Kiwiland. Snowy ridges and elegant ice aretes. Big wild mountains with hard core, ever changing access thats probably more difficult and way scarier than most routes. Out of date guide books and maps that don’t reflect what climate change has done. Limited beta and history held in the minds of a few in the know. Rapidly changing weather and wind, wind that has picked up huts and killed all those sheltering within. The latest Plateau hut is rated to 400 kph. One night there I got up to pee and was greeted by a scene from Hell freezing over with a raging ice storm. Hostile. It took everything I had to get the hut door shut. It always takes me a while to adapt back to weather thats akin to Scotland’s wildest winter storms. My local mountain range Cairngorm clocked 315kph in 2009. November in the Alps is slightly chilly in the morning followed by a 18C afternoon of sunshine with no wind. All very civilised and benign. A couple of days a month it might precip or have a breeze necessitating something other than a thin softshell.
That said, once you get to grips with taking advantage of the weather windows, New Zealand has such a unique, spectacular, rugged and colourful landscape that will have you check yourself several times a day and wonder how that was formed. It also snows nearly 3 times what the Alps get these days and you will have the mountains to yourself to explore and do as you please. The mountains are also bad ass with a plethora of faces bigger than 800 m and all the features you could imagine, spines, faces, couloirs, and glaciers.
Tom Grant and myself spent 3 weeks exploring and ski mountaineering there. We skied about 15 days in total despite waiting for lost bags for 2 days at the start of the trip and dealing with a blown van engine another day. The skiing we did varied from low angled glacier bumps on perfect corn to getting committed climbing and skiing a couple of 1st descents on sight with the common theme being adventure skiing. You never knew what you’d get or what the weather would actually be. It definitely ranks up there in my all time trips and wouldn’t have been possible without the help of some of my friends down there who we owe alot; Evan Cameron, Niki Begg, Mel Money, and Cam Mulvey.
Hiding from the gales. Evan in The Cave, Port Hills
Trip 1 – Sefton Biv
Sou Westers still hammer over the divide, pinning the cloud. Low chances
Mueller lake en route to Sefton Biv hoping to dodge the rain
The wind buffeting Tom causing him to stagger as if he’d had a few too manyOn the bluffs below Sefton Biv. The moraines testamont to what once wasTom near Sefton Biv as the wind continues to hammer us with gusts
Sefton Biv – you really don’t want t to slip hereEnjoying a hot drink in Sefton BivEn route to Footstool with Sefton Biv in the backgroundSkinning on the Te Waewae GlacierA chance to take in the unique landscape laid out below us
About to drop into the what Cam has dubbed the ‘Fransson line’Setting up to shootTom in the ‘Fransson line’Aoraki Mt Cook, Nazomi, Pibrac, Ball pass, Hooker lakeLenticulars over Aoraki Mt Cook denoting strong winds at altitudeTom taking it all inSunset on the south face of Aoraki Mt CookAorkai Mt Cook and Godley Valleys across Lake PukakiHanging out at Peters Lookout for a sundown beerSefton and Footstool
Trip 2 – Plateau Hut
Adam Fabrikant and Bill Hass psyched to get goingJumping into the Porter ski plane. High wind at Grand Plateau soon has us transfer to a chopperApproaching plateau hut and the classic east face of Aoraki Mt Cook Noah Howell and Beau Fredlund of team Voile USABilly, Adam and Tom under the East Ridge of Aoraki Mt CookCinerama ColTasman, Lendenfield, Haast, Dixon and HaidingerA late afternoon weather lull allows us to get some turns off the knoll near Anzac Peak
Returning to the hut. We decided to ski the mini-golf 700 m line just left of the sun-shade line off the East ridge at some point. Everything is dwarfed under the massive east face of Aoraki Mt CookSkinning with Silberhorn in the backgroundAdam Fabrikant, Bill Haas and Noah Howell crossing the shrund at Zurbriggen’sBeau Fredlund at the start of Zurbriggen’s which was our entry to the east faceDawn hues over the Grand PlateauThe start of the treadmill on Aoraki Mt Cook’s east face. Beau Fredlund, Billy Haas and Adam FabrikantSunrise over the Aiguille RougeThe summit ridge of Aoraki Mt Cook on fire in the morning lightSunrise. Anzac Peak mid shotBeau Fredlund traversing over ice high on the east faceGood Cold Chalk on the east face. I skied from a point a bit below the others as with a heavy cold and fever I didn’t need to summit again!
