Upon departing Fox Glacier, I put a phone call into Kiwi snowboard legend, Shane Orchard to see what he was up to for the weekend. As I expected, Shane was departing on a mission Sunday morning to a mountain in Lewis Pass that potentially had never been snowboarded before. Andy and I jumped at the prospect and after dropping Lachlan off at the airport, we hunted out the best late night car bivy location in the area. The following day was spent crushing coffees, newspapers, earthquakes and pad thai, but by 5 we were soon on our way out into the middle of nowhere. Not only did we spend over two hours on dirt roads, but 2/3 into the trip we had to unlock a gate with a secret password to access the wilderness area! Only NZ…
A late night arrival limited our view of the peak, but with an early start planned and clear skies in the forecast, I knew it wasn’t mandatory. We cheffed up a gourmet dinner of avocado and baked beans and I pitched my trusty cocoon in the background.
The 5 AM start came early, especially after only 5 hrs sleep and not more the night before, but the ice cold streams woke me right up. When we entered the main drainage and Mount Una came into view, I was stunned. I knew I was in for something burly, but Una just looked scary.
Two hours of stream navigation, bush bashin’ and rock hoppin’ had us at the snow line just as the sun met us for the day. Avalanches had smeared the slope with class 3+ debris. Since major slide paths were the only way up, we were happy to see they had all been cleared out.
The climb was steep and provided a good chance to break in my crampons and ice axe I had brought down from home…This couloir was certainly a no fall zone, but just a warm up for the summit ridge…
After topping out of the main couloir at around 1:30, three of us decided to make a bid for the peak as seen above. This required dropping into a back bowl and climbing about 400 meters from the north west. As we approached the final 100 meters, it was clear there would be an exposed crux move that would require solid foot placements and a bit of agility. Following the crux the last 40 meters topped out with critical exposure on both sides. What I thought was a no fall zone earlier was nothing compared to the summit ridge. It was perhaps the burliest ridge I’ve ever stood upon and mistakes would have had severe consequences especially on the icy slopes.
Looking South after the final climb to the summit (You don’t want to see the front face)!
Shane proved his navigation skills in this hairy situation, suggesting we drop into the next back bowl-hike out-drop into another backbowl-hike out and then get back onto the front face…This sounded like a committing and lengthy plan, but negotiating any more of the knife edge ridge without ropes was not really in any of our comfort zones. We dropped into one of the nicest lines I’ve ridden this season, a south facing couloir spilling into a huge bowl. I was stoked to ride it first, especially considering the fact that I was perhaps the first person to ever snowboard that line!
Shane O doing what he does best – exploratory snowboarding
The hikes out proved demanding and tested our navigation skills due to unrideable terrain and a setting sun. Fortunately, we dropped into the front face with a bit of light and made it to the start of the river around 7 PM. With an hours hike out, we made it back to camp by dark, finishing a 15 hour circuit. The rest of the team was stoked to see us before sun down and we quickly broke camp and made the journey back down the road. Andy, who suffered a thumb dislocation and I decided to drive as far as we could into the night, but by 3 AM, we pulled over for some shut eye. My bivy under the truck proved to be warm and dry!
Livin under a van down by the river.
Thanks to the crew for the inviting me on the trip and please check out more of Joe Harrison’s photos here. During my week of recovery, I spent some time looking into Mt Una and discovered this historical aerial photo online….