Can we actually foot launch our paragliders off Aoraki from the High peak?
The guidebook raves that the South Face of Douglas Peak is one of New Zealand’s great ice climbs. We too can attest this is a classic ice route on a beautiful peak. Based out of Pioneer Hut, you'll see that Douglas Peak is the second most commanding peak in the Fox Glacier area besides the mighty Tasman-Horokoau. As you approach the face the structure of the mountain emerges and it is clear this is a perfect peak for alpine climbing.
"Many Canterbury men know that a tough trans-alpine crossing can be a harder test of competence in unorthodox travel and stubborn endurance than a deal of high climbing" - John Pascoe, one of the fore-fathers of early Southern Alps exploration, in Unclimbed New Zealand, 1939.
It seemed like the first reasonable break in the weather for weeks. I'd like to call the response an orderly mobilisation of the troops, or maybe it was more like the first week out of COVID-19 lockdown; a rush to line up at burger joints and takeaways, a line headed up the Hooker to Empress Hut, and Gavin and I joining in line with three other skiers up to Plateau Hut. We had an excess of cabin fever to sweat out, solid looking snow conditions, and weather up our sleeves to look at more than a few possibilities.
More like the Learning Curver ! Lighter packs and a better looking weather window had myself and Lionel walking up the Hooker for the second time in a couple of months with the South face of Hicks on our minds. After seeing the epic trip Al and Ben had we just wanted to go and check it out for ourselves!
Accompanied by Elliot and Luke doing all sorts of things I would never have guessed you could (or should?) do in a stock standard Grand Vitara, the sunny, braided, Godley river valley passed by in a rocky montage of dotterels, geese, paradise ducks, and the inevitable ever-present grey and orange rocks. On reaching the lake at the head of the valley, we portaged gear across this last undriveable stretch and settled comfortably into Godley Hut.
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.
A couple of days of high pressure were forecast; the weather window looked like it was wide enough to sneak through on Tuesday. Gavin sent out a call – could anyone make it down for a climb? As the forecast updated however, the incoming cold front looked set to sweep through sooner than we’d thought. Early on Saturday morning we decided to shift the climb a day sooner to match. I had to get down to Wanaka! I cancelled my Saturday plans and quickly rolled out of bed, threw an assortment of gear in my overworked car and hit the road. Objective: the South Face of Tititea/Aspiring.
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.