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Expedition Gallery & Aspiring Notes

Mt. Aspiring Climbs 2000-2002
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Aspiring & Bonar Gl. NW ridge left skyline Wind-arch over Aspiring's summit & west face.

NW Buttress climb

Andrew Lynch on Aspiring's SW ridge

View from Aspiring's summit

Mt Aspiring (3032m) is one of New Zealand's most prominent mountain icons,
the only 3,000m. peak outside Mt. Cook National Park. Hidden from general
view and surrounded by three spectacular glaciers the classical "horn" of Mt
Aspiring dominates the sky-scape from the Hollyford to the Haast. The Bonar,
the Therma and the Volta glaciers provide limitless moderate ski terrain but all
drain to the west hence retaining a mystic and awe-inspiring vistas from general view.

The first settlers, the Polynesian Maori, called it Tititea - shining white.
Chief Surveyor Thompson viewed the glorious pyramid of ice and snow in 1857
and named it, The Oxford dictionary adds colour to that meaning with adjectives:
rising, tapering, and upward soaring. The word is derived from the Latin, spirare to breathe.
However, a thesaurus extract appears apt for climbers: To inspire, to perspire, and to respire!
It was six years later when Hector, Sullivan and Rayner set out on their trans-
alpine quest and probed the upper reaches of the West Matukituki and Waipara
valleys in 1863 looking for access passes to the West Coast. Doctor (later Sir) James Hector ( 1834 -1907) was a surgeon, geologist and vigorous expedition, later
naming many landmarks in the Canadian Rockies. They were not the last to be
repelled by the rigors and weather of the upper Waipara valley.

The peak came to the attention of Alec Graham, the outstanding Franz Josef
bushman, goldminer and mountaineer via a short report by Charlie Douglas in
A.P. Harper's book{ Pioneer Work in the Alps of New Zealand}.
Along Denis (Din) Nolan of Okuru, he led Dr. Ebenezer Teichelmann from
Hokitika, up the Waiatoto valley to be repulsed by the weather and Therma
icefall in January 1908. In his memoirs"Uncle Alec and the Grahams of Franz Josef,
pub. McIndoe, 1983} , Alec wrote of his journey to Maude Moreland,
who published
an extract in her book. Through South Westland, pub. Witherby, 1911
The journey of Clarke, Head and Graham took them past the ice caves
(avalanche debris) in Shovel Flat through the bush and boulders above Pearl Flat
to make a fly-camp amongst the daisies and lilies beneath the spectacular cirque
cliffs of Joffre and Barff. After being awe-inspired by the views from Hector
Col, they decided to approach the peak via French ridge. The next morning they climbed to a high bivouac site on French ridge (probably near the current hut site. They then completed a quick access recce to the Bonar glacier via the Quarterdeck which thrilled them both visually and in the knowledge of a clear access route to the peak.
At 12.30 on the 23, November 1909, they set off by lantern to the peak.
After crossing the glacier in 1 1/2 hrs they reached the base of the West Face.
Graham described cutting steps all the way up very steep snow slopes
before reaching the final 600ft along a sharp snow arete to the summit in
threatening weather. They retraced their steps in rapid time into enveloping
mist across the glacier.
Graham concludes his letter with:
" I am afraid you will get weary of this rather rambling account,
but still I trust you find something of interest in it

The face has since been successfully descended by ski and snowboard and a pair
of roped climbers who tumbled down the face at 10m/sec2 and opted for a SAR
flight to Wanaka. The ascent of the peak was completed via the NW ridge by
Samuel, Turner, Harold Hodgkinson, Jack Murrell and George Robertson on
11 March 1913. Their ascent was an epic of sixty hours, three novice climbers,
a forced bivouac above the NW buttress and reported party bickering!
(Turner had a reputation for his skills and verbosity - GW)

The ridge via the Ramp or the buttress is now the standard route and is still the
occasional scene of extended epics. The average return climbing time is about
11-12 hours, although some parties have been observed doing overtime u p to 18 hours! As the most popular route, the ramp has been the scene of fatal accidents
should be treated with the utmost caution.

