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New Zealand Alpine Climbing 2004 - Part 2

jono
3/12/2004
12:37:54 PM
It was no alpine start by any stretch of the imagination. As always, I awoke to the alarm of a full bladder. It was 5:40am. The weather was as good as we could hope for in lieu of the approaching storm. I brewed up another batch of suspect coffee and forced myself to eat a handful of oats disguised in an assortment of dried fruits. I knew this was likely to by my only source of energy for the day but that didn’t seem to register with my appetite. We spoke little that morning and made no conscious effort to awake from the warmth of our lingering slumber. It wasn’t long before this finally wore off and we set about the familiar motions of gearing up for another alpine climb. We left Gardiner Hut some time after 6am and marched unroped through the maze of crevasses towards the south face of Mt Cook. Our plan was to climb anything short and technical. We didn’t want an epic.

By the time we reached our cache of gear at the top of the rock buttress we had already made a mental note of almost every possible route through the rock and ice. But for some reason I suggested we start up the prominent ice gully that traverses up and right across the exposed mountain face. The route is called “Wet Dreams” and if things went well we could traverse onto “White Dreams” higher up. The proposed link up has been circling around in my head for the last year. In reality, I guess the decision was a subconscious one. I reasoned to Neil that if we needed to bail we could simply traverse off to the left at almost any point and scramble through mixed terrain to the West ridge. So we continued on our silent march consumed in our own thoughts. At this stage, all I could really think about was when and where my bowels would finally erupt. It felt like only a matter of time. Finally, after more than two hours of side stepping and front pointing, we reached the start of the climb. My heart tried desperately to pound a hole through from my chest and my thirst was murderous but, in the true spirit of alpine climbing, we pushed on. The dehydration induced constipation helped greatly.

From the base of the gully the climbing did not look intimidating. With an ice tool in each hand we continued to climb unroped before we reached a small steep couloir and switched to simul climbing. Neil set up anchor below a small rock wall and I lead through for the first pitch. We felt that we were already making rapid progress. I stuffed around with trying to place some gear to protect the belay before I came across a dodgy piton and a wire fixed in ice that would save all the hassle. Some delicate moves were required to negotiate the rock wall that was only made possible by a slither of ice. With my crampons scraping at the rock and my tools in ice that threatened to peel off I could feel my focus turning to fear but I managed to keep it together. I set up a good rock anchor and signalled to Neil on the 2-way. We continued simul climbing to the obvious rock buttress that intersects the gully. At this point we realised that our perception of scale had been deceived. What looked like a small rock obstacle from the ground turned out to be an impassable overhanging cliff. In good conditions I imagine that a curtain of water ice would form to allow this next section to be passed. Our only option now was to traverse the rock buttress to the right and join up with “White Dreams”. Neil set up an anchor that I did not want to test and went straight to work at the challenge. It was painstakingly slow climbing owing to the difficulty in protecting the moves and I stood there constantly checking my watch and taking a few digital memories of the surrounds. It was a relatively clear day and I could almost see the township of Twizel in the distance. A scenic flights helicopter passed within a few hundred metres of our stance. What a sight it would have been to see two climbers delicately perched there on the mountain face. I would look back and analyse Neil’s precarious stance only a few metres away. The crampon on his right foot was skating on a slab of featureless rock with only one front point of the crampon on his left foot swivelling dangerously on a small edge. With his gloved hand jammed in a crack he balanced in this position while fiddling in a quad cam. It took probably 30min to traverse 10m.

Time was slowly escaping us but I felt that we would soon be climbing on easier ground.
We simul climbed to the next obstacle and I set up another belay after failing to climb through the unconsolidated snow in the obvious corner. Neil wasted no time in taking lead and chose to attack the completely vertical section of rock and ice directly above the belay. I watched in horror and amazement as Neil pulled on gear placed in shards of rock that appeared only to be held together by a thin veneer of slowly melting ice. I was even more alarmed by the fact that Neil placed so much trust in my rather dubious anchor. However, it is testimony to Neil’s superior ability on rock that he was able to negotiate this obstacle without too much hassle. This was just as well because we had already realised that there was no escape from this climb. Not without an epic. Ahead of this we could see the towering seracs and the ice wall to the left that the guidebook refers to as the crux of the climb. I didn’t believe the guidebook. As far as I was concerned we had done the most technical pitches of the climb.

As we simul climbed towards the ice wall I felt confident that we would quickly pass this section and be back at the hut for the 7pm weather report. It was nearing 3pm now. I chose the easiest path through the rock and ice that would lead onto the ice wall. I thought about setting up an anchor and pitching this last section but I didn’t want to waste any more time so I placed the kind of wire that would protect my psyche better than it would protect a fall and moved on. I battled through a surprisingly thin corner of ice where I prayed for a good rock edge so that I could use my legs to better effect but I never found one. I reached a stance on the steep ice and tried to put in a screw but it wouldn’t bite. At this point the ice wall had steepened to near vertical and I was under attack from the relentless down pour of spindrift. It was becoming really difficult to see. At the same time the tool placements became a desperate bash in ice that shattered into dinner plates. The psychological wire 15m below didn’t help much and I knew I’d be f---ed if I suddenly got pumped. I toped out on the ice wall only to be battered by the high winds of an approaching storm. Every screw was stuffed full of ice and refused to bite. In desperation I hammered the screws in part way and they were able to give purchase after a few turns. I gave the signal to Neil on the 2-way and I wondered what he thought he was in for. I told him not to fall.

