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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Cloudy Peak

Cloudy Peak has been on the list for a while. The Great Prow is rated as a classic alpine rock route deep in the Canterbury foothills, with amazing rock and a beautiful summit. All these things were true. The first sight of the peak from the lower valley gave us a striking shot of the route on profile - quite intimidating. The approach was a thorough bash; through farmland tracks, steep vegetation and long stretches of unstable rock sidling. Five hours found us a very pleasant patch of grass for an afternoon snooze in the sun below the wondrous Hourglass Wall.

The Great Prow route is highlighted in red. The access to the shelf is in shadow far right.
However, upon waking several hours later, the sun was teetering on the crest of the horizon ranges, about to plunge us into a cold evening and the shock discovery that the entire upper valley was completely dry. A rushing waterfall was deceptively far away, yet aimlessly dropped all its precious liquid straight into the bed of hollow rock, which rushed far below beneath our feet, we could hear it but not taste it... Two hours of thirsty, frustrated swagging back down the valley and we finally slumped beside the stream and a far less comfortable bivvy spot. All we wanted at this stage was water and we were thankful for it. 

An added complication, we had both forgotten a pot. Luckily Pete's aluminium mug served us well, boiling two cups each for a bag of dehy, while being very lightweight.

First glimpse of Cloudy Peak from low down in the access valley (Photo: Pete Harris)
We remained positive for the following day's mission, the Great Prow distinctive profile glinting in the moonlight. The weather was perfect. Not a breeze and a beautifully clear night. Ideal for sleeping out with no bivvy bag or tent as no dew settled, although it was very cold...

The uncertainty of the climb kept us on edge as we ascended the endless scree in the pre-dawn hours towards the base of the shelf. To access this shelf, we spotted a route through a series of ledges involving some unwelcome morning exposure to well and truly wake us up. It was a relief to reach easier scrambling on the shelf and climb up to the base of the Great Prow. Pete arrived first and flaked the rope out, geared up and psyched himself for the first pitch...

Scrambling onto the upper shelf (Photo: Pete Harris)

The first pitch was the crux. Pete lead through the bulge fearlessly twenty metres off the deck, a good piece of pro keeping him anchored. I found the move exciting although awkward still kitted out in a belay jacket, so cold was the belay in shade but the overhang worked up a quick sweat.

I wasn't feeling my best - still on edge from the exposed scrambling earlier in the morning and the restless night's sleep. A nasty situation was also developing with the previous evening's dehydrated Chicken Tikka Massala. Big wall tactics came into play earlier than I had anticipated. My stomach rumbled as I grabbed the excess gear from Pete at his belay and headed into my first lead of the day... I apprehensively placed a piece ten metres above, nerves soothed as the cam sunk into the crack, and soon I warmed into the rhythm and feel of the alpine rock.

Relaxed at the sheer belay bringing up Pete as the shadow winds in
Pitches flowed effortlessly as Pete and I swung leads while swinging about the crest of the prow in search of the finest rock. I bridged out above Pete's cave belay on hopelessly loose rock to find glory ahead. 

Following pitch six, nearing the summit ridge (Photo: Pete Harris)

In little over seven pitches we had surmounted the prow and found ourselves scrambling pleasant blocks all the way to the double summit... 

A long exposed descent lay ahead, leading to a 17 hour day from bivvy to car, but for now we basked in the afternoon sun on a glorious Canterbury summit, with all of the Southern Alps spreadeagled before us. A fantastic alpine climb ticked with a new partner and added to the memory bank... Living.

Pete on Cloudy Peak with the Southern Alps glowing behind

Summit time! (Photo: Pete Harris)

Mount Cook and Tasman from Cloudy Peak on telephoto zoom (Photo: Pete Harris)

Finding the water hole in the hollow rock field on the return trip, after having walked past it deliriously the day before...

A beautiful evening for the gravel bash down the Havelock

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