A slick road, shaded slopes, a lack of snow, the conditions neither diluted my anticipation nor rang any warning bells. Tinkle, tinkle crunch, our boots smashed through the fragile façade of delicate leaf-like ice formations coating the upper slopes of Tahurangi. The southerlies had left their calling card. The fine rime needles weren’t here on my visit the previous fortnight. The beard hadn’t had sufficient exposure to wind and rain to reach full growth, allowing our crampons to shave it off step by step. Rime is an excellent micro forecast, patches of luxuriant growth indicating the most wind exposed aspects and spots of thin stubble the sheltered places. Continue reading “How my bum got iced”
It’s not yet light but the train we take from Chamonix to Saint Gervais is already half full. At Saint Gervais we follow pilgrims bristling with excitement and wearing numbered hire boots, small day packs festooned with ice tools and nervous smiles. Continue reading “Ebb and Flow”
“Anyone interested? Weather forecast is dry.”
I check the forecast. Clear skies and a freezing south-easterly, snow down to 1100m not too far above the top of the route, possibility of frost on the rock or verglas. Numb fingers, frozen toes, an ice cream headache, chattering teeth, shivering legs.
Finally the yo-yo slapping world of lift and drop ceases. A lifetime encapsulated in fifteen bone jolting minutes. We cautiously crab our way forward off the lurching boat onto the slippery but stationary rocks. There is no time to adjust we’re straight into parting tree branches, untangling vine traps and edging round thick nests of ferns. I’m grateful for Pavlo. Not only has he driven us from Christchurch, he’s figured out how to get across the wind swept fiord and as the non-Kiwi he is, as far as the clouds of ravenous sand-flies are concerned, tasty. Continue reading “Getting a feel for the place”
The setting sun washes the Forbes Range in a pink rinse. From my vantage point just outside the red corrugated iron walls of Esquliant Bivvy the twin peaks of Earnslaw/Pikirakatahi and O’Leary have also acquired a rosy tinge. My eyes are drawn to the dark colossus known as Pluto Peak which dominates the foreground. On a mild, still summer evening it’s easy to forget how inhospitable mountains can be.
Mitre Peak is a drama queen. Everything about her shouts “look at me”. She is permanently posed for a close up, rising straight up out of a fiord like a lochness monster. On a rare clear sunny day she is riveting. In more typical pluvial Fiordland conditions she’s inscrutable inviting observers to engage their imagination to fill the gaps. You may catch glimpses of her through tendrils of mist, her head may emerge above the clouds, or her feet may be revealed but not her top.
Driving up to the Stratford Plateau car park at 5.45am on Saturday morning I’m hoping someone has spread lots of grit on the road so there is no ice to cope with. It’s a mild morning and the damp road has not frozen overnight. Relieved I park and we clamber out and assemble our gear before heading up the four-wheel drive track over snow patches towards the Manganui ski field.
Welcome to Mt Cook National Park
Of all our national parks Mt Cook National Park is the least accessible. Even Fiordland National Park for all its remoteness and challenging weather is home to several Great Walks and plenty of shorter excursions that can be completed relatively easily from a car park. Mt Cook National Park is not like that. The main access point is the road to Mt Cook Village, so far so good but the road comes to an abrupt halt just beyond the village. There is scarcely any transition from tame to feral. One moment you are amongst crowds of camera touting visitors enjoying the gentle manicured paths, board walks and bridges coupled with plentiful signage and carefully labelled viewing platforms that mark the lower reaches of the Mueller and Hooker valleys. The next you’re sharing ground trails with goats though these trails quickly surrender to do it yourself route finding through scree, rubble, bluffs, unstable rock piles, thin shreds of alpine vegetation and scrawny tussocks. The Spaniards are typically robust but the associated puncture wounds and blood stained clothes render them a last resort. The flimsy stems of the beautiful Mt Cook lily are everywhere but afford little by way of physical support. Should you survive trial by vegetation you have the typical moraine, glaciers, crevasses and the steep snow slopes that go hand in hand with big mountains to look forward to.
My first attempt to climb Mt Brewster took place in early 2013. First though we had to wait out the summer storm that cut off the West Coast and stranded both tourists and locals. While there are few places that rival Wanaka if weather forces confinement we were well and truly ready for the hills when the Haast River was finally fordable.
As my crampons scrape across the last chunk of sastrugi coated ridge I’m aware of two things. The sky is lightening with the promise of dawn and there is not much slope between us and the star sprinkled sky above. In the stillness of a fine, calm morning snowy peaks stretch out below us in every direction, icing on the cake punctuated by the cappuccino froth cloud nestling on the valley floors. Continue reading “Many Happy Returns”