Winter on The Ball Pass Crossing
Aoraki National Park, New Zealand
The Ball Pass Crossing was one of my favorite side trips from Te Araroa. These are photos from the three nights/four days Luke Hardy and I spent traversing from the Tasman Glacier Valley to the Hooker Valley via Ball Pass in 2016. On day four we summited Kaitiaki Peak (2222m) and descended the wrong way directly below Ball Pass. We ended up coming down very dangerous scree/moraine slopes and ended up on the outskirts of the Hooker Glacier.
To get out, we traversed the side of the glacier and most of the way around Hooker Lake. Getting down from the pass ended up taking us over ten hours after this mistake. We both felt very lucky to make it out safely.
This is an unmarked route, anyone contemplating this trip must have excellent route-finding ability in steep alpine terrain, be experienced in snow travel and the use of crampons and ice axe.
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. Then over Ball Pass (sidling around under Mount Rosa and Mount 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 old Hooker Hut site 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: Washouts have made travels along the East Hooker much more complex and difficult. Allow extra time to negotiate steep and exposed terrain around the crossing streams/gullies.
East Hooker valley camping site to the 'playing fields'
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 Mount 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 Mount 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 Mount Rosa. Once past Mount 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/Mount Cook village.
Day trip from Ball Flat
Time: 7 hr
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. This trip provides good views of the Tasman valley and the Caroline Face of Aoraki/Mount Cook.
From Ball Flat continue along the lateral moraine bench up towards the base of Ball Ridge. Follow the route up through the scrub and steep scree slopes to gain a gentle bench below the ridgeline. Follow the worn trail up and along the bench until you reach a boulder field and scree slope which leads you up to the ridgetop.
Continue along the track/ridge, turning around a difficult rock step on the eastern side. Carry on up to Caroline Hut. You can refill your water bottle from the water tank at the hut, and a toilet is available for public use.
From here climb directly along the ridge to gain Fergins Knob. Traverse along the ridge until you reach the easily accessible Ball Glacier (1 hour). Follow the snow slope around towards Turner Peak and then up to Ball Pass.
Return to Ball Flat via the same route.