Cyclone Luci was making her way south across the Pacific, bearing down on the north island and due to hit land on Saturday. I too was making my way south, in the back seat of a car sitting next to Lucy, my friend. We had a narrow window of good weather before the cyclone was due to give the country a wash and we wanted to make the most of our weekend. We met the rest of the team in Te Anau for some fish and chips and the seven of us headed into the Fiordland, arriving at Homer Hut around 10pm.
The idea, was for Daniel, Ben, Allan and I to bust up the Barrier Face to the Barrier / Crosscut Col and do some climbing somewhere on the Marian headwall. Daniel and Ben had a plan. Allan and I didn’t. Al and I had never climbed together and before leaving we had a conversation on the phone about having an open mind regarding our chosen route. I think during the car ride Daniel was attempting to talk Allan into heading all the way down into the Marian and to find a way up and out. I’m pretty sure Allan wasn’t falling for it.
So 3am rolled around and we were yawning our way up the Gertrude Valley. A nearly full moon lit the mountain faces above us and we quickly found our way to the base of Barrier Peak. Everyone in the party had ascended the Barrier Face at one point but me. However, through the moonlight a probable line was obvious. We roped up for a couple of moves, but overall the ascent was straight forward. There must be an easier route on the grassy ledges to climbers right, but we just climbed straight up the face and followed our nose to the Barrier / Crosscut Col.
Daniel and Ben split. They started sideling along the Marian face of Crosscut without saying goodbye. Allan and I were all on our lonesome to marvel at the blood red sunrise as it splashed its pastel light across the huge south facing headwall of the upper Marian. Barrier, Marian and Sabre Peaks cut the skyline as we filled up our water bottles and scoped potential lines on the continuous face of grey granite.
“Oh shit I forgot my food,” said Al. We decided not to take our 4 OSM’s down to the lower part of the headwall with Ben and Daniel and began tracing lines at level back across the ledge that separates the lower and upper faces of Barrier and Marian Peak. Not a single route had been done on Barrier Peak in 36 years. I’m 36 years old so that seemed somehow serendipitous. Also, the names of the routes were so traditional; Denz - Judge, Hillary – Jones, Clark – Gabites, Mortensen – Whitston. Allan and I talked about the way things must have been in the Darrans in the 1970’s; ovals, no chalk, average shoes, passive protection, thick ropes, wool clothing, few helicopters and of course that wheelbarrow to carry around their balls.
The traverse across the ledge was moderate and we simul-climbed a short section before gaining a permanent snowfield. This proved to be the crux as the old neve was firm and steep and our bendy crampons and approach shoes weren’t much for front pointing. With a fright and a bit of screaming we jumped off the snow and made our way to the base of a big corner below a large, obvious flake feature.
Stoked! I tied in and blasted up the first pitch. Beautiful bridging brought us to a great ledge where I sat and belayed. Allen sailed his way up another perfect pitch. I then deviated right towards the big flake and some clean cracks. Splitters lead to a roof which was harder than expected. After four attempts I was shut down.
It’s amazing how your hand will jam against thick, wet moss. After a kerfuffle back left, we pendulumed down to our original corner system and continued up. The rock soon backed off and we pitched one more then, simul-climbed to the top. It was six pm and sunny. We wondered where the boys were and kept glancing towards the summit of Marian.
Hats were on and we were in the hills heading across the ridge to Barrier Peak. We moved quickly under Barrier Knob and it got dark on us at Gertrude Saddle. A kia kept us from sleeping so we trotted down to the hut as the moon shined the way through the tail of Cyclone Luci.
I woke up the next morning and strode straight into the warden’s quarters. There was Ben’s pack. The boys were stopped by some understandably impenetrable rock just below the ledge and had to walk out the Marian and back up the road. Daniel and Ben have been on those walls several times with success and I see why they keep going back.
Is it the wall of the future… no. But for a late summer’s mission, maybe spending a night or two on Barrier or the Crosscut Col and climbing the faces from the ledge, it’d be a Darrans dream.
Details: Uren, Skelton. 5-6 pitches. 19. 15 March 2014
Note: Daniel and Ben attempted to climb a new route from the base of the upper Marian headwall to near the base of Allan and Steve’s route. After 300m up the wall and 500m of climbing and traversing, they failed to find a sane way through to the upper ledge that bisects the face. Defeated, they abseiled to the valley floor and walked out past Lake Marian and the Hollyford Road. After a “rather comfortable” rest in a drainage ditch adjacent to the road, they continued up the Milford Road to the Homer Hut. Daniel recommends to anyone in a similar situation to reverse the descent from the Barrier / Crosscut Col and to continue out via Barrier Peak and Gertrude Saddle.