Mount Aspiring. The Matterhorn of New Zealand. Gregor Kolbe and I had dreamed months before of climbing this most aesthetic of peaks on one of her most neglected routes - the sunny alpine rock of the North Buttress. So thin was the mountain literature on the route that it felt like embarking on a first ascent... "a direct and exacting rock climb on the sunny face of the mountain, with amazing views of the ocean as you’re climbing", so the guide book said. Chris Sillars came along for the ride to accompany us for the approach and solo the North-West ridge. Together we set off from Christchurch, bound for Wanaka, and beyond, the Matukituki Valley...
|North side of Mount Aspiring/Tititea, 3033m - her foreboding view from Shipowner Ridge.|
|Chris in the Matukituki Valley|
|Cooling off under 'the Waterfall'|
An intricate route lay above negotiating tricky slabs, made difficult by dwindling shoe tread and heavy approach packs. Above the second layer of slabs, a great introduction to the remarkable schisty Aspiring rock, the Matukituki really opened up below us.
|Crossing the south arete of Mt Bevan, high above the Matukituki|
|First glimpse of Aspiring|
A tough ten hour day to the hut, we rested and fuelled up while socialising with the fascinating hut inhabitants, pysched for our shot for the summit the next day. We felt good. The weather forecast was pristine. What could go wrong?
|Alpine start form Colin Todd, 4:45am|
|Hard work up the Iso Glacier|
Clouds of dawn and darkness lifted as we crested the Iso Glacier. I stopped and nervously took a close look at our beloved North Buttress. The French guide was right. The entire rock buttress from the Therma glacier to the summit was smothered in snow. These was very unusual conditions for February, the typical season for alpine rock climbs. Where snow was not present, dark wet streaks could be seen. Climbing steep snow on a northern face in the height of summer would have been foolish in the extreme. At this point in our hesitation, Chris skipped ahead of us, eager for his solo attack on the North West Ridge. The decision was simple; we accepted a very adequate Plan B and joined him as a team of three, up the North West Ridge.
|Hesitation at attempting the very snowy North Buttress Route; the dry North-West ridge on the right skyline|
|Aspiring in Feb 2010. Note the relatively dry North Buttress, centre left plunging into the Therma. Photo: Jaz Morris|
|A morning above Bonar Glacier|
|Big exposure along the ridge|
|Greg snacking; the North Buttress visible on right caked in snow|
We found ourselves on a rising traverse on the Therma glacier side of the buttress. A steep 20 metres section on moderately good rock passed nervously, but landed us on top of the buttress and the summit ice cap now back in view. The crux behind us, we dropped almost all our technical climbing gear and pranced up the 35 degree firm snow slope to the summit. Sensational views opened up across to the glaciers and lakes below out to the West Coast. Endless pristine wilderness as far as the eye could see...
|Upper snow slopes on the NW Ridge|
|Haast Range, Lake Waiatoto, Upper Volta Glacier|
Not a breath of wind. Thick icicles protruded from the perfect ice cap as we chopped our way to the pinnacle of the mountain. We looked back down to from where we had come. The broken Bonar, the harrowing Coxcombe Ridge, the floury blue Waitatoto Lake, the sweeping Upper Volta, the sunny Matukituki, the schist of the North West Ridge... All laid out in glorious sequence of unending three-sixty panorama. It was almost too much.
|Our first 3000m peak|
|Greg celebrates on the summit with a handstand; the gnarly Coxomb ridge behind to the right|
|Pointing towards the next objective...|
Bulbous clouds on the horizon limited our range, unfortunately blocking the Darran and Aoraki mountains from view. Nigh on midday, I felt it time for a nap, and lay back on my pack for a snooze. I woke half an hour later, somewhat delirious and confused, before realising we were still on the top of Mount Aspiring...
|Chris on the upper NW ridge|
|Rappelling the buttress descent route|
|Soaking up last rays from Colin Todd; Greg is ecstatic|
|The Quarterdeck Pass|
|The devastating plunge from French Ridge into the Gloomy Gorge|
|Celebratory handstand at French Ridge with Mt Barff behind|
Although at first disappointed in failing to climb our much-dreamed route up the North Buttress, we found it a good lesson to always be prepared to wait for a route to be climbed in its optimal condition. The unseasonable snow covering much of the rock was definitely not optimal, and would have been foolish to have 'just gone for it'. There are only two types in mountaineering: bold climbers and old climbers. We enjoyed scoping out the two major access routes to the Aspiring plateau via Bevan and Quarterdeck and look forward to many more ambitious routes on the Aspiring peaks in years to come...
|Our route up to Bevan Col (left), route to the summit, and return via Quarterdeck Pass. North Buttress route in red.|