First Ascent of the West Face of Lyttle Peak

Monday 14 April 2014, 4:29pm -- Pete Harris

The West Face of Lyttle Peak

Creator: 
Pete Harris

Three of our other options for our biennial brothers’ trip had been abandoned due to weather or conditions. An idea which had been mooted, but remained on the back-burner due to the mystery and unknown nature of it, was an attempt at Lyttle Peak. Inspired by Rob Frost’s article in The Climber, we decided that regardless of what happened, it was sure to be an adventure, and as such, late one Thursday afternoon, we set out for South Westland.

I’m not quite sure what was scaring me more as we drove down the Coast. I was silently dreading the notorious West Coast bush bash approach, but at the same time, the prospect of attempting a first ascent on a face for which we had no beta, and not even a single picture, was a truly terrifying prospect.

My history of rock first ascents is rather limited. The first attempt over at Charleston involved getting shut down on a fairly easy arête, and the second was an embarrassing failure barely five metres off the ground in a hideous off-width. I finally got a first ascent on rock in the Darrans which only took an hour and half for 40 metres of climbing. It is safe to say I didn’t hold high hopes for the success of this mission to climb the West Face of Lyttle Peak.

River Flats.JPG

Architect Creek River Flats

Creator: 
Steve Harris

Architect Creek River Flats

Creator: 
Steve Harris
There’s a good reason I more or less gave up tramping for the higher pursuits of climbing and alpinism. There’s not a lot I hate more than excruciatingly slow progress through impenetrable West Coast bush. Therefore, after a couple of hours meandering along the Welcome Flat track, it was with reluctance that I gazed up Architect Creek as dawn’s first rays glanced off the hillsides. Four hours later, and substantially worse for the wear, we popped out barely three kilometres upriver on amazing river flats.

West Face First View.JPG

First view of the West Face

Creator: 
Pete Harris

First view of the West Face

Creator: 
Pete Harris
The rest of the approach turned out to be quite enjoyable, with some exciting V0-V1 boulder problems encountered on large river boulders while attempting to work our way up the river. Upon rounding one of the final corners, the bulk of the West Face suddenly greeted us. For a good five minutes, I stood there, staring at this huge, unclimbed, and exceedingly daunting face. Despite the best efforts of my camera’s 52x zoom, it still looked compact, unprotectable and scary. With an ever deepening pit in the bottom of my stomach, we eventually made camp after an arduous eleven hour approach.

Friday morning found us awaiting dawn at the bottom of the face. Steve’s dreams of ropes riddled with gaping holes and other such misfortunes did little to alleviate my disquiet. However, stepping onto the compact rock at the base of the buttress somehow vanquished much of this anxiety, achieving something, about as close as my overactive imagination can manage, to a zen-like state.

After an initial solo up the easy terrace, we reached our first pitch up a quality crack, at the top of which the rope came off again, and we soloed up to the left hand arête. Here the fun truly began. It was my turn to take the sharp end, and my zen-state, which had led to careful optimism at this point, was brutally crushed by the sea of small, loose vegetated flakes which peppered the face. Three extremely psychological pieces of gear found me almost 50 metres up, attempting to construct something resembling a belay in rock which refused to remain affixed to the face. With three tenuous pieces, I yelled at Steve not to fall, and he gently seconded his way up to the belay. A little more unpleasant flake climbing brought us to a large, and rather unexpected system of gravel ledges which continued up the face.

The Architect - Lyttle Peak-11.JPG

Steve at the bottom of the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Pete Harris

Steve at the bottom of the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Pete Harris

After a quick two-hundred metres simul-climbing up the easy spur, we reached the large summit headwall. Whereas the rest of the face had opened up, generally revealing much more protectable rock than I’d anticipated the previous day, the headwall still appeared just as daunting and compact as it had from five kilometres away.

I’d pieced back together the shards of my composure by this stage, but it was still with some degree of trepidation that I took the gear and began to climb.

Pete Crux.jpg

Pete on the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Steve Harris

Pete on the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Steve Harris
The first sequence was beautiful. It took excellent gear, and had the perfect mix of powerful, yet thoughtful moves required to surmount the small lip which took you onto immaculate slabs. As the slabs progressed, the gear became progressively more difficult to find. There were a couple of moments where I had to pause, take deep breathes, and add some chalk to the edges to convince myself that there was something vaguely akin to a foothold there. The pitch topped out on a beautiful flat ledge after an exciting fist jam along the crack just to the side of the slab. Steve tried to convince me that I wanted to lead the next pitch, but to no avail, and slightly reluctantly, he snuck along the narrowing ledge towards the smooth, vertical step which led onto the main summit face.

