Papatūānuku shifts imperceptibly in her sleep. Far above, a man stumbles. He is strong, but on this occasion he falls. The snow beneath him begins its slow slide. It gathers pace. Oblivion. She notices not; but for those close to him, their lives change forever. They wander grieving on this earth, alone, and in groups, seeking out his scent that lingers in the places he frequented. They travel to the Anti-crow; the last dwelling he entered, and see the last words he wrote. Others travel south to the hunting grounds of his youth. His brother takes up his rifle, and gives it a new home.
A years passes. We leave Wyn Irwn at 4:45am. I am guided, as I was a year before, by his footsteps, then not yet a week old and still clear in the snow. We reach Empress hut. His name repeated again and again in the hut book alongside two others taken too soon. We take an early night. 2am. Left-foot, right-foot. We wind our way up the Sheila glacier. Surrounded by inky blackness. 2:45am. A familiar opening in the Sheila face, last year I continued past, this year we enter its beckoning mouth. We re-rope for simul climbing. Thunk, thunk. A few hundred meters pass. We regroup. Left or right? We head left, trusting in his words.
Another pitch. In our headtorches, we can just make out the base of a pillar before it fades into the darkness above. 6am. Dawn is coming. I cork-screw up the pillar. I pause, hanging for a moment where it steepens, then flee right following pockets of ice through overlaps. The steep, absorbing climbing tests my nerves. Gasping, I finally top the steep wall. I'm spent. 8:30am. A tight stepped gully looms. We begin a futile race against the sun. It catches us three pitches on at the base of the snowfield. 10:30am. Our backs dripping and lungs bursting, we push upwards pausing only when we reach the relative safety of the central buttress' crest.
A quick brew, and we continue to the summit for 4pm. The spine of Papatūānuku stretches to either horizon. Her low-lands are hugged in cloud. We are close to him, here, where heaven mets earth. We pause a moment, but then we must be on. We follow in the path he set: down the summit rocks, a traverse high on the Linda, up to Green Saddle in twilight, the abseils down Fyfes gut, until finaly we creep back to Empress for 12am. Until next time Caleb.
I'd like to thank Caleb Jennings (1987-2018) and Kim Ladiges - the first ascensionists for encoraging us to climb Pilgrim and sharing their route beta with us. I'd also like to thank Milo Gilmour, and Reg Measures for joining me on the approach and in Reg's case the ascent of Pilgrim.
Pilgrim climbs the central gully just to the right of Fyfes gut up the Sheila face to a large snow slope at 2/3 height. Climb the snow slope up and right exiting it onto the the Central buttress route 200m from the summit. Follow this to the summit. In total it is approximately 900m. The lower gully section is a natural funnel feature, so it is best climbed in cool conditions with little rime. Both the first and second ascenists climbed this section at night. The following route description is based on the conditions found during these first two ascents. The pillar does not seem to form every winter and tends to come in early spring. The pillar be viewed from near the base of Hicks during a reccie.
Rack - screws for a full pitch of WI5, cams BD 0.1-3 with double 0.1-0.4, wires half set.
Approach - Ascend the Sheila glacier from Empress hut trending left beneath the Earl ridge and eventually the Sheila face. There are 2-3 shrunds to pass, which it is best to sight the day before. Continue up the Sheila glacier towards the main gully of Fyfes gut. Pilgrim starts from the last snow alcove in the Sheila face before Fyfes gut steepens.
Pitch 1-4 WI 3-4, M2-3 Climb the gully for a few hundred meters until it widens.
Pitch 5 WI4, At the widening climb up and left (not hard left) aiming for a pillar. Best to belay tucked in down and left from the pillar to protect from a potential pillar collapse.
Pitch 6 WI5, M6, Climb up the base of the pillar and then either continue up the pillar, mix climb behind the pillar, or to the left of the pillar to reach the top of the headwall above.
Pitch 7 WI4, M5, Climb up the gully through several constrictions untill to meet a right trending ramp system.
Pitch 8-9 WI3, M4-5, Follow the right trending ramp through small steps until you reach the base of the snow slope.
Pitch 10-15 WI1-2, Follow the snow slope up and right through a faint depression to reach the crest of the Central Buttress. Note in heavily ice/rimed conditions there is a direct line that will form up and left direct to the summit.
Pitch 16-20 WI3, M3-4, Follow the remained of the Central buttress route to the summit.