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Friday, 22 August 2014

Remarkables Ice & Mixed

One of the finest alpine day trips in the country, the Remarkables Grand Traverse leads you to the summits of Double Cone and Single Cone with exhilarating exposure over the West Face looking down to Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. An absolute must do!

Hamish and I teamed up for the traverse on the final day of the Remarkables Ice & Mixed Festival. This festival brought together over 100 of the countries ice & mixed climbers, alpinists, and back country skiers. Having so many like minded people together was a great opportunity to mix with the country's best, share techniques and experience, and meet new climbing partners.

Photo: Mark Watson - Highlux Photo

The first day of the festival was hindered by lingering dangerous avalanche conditions; deep fresh snow on the access route had not yet bonded after a recent snow storm. We seized the day by climbing several rocky buttresses scattered around the ski field, leading with natural protection, climbing with ice axes and crampons in mixed climbing style. These climbs allowed us to gain confidence with the tenuous hooks of axe on rock, tuning into the feel and security of the hold, and discovering new techniques to get the most of these new climbing tools.

Photo: Mark Watson - Highlux Photo

Photo: Mark Watson - Highlux Photo

Photo: Mark Watson - Highlux Photo

The following day gave way to mint conditions, a bonded snowpack, perfect weather and fat ice formed up in the gulleys, pouring lavishly over the rock steps. The first steep gulley line instantly caught our attention: the MK Couloir. Graded M3 this would be well within our abilities, a good launching point into the world of ice & mixed climbing.

And there was no shortage of ice. Through the first two pitches, we hacked our way through three or four steep icy pinches, raving over the incredible feeling of ice axes biting deep in the plastic freeze, ice screws sinking to their crest.

The third pitch offered the crux: a bouldery roof with a thin ice smear for feet, but thick ice over the bulge for the tools. An exhilarating move. The final pitch sent us up a steep rock groove with thick ice flowing down the centre, taking screws with pleasure and stemming crampons from side to side. I smashed away storm brewed rime ice from the rock to search for cracks in the rock to place protection before pulling over the lip, a glorious top-out, just below the Telecom Towers summit, revealing the Alta Basins and endless view to the north.

The follow day of the festival provided an interesting concept for mountaineering: a race. A race over the Grand Traverse of the Remarkables. This route loops from the skifield carpark, taking in both Double Cone and Single Cone, following the narrow ridge lines from Telecom Towers.

Graded at Mt Cook 2+, this was not an outing to rush without ultimate confidence, and would definitely involve ropes and gear. Hamish and I teamed up for the traverse alongside 15 others on the Sunday morning. As several fast soloists disappeared over the precipitous ridge line with incredible speed, we gave up the fight for first, and set into cruise mode, aiming instead for maximum efficiency in our rope work. Near the summit of Double Cone came the crux. One pitch of grade 14/15 rock climbed with crampons and gloves, tools stowed, and another pitch of interesting mixed terrain. To solo these steep pinches would require nerves of steel.

Deep snow along the ridge connecting Double and Single Cone allowed for an easy ride to our second summit of the day. Skiers also enjoyed the good snow conditions by descending the Grand Couloir all the way to Lake Alta. From the summit of Single Cone, the views were tremendous, and we were treated with a simple descent to Wye Saddle and the Remarkables Skifield to finish. A superb day out with all the elements of a great adventure in the mountains, without the chore of a long approach walk. Day trips don't get much better...

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