The classic SouthWest ridge was first ascended by Harry Stevenson, Doug Dick
and David Lewis in December 1936 and rem ains one of the "must do" climbs in
the Southern Alps. The 14 pitch knife edged ridge soars to it's crux, a 60-65 deg.
couloir and summit, with a 5 meter waterfall ice start. The belayed climb takes
a fit, experienced party about six hours to the top.

The steep Northern and Southern faces receive sporadic attention and are at
the upper end of climbing difficulty. The jagged gendarmes of the upper Coxcomb
ridge presents an imposing view from Aspiring's summit. The South Face is
normally a winter and spring route when snow and ice cover the less appealing

The rock in the region is mainly grey and green schist.
Structurally, the schist dips towards the west at angles of 30 - 50 degrees
creating slabby west facing ridges and faces and steep craggy east faces, commonly
with small overhangs. In part, this is due to the prominent Moonlight fault which
crosses the West Matukituki east of Homestead peak and through Wilmot saddle.
The erosive powers of the main glaciers which formed the shape of the peaks,
continue as they recede. Large rockfalls occur periodically, most recently off the
low peak of Rob Roy in January 2002. Glide slab avalanches have been active in
late summer on the West Face and currently a large snowslab on the Ramp is on
the move, which could limit the use of the route.
Often, afternoon convection cloud builds from the west to create whiteout
conditions on the Bonar glacier requiring climbers to have competent navigating
skills. Soft snow conditions and sunburn leave climbers tired, fried and looking
like their passport photos.

Recognition of Tititea/Mt. Aspiring: As part of a recent deed of settlement
between the Ngai Tahu tribe and the NZ Govt. acknowledgement was given
to Tititea's special cultural and historic status held by the Ngai Tahu Whanau.

The access: Easy-walking access is via the West Matukituki valley with views
improving from spectacular to awe inspiring at the valley head. Two new NZ
Alpine Club, French Ridge(1465 meters- 20 persons) and Colin Todd Hut
(1800meter -12 persons) provide comfortable alpine shelter and a climbing
base for the peak. Accessing Colin Todd hut requires a crossing of the Bonar
Glacier with rope, crampons and ice axe. A steep, rough, undeveloped route
leads from Pearl Flat to French Ridge Hut( elev. gain 900m - 2 1/2hrs+)
The upper valley and access to Colin Todd Hut is a more direct, steady and
arduous climb. The track deteriorates towards the end of the forest opening
up into a bouldered meadow and 1300-meter walls or rock and ice, streaming
waterfalls and regular snow avalanches. Rock slabs are climbed towards
Hector Col and finally long snow slopes to Bevan Col and a fantastic view
of Aspiring

Winter and spring months have in the past been reserved for mostly local
and intrepid climbers. In July and August the snowline is low and when
sunlight is short, the valley is cold. However, in clear weather, the
Matukituki Valley is enchanting in it's winter snow-cloak, which seldom
reaches the valley floor. In the alpine zone, skis or snowshoes make snow
travel and peak access easier. Helicopter access is a practical option to
avoid carrying skis through the forest to bushline. The cost is approx.
$200/p/p A National Park landing permit (approx$80) is also required.
A strong intermediate ski tourer can glide for ten to twenty minutes on
the moderate slopes of the Bonar Glacier; ski off the Pope's Nose or the
undulating Iso and Therma Glaciers. Strong ice skiing, mountain and glacier
skills, avalanche awareness and safety equipment are all-important considerations.
Skis should be short with sharp edges and light hiking boots carried for the
valley walkout.

