New Zealand part TWO
Back in Wanaka after our road trip, while waiting for a good window, we spent time checking emails, washing clothes and getting the gear ready to take the first available heli drop up to the Bevan col. Here in NZ, since the remoteness and the poor roads connections, the use of the helicopter to approach the glaciers and the high mountains is considered pretty normal, and a good valuable hand. Bevan is the col that every mountaineer usually get dropped off to in order to reach the Colin Todd Hut, the base of the Aspiring North/West ridge. Our patience and accuracy on checking the weather forecast was paid in the end, when we landed on the glacier on Wednesday afternoon with a stunning view at 360° around us. The first glimpse at the face was for me crucial. I was wondering on how the snow cover was for the entire month, and finally it was there in front of me. The first though was positive! The face looked white! a first good sign. Not black or blue from ice, but white as snow! The quality of the snow now was a secondary issue. The general coverage of rocks and so on, was looking all right. Not as its best like in the middle of the winter, but totally skiable. I was excited but a bit nervous at the same time, when checking through the binocular lenses the snow looked hard and refrozen from a previous heat of sun like it happened usually in the low altitude in Spring. It could have been edgeable and maybe not as bad, but for sure, we would have the answer only once at the top after have climbed the face itself.
Gherardo decided to join us as well, and come up to the hut for a good company. In the morning he choose to enjoy some easier ski touring around the hut and waited for us down with hot ready lunch. Me and Patrick left before dawn full of positive vibes, and despite I had to turn around after 5 minutes to recollect the axes I forgot in the hut…. all still looked good and under control. The day as promised lit up with incredible colors and not a cloud on the horizon. Temperature stayed quite cold, unfortunately, so didn’t help the snow to melt on the surface. After a couple of hours of pretty easy navigation through few crevasses and debris, we were at the base of the wall.
The snow was still firm and frozen on the surface, but it was still early in the day so we had chances to find it softer by the time we would ski it. On the other hand, the climbing with axes and crampons was excellent and with little effort we covered the three quarter of the face in a short time. At the top of the face lies a band of rocks where an evident couloir on the left pass through forming a icy “goulotte” resulting as a pretty vertical rope pitch of ice climbing. Patrick went up first securing and prepare an anchor for the eventual rappel on the descent. Ice climbing with a full on ski equipment on the back wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done and it required me a good amount of effort, but thankfully was only for a short lenght so I could shoot all my ice climbing skills at once and I went up pretty fast. Up till the ice the snow has been really variable, changing between chalky wind-blown deposits shaped in small waves, to hard irregular refrozen surface, quite limit for our light touring skis to edge properly. The angle though never looked too steep to commit some turns even on hard snow. Above the ice though, the story changed. Here the crust of refrozen snow was considerably thicker and you could tell that even some ray of sun wouldn’t have make much difference during the day and it would have been to icy to ski. The angle here got steeper too, and remarkably more exposed so it would required a even safer snow condition in order to be skied. Quickly after some more crampons steps we were approaching the summit. It was splitter, with not a breath of wind and mild temperature. Totally awesome! Not in a rush we were enjoying the sunshine, that as it is when climbing a West face, we didn’t see until we were 50 meters below the summit.
A good time spent enjoying the view and shooting photos passed by before we took a decision on where to actually ski down. I was still doubting about the skiability about the middle of the face, but what put me most worries was the upper section of the couloir, definitively not skiable, At that point Patrick suggested the final idea to down climb the upper section till the belay, rappel the goulotte and put the skis on top of the face below, hoping for some softer warmed up snow. That was what we did and luckily it revealed itself a good move.
The skiing wasn’t the most epic since the snow was so variable to cut off all the fluidity, but in the end we safely edged many small turns and made a long ski descent! the longest I’ve done so far in New Zealand. The last turns in perfect corn before the hut, were a great satisfaction and a total reward for the long day.
Refueled and tired I went to bed thinking about the epic long day we would have to face the morning after. The result was 9 hours between walking and skiing (30 min max, downhill!) and a sore body. But this is Kiwi style after all!