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Trip Report – Single Cone Club Trip

By: Stephen Lau

Source: Southland Section Newsletter (Dec 2017)

It was a crisp and clear winter’s morning as fifteen members from the Southland section assembled at the Remarkables ski field to begin the ascent to the peak of Single Cone. Standing at 2319m it is the highest peak of the Remarkables Range and is one of more accessible peaks in the Queenstown region.

Our group was an eclectic mix, ranging from seasoned hands to neophytes with an equally varied range of fitness and experience levels. Our common goal was to make the summit, enjoy each other’s company and to descend safely. For a third of the group, myself included, it would be our first winter peak and after a quick stop at the base of the ski-field to strap on crampons and to adjust packs we were off.

Walking conditions were good with multiple melt freeze cycles occurring during the week which meant that there was a low chance of avalanche risk. After a short hike we soon reached Lake Alta where our trip leader Matt Humphries stopped to give us a brief on our route options and to check whether anyone fancied a dip in the nearby lake. Not surprisingly there were no takers, with Johnny having neglected to pack his swim-wear and declining the opportunity for a skinny dip.

After this point the terrain started to steepen and the fitter members of the group ploughed ahead to break the trail with the less experienced (and more wily) ones falling in behind like baby ducklings to take advantage of the trail and to lessen the chances of plugging out.

“Plugging out” for those not fortunate enough to experience it involves stepping on what you imagine to be hard packed patch of snow and finding that your leg has created an immediate post-hole with your leg being the post. Progress is made by pulling the half-buried leg straight out of the snow before taking the next step. In bad snow conditions there is no slower or more agonizing way of making forward progress and the only thing keeping you going is the illusion that the difficult stretch is only going to last a short distance and the snow will then miraculously stiffen up around the next bend.

But with the snow conditions being good we did not get to experience any of these joys and before we knew it we had reached the saddle with a stop for a drink, snack and photo opportunities. Due to the size of the group we then split into two teams with approaches to the peak via the north-east and south-east ridge.

Depending on the conditions and the amount of ice and snow on the rock the final approach to the summit can be tricky, but save for a short section on the NE traverse where Andrew set up a rope belay all went smoothly on the approach. The SE group had the more fun and interesting section experimenting with their crampons and ice axes ascending the snow filled couloir and soon there were 15 climbers standing on the peak.

After a short and fun abseil back down the gully we headed back in dribs and drabs down the ski-field to gather back at the cafe for hot coffee and food and to recount our experiences of the day. Looking around the group I imagine there will be many more peaks in the future made, including for those for whom this has been their first. The ski patrol made the positive comment that this was the largest group that they had seen successfully make the summit which is a credit to the members leading our group.

Thanks and appreciation to our two trip leaders Matt Humphries and Andrew McFadzien and the other members who provided assistance and also to the Southland section who provided hireage of the gear. I would encourage members who have not previously participated in club trips in the winter months to take future opportunities to experience a very different environment and technical challenges.

Trip Members: Matt Humphries, Kent Andrews, Andrew McFadzien, Jimmy Finlayson, Justine Guillemenot, Matt Spittle, Stephen Lau, Yvonne Winn, Johnny Russell, Sam Ruddenklau, Erin Noonan, Kate Hoogeveen, Annalise Shariff, Andrea Knowler, Kyle Duckworth.

Posted: 22/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland