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Friday, 13 February 2015

Summer Highlights 2014-15

The summer of 2014-15 has brought many opportunities to get out into the mountains. Christchurch provides the perfect base to seize the spells of good weather to get high and see the South Island at its very best. Here are some highlights from the past three months...

Lewis Pass Tops - November 23rd

Exploring new territory with a one-day crossing of the range from the Nina valley to Rough Creek, with two sections of tops and plenty of bush-bashing thrown in. This seemingly mellow range sure delivered some grunt, and we were left with a healthy respect for the mountains of Lewis Pass.

Tops travel in Lewis Pass at the head of the Nina Valley

Lake Christabel, a hidden gem in the heart of the Lewis Pass mountains

Mt Somers, November 29-30th

The sculpted rhyolite columns on the northern side of Mt Somers hosts some of Canterbury's best back-country trad climbing. Long pitches up grooves, slabs and cracks, many quite technical, all with a comfortable hut nearby made for a quality weekend away. 

"The Fortress", Winterslow Range behind

Michael on the classic climb, "Uno" (21)

Phillistine-Rolleston Traverse, December 2nd

Fresh snow had recently blanketed the Main Divide, and a large high was moving over the country - perfect conditions for a long ridge traverse in the local mountains of Arthur's Pass. A 2 a.m. start in Christchurch saw Michael and I climbing onto the summit of Mt Phillistine in time for morning tea, with Mt Rolleston inviting us along her undulating snow-billowed ridges. As the day heated up, fresh snow avalanches plundered down the faces and gullies below us, providing an exciting atmosphere as we picked our way up steep rock buttresses towards the summit of Mt Rolleston. Standing on the high peak late in the afternoon capped off a stunning birthday outing.

Being the long snowy ridge traverse from Mt Phillistine to Mt Rolleston in Arthurs Pass, December 2nd

Michael seconding the rock buttress leading to Mt Rolleston from the notch

Mt Rolleston high peak

Nevis 24-hour Rogaine, December 6-7th

Elisha and I teamed up for the National Rogaining Championships in the Nevis Valley, nestled between Cromwell and the Remarkable Ranges of Central Otago. Together we navigated the valleys and open tops for twenty-four hours, honing into many rock-shaped controls over the course. This 24-hour was quite different to the TWALK 24-hour events, as one must be self-sufficient for food for the whole duration; there were no compulsory return legs to the hash-house. We finished up in 10th place overall and 1st in the junior category. 

Midnight navigation
Vast open terrain

Nevis Valley

Sleep deprived at the finish

Aoraki/Mt Cook, December 10-15th

After a few days relaxing in Wanaka after the Nevis rogaine, we were ready for the next phase of the adventure - Aoraki-Mt Cook. Good weather was moving in for the weekend, so we made our move to advanced base-camp - Plateau Hut - on a miserably wet Wednesday. Although my team-mates were quite keen, as most are, to fly from Mt Cook village up to the Grand Plateau, I was determined to make a clean ascent from the road-end. 

The walk-in via Haast Ridge has a feral reputation as being long, loose and painfully exhausting. With heavy packs loaded with full alpine gear and six days of food, I can confirm it was all of those things.  But how satisfying it was to walk into Plateau hut after thirteen hours, drenched, cold and tired, knowing we now had two days to rest before conditions would come right to climb. The clouds of the storm slowly parted over the following days, revealing the country's highest peaks.

Plateau Hut panorama - Cook, Silberhorn, Tasman, Lendenfeld, Haast, Dixon

Elisha, David, Alastair
Midnight, December 14th, I poked my head out the door of Plateau hut to a clear starry sky. The chill of frozen snow. Conditions were perfect. After a quick breakfast, we set off roped together for glacier travel, marching over the freeze in unison. The darkness of the Linda enveloped us, the half-moon barely glinting at the edges of the labrynth of crevasses that tumbled into a hollow abyss.

A sense of urgency through the upper Linda saw us move quickly across the icy Linda shelf, aware of the tumultuous icefalls above us, hiding beneath the darkness of the early hours. After a long traverse through the particularly firm ice shelf, we continued upwards, finding a good snowbridge across the major bergschrund, allowing us to crampon up a gulley to meet the crest of the Zurbriggen Ridge. I yearned to find somewhere flat to sit or stand, to rest, to wear off the nerves of the past four hours. We had made good time to the Summit Rocks, not stopping even once, and we were rewarded with a classical Mt Cook view... jagged summits cast against a dark red glow on the horizon.

