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NZAC Darrans Winter Meet – Report

In the weeks running up to the meet I had been keeping an eye on the weather, and even in Invercargill you couldn’t help noticing it was cold.
With some precipitation, cold nights and warm days (in the sun), it was shaping up for some good ice climbing. A front came through a couple of days before the meet, and the roadies closed the road Friday afternoon, for a few hours to carry out control work.

I drove down Saturday morning, knowing I was missing a good day, but with no partner lined up It would not have been productive in any case. At Homer hut I was greeted by Shelagh, Jude and Shana, and the smell of fresh baked bread in the wardens quarters. We ate it with home made apricot and vanilla jam. How very civilised! We decided to go for an evening recce up towards Key Summit, to check out ski touring potential for the Livingstone range. Turned out the snow was pretty patchy up there, but we got some fine sunset photo’s of the mountains. So it was back to the hut for more fresh bread and a yarn.

Al and Steve missed the launch of their new guidebook, out on the mountain, climbing their new route The Key, in the McPherson Cirque on Saturday night. Their head torches tiny dots of light on Talbots ladder far above, hardly distinguishable from the stars, apart from the slow but steady downwards movement.

The climbers drifted back from the days adventures, full of stories of fat ice and falling temperatures. The snow seamed stable and I started to get excited! Still without a partner I started making enquiries and quickly found a team, of misfits. The hardcore climbers had all teamed up, and our little band of hopefuls, set forth the next day to climb McPherson, via Talbots ladder. We started too late, and then had to contend with wading through snow all the way to the Homer Saddle. Once at the saddle we roped up, we climbed a few pitches, painfully slowly, with very little gear and then bailed, close to the top off the ladder. Mismatched skills and expectations, made for a day of epic bumbling! Shana’s husband Steve, won husband of the year for bringing her ski’s to the saddle and the rest of us made do with bum sliding. I was the slowest coming down, and sent Peter on ahead so I could enjoy the solitude of the mountains and the stars as I walked down the road back to the hut. Al had made french onion soup and more fresh bread, which I gratefully ate whilst recounting the highs and lows of day.

The following Day Al Walker offered to partner me on Coumshingaun, which I was very keen to do, as I had bailed from the route last winter. We picked up a couple more people, and then changed our plan to climb “Home Turf” at the last minute, a route pioneered by Rauri McFarlane, Al Walker and Jaz Morris the year before. We climbed in 2 teams of 2 with Al and I leading, the trickier sections. This turned out to have a couple of excellent pitches of ice and neve, but the crux gully was full of snow, so we climbed the buttress instead, and then soloed the lower part of Coumshingaun to descend. All in, 4 pitches of highly entertaining climbing! I was a bit gutted about not getting to climb the gully, and about technically still not having climbed a single route all the way to the top here in winter, despite many attempts. Ce La Vie, you need to earn your ticks in these harsh mountains, that’s for sure!

The gnarlies had sent a bevy of hard repeats and new routes, the banter in the hut was in full swing and Ben Dare had cracked open the whisky. His partner Jude treated us all to her divine lemon pie, and all was good in the world.

The next day the weather turned to custard, the mood in the hut was tense. The sound of sharpening tools and moody sullen testosterone filled the air. Temperatures rose, and it rained, everyone feared for the ice.

Most people hunkered down, although Peter Laurenson did manage an ascent of Barrier Knob once the worst of the precipitation had passed. Murmurs of which slopes would be unstable, and where the best ice conditions would be floated around the hut. The roadies popped in for coffee and updated us on the weather conditions and road status. Al has fostered a very mutually beneficial relationship over the years, and this particular man had been a keen ski mountaineer in his younger years, and was interested to hear all about the snow conditions up high. The temperatures were set to fall and the precipitation to stop. Anticipation began to rise again!

We headed out too Cirque creek, as a lot of the lower ice had disappeared. The three and half hour walk in was rewarded by beautiful thick ice, we headed to the lower tear where there are five routes of impeccable quality which have never been named, but get climbed most years, due to their stability. I climbed a fabulous pitch of ice then neve and I belayed off an enormous icicle 45m up and brought up Paula and Al, who was singing ‘barnacle bill’ in fine spirits. Ben Dare and Danny Murphy were climbing an impressive new route across the way from us. Back at the hut we decided to name, the unnamed classics, for the sake of the guidebook. No one tried to claim the lines as this would be ridiculous, as they had been climbed back in the day and many times since. Jude made us all french onion soup, and presented a homemade pavlova, which had been transported all the way from Queenstown.

Saturday brought more soggy weather, we pottered around the hut. The guys had become very house proud, and the hut was spotless, foody smells abounded. We played scrabble and hatched plans for Sunday.

On Sunday Paula McFarlane, Myself and Linkoln Quillem teamed up to climb “The Visionary” on the Homer Tunnel Bluffs, we topped out after swinging leads for 180m of dodgy snow and good neve/ice and then had to climb the saddle for a further 200m in less than ideal conditions. At last! We had topped out on a Darran’s Winter route! As far as we know this was the first repeat, as it was originally climbed at the meet in 2014.

Home, with a tired but warm and fuzzy feeling in my guts, psyched for whatever else winter has to offer.

List of new routes:
The Key (Skelton/Walker) III 4+, 550m The big gully right of Coumshingaun
Ether (Fortune/Dare) III 5+, 220m Diagonal groove left of Stirling Moss
Crystal Ship (Fortune/Dare) III 7, 50m Prominent ice pillar on upper Mcpheron cirque central
Canyonero (Fortune/Measures) I 6, 30m Hard mixed line RHS Tunnel Bluffs
Freycinet (McDowell/Quillem) III 3+ Gully ridge line at the entrance to Cirque Creek

List of repeats:
Stirling Moss (first ascent in approx. 20 years, R Measures), Squealing, Coumshingaun, Gabites/ Rogan, Blurred vision, The visionary, Barrier Knob.
Ski and Snowboard descents from the homer saddle.
Ski traverse of McPhersone/Talbot traverse in 6.5 hours, including 45min lunch stop! (R Measures).

Many Thanks to Al Walker for all his hard work organising this event, it was a real cracker!

Posted: 15/09/15

Posted By: Narina Sutherland