High wind at altitudeHeading for the east ridge and some shelter from the windClimbing a subsidiary ridge to the east ridgeWe followed this little spine to the junction with the east ridge of Aoraki Mt CookApproaching the east ridge. Fine ski mountaineeringClimbing up towards the east ridge700 m of sweetness belowThe moon over Malte BruneAoraki Mt Cook’s east face in the moonlight
Tasman in the moonlightPlateau hut in the moonlightChudleigh in the moonlightResourcefulness. A chess set made from plastic tubing with a quizzboard on Kiwi AlpinismPassing the time at Plateau hut while the wind blows Tom avoiding the rollerballs as the snow gets greenhoused in the cloudA sneaky shortcut to the Boys moraine?A brief break in the weather allows us out for some turnsHelmet on for the walk out. The looseness of makes my stomach tightenTom scree running below the Boys Glacier. Ankles suitably batteredSafely? on the flat Tasman and dealing with the next Jenga pile of choss. Flying in and out is a worth every pennyAfter 7 hours of moraine warfare we are an hour away from the road head. My Ipod was essential for the mindless soldier style route march with a 50lb backpack. We could remember if the streams held giardia and without purification tablets went dry for the last 3 hours. Greg Child once said of his ice axe ‘the fuckin fuckers fuckin fucked’. Same could be said for either of us. Our next walk out was worse and a couple of hours longer.
Our preferred method of accessing the mountains Tasmin lake and the Caroline FaceMoraines amid moraine. Maybe a hang over from the 1991 mega rockfall when 12 million cubic metres fell off down the east face to the Tasman glacierTom and myself back in the zone at Tasman saddle hutNegotiating crevasses on route to Elie de BeaumontTom on the 1st descent of Right Flank, West Face of Elie de BeaumontDescending into the cloud on Elie’s West FaceElie de Beaumont’s Right Flank is the snow covered slab mid shotElie de Beaumont’s west face with our lineThe spine gave us safe passage out of the cloud near the divide and down onto the Tasman GlacierWe made it back from the unknown on the wild west sideAn afternoon corn run on the Hochstetter DomeIslands in a sea of cloudsChilling in the afternoon sun at Tasman Saddle hut
Sundown over Aoraki and HorokoauDinner timeAoraki Mt Cook, Tasman and Minarets
Sunrise on the MinaretsBeau Fredlund harvesting some sweetcorn on Mt Hamilton
I skied this lush couloir on Hamilton solo. Anyone know if its been skied before?
We convened at Darwin corner with the Voile team and 10 mins after making a satphone call the air taxi came to collect us
Drying kit outside the Wyn Irwin, pretty much the only day it was warm
Mt Sefton and Footstool
A rare windfree coffee morning Our van’s engine blew a couple of cylinder heads en route to Wanaka so after a tow to the nearest town and and afternoon waiting for a new van we ended up in a lay by in the back end of…
Tom enjoying beer and curry. He eats slower than a tortoise so I’d usually finished, done the washing up and gone to bed before he had chewed his first mouth-full.Van life. Tom catching up on his sleep. This gives the impression it was quite tidy. In reality we were endlessly rummaging round looking for stuff. We head back to Mount Cook Village for a final tripNew Zealand spring and snow down to 900 m
Trip 4 – Tasman Saddle Hut
Heli-waiting at the airport. 1000 hrs – standby boys. Drink more coffee. 1200 hrs – super standby. Eat a sandwich and drink more coffee. 1500 hrs – looking good boys – standyby. Final coffee. Caffeine poisened. 1800 hrs – come back tomorrow for another exciting day in the airport carpark
Mt Sefton and FootstoolSharing a flight with NZ backcountry splitboarder Shane Orchard and skier Ryan TaylorThe ski plane departs under Mt Green and WalterWe skied this line on Mt Abel after climbing Pencil Dick Gully and traversing the ridgeTom climbing Pencil Dick GullyMe traversing over the summit of Mt Abel Finding our line
Tom dropping inSweetcornHalfwayRippin some corn in the bowls behind the hutThe ski line for the 1st descent of Mount Darwin’s south faceLush morning light as we start to climb
Approaching the summit ridge
Hanging out for a few hours waiting for the sun to come onto the upper pitchLooking down the ski lineFirst turn
Start of the second pitch down past the upper seracBefore the traverse
Freeride over to the spurHeavy wet snow on the spur needing careful negotiationSticking to the apex of the spineApproaching the lower rocky cruxThe foreshortened face from belowSkiing out. High winds preventing flying and bad weather threatening
An abandoned tracked tractor on the white ice of the Tasman glacier. In the 1970s the ski planes didn’t have as much power and sometimes needed a tow Every kilometre skied on the white ice was a kilometre less to walk with the additional weight of skis and boots on my pack which was already heavy by euro standards. In the end I must have skied 4 of the 5 km of white iceOff the easy going white ice and into the rubble. Thankfully its overcast and the rock is not reflecting heatGetting hotter as the sun comes out and we get baked in the moraineAbout 5 hours of staggering around on rubble after leaving the white ice. We left the hut with a couple of litres each and drank another couple shortly after this section. Only 7 km to go but hands (from poling for stability) and feet are raw and roasting. Thanks to the Irishman who gave us a lift from Blue Lakes to the airport to collect our car.Moody weather as we head towards ChristchurchTom discovering the almost unique style at Castle Hill