The lead up to the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival is always an intensely satisfying, full on week for the NZAT. Day after day we head up the mountain, getting in a wide variety of different climbing partners and climbing styles. By virtue of being up there every day, as the weather changes through the week we also often climb in a wide range of conditions. By the time Thursday evening comes around and the festival evenings kick off we’re usually (almost) in need of a rest day, but also very in tune with conditions around the mountain and therefore extremely well placed to plan our locations for the festival instruction clinics.
Post-RIMF Sunday is traditionally a time to do a Remarkables Grand Traverse, or to head out for a nice social climb with friends old and new. So with a couple of days of great weather forecast for after the festival, some of the instructors decided (very late into the Saturday night events... harder to be more last minute!) the South West Ridge of Tititea/Aspiring would make a great after-party location. One very early morning gear explosion, pack, and car reshuffle later, Sam Stephenson, Penzy Dinsdale and I were ambling up the Matukituki on a beautiful bluebird day. A few hours and many cups of tea after arriving in French Ridge Hut, some friends turned up having just returned from climbing the SWR. They told us stories of beautiful conditions – snow was firm but forgiving on the ridge, travel was fast and secure and the ice in the top gully (crux) was just wonderful climbing. That afternoon the hut was loud and ringing with laughter - it’s always special to meet friends in the hills.
One very early bedtime later (unlike the day before!) and an alpine start a little before 4am, we followed the bootpack of our friends up French Ridge and on to Quarterdeck pass in great firm cramponing conditions, no wind, and clear starry skies. From the Quarterdeck we could see the summit of Tititea outlined against the night, and I was surprised how much higher Matariki was in the sky already compared to the last time I was here – less than three weeks ago. At the base at sunrise, we had a few Jetboils worth of tea (always a good time for a cuppa tea), and started up the ridge.
Firm but forgiving snow and a bit of bootpack from previous parties made for secure and fast travel. Everyone was climbing solidly and we made quick progress, leaving plenty of time to enjoy our surroundings. Well under two hours from leaving the Bonar, we were standing under the top gully, which was filled with solid but aerated alpine ice - easy, fun climbing. Sam took the rope and sped up, with Penzy close behind, past a fixed piton and on to the top slopes.
A bit under three hours from the base, we were on the summit. It was remarkable. Perfect stillness and blue skies, and visibility for miles. We stopped for many more Jetboils of tea, unwilling to leave such beautiful summit conditions – what a gift. Looking down on the Coxcomb from above, I felt justified in the difficulties Gavin and I had negotiating that ridge! Though it looks a little more mellow from the Bonar, from the summit it reveals its full character!
We had brought a Lost Arrow to back up the fixed piton at the top of the gully, with around a 40m rappel back to the base where we would start downclimbing. The sun was swinging around on to the base of the SWR, so before the snow conditions got too affected we were forced to call an end to the cups of tea, and vacate our summit picnic spot.
Downclimbing the SWR is seldom done, but if snow conditions allow it provides a fast and very efficient descent route. The standard descent of the NW ridge adds significant distance, and additional height gain across the Bonar from the base of the Ramp.
The extra time we gained was put to questionable use… a search on the Bonar under the Quarterdeck for some snowshoes and a pole that I had been unable to retrieve on an earlier trip. Whoops… but unbelievable luck! The top of the pole was just visible under the snow – a 2cm2 square of black spotted from 100m away in a vast snowfield. An hour’s hard digging with a snow stake and I had freed two pairs of snowshoes! Just trying to live up to my nickname of the ‘booty queen’.
Another well-deserved dinner in French Ridge, an early night and some excellent sleep, and before long we were plodding back down the Matukituki. Back to Wanaka in time for a spa at the community pool, and a visit to the friends we had met the night before – return of the Lost Arrow piton, swapping of stories, and some beautiful wild venison stew. An alpine trip with basically no suffering? It just wasn’t right. I’m sure i’ll pay my penance for it on my next mission! Thanks so much to Penzy and Sam for volunteering to instruct at the Festival, and for such a memorable, all-time-mega wander in the hills. When conditions, weather, company and teamwork all line up together perfectly… a special event indeed.
Route: South West Ridge, Tititea/Aspiring (III/3+)
Gear taken on the climb:
- 4x ice screws (2x 13cm, 1x 16cm, 1x 19cm – though the ice was thick enough to take any lengths)
- Lost Arrow piton (highly recommended as a backup if you want to rappel off the fixed piton)
- 6x extender draws, cordelette and V-threader
- Jetboil and 230g fuel can for excessive cups of tea
- 60m half rope
- Snow stake (unused except in digging on the Bonar!)