Winter camping is always an adventure – even the brightest day can turn into a total whiteout. I’d long had it in my mind to do a hike up Ben Lomond and camp up on the saddle. Winter has this magic feel to it and my 2 friends were visiting Queenstown from Australia so it was the perfect time to make it happen.
Ben Lomond is located just behind the Queenstown Gondola and is a favourite amongst trampers in the summer months. The trail has it all – starting in an almost tropical jungle, it winds it’s way up into the dense pine forest before exiting into the alpine. It’s a real 4 season hike, starting in shorts and a t-shirt and ending with crampons and an ice axe.
We left the car parked in town and made our way up to the Ben Lomond Forest Park. After a few minutes on the trail you’re what feels like a lifetime away from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown. Waterfalls cascade down through the forest and there is no one around – just the sounds of nature. We got so caught up in the moment that we lost the trail and found ourselves hiking up a steep and muddy slope. Fallen trees blocked our path and the only way through was ducking, weaving and falling down the slippery slope before finally joining the trail proper once more.
Out of the forest, the views over Lake Wakatipu are breathtaking, with the Remarkables dominating the skyline to the north. The snow becomes more of a pain the higher you get with us constantly sinking in up to our knees with the odd waist deep fall. We decided to put our tent in the shelter of a small snow bowl and we compacted the snow to make the footing firm. The hike up to the true saddle is amazing and we made dinner there whilst watching the sun dip over the Southern Alps, turning the sky a burnt orange colour before fading to grey. The wind totally died off and the silence pierced our ears.
Once it was dark, my friend Kris and I decided that we would go to the summit in the night and try take some photos over Queenstown. We left the camp and set off up the hill. We walked up for a good 30 minutes before deciding that we would save our energy for the morning. We hiked back down to the comfort and warmth of the tent.
We only had a 2 man tent and the 3 of us had to cram inside to escape the cold. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking my arm was about to fall off and had to shake life back into it. Even the smallest movements are made hard with almost no room between us.
The next morning we woke up to a total white out. Over the next hour the cloud contorted itself revealing the summit of Ben Lomond and then concealing it once more. We made the decision to pack up and go down because we couldn’t see anything anyways. It’s disappointing because you dream up an amazing sunrise in your mind only to have mother nature snatch it from you. It’s the misadventures that we remember the most and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.
Where to stay
We camped up near the saddle in a little bowl to escape from the wind and bad weather if it was going to come. You wouldn’t want to camp out in the open with the elements as it would be a very sleepless night indeed.
We parked our car in a street close to the start of the hike and just left there overnight. We made sure that it wasn’t in a tow away zone and that it would be safe there overnight.
What to take
As it was winter and quite cold we had to take gear for quite cold temperatures. My friends rented mountain boots and crampons in Queenstown for around $15 for the lot. If you don’t have any of the other stuff most of it can be rented from the ski shops in town.
How to get there
The trail starts on Lomond Cresent and you take Hammy’s track up to meet the Gondola. From there its straight up the mountain. You can download the GPS track below to your phone so you won’t get lost. If you want to take a shortcut you can always take the Gondola up and go from there. This would cut the hike in half but isn’t recommended due to the high cost of the gondola.