The Corner Couloir
A north westerly howled down the desolate valley. The dust whipped up stung the eyes. If it wasn’t for a jumble of mishmash baches and white caps boiling across an intensely blue Palliser Bay you would have been hard pressed not to confuse this with the Rongbuk Glacier - base camp for the northern approach to Everest.
We had an equally ambitious goal today - Matthews via Corner Creek. A 941 meter climb in four kilometers. Optimistically Colin reckoned Gordon McKenzie had done it back in some dim dark pre GPS age.
Much like a glacier, Corner Creek is an endless surge of shingle making its way to the sea. Sharp chunks of angular greywacke that move under the boot requires relentless concentration. Despite this, progress was good and our party of nine reached the 400m contour in time for morning tea. Fortuitously, a patch of scrub in the stream bed provided welcome shade.
From there the creek steepened markedly, the valley walls closed in and the water course shrank to a trickle. At the 600m mark it forked one last time. To the left, the last dregs of Corner Creek dribbled over an unclimbable waterfall hidden in an impenetrable slot. To the right, a dry log choked couloir reached to the wind swept north-east ridge.
Gerald wasn’t to be deterred, he sidled across the face running up to the left of the slot, cutting steps as he went. A few of us followed his courageous climb and with the waterfall behind, the way to the summit now looked doable.
Alas, down below the sherpas had other ideas. An Everest scale mutiny was unfolding. Without a fixed rope in place they hollered up their refusal to entertain such a perilous traverse. Retreat and negotiation were called for.
A period of detente ensued. Following which the party headed gingerly up the couloir, clinging to the tangle of fallen trees in lieu of a rope, crampons or ice axe. In all honesty it wasn’t much of an improvement over Gerald’s traverse and an awful lot steeper.
Eventually the loose shingle gave way to grabable grasses and the inevitable leatherwood before finally we crested the ridge. It was a surprise and relief to find a marked track leading the rest of the way to the summit and a well earned lunch.
With the wind now threatening gale force, the planned descent via North Saddle held no appetite and we headed south.
By the time we got to the exposed ridge above the South Col the wind had freshened substantially. Several of the sherpas sensibly optioning to keep four points of contact at all times during the perilous descent. Then it was into the surreal gravel wasteland that is the wide open Mukamuka valley - filled with more ballast than Kiwi Rail will ever need.
A 40 minute coast walk and we were back to the cars at Corner Creek, eight hours after setting out.
Video at https://vimeo.com/315585064(approve sites)
- Party members
- Colin Cook (leader), Gerald Leather, Tricia French, Jenny Mason, Glynn Woodbury, Marilyn Richards, David McNabb, John Dement, Paul McCredie (scribe)