To Aspire, Perspire and Respire
Geoff Wayatt pauses to make some personal
observations on his 40 years and 83 ascents of Aspiring

I rushed to tie off rope coils while my new rope companion strode across
the snow flats towards the Ramp. "Hold On!" I yelled as rope snaked tight.
Immediat ely the shadowed figure plunged his ice axe into the snow, then
turned to me staring, "Don't ever say that, unless you a falling!" he yelled.
Oops! In the pre-dawn darkness, I had earlier made the mistake of successfully
bouldering a rock problem on the ridge which repulsed Derek, the experienced
Alpine Club member. He made mention of Australians falling off NZ mountains.
It was his fifth attempt on the peak and my first. It was apparent he wasn't going
to let anything, including a novice Tasmanian prevent him summating.
Fortunately, the fine day and our uphill snow running, mellowed his mood.
I learnt on that trip in January 1966 was that the locals could accurately read
obscure mountain weather signs.

A repeat ascent from th e valley four days later with friends from a climbing
course involved more fun and shared excitement. Richard snapped his Japanese
"Hope" axe on the summit. Big Ben fell through all the snowbridges. Rae and
I ran back down the glacier to the hut in a roun d trip time of eight hours.
We were Sixties kids, bounded only by the limits of our imagination, skills
and experience. It was also an age of change in mountaineering.
There were advances in boots, crampons and ice axes. Stepcutting gave
way to greater use of cramponing skills, followed by the superior grip of
curved picks and ice screw protection. I often wonder how the Bonar glacier
looked in the early 1900's. Access from Bevan Col was probably a straight
walk onto the glacier. We now drop a hundred meters from the Col to the
white ice. Regional glaciers melting rapidly through the mid 1980's during
which time the Dart glacier's surface ablated up to four meters annually.
Aspiring's West Face provides a good example of change. In my three
decades of Aspiring watching, my photo collection reveals very large slab
avalanches that sweep the face bare every 8-10 years. As a result of the
drop in glacier level and loss of toe s upport for the mountain snowpack this
occurrence has escalated to an annual March event. This summer, I watched
two large avalanche glide-slabs peel from the flanks of Aspiring's West face in
early January. The Ramp route is now revealing ice patches, som e glide-slab
cracks with movement and avalanching which, if the trend continues, will threaten
the viability and hazard of this popular route. The climbers give the peak it's icon
status, including the pioneers, hard route achievers and longtime devotees like
authors Paul Powell and geologist, Graham Bishop. British climber, Don Whillans discovered a highergear when confronted with a Nor-west cold front.

Twenty years ago under one hundred climbers sweated from the valley to
the peak each year. Today, Colin Todd hut has over 1500 visitors with about
500 climbing to the peak. Even though the main streams are now bridged in the
West Matukituki valley a valley to peak ascent remains a classic climbing
challenge. The Hector Col slabs, the gap through the Joffre cirque wall, are a
classic "testpiece" of exposed rock ledge scrambling above a raging cascade of
water - the source of the Clutha river. Helicopter access to Bevan Col is rapidly changing people numbers and activity patterns like the Wanaka housing boom.
Huts are now often overcrowded, yet the access routes have become badly
eroded watercourses long overdue for some basic maintenance.

The visually stunning Bevan Col is no longer a place to camp for noise sensitive climbers. Huts and Helicopters appear to be emerging as a major alpine work
role for local D.O.C. staff . Who would have thought the way to calculate
the number of climbers cheati ng the Alpine Club of hut fees would be to compare
the volume of effluent flown from Colin Todd hut with the known bed nights!
It's a shame there's only an estimated 50% compliance for the cheapest,
newest alpine huts in the country!
Walk-in climbers now watch loads of heli-climbers fly above them to claim
bunks at Colin Todd hut. It appears there is now a need for a bunk booking and payment system .

