For some time, I’d been wanting to get back in the mountains and the end of lasted year spotted a post on the New Zealand Alpine Club Facebook page asking if anyone was available for a trip. That was the start of a great learning experience and some quality time in the mountains. This post will focus on the what happened and most importantly what I learnt and will do differently in the future.
We met up at Christchurch airport and headed off towards Frans Joseph in the cheapest hire car I could find. There are a few companies near the airport that hire out older cars. This cost me just over $500 for 12 days which included some sightseeing after the climbing. It is a few hours drive over Arthurs Pass and a slower road down the west coast. In all taking about 7 hours including stops.
The first hurdle of the trip was a reminder of how crucial the weather is in any outdoor adventure, especially in the alpine areas. Due to cloud our scheduled 3:30 pm helicopter would not be leaving today and was rescheduled for 8:45 am the following morning. This gave us a night in Frans Joseph, for planning and some memory refreshing.
The afternoon was spent visiting Fox Valley township where our chopper company was based and another other the helicopter companies. The other company was not flying either due to the weather. Interestingly the other company was a bit more expensive. Then back to Frans Joseph to visit the DoC office. We had heard that the water tank in our intended hut (Centennial) had problems and are hoping for an update. In the end, the DoC people didn’t have any current information, the best info came from ringing a guide who had been there recently and informed us that the tank was half full. DoC’s no longer register trip intentions so they are best left with friends or family.
Accommodation for the night was found at a local hostel http://www.franzjosefmontrose.nz/ a bargain for $27 a night for a bed in the dorm. A big kitchen for preparing food made dinner easy and a large lounge room was used to go through some roping up practice. One small point in my training differed to my buddies but this was worked through and I learnt something new from their experience.
The real actions started the following morning with bacon and eggs. Once this was demolished it was back to Fox for our chopper ride. Gear weight and excess crap left in the car we met our chopper buddies and watched a few tourist flights come and go. Having flight buddies meant that we shared the $500 chopper fours ways which drastically reduces our flight cost. Flying over glaciers and through mountains is an impressive experience and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. First stop was to drop off the other guys than us to our home for the next week or so. It is a bit daunting coming up to our hut and seeing how remote it actually is though spectacular at the same time. After landing and moving our gear down to the hut, we got settled in and ready for the first trip out.
Soon after we are heading towards the ridge behind the hut with an aim of climbing Mt Jarvoius. This is a small peak really but made me happy as it was a good chance to access my skill fitness and how we went as a team with a new climbing buddy. The first section involved a walk in ‘glacier mode’ roped up. the snow was a lot softer than expected which made progress slower and sweatier than ice. Some small crevasses easily negotiated but a reminder of what dangers are around and why we are roped up.
As the snow got steeper we belayed each other up the next section to avoid an unwanted slide to the glacier and numerous crevasses way below. I should also note that the hut is 2400m above sea level so our starting point fairly high. The next pitch was a snow traverse and rock scramble with another short rock pitch to our lunch spot. After gourmet sandwiches of which I can take no credit, it was decided the climbing was a bit too difficult and descended back to the hut. My buddy scrambled down first until we found a sling anchor and abseiled down. I ended up untangling the rope and scrambling down which was ok as not too steep.
The night is was decided that we’d have an alpine start to try and get over to and summit Del La Bache a 3000m + mountain. I must admit I was a bit nervous as there was not a lot of detail in the guidebook and a previous party had had some trouble just getting over there. The hut log book was a wealth of information on previous people’s trips.
We were up and ready to go at 4 am crampons on and roped up and out the door. Not too far out the door towards where the helicopter dropped up it was realised how steep the slope was and how soft the snow still was not having frozen overnight. Our four o’clock start turned into let’s see how it’s going in a few hours so back to bed. When we finally got out we made our way round the back of the hut and down to avoid the steep and cut up section that we hadn’t seen previously, good decision not to proceed at 4 am. So after a traverse came to another steep section which The Lead down climbed and I belayed after a small slide and coming back up we built a T-slot anchor and left it in place for tomorrow attempt to get further across. I had a practice climb down the slope and back up again marking out how far we could get on a 30m rope.
The following day we have a lot more time on the ice/snow. Round the back of the hut down and traversing we use the T-Slot to descend then made our way across the snowfield sticking to the higher contours to avoid crevasses. All was going well till we got to the other side and up a rise to find we had come up to a ledge. After some debate, another T-slot anchor was made I belayed and the leader climbed down and traversed over to rock to have a good look. There were many crevasses and from where I sat looked pretty impassable, in the time frame we needed to do it in any way. At this point was spotted the footprints we had been following earlier in the day in this second snowfield.
The lead ascended the anchor came out as it wasn’t a viable option and an early start the following morning. To get down the ledge, we ended up partially backtracking and heading much lower down and round a rocky outcrop and back up into the snow felid. After a bit of zigging and zagging crevasses, we were well into the main snowfield and could see up the glacier to the mountains in the distance. it was after 2 o’clock now and I started to notice how little I could see through my glasses, how sunburnt my nose and lips were and getting pretty keen to be turning back. After lunch and more looking and reapply of sunscreen we headed back to the hut. I remember thinking then that I would not want another day in this full sun. I was absolutely sopping when we got back and pretty out of breath from the walk up the hill.
The next day I called a hut-day. Basically, over sunburnt nose and lips, my glasses were not being dark enough and a bit of a funny knee. I didn’t get much resistance to the idea. As it turned out it was another perfect day outside and kind of a shame to be sitting inside. Though it was great to have a good night sleep without waking up to an early alarm. The day was still pretty productive reading through a technical guide cover to cover sorting out gear and having a practice prussic and rope rethreading.
The next day we woke up to wind and rain, the forecast weather had come in two days later than predicted and another hut-day was had. After pretty much doing all the indoor things today was pretty much spent in my sleeping bag reading. This weather continued through to the next day as well though in the afternoon the wind and rain had gone just leaving a whiteout with heaps of low cloud. The plan for that few days had been to get over to pioneer hut about 5-6 km away and climb glacier peak. this will have to be on the list for next now.
The afternoon of the third inside day was starting to feel a little like prison. Being the end of the trip you get thinking about all the little things having the internet and other people to talk too. We called the chopper that afternoon (Saturday), the advice was that Mon/Tues look like bad weather so we opted to come out at 10 am Sunday with a flight they already had booked.
So the next day we were all packed up and ready to leave by 9:30 am after trogging all the gear up the hill. the chopper turned up about 20 min later with the maintenance team aboard. It was pretty cool to see a ladder strapped to it like a ute at home. I assume the water tank is now filling again from the roof. We had a good ride down again very scenic and a little bit relieved to get back to the chopper base and get into some clean clothes. From here we paid for the chopper another 500 but split four ways again.
On reflection, this was a pretty good learning experience for me and will add a lot to my future climbing endeavours. So far my ‘Official’ mountaineering experience has been limited to courses one in Australia with ASM for a week and another High Alpine Skills Course. Though on top of this have a lot of time on and organising snow camping/shoeing trips which all adds to your alpine experience.
No need for me to blabber on about the hut suffice to say it was it was very comfortable and makes a great base. DoCs have a good page here for all the details and an outdoor bucket page can be found here.