The Expedition Climbers Club (ECC) recently organised a rock climbing trip to Cloudy Peak in late February this year with the intention of encouraging alpine rock climbing on new and existing routes. With a reasonable but less than ideal weather forecast, Steve Fortune along with Arthur Lachat and Coco of the French Alpine team headed up to Erewhon late on the evening of the 23rd, armed with a rack, a savage looking machete and several rolls of pink tape.
After two months of fantastic ice & mixed climbing in the Canadian Rockies, finally the seasons were beginning to signal a change, with warm temperatures melting off ice pillars and sending avalanche ratings up to extreme. Colours of Instagram were also transforming, from the white, blue and grey of the alpine to the rich orange and red of the desert. Canadians were flocking southwards to the sandstone splitters of Moab, and I felt compelled to join them.
The words “Arthurs Pass” and “ice” are two words most climbers never use in the same sentence. The fact of the matter is, ice routes do exist in the Arthurs Pass area. These routes are often not in the form of semi- transparent blue pillars with easy approaches but instead may be mixed with rock, turf and may be difficult to access. Some climbers often slag off climbing around Arthurs Pass, but the benefits gained from a backyard of Arthurs climbing can quickly silence the staunchest climbing folk.
I’d done several of the classic rock routes up on Moir’s and on the back of Barrier Knob over the past summer months but I’m ashamed to say I’ve done none of the winter routes at all in the Darrans. I was eager to see what it was all about. So with a fairly dry and dismal start to winter, Steven Fortune, Kieran Parsons and myself remained optimistic and headed to Fiordland to catch the last few days of the annual Darrans Winter Meet based out of Homer Hut.
While there may be a lacking of high mountains or ice and mixed climbing, with some imagination, there is no shortage of opportunities to train the mind and body for alpine climbing in Australia. I will recount three recent training missions in Australia - an 850m climbing link-up in the Grose Valley, alpine rock climbing in the Warrumbungles, and a 90km run traversing three of the highest and most remote peaks in the Blue Mountains.
Pierces Pass Triple
It all started at the 'Death Stairs', a flight of 250 steps above Coogee beach, Sydney. The endorphins were obviously running rampant after those sweaty laps, because when I asked Michael Mate whether he wanted to join me for an ascent of the infamous big wall aid climb Ozymandias at Mt Buffalo, he said yes straight away. A wise decision on his part? Time would tell. But I was stoked.
From what is admittedly a very limited amount of experience, there’s one thing about first ascents which stands out to me. Perhaps I do have a shred of paternal instinct and it’s finally kicking in, but in many ways, I find a first ascent to be akin to having a child (again, limited experience).
It’s a fraught process, into which you invest a significant part of yourself. More than anything, a first ascent is a journey: a formative journey replete with angst, joy, relief and a small shred of pride.
In early December Reg Measures teamed up with visiting climber Tim Elson to link some classic face and ridge routes in a rapid traverse of New Zealand's two highest peaks. They found excellent conditions on White Dream (S Face of Aoraki/Mt.Cook) and the Syme and Silberhorn Ridges (Mt. Tasman/Horokoau) but slower blue ice conditions on the summit ridges.
For a climb which the guidebook describes as “A classic ice climb, perhaps the finest in New Zealand…” there’s remarkably little information about the East Ridge of Aoraki/Mt Cook. While there can be something alluring about a little enigma surrounding a climb, there’s also something to be said for some beta on such a route, which hopefully encourages more people to get out there and climb such a stunning line.