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Published: March 22nd 2013
Minimal sleep achieved last night and the fumbling attempts of the four summiteers to rise and leave early make for a groggy morning. Coffee and muesli dispatched, I hike up the ridge to the snowline. DB & MC and already there. We bask in the sunshine and drink in the mountain-top views all around while watching the summiteers progress across the snowfields above. Already the Kiwis are a good hour ahead of the Argentinians who seem to be struggling to cross the bergschrund lower down.
By the time we decide to descend back to the hut, the Kiwis are very close to the summit of Mt French (not a necessary part of the route, but worth bagging on a clear day like today) and the Argentinian pair have made it to the top of the first snowfield. A stunning day to be heading up higher but they still have a long way to go and a serious glacier (the Bonar) to cross before they reach the high ground of Colin Todd Hut from where they can attempt the summit tomorrow morning. In the mean time, two helicopter loads of climbers have been flown in to Bevan Col, from where they
have an easy hike across a much smaller part of the glacier to the hut - that's the expensive, leg-saving way of reaching the summit. All of them will leave the hut tomorrow to ascend the north-west ridge in the hope of reaching the summit. Makes the wanderer wish he had the kit with him but a solo attempt would have been far too risky anyway - too many crevasses and bergschrunds to be tackled. Crossing those with a partner to belay you is a bit risky. Crossing those without a partner to belay you increases the risk unacceptably.
Back down to the hut, pick up the pack, and head down the track to reverse all those rooty climbing moves from the day before. With the company of DB & MC, the descent passes swiftly and the down-climbing is fun. An hour and a half later, we're down at Pearl Flat, the feet and singing from the welcome dunk in the cold water, and I part ways with DB & MC, making a plan to meet for more tall tale telling back in Wanaka the night after.
DB is a Kiwi climbing guide of some repute (a contemporary
of Peter Hillary) who moved to Alberta, Canada and set up (and has recently sold on) a very successful guiding company in the Banff region. One of his closest friends was Gary Ball who was the partner that Rob Hall set up Adventure Consultants with all those years ago. The Rob Hall story I hope you all know by now but you may not know that Gary Ball also passed away on a mountainside a few years before Rob's own tragedy unfolded. Adventure Consultants are still going strong here though.
The wanderer is now being tempted to re-visit Alberta and the rockies as well as a wealth of intricate alpine track and summit opportunities in NZ. With friends like DB and his fellow guides, such things become temptingly easier than trying them cold. Perhaps for another adventure some year soon. Interestingly enough, the wanderer's legs complain at the thought rather than skipping to the task. Opporunities like these would've been leapt upon by a younger wanderer - this version seems more content to talk about them than to take on the multi-day strenuous hikes involved to gain the rewards. A joint expedition to the Himalaya has been discussed and
The climb up to Liverpool hut is shorter (2 hours) but steeper and even more precarious tha the French Ridge track. A set of rock slabs lie at a sphincter-tightening angle just above the bushline (where the trees and roots that assist lower down are not present). The descent was already looking worthy of note but reversing this part must not be attempted before the morning frost has passed. A slip here would lead to a bone-crunching fall of more than a hundred feet before the trees would have a chance to help slow the fall. The hut lies off to my left but the track continues up to the ridge above before dropping down again and MC's words from down below are firmly in my mind - a friend of hers chose to take the shortcut off the track a couple of years ago and fell to her death after slipping on the bushy vegetation.
Up at the wonderfully situated hut I'm blissfully alone for only an hour before I'm joined by: an Israeli, a German, three more Israelis, and - arriving as the sun goes down - a trio of Belgians. So a full hut makes for little sleep again but the views from the hut take some beating with the alpenglow-washed, cloud-ringed Mt Aspiring standing tallest of the peaks surrounding us.
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