The spring of 2013 will not be remembered for its sustained periods of settled weather. Instead much like the winter that preceded it, it was dominated by warmer than normal temperatures and frequent squally frontal systems. What few clear spells that did come through were short lived and often directly followed heavy snow falls. This all coupled together to make for less than ideal climbing conditions.
Thankfully with the arrival of December things looked to be on the improve and I left Queenstown on the morning of the 9th with high hopes. The forecast promised two days of clear weather, with light winds and a lowering freezing level. It looked like the perfect window for a quick trip up towards Mt Cook to try make the most of some great late season ice conditions. In particular I had my eye on the south face of Nazomi and a potential new ice line on the far left hand side of the face which I had seen some recent photos of.
Leaving the car park at just after 2:00pm I set out on the newly redeveloped Hooker Valley track. Hoping to make good time on the approach and reach the base of the face with plenty of daylight to spare. Unfortunately I was so engrossed in the re-vamped track and its shiny new bridges that I completely missed the turnoff to reach the western side of the lake outlet. Resulting in a somewhat slower than anticipated trek around the eastern terraces to bypass of the lake.
Once back down on the glacier however everything was back on track and soon I was climbing up into the mouth of the Mona Glacier. Where despite the soft snow conditions I was able to make good time traversing up under Pibrac to reach the base of the south face just before 9:00pm.
Stamping out a platform in the snow below the bergschrund I stopped to rest and brew up while I waited for the temperature to drop and conditions to firm up. Staring up at the wall above through the failing light of the setting sun. Trying to catch an unobscured view of the face through the thick cloud that had descended from the summit while I climbed up the Mona - denying me a clear view of what lay ahead and the challenges that I would face.
For me this often the hardest part of solo climbing. The mental battle that is fought standing at the base of a route. Trying to overcome the nagging self-doubt that is required to take the first tentative steps. Once this hurdle is overcome, and I’ve started on a climb, I typically find that the nervousness fades. Tapering off as I become completely focused on the task and terrain at hand. Relishing the freedom that comes with being able to move fully independently.
With my watch reading 10:30pm and the temperature dropping rapidly I crossed over the bergschrund and set out into the darkness, up the steep snow slopes leading to the face proper. The snow soon turned into firm neve, and then gradually to water ice as the gradient steadily increased leading into the lower rock band. Surmounting the first ice step I found myself confronted by a wall of white. Above me illuminated in the narrow beam of my head torch reared the crux of the route, a 20m high wall of immaculate water ice. Without question some of the best ice I have seen on a large alpine face in New Zealand before. Glancing left the ground looked easier and I knew from photos that it offered a way of avoiding the steeper ground. But I was feeling good and wanted to make the most of the climb. It had been a long approach and I knew that I would feel cheated if I didn't try. The decision was justified with my first swing. Recent warm temperatures had softened the ice to the point of it being completely plastic, more like neve than water ice, and I was greeted with first time sticks on nearly every placement.
The remainder of the route was an absolute pleasure to climb. Even though the angle eased, the climbing was still engaging as I followed a series of ice runnels and steep snow slopes through to a final mixed step. Where a series of delicate moves over snow covered rock provided the final challenge before breaking through to the summit ridge. All around there was nothing but darkness, and the sudden expanse of open space came as somewhat of a shock after being on the steeper ground of the face. I stopped for a few minutes. Savouring the moment and the feeling of complete freedom that can only come from being in such an environment alone. Before the cold quickly began to take affect and I had to keep moving – the fun was far from over and I still had a long ridge traverse to negotiate before reaching the true summit.
Finally, not long before 3:00am, I reached the top. The climb along the upper west ridge had not been difficult but in my fatigued state it had been slow and cautious. And it was a great relief to begin the descent. Not knowing the way down the northern slopes though I eventually I stopped at the top of the Noeline Couloir to bivvy. Waiting until first light before continuing the descent to the Noeline Glacier and back out the Hooker, via the right side of the lake, to reach the car park not long before midday on the 10th after 22 hours on the go.
New route on the South Face of Nazomi (2925m). The climb follows the obvious ice flow to the left of 'Runts In Paradise'. Approximately 450m on the face and then another 150m along the ridge to the summit. WI4, MC5-, F.A. Ben Dare 9th/10th December 2013.