When Neil arrived at the belay things started to get serious. Strong gusts of wind pushed us around and the spindrift sand blasted our faces. A thin layer of ice covered our clothes and our gear. What should have been easy plodding up a moderate icy slope became a slow crawl in battling winds. I knew the West Ridge and our descent into the North West couloir was still some time away and it was completely disheartening to have to continue to climb up into the wind. I watched as chunks of snow flew across the slope and smashed into Neil. Every now and then the spindrift would create a transient white out and I would lose sight of Neil. After an hour or more of this we arrived at the ridge at 3200m above sea level. Peering over the other side we were confronted by a jagged cliff and a wind that smashed into our faces at gale force. I mentioned to Neil that it was 6pm and that we were actually doing well. Neil didn’t agree with me at all. I was thankful that we could actually see the descent slopes of the North West couloir and that the sun was still shining. So with frozen gloves Neil tried to place a sling over a rock and prepare the abseil. The wind continually ripped the sling off the rock and we were forced to fix it in place with a large wire. At this point Neil decided that we would leave the rope behind and abseil the entire 50m length of the rope. With some luck the abseil landed us two metres above a snow slope that we gained by swinging right to a remnant of ice. I couldn’t have felt happier at that moment. The wind at this level was nothing more than a strong breeze and the sun was still shining. We felt very fortunate. The melting snow slopes provided and easy descent that we could largely walk down and we were back at the hut by 9pm. That night the storm came in bringing with it more than 24 hours of torrential wind and rain. I doubt we would have been very happy if we were stuck out there in those conditions. I was almost going to swear this climb would be my last but I’m glad I never did. Neil and I have shared a number of similar experiences together but this time we avoided the epic.

Neil and I have tentatively assigned the link up between Wet Dreams and White Dreams a grade 5 and given it two thumbs up. The grading is based on the fact that the link up climbs through the crux of White Dreams that is given the same grading. However, we have not climbed at that grade before and possibly if conditions are better it might be easier. The only reference you’ll find in relation to this climb on the internet is from some unknown climber on some unknown forum board who voted White Dreams his all time favourite climb. However, the start of White Dreams climbs up an expansive icy slope and does not appear to be as interesting as the link up. For anyone wanting to climb something a bit more technical then you should strongly consider this link up. The greatest appeal is that it is a comparatively short climb that gains less than 1000m of vertical height so it doesn’t require a true alpine start. The descent is also relatively simple and may only require one 50m abseil. It is also really bloody close to Gardiner Hut. There’s a muck load of you chockstonians climbing in the New Zealand alps this summer so here’s something to consider if you’re going up the Hooker…and I’m not talking about the girls on Manchester Rd.

Jono


nmonteith
3/12/2004
12:59:40 PM
I was shit scared the whole way up this sucker. Jono's inspirational (suicidal?) lead of the crux ice pitch was most alarming. His radio message of "whatever you do, don't fall off Neil" when I had to second it was not fun. A great route.

Richard
3/12/2004
1:05:41 PM
Awesome stuff..guys

>>The route is called “Wet Dreams” and if things went well we could traverse onto “White Dreams” higher up.

Are these near the routes Gren Hinton - if I have spelt that correct - soloed a few years ago?

Cheers

neats
3/12/2004
1:37:30 PM
awesome stuff, very well written too Jono!

nmonteith
3/12/2004
1:53:56 PM
Gren has soloed several routes on the south face of Mt Hicks which is about 5km from White Dreams - which is on the south face of Mt Cook (Lower Summit)

jono
3/12/2004
2:37:42 PM
According to the intentions book Gren soloed the Slovenian route on the Sth face of Mt Cook a few hundred metres to the right of our link up and which climbs a steep ridge right through the seracs. But you might wanna confirm where that route goes with the guide book because i think it might be on the lower South face...i can't remember.
James
3/12/2004
9:21:43 PM
from memory, the Slovenien route goes direct up the lower steepness above the Noeline Galcier, across the shelf that White Dreams follows in its lower part, & it then continues up a pretty direct route up above the shelf through higher seracs.

there used to be a section of rope in Empress Hut that Gren Hinton left there after trashing it falling off one of the initial pitches of the Yankee Kiwi Couloir on the Sth Face of Mt Hicks... the hut book had some comments regarding falling 7m from 3m above the belay (whilst rope soling).
maxdacat
3/12/2004
11:48:55 PM
so there's a 50m rope still up there?

nmonteith
6/12/2004
9:37:18 AM
I am sure it is wrapped around the rocks. We didn't fix it to the ground or anything. We let it go and it shot up into the sky and out of sight.
julian.A
6/12/2004
11:08:40 AM
What's it like getting up to Gardiner at the moment, - any need to go up/down pudding rock. ?

Is Crusty's big synthetic sleeping bag still in Empress ?.

Sound's like you guys had some nice days out.

nmonteith
6/12/2004
11:23:32 AM
The icefall is pretty cut up and required two ice axe and lots of dodgy snow bridges - the wires on pudding rock were covered in snow. the best access by far was via the snow choked waterfall gully right of Pudding rock. Very easy.

Phil Box
6/12/2004
6:38:29 PM
If I was there with you guys all I could say is "I want my mummy".

Dicksonia
17/08/2013
1:30:14 PM
I did the Wet Dream/White Dream variation in March 1990 with a Slovenian.
It's a good safe line to do when the ice on White Dreams is too thin. In fact there was ice falling down White Dreams but we were happy climbing the mixed/rock ramp to the left.
Traversing across into the top of White Dreams was a bit awkward, there was some steep rock to negotiate. Once here we climbed the ice cliff direct, because the normal line that bypasses it immediately on the left had melted out. My partner led it with a 5.5mm spectra rope. it was 20m of 80degree slushy snow ice.

I agree that this climb combination a straight grade 5, it can be done at anytime of the year so deserves to get more ascents.

If you do Wet Dreams and avoid the White dreams finish then it would be quicker and easier, and not that all that steep.

There are 13 messages in this topic.

 

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