On my first visit in 1966, I saw thirty deer roaming the flats at dawn.
Then came the helicopter harvesters of the 70's swooping the landslips with sirens blaring. Now only the odd deer trots nervously past the avalanche debris and
into the forest. Their culling has resulted in rapid forest regrowth and a profusion of flowers in the sub alpine zone. One of my recent delights was to pass rannunculas buchanni at 2380m on the NZ buttress of Aspiring and then see a lone rock wren bib-bobbing along, 1,000m above it's normal habitat. However, the possum seen
above the Shoulder last summer must have felt as isolated as the Christchurch
Doctor and companion who recently bivied just below the summit. Both
challenged natural selection. The latter were lucky the weather allowed a daring
summit rescue by volunteer Wanaka SAR members. About fifteen people have died on the mountain since the first fatality in 1972; many on the Ramp. As a Police search advisor and response team member since 1975, I have seen no common thread to the Aspiring accidents.

My climbing focus attempts to address food intake, personal concentration,
partycare and tiredness. During the late January period I often advise climbers to re-evaluate the mountain conditions and to expect less forgiving, late summer ice.
The warning signs in local huts appear to have lessened the accidents on the Ramp, however the heavy traffic resulting from the building of the new French ridge hut
has already resulted in several close encounters with crevasses on the Quarterdeck. One lone climber was recently found by one of my climbing course groups
five meters down a crevasse, hours after falling into the slot.
Occasionally, I see groups paying excessive attention to their personal
causes, rather than the mountain obstacles. Last October, a reader of Al Uren's
new guidebook decided to take up Al's recommendation of circumnavigating
Aspiring via three major glaciers and got stuck before Moncrieff Col. Unable to
retreat, h e pressed his locator beacon and summons the aerial cavalry at a
personal cost of $3,000.

The remoteness of Aspiring is being rapidly eroding by mechanization - huts and heli-climbers.To paraphrase Bob Dylan:
"We'd better start acting or we'll have nothin to bemoan, for the times they are a changin.."
It is worth remembering that the fitness and experience gained by Ed. Hillary and
George Lowe in their "valley to peak" ascents took them to the roof of the climbing
world excelling on Mt. Everest in 1 953. I would like to see more Aspiring climbers
taking the traditional "Valley to Peak" climbing option. Their effort and success
should be recognized and congratulated like first ascendants: Clarke, Graham
and Head.
Travel times: Raspberry Flat roadhead to Aspiring Hut(NZAC) - 2 hours;
to Shovel Flat 3 hours; to Pearl Flat 3 1/2 hrs. Pearl Flat - to French Ridge hut-2 1/2hrs+; to Colin Todd hut-7hrs.French Ridge Hut to Colin Todd Hut - 5 hrs(alpine)
Maps:Mt Aspiring region NZMS 260/E39, Aspiring, 1:50, 000, pub.Terralink $12.50
Guidebooks: NEW!! Mount Aspiring Region, Al Uren, pub.N.Z.A.C. - ($30)
Moir's Guide-Nthn Section,ed Geoff Spearpoint, pub.N.Z.A.C.1998
A tramping guide-($30) Land Aspiring , Neville Peat, pub. Dept of Conservation,
1994, Nat. Park Handbook ($19.95) LOCAL ACCESS & CONTACTS:
Access information, party intentions, huts, fee payments: Dept. of Conservation,
Box 93 Wanaka, ph(03)443 7660 Fax (03)4438777 6
Climbing courses & guiding service/information:
Mountain Recreation Ltd. Box 204, Wanaka Ph (03) 443 7330
Valley Shuttle Transport: Edgewater Adventures, (03)443 8422 or Good Sports, (03)443 7966 (approx $20 p/p one way) \par Alpine hut fees:NZAC Members
$5, Non members $10, Aspiring hut:$8, Non members $14 \par Guide books,
club membership: NZ Alpine Club, Box 786, Christchurch
Helicopter access: C. Ewing, Cattle Flat, Wanaka (03) 443 7152

Geoff Wayatt is a Wanaka Mountain Guide,
Director of Mountain Recreation Ltd.
and a longtime Wilderness Magazine Contributor.