A traverse of Mount Hopeless
July 26-29 2013
This is an account of a winter traverse of Mt Hopeless, Nelson Lakes National Park, via the couloir route and SW ridge. The trip was completed by Sean Buchanan and Piers Harris during a 3-day spell of stunning weather.
You can only climb Mt Taranaki so many times per year. This winter I got my East Ridge fix in early and started looking for summits further afield. Piers suggested the couloir route on Mt Hopeless, Nelson Lakes National Park. By all accounts a ‘classic’ route on a ‘mountaineers’ mountain in a part of the country I’d been meaning to explore for some time. So it was with considerable excitement we boarded the Arahura for the Friday evening sailing on the 26th of July.
We first caught sight of the couloir late on Saturday evening as we neared Cupola hut. I said it looked efficient. Piers said it looked bloody steep. We spent a comfortable night beside the fire at Cupola Hut resolving semantics.
We will pretend that NOT leaving the hut before first light was deliberate. The stony traverse above the tree line to the southeast toe of Mt Hopeless would have been much harder in the dark. We followed our noses and made quick progress. The wicked southerly storms which had lashed the Kaikouras and Wellington seemed to have largely spared NLNP and we found ourselves ascending tussock slopes to get onto the snow.
There is a 2km traverse across the lower snow slopes of the SE face to get to the base of the couloir. We ended up 100m high and bluffed. Expletives et cetera but a short reverse and descent had us on track again.
The base section of the couloir proved innocuous and we made quick progress kicking steps in firm snow. Unfairly I thought, the rest of the park was bathed in sunshine. I joined some dots in my mind and lamented that snowy couloirs were never likely to be sunny aspects.
The top of the couloir narrows and steepens and we tied into the rope. I led the first pitch through a section not more than a few metres wide. The rope ran out 10m too soon and I belayed Piers up and through from a cold corner. I shivered and tried to stop the spindrift blowing down my neck as Piers cruised through the section above. This turned out to be the crux of the couloir and we moved quickly, unroped above this.
We sat in the sun on the summit ridge and the grand old hour of 2pm. There was too much unfamiliar ground ahead and too few hours of daylight remaining to relax. I let my bones warm and stuffed my face with party mix lollies.
A short delicate section of ridge travel brought us to the summit. Here is a photo of Piers a few steps below the top. Now a nice easy grade 1 walk off right?
Grade 1 descent routes in Nelson Lakes NP are gaining the reputation of being arduous and character-forming (see S. Hutchison and S. Hutson - Mt Cupola, Winter 2009). The SW ridge of Mt Hopeless was no exception. The ridge steepened as it rolled off from the summit. We skirted blocks on the sheer Eastern side and down climbed short icy shoots.
The ridge ahead was broken by a 50m near vertical step. We rappelled off a snow anchor. Piers went first and found a block to sling halfway down the step for the next anchor. A second rap, making use of all of the ropes stretch, got us to the base of step. We had hoped the ridge travel would be straightforward now. It wasn’t. After a few easy metres we were scratching our heads and rigging another abseil. Progress remained slow.
By now the day was late, we were still very high and this sort of route finding would be impossible in the dark. We dropped off the SW ridge onto the eastern slopes at the first available opportunity. We down climbed 400m of snow of moderate steepness and found our morning tracks in the last light of the day.
I don’t think navigation is either of our specialities. We resisted apparent shortcuts and reversed our morning path nearly exactly. When the snow ran out and our footprints disappeared, desperate to stay on track, we checked the GPS every 100m.
We staggered exhausted into Cupola Hut at about 8pm. With a final burst of energy I chopped enough wood to keep us cosy through the night. Piers tended the blaze and put dinner on.
- Party members
- Sean Buchanan (scribe) and Piers Harris