Well, my time in NZ is coming to a close. I finished up work at Coronet Peak last week after a great season, and I fly home on Thursday. I had hoped that with the time off and the spring weather, I would now be able to focus on learning the skills of mountaineering, one of the main reasons I came to New Zealand. Alas, things don’t always work out as expected.
Almost two weeks ago I received a text from Glenn, asking me if I would like to climb Mt Aspiring with him. Glenn is a fellow climber and experienced Kiwi mountaineer whom I’d met earlier this year climbing at Mt Arapiles. It seemed too good to be true. He had the exact same time off work as I did and he was extending an opportunity to climb Mt Aspiring with him. Woo hoo! You can probably guess what my answer was.
I was stoked at the invite, because I thought my first experience on a technical climb would be some low grade side country mission out of a resort. I never expected I’d get a chance to learn on such an awesome mountain. I leapt at the chance to get instruction on what they call the ‘Matterhorn of the South’. We watched the conditions closely over the next two weeks and talked regularly. The plan was to climb the NW ramp route, which is one of the easiest routes to the summit, at grade 2+. This would need about 4 days, which as I have come to learn, is quite a large weather window in the Southern Alps. I held on to hope and then Glenn proposed Friday as the possible summit day. Watching the synoptic charts, there looked to be about three and a half days of good weather, with a large front coming in on Saturday afternoon. A tight window, but it seemed doable.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, New Zealand’s unpredictable weather wrecked havoc on our plans. Every day we checked the synoptic charts and watched as the approaching weather system ate into our window of opportunity, from three and a half days, to three, then to two and a half. While summit day still looked good, Glenn was concerned about how the rain would effect the return hike through the sub alpine as the route down involves climbing a waterfall. With the weather window continuing to shrink, Glenn eventually pulled the pin. Possibly a party of experienced climbers could have made the most of the two good days, but for Glenn to teach a novice in such conditions is far less than ideal. I was a bit bummed but he then offered an alternative plan to climb The Footstool, a large broad ridge in the Mt Cook National Park. Although lacking a summit experience, this is still a spectacular climb. This climb is an over-nighter, so it seemed like it was going to work out. Unfortunately that pesky weather system kept speeding up, until it devoured our weather window completely.
A few days later, one of Glenn’s contacts at Mt Cook alpine village messaged him to say it was raining hard. This was the day we had planned to be up there, so it was a good call on Glenn’s behalf.
In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t really care what we climbed. Mt Aspiring and the Footstool aren’t going anywhere and there would be other opportunities to climb them. My frustration stems more from my impatience. I had come to NZ to learn the basic skills of mountaineering. To build my experience, so that I would feel more comfortable including myself on other trips. Now with my time in NZ quickly running out, one plan after another was not working out.
With the workshop closing down, I finally had some time off with my buddy Aodan. We had been talking all season about a heli access ski tour, from Black Peak to Treble Cone. A tour that was guaranteed to be epic! With still one good day of weather here in the southern lakes, we needed to gather 4-6 people to make the helicopter affordable. So I put some feelers out on the various local ski touring groups. We quickly had two people keen to come along with one more as a maybe. I was stoked. It looked like it was going to happen. Then, at the 11th hour, it all started to fall apart. Aodan had been renting his split board from a back country shop in town, but when he called to reserve a board they told him that they had already shipped all their rental gear to Japan for the coming season. He called around everywhere, but couldn’t find anyone else in Queenstown who rented them. So it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to come. I was gutted, but determined to carry on with some new found friends. I called to book the helicopter and as I was doing that my phone went flat. When I finally got some charge again, a text message came through which shattered my plans. Apparently, the private road to Treble Cone was now locked until next season, which meant we were unable to get the cars up there for the return shuttle. Thus making the trip impossible without walking down the 8km access road, in ski boots, at the end of a very long day, with bad weather fast approaching. After so many plans fell through I was understandably a little despondent. In fact, I felt like punching a wall. But that hardly ever helps.
Before I came here people had warned me that access in New Zealand was often horrible. I just thought this would add to the adventure. I didn’t realize it would shut me down on so many of my planned trips this season. You need a massive amount of perseverance and patience to climb here. I understand now why New Zealand mountain guides are so respected, and why it was a Kiwi who finally conquered Everest. For an amateur though, these setbacks have been tough and I was struggling to keep my spirits up.
Determined, and a little desperate to do something, anything, with the good weather, I put feelers out everywhere I could think of. When I woke the next day, nothing. There were no replies. Also the ‘good weather’ was in fact, just a high ceiling of grey clouds making for a grey overcast day. My plans had taken a beating over the last few days, but I was determined to rally and do something. I packed my bag and headed up into the Remarkables, to climb and ski the Grand Couloir….. solo!
You can read about how that went in my next post.
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