With the opening of the road, and later the Midland railway, came not only fortune hunters but recreation seekers - in particular the mountaineers.
The New Zealand Alpine Club had just formed in November of 1891 when members, Arthur Harper, Marmaduke Dixon and Robert Dixon visited the Pass from Christchurch. They attempted reaching Mt Rolleston's summit from the Otira Valley, unfortunately being turned back by soft snow conditions. However, not willing to return unsuccessful they achieved the first recorded ascent of Mt Philistine.
In December the same year George Mannering, A.M. Ollivier and W.D. Wood started their attempt on Mt Rolleston from the Pass via the Goldney Ridge. With visibility poor, they topped out on the Low Peak, realising only sometime later they had not succeeded. The High Peak was not climbed until 1912, when H.Thompson and I.Gilligan climbed it via a snow covered Otira Slide. Notably the first solo climb to the summit was achieved by J.Murray that same year.
The Waimakariri Valley's slow, wide meanderings and rushing head-waters attracted some notable mountaineering feats. In 1912 Mt Davie was climbed by A.P.Harper, Eric Harper and George Dennistoun. Mt Murchison and Mt Harper were climbed in 1913 by C.K.Ward and A.E.Talbot.
In the ensuing years Mt Rolleston received many more climbers, choosing varied routes. B.Fraser and W.Caldwell made the first ascent from the Bealey Valley in 1923. The first traverse to Waimakariri Col over Mt Rolleston, was made by George Lockwood, R & A.Page and Oscar Coberger (a guide at Arthur's Pass) in January 1929. The notorious "gap" of the Rome Ridge, was first scaled in April 1929 by Oscar Coberger and S.Saville. Finally the first winter ascent went to Wyn Barnett and Roland Cant in August 1935.
Today the classic route on Mt Rolleston has to be the "Otira Face" put up by Hec McDowell and John Estall in 1934. Its notoriety being attributed to the many epics (present & past), and tragic losses that colour it's short climbing history.
In 1925 the Christchurch Tramping & Mountaineering Club (forebears of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club) was formed. They based their activities around Carrington Hut's construction. The Canterbury Mountaineering Club during its development in the early 1930's accomplished many notable ascents including the first solo ascent of Mt Carrington being achieved remarkably by the then 14 year old C.Hilgendorf. Mount Greenlaw was reached in November 1930 by Edgar Williams, R.E. McInnes and R.E. Clark via the avalanche swept slopes out of the Avoca. Linked ascents of Mounts Murchison, Harper and Speight in one day from Carrington Hut were achieved by Roger Chester, Wicket and R.E. McInnes.
Mention at this stage must go to the late John Pascoe. His love of the National Park, its mountain environment and his enthusiasm for climbing led him to make several first ascents. With his climbing partner Stan Conway he climbed most of the summits in the Park over a 15 year period. John Pascoe is also renowned for his detailed documentation of various routes on the Park's peaks in his own writings, and trip reports published in the Canterbury Mountaineer (CMC Journal).
Sadly though, first ascents in Arthur's Pass National Park have not been well documented. The climbing history is punctuated by 10 year gaps whilst guiding was still active in the area. We can only assume of the 50 or so hills many may have been climbed in these breaks.