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Polar Discovery, Canterbury

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Polar DiscoveryExperienced

Submitted by Mike Steel

Info Info
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Trail Information






Arthurs Pass

Back country - remote



Native bush
Open tussock/grasslands
Open ridges/tops


Not Suitable (Slow)
10:00 (Moderate)
6:00 (Fast)



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Run up the Hawdon valley following occasional markers till you reach Discovery creek (1 hour) which is just before Hawdon Hut. Pleasant boulder hopping up this stream through an impressive gorge soon follows, then you meet a side-branch that comes in on your right (small cairn on mossy boulder). Head straight up the true left (i.e. right hand side looking up) of this stream in dense bush, it's steep but avoids waterfalls. Stay close to the stream higher up so you can pop out onto the rocky stream bed and follow it up towards the head of the valley. Higher up this valley an obvious deep ravine appears ahead on your left; just before this ravine head up left and climb up onto the Polar range, and over the high point of Pt 1937 (various options). From here there is some airy running along the ridge, particularly if you are close to the sheer eastern side! Closer to Mt Scott some obstacles on the ridge come into view - they can easily be negotiated with care on the western side. There is only one safe spot to descend east off the ridge and this is a col just before the rock ramp that leads up to join the start of bulky Mt Scott - run down from the col on excellent scree into the head of Sudden valley - once off the scree, the going is quite slow until you reach the open valley. Nice running from here to the Sudden Valley Biv, and onwards along this open hanging valley to where the valley narrows. Marked trails follow the river through this section on both sides of the river; be sure to pick up the last one on the true left that leads around the impassable Barrier Falls. Once you've landed in the lower valley there is more boulder hopping before the valley finally opens up for some pleasant running back to the car park.

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Features of interest

This alpine circuit linking Discovery Stream, the Polar Range, and Sudden Valley, has a bit of everything - river running, bush bashing, rock scrambling, short sections of ridge running with fantastic views, a big scree descent, hanging valleys and bush trails.

Make Up of Run

Untracked / Route only: 30%

Technical Single Track: 70%

Route Data


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  • Access

    Hawdon valley car park (access of SH73, near Cass, by crossing the railway and Waimakariri River).

    Safe and spacious car park. Likely to be other vehicles there. Can camp there also.

    25 km

    25 minutes



  • Staying Safe


    Safest to do this trip in the direction described. Some navigation required in (and above) Discovery Stream.
    The deep ravine (in the description) can be climbed (I went up it not realizing it had been described as "dead end" in a tramping guide book!) but it's not recommended. Also, keep an eye out for the exit of the hanging Sudden valley.


    Long-sleeved thermal top, Seam-sealed waterproof jacket, Beanie/thermal headwear, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), Whistle, First aid kit, Extra food for emergencies, Survival blanket, Cellphone, Compass, Map.

    Plenty of water most of the way, and the Polar Range section is fairly short.

    Will be snowed under in winter. Also the rivers (Hawdon, Sudden Valley steam) need to be fairly low. More of a summer-time trip this one. It's east of the divide, so can be OK when the weather at Arthur's Pass is not so flash, but avoid gale-force nor-westers which could be unpleasant on the Polar Range section.

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