South face Mt Aspiring,
I got into mountaineering at a young age of 25…. I still vividly remember looking at a poster from the “The Climber magazine” of the south face of Mount Aspiring and the respective routes running up its steep gnarly looking face. The first proper mountaineering experience was climbing the north east ridge of Footstool. After this experience I was convinced that mountaineering was not for me, it was super scary, cold and uncomfortable…why would anyone do it? The next year I was enrolled at Aoraki Polytechnic with mountain as an elective…who would have thought? So there I was, a student in Timaru dreaming of the south face of Mount Aspiring from the comfort of my uninsulated, mouldy, damp flat wondering what the face would be like, how steep was it really, and would I ever be good enough to climb it.
I have no job, most of the clothes I own have rips in them or have been given to me, I live in my Toyota Corolla station wagon and my sole focus is to get strong for a trip to Patagonia. I had been working for the last three years at Outward Bound where all my interests were put on hold. I am now finished and trying to train hard bouldering, rock climbing, mixed climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.
I think to myself, the weather is looking good, I have a partner, I should try a bigger objective…the south face of Mt Aspiring would be epic. It has been eight years since I was standing in my flat in Timaru looking at that poster on the wall, yeah south face would be super.
Wraps, bars, porridge and dehydrated meals go into my pack. Avalanche gear, snow shoes, all our climbing stuff, along with overnight gear somehow fits and comes to 25-27Kg. We have a nice easy 26km walk with a 1500 meter climb, that we break into two days. I round this snow slope leading away from the crevasses and there it is…in all its glory the mighty south face of Mt Aspiring and we were going to do the line that leads right up the middle, straight up the guts – ‘Mixed Aspirations’.
5.30 am the alarm rings in our luxurious snow cave. Time for action, food, brew, harness up, packs on and off we went. There I was again after another challenge harder than the last. Knowing too well that I would scare myself yet again and fear for my life, one more time.
We cross the Bergschrund, without too much difficulty and fire up pitch 1 on some rotten ice, nothing harder than WI 4 hoping that the conditions will be better the higher we get. Three ice screws are required for the anchor as the ice is not super trustworthy. Pitch 2, the bottom crux looks more and more gnarly the closer I get. A smear of ice over a smooth slab of rock then a move onto an icicle that looked solid from a distance. There I am again wondering how I got myself into this predicament unable to down climb, nowhere to place any form of protection, forced to climb on, higher, steeper. The formation was very strange. It appeared to be two mushrooms of ice about three meters apart that had been filled with powder snow. I am standing on top of one of the mushrooms, trying to get a solid placement with my tools, getting quite pumped as my arm sinks into the vertical powder. I move to the left to see if it is better over there and as I kick my crampon in the whole foothold I am standing on collapses. Now hanging solely on my ice axes, I have to overcome an overhang. The conditions are slightly better with an inch of icy snow over the top of dry unconsolidated powder, a thin crust covering, like climbing on a giant Pavlova. Thump, thump with my ice tools, step, step with my crampons, arms refusing to work as they are so pumped. Fingers slowly opening, losing grip and deciding to not hold the tools. Thump, step, whack…I finally get a good stick and manage to top out onto some more mellow ground. I am breathing heavy, sucking air in like I’m about to run out, sweating extensively and super relieved to have made it through that pitch. “I am safe” I yell to my partner, knowing he is probably just as relieved I made it to the top as I am.
We simul-climb for a while, do a few more pitches of WI 4, then up some more mellow snow that make my calves feel like they were about to explode. It was a bit of a surprise to be leading up the last snow slope to the summit. It felt like we had only done half the climb. I definitely felt a bit mentally drained from the four hundred meters of climbing.
It was the day before my birthday, blue skies, not a breath of wind, perfect conditions. I was flooded with memories of the climbs before, the training and trips that led to the current situation. One more successful climb with thousands of amazing moments, it was crystal clear to me right then. This is why I climb….