Club trip to Pioneer Hut, Westland National Park
Day 1 (3 Dec) Saturday We first met at NZAC hut in Fox Glacier township. Rob, Mark, Michael and myself had came over from Wellington on the ferry on Friday night and spent the night in Murchison, while Lisa and Tony had both independently made their way to the West Coast. Our plan, to fly in straight away, was sidelined by the ominous clag which had started to gather around the Fox glacier. The first helicopter trip made it half way up the glacier before turning back. Grounded! My mind returned to the long breakfast we had in Greymouth and I wonder if this stopped us from making it to Pioneer Hut today. We spent the day lounging around in the NZAC hut.
Day 2 Sunday We fly in and make tracks to the base of Haidinger. Forecast for the week is looking pretty good.
Day 3 Monday We all climbed Haidinger via the west ridge (grade 3). Things went smoothly on the way up. From hut to summit in just over 4 hours, despite poor visibility and covering steep and exposed ground. We took one pitch to get up the final snow/ice gully and had a bite to eat on the summit.
The fun began when we rapped off. We got the double ropes stuck. I climbed up to sort them but when I rapped down they were stuck again! Rob climbed up again and changed anchor. The lesson here being that we had used existing slings, which, while looking to be in great condition, were too tight and wouldn't let the rope be pulled through at all. In the meantime, the others were standing around on steep ground in the shade getting cold!
After this, the ground that we had more or less happily climbed up looked very steep and we did some further raps, with the more confident members taking the snow stakes out and down climbing. The terrain eased off eventually and after a lot of down climbing we arrived at the base of the mountain in time for a late lunch and a easy walk back to Pioneer Hut.
Day 4 Tuesday The weather looked average due to the westerly system of high winds. The others eventually decided on a half-day trip to Halcombe (North Couloir, 3-), which should be reasonably sheltered. I decided, based on the weather, they wouldn't make it and stayed in the hut. To my dismay they returned several hours later having succeeded (although they didn't quite top out proper due to being blasted by high winds when they hit the summit ridge.)
Day 5 Wednesday was also a bad weather day and I wished I'd ventured out to climb Halcombe with the others on Tuesday!
Day 6 Thursday Glacier Peak (grade 2+) looked very steep when we approached it in the dawn. Rob assured us that it would look less steep once we got closer. Fortunately, he was right and we had no real issues climbing to the summit. The terrain didn't require pitching and the crevasses were huge but easy to avoid. Douglas looked quite imposing from Glacier Peak, and we were only climbing the 'descent route'! (still a Grade 3-!). The only serious obstacle was a 30m rock step, which we pitched. The snow ridge after this was straightforward but exposed. On the summit we stuck our head down to look at the South Face in horror. (I was told at the hut that the grade 5 ice routes were in great condition!)
Day 7 Friday was only ever meant to be a half-day. Rob, Lisa and myself headed off to 'have a play' on Haast with the vague idea of getting to West Peak (3065m). The others decided to spend Friday resting in preparation for an ascent of Tasman the following day. We were at the start of our chosen route (Route 14.53, grade 3) just on daybreak. The climb is up a steep snow couloir which later links into the West Ridge proper and the fun rock section begins. The ridge was mostly rock scrambling although we did two shortish pitches to get up a slab and, later, a difficult one move wonder. We found a flat section maybe 100 m from West Peak, had lunch and decided to call it a day. As we hadn't topped out on West Peak (and the common descent route), we rapped down part of the route then rapped off the west of the mountain onto steep snow. We eventually arrived back at the hut around 6pm (after 12 hours on the go). So, yes Rob, technically a half-day still! Not quite a success summit-wise but a great day out nevertheless and we felt we had completed the crux of the climb. (Only a complete traverse of Haast would confirm this – anyone keen next year?)
Day 8 (10 Dec) Saturday This was it! Last climbing day and we left Tasman till the end. Owing to the 'half-day' Haast experience, a late-ish dinner and our early start (midnight) I ended up with a total of 2 hours 'bed time' before getting ready for the super summit.
We had heard the conditions on Tasman were not great due to a huge chunk of the north shoulder of Tasman having fallen out a few weeks prior, leaving behind rock and a steep ice cliff. We had also seen a party successfully climb Tasman the day before, but still being high on Lendenfield around 8pm. The freezing level was above 3000m. We didn't let any of this worry us, and headed off in the slush towards Haast corner at a cracking pace.
We successfully climbed Lendenfield (grade 2) and headed down to Engineer Col to inspect the North Shoulder. It was barely light, but already the shoulder looked imposing. We decided to wait 15 minutes until it was lighter to get a better look. We were still not too happy with what we saw and after a vote (with only 3 in favour of continuing) we made a relaxed retreat and snapped some amazing pictures of the dawn.
Back at Marcel Col we contemplated climbing to the high peak of Haast (only 150m vertical to the summit) but decided to cut our losses and headed back.
In hindsight, the decision to turn around from Tasman was the right one. During the descent we bumped into the party who had climbed Tasman the day before and tented below Engineer Col. They had run into problems with the high freezing level and had to pitch most of the way down Tasman, despite having climbed up most of it solo in the morning.
We returned to Pioneer Hut around 8am, flew out just after 10am, had a shower courtesy of NZAC hut in Fox, drove to Picton, caught a late ferry and were back in Wellington by 1:30am! While lying in bed, I tried to imagine what would have happened if we had decided to carry on. Would we still be on the mountain now, at 1:30am? Given the progress of the other party, almost certainly! I was happy to lie in my bed in Wellington and recall the awesome climbing week, without having a final epic – save that for next time!
Thanks so much for organising the trip Rob. Looking forward to the GTTT trip this year!
- Party members
- NZAC: Michael Archer, Tony Ruzek, Lisa Wynne, Mark Yeo; NZAC and TTC: Simon Bell (scribe), Rob Hawes (leader).