Steve Crux Slabs.JPG

Steve on the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Pete Harris

Steve on the Fourth Pitch

Creator: 
Pete Harris

The person who coined the expression ‘between a rock and a hard place’ clearly hadn’t experienced the excitement of being between a rock and a yawning abyss. After an initial false start, Steve ditched the pack, and refusing to look behind, did an impressive pull up through the face to mantel onto the flat-ish ledges above. Now midway up the summit headwall, we found ourselves on a very exposed ledge system which cut the face in half horizontally. Above us, compact overhangs hung dauntingly, their shaded orange faces dark with foreboding. Taking the sharp end again, I had no qualms leaving the exciting, sparsely protectable overhangs to those who follow in our footsteps, and instead took the more Pete-graded route onto the ridge, involving an excellent wee traverse, and finally a quality crack which took us directly onto the ridge, just a pitch shy of the summit.

Summit Shot.JPG

Steve & Pete on the Summit

Creator: 
Steve Harris

Steve & Pete on the Summit

Creator: 
Steve Harris
The last pitch was on the Northern side of the ridge, with one small sting in the tail, which brought us just below the summit. It was with a fair dose of jubilation which we both embraced on the summit. We stopped for the obligatory summit shot, as well as doing a quick head count of the large herd of chamois on the low peak, capturing a photo or two of the surrounding peaks as the clouds moved in and out.

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Dilemma & Unicorn from Lyttle Peak

Creator: 
Pete Harris

Dilemma & Unicorn from Lyttle Peak

Creator: 
Pete Harris

The fact that the Northern side of the ridge revealed a much more manageable descent relieved a little more of the pent up apprehension which had existed until this point. However there was more than enough excitement on the way down, with one exceptionally airy descent across a slab, followed by a down-climb of micro finger pockets.

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Pete down-climbing slabs on the descent

Creator: 
Steve Harris

Pete down-climbing slabs on the descent

Creator: 
Steve Harris
With only a single rap, we reached a col at 1900m we’d sighted earlier, which took us onto easy snow slopes for a text-book descent back to the base of the route. It was a tired, but extremely satisfied pair who eventually arrived back at their camp after a suitably epic 13 hour day.

Waking an hour early to rain saw us packing quickly to get out before the river responded adversely to the unexpected precipitation. Falling in the river before 7am put me in a dark mood for a good part of the morning, but finding a fairly good taped trail, high above the river through the bush did a power of good for the morale.

While in some respects we’ve ticked one off Rob’s list of classic unclimbed routes, it feels like in some way we’ve added something different. It only requires one glance at the photo of the face to see the potential for new lines up there. Whether it be a harder, more direct line to the summit, or if in fact it’s an easier line on one of the sub-peaks of Lyttle, there’s a heap more adventure waiting for anyone who ventures up there. I hope that having some pictures and beta on the face doesn’t actually remove that mystery, but instead encourages people to go and seek out their own adventure on this, or another line on this truly beautiful face.

'The Architect' (16, MC4-, 500m)

The Architect Route.jpg

'The Architect' West Face of Lyttle Peak

Creator: 
Pete Harris

'The Architect' West Face of Lyttle Peak

Creator: 
Pete Harris

Comments

Submitted by Jane Morris on

Hi Pete,
Hey nice job out there in the West Coast jungle - awesome.
I have been on the hunt for a reasonable pic of Dilemma and your shot was brilliant.
Any chance I could get a copy? I'm doing an alpine rock talk and that route is hands down the best alpine rock route in the Aoraki Area.
I'll credit you for it - it'll just be used in a power point presentation thingy.
Cheers, jane

Submitted by customer_132 on

Pete,

Great stuff on Lyttle Peak.

Strangely enough, I also spotted that Dilemma / Unicorn pic and would love to use it on an upcoming presentation too. Would that be ok?

Cheers,

Simon Bell

ps Jane M will have my email.

Submitted by Nank on

Pete,
Nice one. I remember looking down on it many moons ago, feeling relieved we had climbed the easier side, out of the Cook River. It will be climbed, I must have thought. Voila!
Nank

Submitted by Nank on

Pete,
Nice one. I remember looking down on it many moons ago, feeling relieved we had climbed the easier side, out of the Cook River. It will be climbed, I must have thought. Voila!
Nank