The faces were looking dry as Alastair and I made the journey up the Hooker Valley – as we picked our way through the rocky moraine we were quietly hoping that there would be some ice on the South Face of Hicks for us to climb. We weren’t disappointed with what we found!
When Al suggested a trip into Empress Hut, I jumped at the idea, keen to use the ice climbing skills I had picked up during the team trip to Canada in February.
We left Mt.Cook village early on Tuesday morning, having spent the previous week waiting for a weather window long enough to give us a decent shot at climbing something.
Alastair made the good call of climbing in his ski boots, which I was very envious of when I saw his pack without a pair of mountaineering boots strapped to the side, or even a sleeping bag inside. We decided to stick tight under pudding rock and ascend the true left of the Hooker Valley - avoiding any of the overhead danger from the snow loaded Le Perouse.
A long day got us to Empress hut – which was well stocked with sleeping bags, blankets, fuel, hut food and the most awesome view of the South Face of Hicks.
The Curver was the only line on the face that looked like it would go – so next morning was spent negotiating a route across the schrund at the bottom of the gully and climbing the first two pitches to get a feel for the conditions, before heading back to Empress hut in the afternoon to get some rest for the big ascent.
Not in any rush to get to the 3rd pitch before it was bright, we set off at a very reasonable time of 6:45am on Day 3. We took our time negotiating the vertical ice on pitch 3 and 4 which proved to be the crux of the route.
The angle eased slightly, and we got into a good rhythm as we started to make our way up the rest of the face, which didn’t let up until the summit snow field – giving us 10 pitches of great climbing. As we ascended the ice got better and better, it was well frozen to the back of the gullies and covered in firm squeaky snow.
We got to our high point as the sun was setting, turning around 50m from the summit rather than risking traversing the wind loaded and corniced summit ridge.
We descended the same way, rapping on 13 V-threads to get back to the base of the climb and back at Empress after 16.5 hours round trip.
We weren’t the only team members to have made the most of the good weather, back at Empress hut where we had phone signal we got updates of the new ice routes and rock routes that the rest of the team had been climbing! Including a new route on Mt Joffre in Aspiring region by Jaz Morris & co, and a solo new route by Ben Dare on Pyramid Peak in the Darran Mountains.
Check out Daniel Joll's report from 2016 for times and beta: https://alpineteam.co.nz/2016/south-face-mt-hicks-gun-barrels