Ball Pass Crossing

Recommended route:

(Big thanks to Mike Steel (Director for Biomathematics Research Centre Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Canterbury) for his help in creating this post)

Wait till summer and clear weather; even then you’ll still need to take ice axe and crampons). Drive up to Celmisia flat the night before and stash the bike somewhere up the Tasman glacier. Return to Mt Cook village and camp at the White Horse Hill Campground. Next day set off early up the Hooker valley and head up a prominent gully (usually snow filled) then sidle up towards the pass. Drop down to the (private) hut then down to the valley and the bike. Take essentials:  a map, compass, jacket, water, tent, ice axe, crampons.

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BallPass - Earth Map

Trip options and detailed guidelines:

The trip can be started from either valley but, for safety reasons and in order to gain the best views, the recommended route is to start at the White Horse Hill camping area and travel up the East Hooker, over Ball Pass (sidling around under Mounts Rosa and Mabel) and down the Ball Ridge to the Tasman Valley and Ball Hut.

A nice alternative if you are short of time or unsure of your mountaineering experience, is a day trip from Ball Flat up the Ball Ridge to either Caroline Hut or Ball Pass.

Places to stay

It is best to camp at the lower altitudes either side of the crossing to take advantage of both the water and better weather.

There is a camping site at the shingle fan in East Hooker valley. Water is available at a nearby waterfall. The Tasman valley camping site is by Ball Hut and is equipped with water, toilet and park radio.

Whitehorse Hill carpark to East Hooker valley camping site

Time: 3 – 4 hr

From the carpark follow the Hooker Valley Track across three swingbridges to near the end point at the Hooker Lake. Veer right following a discernable ground trail to meet the original Ball Pass route up the East Hooker to the large shingle fan opposite the Hooker Hut and Copland Gut (both in the West Hooker valley). There is good camping available at this shingle fan. Water is available at a nearby waterfall.

Note: this section of the route is becoming more difficult as several side streams are becoming deeply incised.

East Hooker valley camping site to the ‘playing field’

Time: 1 hr 30 min

From the shingle fan, follow the distinct gully to the north-east. This is snow-filled in spring. The gully leads to a large shoulder or flat area below Mt Mabel known as the ‘playing field’. This is an ideal camping site. Water or snow melt is often available near the top of the gully. Poo pots are essential for this site.

‘Playing field’ to Ball Pass

Time: 4 hr

From the ‘playing fields’ ascend the shingle slopes to the east. These slopes form a large Z between bluffs. Once on top of the Z, follow an exposed ledge to the north, to a small shoulder on the ridge north-west of Mt Mabel. This is one of the few routes through the bluffs and it is important to gain this point sufficiently high enough.

Traverse from this point in a northerly direction across rock slabs and then descend around the spur, west of Mt Rosa. Once past Mt Rosa ascend the shingle slope (this may be a snow field at certain times of the year) in a north-easterly direction to Ball Pass.

Ball Pass to Caroline Hut

Time: 2 hr

After crossing Ball Pass and taking time to enjoy the views, descend Ball Glacier for approximately 60–70 m (200 feet) before turning south to gain Ball Ridge. Descend Ball Ridge to Caroline Hut.

Caroline Hut – privately owned

Caroline Hut is situated part way down the Ball Ridge. Water bottles may be filled and the unlocked toilet may be used, but this is a private hut and cannot be used by the public. There is a shelter on the end of it for emergency use only. Do not camp near the hut – there is a good camping site available 750 m north-east of Caroline Hut at the end of the flat section of Ball Ridge.

Caroline Hut to Ball Flat

Time: 2 hr

From this point descend several rock steps, more or less following the ridge crest. Two difficult sections can be avoided by turning around to the eastern side. Follow the track markers to the level part of the track on the narrow ridge line. Do not follow the historic track further along, as slips have made it impassable.

Descend the boulder scree to the east and pick up the route through alpine scrub. Follow the road and cut track to slips and boulder scree that lead to the old Ball Hut site and over to Ball Flat.

Ball Flat to Blue Lakes carpark

Time: 2 – 3 hr

From Ball Flat head down the Tasman valley following the old Ball Hut road. The road has slumped in several places and climbers need to scramble up and down the moraine to regain the track.

Keep to the track and do not be tempted to go down the moraine wall to the glacier. Loose rock makes this particularly dangerous. Once on flat simply wander down grassy terrace to Ball Flat. Leaving Ball Flat, follow the obvious track to Husky Flat, which changes to a 4WD track down to Blue Lakes carpark. It is an eight-kilometre road drive from the carpark back to Aoraki/Mt Cook village.

Questions that need answers:

1. Can you do the trail in Spring? (September)
2. Does crossing the Celmisia Flat to drop off the bikes require a 4WD? And is the flat still suitable for riding bikes? What about in Spring?
3. How long does it take to get from the Celmisia Flat to White Horse Hill campground if you are walking?
4. Are you fit enough?
5. Can you cross the deep snow in Spring?
6. Can we get 4 bikes down on the back of Dans car?

Answers from Mike:

1. sure – Spring should be OK – provided there hasn’t been a big fall of snow – best if there’s not too much snow —  been a bit of snow melted and bit freeze-thaw, and the day you do its cold and you start early – otherwise you might spend a fair while wading through snow (i.e. could take a while).  Just after heavy snow or in warm spring conditions there would be avo. risk too.

2.3. Actually there is now a sealed road all the way from the village to the carpark. From there if head up the gravel road you either need a 4WD, or you could bike from the car park.  We went up the late-afternoon before and took our bikes
as far up the valley as we could (since we planned to do the whole circuit in a day) – and ran back to the car and drove back to the white horse campground near the start of the other end of the track.  How far you can ‘bike’ up that valley changes with time (we can to push it over some sections, and didn’t bother getting all the way to the ball shelter) – so just stop when you want and cover it from the sight of inquisitive keas (but make sure you can find it also – including in the dark!). Of course if you’re not in such a rush (e.g. doing it in 2 days) you can leave any bike (even a road bike)
at the car park, or even as you say, walk all the way back on the road – but that seems a bit tedious (and not much fun if you are doing it in a day). If you weren’t carrying ice-axe and crampons etc, you could run it but I’d suggest putting at least one bike (maybe borrowed from the village) so you can get back to a car easily.

Pros and Cons of walking the Crossing in Winter:

  • There is no huts. We will be camping the whole time.
  • There is no water on the trip, other than what is provided by snow or waterfall
  • The season is typically November to April
  • The track is not marked.
  • The track is universally marked as for “experienced hikers only”
  • The track is regarded as requiring a high level of fitness, requiring sustained uphill walking for long periods of time.
  • In spring there will be deep snow. So travel times will be largely expanded.
  • We will require snow shoes
    • Last year we did Kepler in August and it was all good. Sort of.
    • The trail is only 3 days, so evacuation will be relatively easy.