Where to begin?!
The skiing has been nothing short of fantastic the last few weeks here in New Zealand. Noah, Adam and Billy arrived at the onset of a high pressure system, and thankfully, came mentally prepared to head right into the thick of it. Following excellent ski routes on Mt. Cook and Mt. Dixon, we planned to travel from the Plateau Hut to the Pioneer Hut via Pioneer Pass. Once a popular route, it’s now an uncommon line due to changing glaciation. We hoped to find a safe crossing, and continue our ski trip over on the West Coast neves.
Led onto the Freshfield Glacier by velvety corn skiing, we ended up too low, and cut off from Pioneer Pass by a wall of ice cliffs. After a short discussion, we settled on Plan B: ski 1200 meters of racecar corn down the Freshfield, then ascend the Tasman Glacier, and spend a few days based out of the Kelman Hut.
The weather was due to become stormy for the next few days, so we figured we’d settle into some R and R at the Kelman Hut. The Kelman is located at the headwaters of the Tasman Glacier and at 2500m, it is one of the highest alpine huts in New Zealand. A kilometer away there’s a nice alternative, the Tasman Saddle Hut. The next day the storm was reasonable (whiteout snowstorm, but not too windy), so we decided to ski over to the Tasman Saddle Hut and see what its cache of hut food looked like. Most parties fly into the Kelman and Tasman Saddle huts via helicopter or ski plane so they often leave extra food for hungry skiers like ourselves. So after a resupply of rice, oats, tea and milk powder, we were set up for a couple more days of getting after it. Little did we know the weather would go ‘Cordon’ (bluebird) and we’d be skiing lots of spectacular routes and high peaks over the next six days.
We settled into a one-day-at-a-time mentality. Initially, we’d write off going big the next day because of forecasted gale force winds and/or heavy precip (via daily radio updates from the Department of Conservation). Our program evolved though, following a few inaccurate weather forecasts. Each morning we’d wake up predawn, someone would go outside and check the weather, and return to the bunk room with a ‘Gentleman, gentlemen, gentlemen. . .’ followed by a joke and the weather update. Then we’d proceed to drink a bunch of coffee, ski our intended objective, and have a ‘day of days’, which later morphed into a ‘week of weeks’.
Mt. Ellie de Beaumont, Mt. Green, Mt. Walter, Hochstetter Dome, Mt. Aylmer, Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Darwin, we were spoiled! Definitely not perfect conditions all around mind you, but surely good enough to check out great lines. The weather in New Zealand can often be ferocious, so we tried to appreciate it as much as we could. ‘We’ll do what we are told,’ Adam would say, referring to the messages the mountains, weather, and conditions expressed, and our corresponding decision making.
We skied more or less every kind of snow condition you can expect in New Zealand: powder, corn, ice, chalk, breakable crust, and rime (and others that need names!). Often routes involved all of the above, keeping us on our toes, engaged and always re-evaluating options. With sunshine and moderate winds though, we had a green light to explore.
To wrap up this leg of our Tasman trip, we rendezvoused with fellow like-minded ski mountaineers Tom Grant and Ross Hewitt (Chamonix skiers). We’d combined forces earlier in the week for a ski of Mt. Cook, and the chemistry was solid, critical for decision making with a large group on a big objective. Together we skied the mellow, rolling 800m down the Tasman to the junction of the Darwin Glacier. Everyone had eyed an aesthetic (possibly un-skied) route on the south face of Mt. Darwin. Ross and I split off for a couloir on nearby Mt. Hamilton, and had an excellent view of the rest of the team laying powder tracks down this most excellent route.
Stay tuned as the WildSnowNZ saga continues..!