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Christmas at Mt Aspiring 23.12.2011 - 27.12.2011

Last post 13-03-2012, 10:21 AM by Mikey. 0 replies.
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  •  13-03-2012, 10:21 AM 6243

    Christmas at Mt Aspiring 23.12.2011 - 27.12.2011

    Travis Gloyn

    Michael Instone (Scribe)

    We had a plan to climb Mt Aspiring, the “Matterhorn” of the Southern Hemisphere.  It took a bit of negotiation to decide on a date.  Eventually we found that we both had time during Christmas, when we would attempt the Northwest Ridge of Mt Aspiring.

    We arrived at Wellington Airport for a 12.15 flight to Christchurch.  I went through to the boarding lounge forgetting that my knife fork and spoon were in my carry on bag.  I was pulled over to the side and told that I could not take my knife on the plane as it is “fixed handle” knife.  I pointed out that the fork has sharp points and would be potentially much more dangerous than a blunt butter knife.  The airport security guy understood my point, but had no flexibility to exercise common sense and I had to give up my knife.

    We arrived in Christchurch to pick up the rental car and sort out food and then drove to Wanaka.  We had to get up early the next morning to pick up the emergency locator beacon from the DOC office in Wanaka, and then head to the road end to start walking up the Matukituki valley.  We took a bit longer than expected to get ready, then decided to ask a guide what the conditions were like.  When asking the guides about the conditions, I confused the Northwest Ridge with the Southwest Ridge.  Travis picked this up and corrected me.  The office lady said “Well which one are you climbing?  You want to be sure as there is a big difference in grades”.    

    After sorting ourselves in town, the drive to the road end took another hour.  We arrived at the road end at 11.30 (after getting up at 6.30!  Although it was hot by then, this did benefit us.  Paul Rogers, a guide arrived at the carpark as we were about to leave.  Paul offered to take some of our gear up to the top of Bevan Col for us.  We gave him about 10kg to take and he gave us some advice on what to leave behind.  This made the walk up the valley that we were about to start much easier.  After waiting for the helicopter to leave with our gear, we started our walk at 12.30.  The valley was extremely hot and there was no shelter from the sun. 

    We were planning to make it to Bevan Col that day so that we could give ourselves the best opportunity with weather for climbing.  We told Paul this, to which he replied “you’re dreaming”.  We changed our goal for the day to Scott’s Biv, which is near the head of the valley and would get up early the next morning to head up to the Bonar Glacier and Colin Todd Hut. 

    We got up at 4pm and started up the valley.  To get to Bevan Col, we would have to walk up above a waterfall and then negotiate a system of ledges up a steep alpine river valley.  I was nervous about this as the description in the route description makes it sound much worse than it actually us.  We started trying to climb up a slab, which would have been alright without 30kg on our backs.  Deciding that the slab was not the best way, we climbed back down to the scree slope and promptly found a cairn which marked the track to the top of the waterfall.  Once I saw the valley at the top of the waterfall, I was relieved.  The rock had plenty of grip, there were one or two kind of technical moves, but mostly it was a walk up the valley, although on ledges 10-20m above the stream.  I think it would be quite a bit harder when covered in ice.

    Mt Aspiring came into view as we approached Bevan Col.  We stopped at the Col to pick up the gear that Paul left for us and to practice rope skills.  As with the first day, we had perfect weather.  Now that we were on snow, the temperature was more reasonable.  After lunch, we headed across the Bonar Glacier to Colin Todd Hut.  The glacier was in perfect condition after a late season with plenty of snow.  We were greeted at Colin Todd hut by 7 Keas.  The Keas only hung around when there were people at the hut.  Being summer, it was warm, so we cooked dinner outside.  We had to guard against the cheeky Keas though and could never leave the food unattended.  There was no wind and we had amazing views of the Southern Alps.  We could see the route that we were planning to take to climb Mt Aspiring.  The planned route was up the Kangaroo to the buttress and then up the Northwest Ridge.  Looking at the mountain and this route, I managed to psych myself out.  It didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling very competent on my crampons during the day.

    The next day (Christmas Eve) was summit day and we decided to get up at 3.30 to take advantage of the firmer snow.  I woke up feeling the same as the day before, but got up anyway.  We put on our gear and headed out towards Death or Glory!  After about half an hour of heading up towards the mountain we stopped for a rest.  That was a mistake and killed our summit attempt.  It was all the excuse I needed as I had talked myself out of the attempt.  It was an anticlimax.  I felt bad that it meant that Travis also lost the opportunity to summit on the trip.  The conditions were perfect, except in my head.  We spent a bit of time on the slope looking around, then headed back to the hut for a pit day.

    While in the hut, it rained.  This was the only bad weather we had on the entire trip.  Although we had only walked 1 ½ days to get to the hut, I was exhausted, so a pit day was beneficial. 

    The next day was Christmas!  We spent Christmas walking across the Bonar Glacier towards French Ridge where we would descend back to the Matukituki Valley.  New Zealand has Christmas in Summer, when people usually go to the beach and never associate the day with snow.  We had a white Christmas in summer!  We had the best of both worlds.

    We decided to traverse around the side of Aspiring, rather than descend straight away on to the glacier as we thought it would be easier with us not having to regain altitude that we would have lost by going directly to the glacier.

    The scenery was impressive as we walked across the glacier.  I pulled out my raincoat when it started spitting.  This stopped after 5 minutes and I regretted having my raincoat on as I became hotter.  We walked past Mt French and then down French Ridge.  We stayed at French Ridge hut for a couple of hours in the sun. 

    We felt good, so headed down to the valley were we would spend the night.  French Ridge is steep and requires climbing down steep rooted sections.  I’m not sure which would require more effort – going up, or coming down.  I also wonder if it would be more appropriately called French Spur.  Towards the bottom I faded and felt like I almost needed to stop on the side of the track to have dinner.  I was getting a  bit clumsy.  We got to the bottom soon after that and once I had dropped my pack, I felt OK again.

    The next day was uneventful with the final walk out down the valley.  We started earlier than the first day, so had a couple of hours without the intense heat.  I was grateful for this as I got sunburnt at French Ridge hut. 

    Although we didn’t climb Mt Aspiring, this was definitely one of the best trips I have been on this year.  We learnt quite a lot and got smashed physically.  The perfect combination!  ...Almost.
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