We did not rate our chances of success as we fought our way up the South Temple in heavy rain. The river was flooded, making the track very difficult to find as it wove up valley towards the intimidating alpine rock peaks. After five hours we arrived at a bivouac site below Bruce Peak, glad that we had come prepared with a fly sheet to shelter from the elements.
A hearty back-country meal was a welcome distraction from the rain, and I was happy that my gear was still dry. We prayed for the forecast weather window to arrive the following day as the rain continued to fall through the night, hoping that we wouldn't be walking home empty handed.
Fortune favours the bold. The weather cleared, and our patience was rewarded as we arrived at the base of Bruce Peak at noon to mostly dry rock. It was a very late start for an alpine rock first ascent, I was sure we would be descending in the dark. But our spirit of adventure urged us upwards.
Tony set off on the lead for the first block of three pitches, heading up the face to the left of the popular Butterfly Buttress route.
The slab climbing was engaging and we had to be careful to avoid hidden patches of wet slippery rock. Luckily the protection was adequate, although often staunch moves would be required above gripping run-outs. The first few pitches went at grade 15-16. I took over the lead for the next three pitches, as the terrain began to steepen. We kept climbing efficiently, racing the clock, consistently laying down full 60-metre grade 17 pitches and Tony seconded quickly. We were flying.
Once on the crest of the buttress the angle relented, and we switched to simul-climbing mode, running up the final 200m of grade 13-14 to reach the summit of Bruce peak at around 4.30pm. We were so happy to have climbed this new route of 480m in only 4 hours. The quality of the climbing was fantastic. Four hours later, we finally returned to the bivouac spot after a long drawn-out descent of scrambling and traversing loose slabs. It was very satisfying to be back at our humble home after a very interesting and enjoyable adventure.
I was very impressed with my climbing partner Tony Burnell. He is a very active climber in NZ especially around Christchurch, and is still climbing very well at 63 years old.
I cannot imagine what will happen when I reach his age. Will I still be climbing? Or will I be a retired man, content to only sleep and eat? I learnt a lot through this trip. I learn that all you need in life is a good attitude and you can face anything. Its important to keep setting a new challenge for yourself, and to finish every challenge you set.
"The hardest person to challenge is yourself"
- David Chen, 2015.
The first ascent of Rocky Road on the South-West Buttress of Bruce Peak, Huxley Region. D. Chen, T. Burnell, 12/1/15.