First rays on Summit Rocks
Elisha ascending the third pitch on the summit rocks
As we pitched our way through the steeper, well iced-up Summit Rocks, alpen glow threw golden light over the neighbouring Silberhorn and Tasman. With sun came warmth, and the climbing become truly enjoyable as we picked through many short vertical ice and rock steps for three rope-lengths. The summit was now in view, and not far away. Once the final ice cap was surmounted, we stood on the top of New Zealand, proud to be Kiwis, proud to live in such a beautiful country.

See the video here: https://vimeo.com/114765898.

Elisha on the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook

View down onto Grand Plateau and the Tasman Glacier

Walking out via Cinerama Col

Kawakawa Bay, December 29th - Jan 3rd

After a relaxing time spent with family in Auckland and Coromandel over Christmas, I joined old friends from the university at our favourite summer climbing destination - Kawakawa Bay on the shores of Lake Taupo. Its a fantastic place for adventure climbing on the high cliffs above the lake, with every day ending with a refreshing swim in the cool fresh water, and a beer on the beach. A great way to see in 2015.

'Wish you were here', Odyssey Wall

The Odyssey

Decsending 'ThunderGod' after a full day of climbing

Cleaning a new route on the Wall of Sirens

Seconding pitch two of The Odyssey

Mt Euclid, January 9-11th

Back in Christchurch for the New Year, it was time to tick off some lingering projects. Peter Joynt and I had talked about an attempt on the un-climbed South Face of Mt Euclid for a few years now. He had discovered a quick approach route via a flagged track through the bush up the north-west ridge of Mt Fleming. This track is not shown on topo maps, explaining why the peak is seldom visited. A short distance of pleasant tops travel with views of the entire Paparoa Range led the pair to a good bivvy site next to the lake below Mt Euclid’s impressive south face.

A direct route was chosen up a series of cracks and corners in the centre of the face, offering varied climbing: thin face climbing on quartz edges and engaging chimneying and steep corners. A full rack of camalots, nuts, hexes and slings was utilised, with good protection found throughout the route, albeit mostly after some excavation. The first five pitches consisted of sustained grade 16-19 climbing on solid granite, after which two easier pitches led to the summit of the lower peak. Descent was a straight forward scramble down the west ridge, and the team returned to their car just on nightfall the same day.

There is definite potential for many more routes to be unearthed in the Paparoa Ranges particularly on the South Face of Mt Euclid, especially on the western aspects of the central buttress. It’s adventure climbing in an idyllic setting – the Paparoa Ranges offer the granite enthusiast scores of virgin terrain, and with better weather than the Darrans.

Read more about the route on ClimbNZ here, and watch a film of the trip here: https://vimeo.com/116579247

Banks Peninsula Sea Kayaking, January 17-18th

With temperatures for the weekend set to soar into the mid-30s, it was an ideal time for an overnight sea-kayak trip in the local Banks Peninsula. I have long dreamed of circumnavigating the Banks Peninsula by kayak, so Andrew and I set off from Duvauchelle for a reccie. As we paddled down through the long corridor of the Akaroa harbour, pods of dolphins followed along, entertaining us by diving beneath our kayak and leaping out of the water for air. Layers of salt accumulated in crusty waves on our faces and clothes. 

Lunch stop near Akaroa Harbour
Rounding Akaroa Point, we were now at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean. The waves and chop steadily increased from mellow to madness. Our long double kayak lifted through each large swell and slammed into the flat ocean, as sea spray blinded us. There was no chance to rest as we battled through the high seas, slowly realising that the conditions were not sustainable for our abilities. With the map mounted in front of me, I scoped out our next sheltered harbour. We made for the inlet, adrenaline fuelling our fatigued arms. The onshore wind sped us into Pohatu Bay, and soon the waves and wind relented. Safe again. We found ourselves landing ashore in a marine and nature reserve where we set up camp for the night. Exploring the rocky coastline, we discovered huffing seals and vulnerable yellow-eyed penguins. At dusk we watched the small creatures come ashore for the night. We returned early the next morning enjoying the calmer sea conditions, surfing the incoming tide all the way to Duvuachelle.

