Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mt Cook Solo

So I sit in Wanaka, snowfalkes gently falling to the ground. Over the last few days I've managed to get a whole heap of procrastination done. But here is the report of the failed mission to solo mt Cook.

After walking out of the Hooker with Jez we drove back to Christchurch. A few days of catching up with the outside world was a good thing! The weather forecast was still holding strong so I would have to go back in! Thats the best thing about mountaineering, you don't get to choose the time of engagement, you have to be ready to go when the weather and conditions are right. I had both. So I packed my things and waved good-bye. I was a little sad to leave Lyttleton, its a beautiful spot. I had to start preparing mentally for this next mission, to try and solo White Dreams (NZ 5) on the south face of Mt Cook. With a few big wall solo missions done, I'm real keen to transfer those skills and mental aspects to the big mountains.

So I arrived to an empty Unwin Hut, no surprises there. I had enough time to pack the few things I would be taking. Going light would be the key to success and everything got pared down to the essentials. Unfortunately this meant the sleeping bag stayed out. With blankets in the huts I would just have to rely on the extra fuel I would pack to stay warm. If anyone tells you they have a good nights sleep on the eve of a big route, they are insane or lying. The alarm went off and I sprang into action. Getting ready in record time. The walk-in had previously taken us 8 hours to Gardiner Hut each time, so I left the trail-head just as dawn was breaking. Having walked the track multiple times recently I cranked the iPod up with some classic Punk-Rock and set about getting up the valley.

With a light pack I felt fit and was moving fast. The competitive streak in me wanted to see how fast I could do the walk. Knowing the track well meant there were no wrong turns or back-tracking. Soon I was at the worst bit, the bloody moraine wall. I slid my way down and was soon munching some snacks at the lunch boulder on the glacier. I made my way onto the white ice crunching my way speedily up the glacier. The scariest bit was when I finally got to the crevasses. I took a deep breath and starting following our previously laid tracks. Things had opened up slightly since the last visit so there were a few interesting moments. Before too long I was resting in the bergschrund beneath the Water-Fall route onto Pudding Rock. Each time I had climbed this route, it was progressively easier. This time proved no trouble at all, it felt awesome moving with a pack on vaguely steep ground without a rope. A sense of mastery is something I yearn to feel in my climbing, and this moderate ground gave me that. The ice-fall in the bowl above the gully had dropped a few pieces of ice which I skirted and punched up to the ridge-line above.

I happily fell into the bench seats at Gardiner Hut and checked my watch, 5 hours flat. I was stoked, but the flip side being I now had time to kill! I picked up one the the hut books and settled in with a liter of hot cordial. The hut radio burst into life as DoC made the sched. The weather had changed for the worst, the next day would bring gale force winds about the tops so I decided on a hut day. It proved the right choice as the next day brought snow and winds. I managed to get through all 545 pages of the novel, feeling somewhat let down by the reviews. When darkness fell I settled into my blankets for another nights sleep.

The alarm woke me at 3am and I struggled up to get the brew on. I swear I could hear cries of pain in the background. Once packed I made my way across to the slopes that lead up to the base of the route. The moon had made its way east so a dark clear night waited outside. Needing to gain some 1800m I was in for a big day. But as I climbed higher I grew more and more concerned. I was on the lee slope to the wind and plenty of fresh snow had been deposited, having not bonded well to the underlying layer. Sometimes I was slipping, other times up to my knees. I said out loud to no one in particular, 'what am I doing here?!'. On a fifty-five degree slope I decided that being out at 4am, on the side of Mt Cook by myself in the midst of avalanche prone slopes in the middle of winter wasn't really all it was cracked up to be so I pulled the pin.

Gingerly I made my way back down the 300m height I had gained. With visions of being swept to the glacier below coursing through my mind I was taking all the time in the world. Before to long I was back at the hut, questioning whether I had made the right decision. A recent conversation I had with my good friend Johnny came to mind. In regards to the recent tragedy that claimed the lives of Micah Dash, Johnny Copp and Wade Johnston in China. Johnny had told me,

'If u could ask those guys now I'm sure they'd say its not worth dying for, not worth trading all those years of potential for this new route.'

This settled my mind somewhat as I made my way across the glacier to the true right side. Not being sure of whether I would get through or not provided me that feeling of unknown that mountaineers crave. With a few wrong turns and the odd jump over some deep, dark gaps I was soon flying down towards warmth, safety and a hot meat-pie. I was sorely disappointed that I was making my way back, this spurned me into trying to go as fast as I could back to the car. Four hours after I left the hut I was popping the boot and donning fresh clobber. The meat-pie didn't let me down and soon I was making my way to Wanaka.

With 4-5 days left till I head off to Peru the weather forecast is pretty average. At least it will give me the chance to relax and psyche back up to climb hard in Peru. A few week in front of a fire will give me all the guilt I need to put it out there and suffer on some of South America's finest.

No comments: