I’d done several of the classic rock routes up on Moir’s and on the back of Barrier Knob over the past summer months but I’m ashamed to say I’ve done none of the winter routes at all in the Darrans. I was eager to see what it was all about. So with a fairly dry and dismal start to winter, Steven Fortune, Kieran Parsons and myself remained optimistic and headed to Fiordland to catch the last few days of the annual Darrans Winter Meet based out of Homer Hut.
Chomping at the bit to get out, we sat round the fire in Homer Hut on the Saturday and discussed our options of what would be in condition in such a dry season. We formulated a plan to head up Mt Tabolt to try our luck at “JC Crack”, originally put up during summer by Murray Jones and Andy Campbell in the golden era, a classic two star route that is the prominent crack line at the right side of the face which is a summer rock climb at grade 15.
Access: We left Homer at a leisurely time just before 6am and made our way up the Gertrude Valley to the outlet of the Black Lake. After making a small hop, skip and jump over the outlet, we headed toward the toe of the East Ridge, traversing the snow fields until under the east face (condition dependant, the snow field below the face can become broken up with large crevasses making access rather difficult) to the base of our intended route. The approach to the base took about 4 hours from Homer Hut.
The Route: On our way over to “JC Crack”, which looked to be in very thin condtion, our attention was drawn to the obvious over hanging roof crack. A striking unclimbed line on the buttress to the right of East Ridge Gully. Standing below the route we could see that was at least two 70 degree ice gullies with mixed sections above the roof crack. With a mixture of excitement and uncertainty we decided to saddle up and give the un-climbed line a go.
Pitch 1: We soloed 60 meters from the snow field up a narrow gully which had a two mixed steps (this could be a pitch in it’s own right depending on conditions).From here we established a belay and Steve began up the first pitch of harder climbing, a sloping chimney pitch which was well protected with a few delicate moves keeping him on his toes before moving out onto a slab bringing us to the base of the overhanging roof crack.
Pitch 2: This was definitely the crux. The pitch gets straight down to business where you start to execute a series of really strenuous and PUMPY stein pull moves to pull over the lip where you gain a thin dagger of ice, by making a couple of one arm pull ups, which continues for about 5 meters to the belay below an ice step marking the beginning of the ice gully.
Pitch 3: Start by climbing a small ice step where you gain the ice gully. Climb for 50 meters up the gully until the first mixed step to where a belay can be built.
Pitch 4: Start by climbing a short mixed section that leads to a large roof where you make series of moves (awkward with a pack on) to pull the roof. Climb to left for about 20 meters to rock buttress for belay.
Pitch 5: Make your way up moderate ground for about 100 meters to gain the ridge. Suitable to simul climb.
Descent: From topping out pitch 5 follow the East Ridge for 200 meters to the obvious notch in the ridge, from here with a single 60 metre rappel you can make it to the north facing snow fields where you make your way back to Black Lake and out down the Gertrude Valley. The obvious and more satisfying option would be to summit Talbot and descend via Travers Pass. However, it was nightfall by the time we reached our highpoint.
In terms of rack I would recommend a double rack up to number 3 Camelot, a full set of nuts, at least 2 pins and 5 or 6 screws. We also used a turf hook on pitch 2 was very useful to protect the final move pulling the roof to the ice dagger. The route is still waiting a free ascent as none of us managed to climb pitch 2 clean. This pitch is definitely very technical and strenuous, it would be awesome to see or hear of someone firing it up and getting the send. I will certainly be back next winter.
With the recent passing of our close friend Howie Mcghie, we talked and shared stories at belays and on the approach of all the great times we had been lucky enough to share with Howie. Several days earlier while in Dunedin for Howie’s service, I remember people talking about his love for the outdoors and especially the love he had for the mountains and the life they gave him. His love for mother earth, “Papatuanuku” it seemed fitting to name the route after our friend as I know he would have shared our enthusiasm about the line.