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Trip Report – Christmas Mission up French Ridge

By: Riley Smith

Source: The Otago Climber Newsletter (July 2019)

Eleven years ago, a group of hardy Otago climbers grunted up the Matukituki Valley during a light snow storm after a comfortable Friday night at Aspiring Hut. As they emerged from the bushline, the snow eased and they eventually made it through the low cloud to the brilliant sunshine at French Ridge Hut. This year, for our annual

Mid Winter Christmas we decided to retrace those footsteps of the early pioneers, and enjoy a weekend in the sun with brilliant food and warming drinks.

We began the weekend by leaving the Raspberry Flat carpark as a group of 18, gawking at Sharks Tooth and other clagged in mountains up the valley. Four of the group stopped at Aspiring Hut, so they could do some easier day trips and have a more authentic Christmas around a fire, while the rest carried on up the valley. After having lunch at the base of French Ridge in clouds of sand flies, we headed up the big hill! This year the weather was exceptional, however rather warm. There was patchy snow at the bottom of the valley which turned to slush in the afternoon, but no real frozen ground as you might expect by this time of year.

The climb was good, we all made it to the hut in a few hours, despite one big rip in Alex’s paragliding bag (expertly stitched up by our trip Doctor, Juliette!). By the time we reached the hut, we were definitely ready for a hot drink and a biscuit!

The festivities began with cheese and crackers, (minus the cheese that was forgotten in the fridge at home!) devils on horseback, and a variety of soups. We then began to devour the mains… curries, pasta salad, ravioli, just to name a few. The Christmas spirit was reinforced with a stunning playlist of Christmas music from Spotify, tinsel and fairy lights.

Then it was time for Secret Santa, a must have at Christmas time. And this year, the presents were awesome! Chocolate, Honey, frost scrapers, hand warmers, even rat traps… handy!

Plenty of banter, dad jokes, and climbing stories were shared before pudding; cheesecake, chocolate, and a stunning selection of Russian Fudge and other slices, all washed down with whiskey, rum and red wine. Obviously, we didn’t have a good time.

The next morning, we awoke to a brilliant clear, still day. Alex, who was to paraglide out was stoked! After finishing the leftovers for breakfast, we headed down the hill. Dry snow made the decent fast, until the ice slowed us down. Eventually we made it to the river, where everyone decided to cross instead of using the bridge upstream.

After meeting the others at Aspiring Hut for lunch and exchanging stories, we headed back to the cars where the group was greeted by a layer of frost on the windscreens. The ice scrapers were a great present! We also noted the fact that despite taking off from French Ridge on his paraglider at 2pm, Alex had left the carpark already!

Thanks all for a great weekend!

Posted: 05/09/19

Posted By: Narina Sutherland