The gods must be crazy. Well ok not the gods but me! So Garry and i had walked out after three days of sitting on our arse. We saw that the weather forecast looked pretty average and the snow would need some time to settle so we decided to head up to Christchurch to catch up with some friends. So i gave Freya and Jez (pronounced jizz in kiwi), some friends of ours from Tassie, a ring and arranged a place to stay! We made the drive up without incident and were soon sipping tea in scenic Lyttleton. Garry changed his flight to go home a few days early and soon i was on my own, wondering what next. I checked the weather forecast and it had changed! The massive big high that looked like it would miss NZ would park its bum right over the southern alps. It was time to plan a mission!! Having just moved here, Jez didn’t have too many commitments so we eagerly planned a mission, not sure where but somewhere! We tossed up a fly-in option but due to a lack of funds we settled on a walk-in. Soon we had settled on going back up the Hooker Valley to once again try and climb some of the ice up there. We started saddling up for the trip, packing gear, photocopying topos and fighting that nervousness that slowly seeps in.
The alarm went off early. Damn alpine starts. It was 430am on a Friday and we had to drive down to Mt Cook Village then get the walk-in underway. It was going to be a big day! With a breakfast stop at lake Tekapo(hours old pies) we were soon looking at the mighty Mt Cook welcoming the sunrise to this glorious day. With Jez’s gear still in a shipping container somewhere in the Tasman sea, we would have to borrow some gear from Alpine Guides. They hooked us up with all the good stuff and we were soon trudging our way up the valley. I slimmed the pack down to the bare essentials and felt much fitter for having already walked in before. Knowing the track made all the difference, except for the one wrong turn I made that cost us 45 mins. Soon we were on the white-ice of the glacier in perfect weather, surrounded by the multitude of snow-capped peaks. Our recent tracks were still visible in the snow, so that made navigation a lot easier! I knew how to get up onto Pudding Rock, where our hut for the night was located. The daylight gave way to a starry night as we made the final 400m to the hut. We had moved fast and made the journey in 8 hours.
With many hot drinks and an epic portion of porridge we were soon making our way further up the glacier, destination Empress Hut. We whipped out our snow-shoes and made good progress, floating on top of the soft snow. We had slept in that morning, with the only rush being getting out from underneath the ice-cliffs on La Perouse. An epic slog up the final slope saw us making our way to the hut, collapsing with joy into the bench-seats warm embrace. The stove roared as we smashed hot drinks like they were going out of fashion! The plan for the next day was the Dingle-Button Couloir. This is an easier classic on Mt Hicks following a gully of ice with the odd steepish step. Something that’s not too big or hard for our first mountain route together.
The alarm beeped its un-welcome noises. However we set that alarm for a reason and we were soon up and getting the drinking water melted and gearing up for the oncoming fun. On time we left the hut and started marching across the glacier, trying to hold down the recently ingested porridge. The Bergshrund at the base of the route had gotten worse, and would require my best grovelling efforts in the loose slop. We had decided that I would lead all the pitches, for speed. Pitch after pitch of ice feel as we steadily made our way up. The odd steep step of ice provided some fun technical climbing that was never too hard and always in control. The last pitch of the couloir had too different options, I chose to go have a look at the harder one. Some stout climbing (M5+) led me to the final belay. Here we decided to turn around and go down. I was a bit upset about not going to the summit, but Jez was keen on going down, and it takes two to tango. Finding good patches of ice everywhere, good v-threads were abundant and we quickly made the 10 raps without much fuss. The walk back to the hut was satisfying. We made it back with daylight to spare and sipped tea in the final light of day.
The forecast for the next few days was amazing so we decided to have a cruisy day next. At lunchtime we made our way over to the summit of Sturdee, a small bump on a ridgeline. This bump however offered some amazing views! Descending via Harper Saddle offered a good chance for us to check out the access to the routes on the north face and also the decent from the summit.
Next on the hit-list was the Hicks-Dampier Couloir. This is a good way to make your way to the top of Mt Dampier, NZ’s third highest peak. We had to leave the hut early to slog up the glacier some more to get to the base. Navigating some massive crevasses by torchlight had its interesting moments but we were soon looking at another huge shrund guarding our route. There was a way over though, a precarious bridge that might collapse. I gingerly stepped onto it and commited to it. It held my weight!! With breath held, I made my way across to the other side and started grovelling up onto the snow slope. I put in a belay and bought and equally scared Jez across and onto the route. Some steep varied climbing led us up and up. The ice was squeaky neve, firm snow good for climbing but protection was non-existent! Never the less, we were soon simul-climbing up to the ridgeline. The ridge proved tricky, hard- ice and wind made for some slow going. Jez felt pretty tried, after not haveing done much like this in a while so i was hesitant to commit to the summit and again we turned around a few hundred metres short. The descent proved much harder, without so much ice about, abseil anchors proved to be problematic. Darkness fell as we were making the last abseil over the epically huge schund. Jez had to abseil into it and then climb out the other side. Freezing on belay, and getting frustrated it was taking so long, I just longed for the hut. My feet soon touched down on the glacier. Sweet, we’ll soon be in the hut. Or so I thought....
Jez went to pull the ropes and they started coming smoothly. We reached the know joing the two ropes and suddenly it stopped. He tugged and tugged abut they weren’t coming free. So i jumped on the end too and we tried pulling from every direction, unable to dislodge my brand new rope. With the gaping schrund above us and a steep blank wall above that there was no way i could climb back up to the anchor safely. And prussicking wasn’t worth it, if it did fail I’d never climb again, probably never do much of anything again. So we decided to try and use brute strength. 45 minutes later we had a 5:1 haul system onto it. But even with that as tight as we could get it, it still wouldn’t come. With the hour growing late we decided on the hard decision, cut what I could from it. With a loud scream i cut the rope, surprisingly easily. We picked up our tracks and made our way back to the hut.
Dissapointed we packed things up ready for the walk-out. We decided to go the true right of the glacier and made awesome time down onto the glacier. After a well earned pizza and beer we soon collapsed into bed back in Christchurch after an epic day! I couldn’t shake the feeling though that id soon be back in that valley. The conditions are amazing, and don’t come like this very often! So time to make the most of it!