect to be quick you can walk in from the road end drop your overnight gear and ascend the route in the afternoon before returning to Cameron hut for a snooze. Plenty of options for any party and forecast :).

Route

The South Face of Jagged Peak has a few winter lines including Jagged-Upham Couloir and Whiplash (a narrow gully exiting Jagged-Upham Couloir at half height to the climbers right). Jagged-Upham Couloir is the most obvious feature – the deep groove can be seen even from the drive to the roadend. We had a few good freezes, a clear night (and chilly bivvy!) then cold weather all day as we climbed. The route was in fun condition, with ice steps starting very soon after the schrund at the base of the couloir. Rose had climbed this route in another winter and the first 300m of ice steps were banked out with snow.

Most of the couloir involves many steps of easier water ice, and a few WI3-4 steps then a final tricky mixed pitch with some slightly loose rock that is around M4-5. We chose to do a combination of simul climbing and pitches where needed for the entire route. The mixed step at the top was probably the crux of the route, and appeared to have loose rock that was luckily somewhat stuck together by ice. The couloir ascent and descent took us around 12 hours, though travel in the lower sections would be faster (but less interesting!) with more snow.

Season and conditions

This route generally forms best in late winter. We found mixed quality ice throughout the route, often climbing quite soft sn'ice that gave easy sticks but was hard to protect convincingly. We had cold temperatures and no sun on any part of the route throughout the day, meaning we could continue climbing well after dawn.

Hazards

During the night there was a stream of spindrift straight down the couloir that made climbing a bit tricky. There were moments where Rose and I hung around on tools heads down mid-lead waiting for the river of spindrift to stop! If the couloir was less bare this could have turned us around. The route is subject to falling ice and rocks. We had cold enough conditions that we didn't get bombed by anything that we didn't knock off ourselves, but in warmer temperatures this could be a much more serious problem. It was difficult choosing a well-protected belay for the loose top pitch of rock.

Descent

We rapped off a rock spike at the top of the route and then around 10 V-thread abseils to get back to the shrund at the base of the route. There is an alternative descent over Jagged Peak to Jagged Col, but it looked pretty loose and complicated from the top of the couloir. Descending the couloir was quick and had no unexpected surprises. We took about 3 hours to reach the Cameron Glacier from Jagged-Upham col.

Rack

  1. 12 ice screws: 1x 10cm, 3x 13cm, 5x 17cm, 1x 21cm

  2. A light rock rack of 5 smallish cams, 8 nuts and a couple of hexes

  3. 10x 60cm quickdraws

  4. 2x 120cm quickdraws

  5. A microtraxion & tibloc each

  6. 2x 4m of 6mm cord for anchors

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