Dolhpins in the Akaroa Harbour
Landing ashore at Pohatu Bay
Kiwi Brevette, January 31st - Feb 3rd

With the GODZone adventure race one month away, I teamed up with Elisha and Isla for a 750km back-country MTB ride around the best of the upper South Island - Blenheim - Hanmer - Lewis Pass - Murchison - Nelson - Picton - Blenheim. We were fully self-sufficient for clothes and shelter, carrying on our bike frames: sleeping bags and mats, a tent, spare parts, and enough food to make it between town centres, with plenty of small shops along the way to indulge our cravings.

The loop was a real scenic tour, with beautiful riding through the Wairau, Rainbow and Molesworth valleys, torrential rain clearing as we crested Lewis Pass, riding into a full moon towards Murchison, the Nelson great taste trail and almighty slog up the Maungatapu, blissful tailwinds through the windy Queen Charlotte highway, and killer hills around the infamous Port Underwood sting-in-the-tail.

Elisha and I rolled into Blenheim elated after 3 days 9 hours on the bike, with 54 hrs total riding time. We enjoyed Isla's company until Murchison (450km mark) where she sadly had to pull out due to a knee injury. A stellar ride through some awesome South Island terrain... because riding bikes is fun!

Kiwi Brevette loop

Lewis Pass in torrential rain

Lake Rotoroa, Nelson Lakes

The infamous Porika track

Maungatapu Saddle high above Nelson
Forty kilometres of hills to finish!

Finish at Blenheim

Darrans rock climbing, Feb 5-11th

"Sabre is the finest classical rock climb in this fair land", said Murray Jones in 1968 after he made the first ascent of the North Buttress of Sabre.

This was our major objective on our annual pilgrimage to the Darrans Mountains in northern Fiordland, a place renowned for excellent rock quality and exciting, remote granite peaks.

On our arrival, we were met by sheer rock faces smothered in fresh snow, a real winter scene. But not wanting to waste our first day of good weather, Michael, Rachel and I set off for Talbot's East Ridge: three pitches of grade 17 followed by a long ridge traverse to the summit. Most of the snow was avoided, but the hot day sent streaks of water flowing down some sections, making the climbing exceptionally challenging. Early in the afternoon we topped out on the steep buttress and enjoyed much easier scrambling along the ridge towards the summit.

Two days later, a sterling weather window arrived for our main objective - Sabre. Heavy rain during the night had washed away the fresh snow, and clearing weather began the drying process. After a morning enjoying Milford Sound, we spent the afternoon walking into the base, the much-anticipated Phill's bivvy. The approach via Gertrude Saddle is very scenic, with some exposed sidling below Barrier Knob and the steep scramble down Gifford's Crack adding some spice to the tramp.

Phill's bivvy is named after Phill Herron, one of the famous first pioneers to the area along with legends Bill Denz and Murray Judge, and the spirit of their audacious first ascents on Marian and Sabre resonated through the overhanging rock shelter. Having read Denz's biography, it was quite special to be there for real.

5AM the next morning we set off for Sabre. Intricate route finding in the pale morning light through a series of rock slabs, grass terraces and waterfalls finally gave us access to the base of the North Buttress, the rock still cool in the shade of dawn. Michael led off on the first two steep pitches of the direct start, a beautiful line, establishing us right on the prow of the North Buttress. I led the following two seriously exposed pitches up a series of corners and cracks before the angle eased, and we ran out five more long pitches on the well featured but more compact rock of the true buttress, alternating leads as we climbed. A home-straight hundred metres of simul-climbing along the ridge led us to Sabre's glorious summit, late in the afternoon. It was a milestone ascent for both of us, our first major Darrans summit. Before rapping the East ridge and returning to Phill's biv, we took a last good look into the Central Darrans from our high point, further and deeper into the range, scores of rarely touched granite for only the most adventurous.

Sabre Peak, centre of photo, from Lake South America

Cragging at the Chasm crag

Lake Adelaide from Gill's Bivvy

East Ridge of Talbot

The first pitch of the East ridge of Talbot

Descending from the East Ridge of Talbot

View from the summit of Sabre Peak, in the heart of the Darrans

Abseil descent of the East Ridge

Sunset on the walk down from Sabre

A belay on the North Buttress

Michael and I on Gertrude Saddle

It has been a great summer with many peaks and adventures shared with good friends. I now look forward to the GODZone adventure race in the Mt Aspiring region taking place in the first week of March, sure to provide a royal climax to the season.

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