Back to my heartland.
Fiordland remains my favourite place on earth. Conor, Naomi (siblings) and myself spent a disproportionate amount of our childhood playing amongst the mossy boulders and lush alpine beech forest of Homer Hut. 4 days after the Mt Fraser trip and once again, 4 more free days stretched ahead of me. The surf was clean and hollow… and I went for a wave that day as I tried to regain equlibrium after nightshift… but the mountains were under my skin, more than ever before.
Early the next day I was driving West, with several objectives in mind. The snow had retreated a long way, and one by one they were ruled out, until the road started penetrating into the tangled heart of fiordland. There it was, the south Face of Ngatamamoe. I’d glanced it in the rearview mirror years ago, and ever since this magical, spiney face had refused to leave my head, hovering on the edge of my mind.
It was late afternoon buy the time I hit the Earl Mountains track, and I made exactly the same routefinding error myself and mum had made starting the ‘U Pass’ tramp 7 years earlier. Not to worry, and as I waded through a slightly swollen Mistake Creek, Ngatamamoe began to reveal herself. The true story:
I’d expected the exposure from the map; but the face was looking fairly rinsed and icy from recent rains, and the route up and across into the bottom of the face from the climbers left looked dicey. (**in early October, the Darrans are usually stacked with snow…and often very dangerous from an avalanche perspective, even throughout the valley floors… but this was the warmest year on record, with a correspondingly sparse snowpack**)
Early the next morning, it sure was. The first rock step was ok, but I was feeling incredibly daunted but this peak, this whole increible, towering cirque(by the way,’ flat top’ peak sports an amazing, very difficult route of steep ice. Someone should do it – someone else). The snow remained very hard between Ngati’s rock steps, and steeper than it had appeared. access to Ngatamamoe’s South Face is via the splotches of snow through the rocks on extreme right of photo, then an unknown, invisible traverse.
Doubts about the snow conditions, the possibility of traversing into the face, and primal fear, turned me around at this point, whilst there was still time to make it back to biv, and tramp over U pass to try the other striking looking peak of the Area; Triangle. I would snowboard into hut creek from U pass, and check out the hidden crux under Triangle’s beautiful sharp face. Triangle, striking on the left. Ngatamamoe is the next, bulkier pyramid to the right.Christina in background.
The morning drizzle stopped, clouds cleared, and a large weight was lifted from my shoulders. Rock wrens chirruped; now here, now there. Green fronds waved in the wind, sunlight fell across my face. I was, I am, happy with my choice. You are welcome to Ngatamamoe. Maybe I will go back. Someday. Definitely not this year. Not until I feel ready. At the time I said never…but these feelings fade with time, and objectives look more reasonable with every year of experience under the belt.
-face and ramp out to climbers right are obvious. route then came down from col on photo right. down snowgrass and rock shortly to right of caves, then a traverse back to photo leftacross the ribbons of snow back to ascent route(foreground ridge is part of normal ascent route).
6 PM, I’d thoroughly enjoyed my tramp and a wee ride too. Waterfalls to circumnavigate, more wrens, chamois fooling around, oblivious to the visitor… I was excited to see triangle…Then there it was, the view you see above. Triangle’s South Face. I swore savagely to myself. It clearly didn’t go, and after thismorning I wasn’t feeling the love for icy, exposed solo climbs or snowboard descents. The water ice crux was just out of view from the highway. If I had a couple of 60m half ropes… but instead I had just my 30, it would take an age to abolokov my way down that thing in 15m raps. I almost stormed back out the 3 hours to the car and home. In the end though, I’m glad I stayed. spread out my bivvy bag in a clump of beech forest, ate a huge dinner, listened to the keas cry resounding far above. This trip was becoming very contemplative, very special.
The climb was entertaining, a very steep section of near-verticle tussock and soaking grass overcome with crampons and axe. I was able to climb over and behind the ridge you see on climbers left, and followed the normal route (not that it sees too much traffic) on the SW face; gentle cramponing on frozen snowslopes. I smiled; I was stoked it was so solid. I would never be able to ride the hanging line; and instead could just cruise this mellow stuff once it corned up. I went as slow as I could, to minimise time freezing on the summit; the afternoon sun was what I’d need. It was a beautiful dawn. My heart was happy to be alive.
Atop the line…zounds! it appeared to be 10cm of well-settled powder on the South face. I trundled rocks, threw smaller ones, even rapped in and performed some tests. They all confirmed the last thing I wanted…a face in safe condition. I eloped to the summit and enjoyed one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever beheld. The Darrans are another place in October.
Then it was game on. I would love to have gone direct and rapped the ice. it would make a good climb too, if exposed overhead. however, I instead took the ramp heading out to climbers right, on a downward traverse. This thing had none of theat settled pow and was rock solid. this section saw very few turns, and alot of ice axe use. an awkward 10m rap off the side of a small bluff at the far end and through a wee ice gully, board still on, and then I was free to inch off the ramp, and down a steep snow wall to the col East of the peak.
Beautiful corn turns followed. I’d realized getting back over to the ascent route…the only line of weakness through the bluffs…would be difficult. no obvious route existed. I downclimbed one easy angled rock spur, then a bit more slushy riding. To my delight, a route down the steep snowgrass through the main bluff cutting off this side of the basin looked easier from up close up. A scramble down this, across slabs and streams, and then a rising crampon up and over snow gullys , back across far below the ramp I’d ridden. I was happy to rejoin the ascenty route, but tired, and took alot of care on the descent, several raps down the narrow, exposed rock/grass spur at the bottom. No time for a brew, failing light and less than flash battery life in my torch. Slammed my camp into my pack and bolted downriver. Happily I made the end of the flats in the last dregs of light, 8pm ish I believe, and stopped for a delicious brew-up. Then on, a couple hours ecstatic trudge back down valley to the car, enjoying the track, the forest, feeling very much at peace with myself and the world. Made the car at 11pm or so. 18 hour climb; two-three hour walk out. The drive back was hell without coffee or music., I had to keep pulling over to nap, which sometimes stretched to 2 hours until the piercing cold woke me. AS if in a dream, I got home at 6 30am, just enough time to grab breakfast before it was off to a 12 hour shift of manual factory labour amongst the furnaces. Urgh. I got what I wanted though. Contentment. Beauty. Challenge. Peace.