Archive for October, 2011

 

I had the pleasure of spending a bit of time with Shane O this past season shredding lines in the New Zealand Clubfields as well deeper in the backcountry.  In the final episode of The Clubbies you get a glimpse into the eyes of a snowboarder who’s seen more terrain in NZ than most see in a life time.

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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….

Burly…

Fox Glacier is a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand nestled between the Tasman Sea and the some of highest alpine peaks of the Southern Alps.  Because the glaciers flow so close to sea level there is supreme access to the alpine terrain, which is just a short and scenic chopper ride away.

While the windy and claggy weather sorted itself out up top we consumed coffees, checked weather charts, fired emails, packed and repacked the bags ensuring nothing would be left behind.  When we got the call that it was on, the pace picked up as all the moving pieces began spinning in sync like chopper blades.  The heli pad was alive with another group weighing baggage already harnessed and booted up – clearly they knew what they were up to.  In bare feet and with gear all over the place, we must have looked like a bit of a junk show, but were soon loaded up into both choppers and hovering above the west coast rain forest ascending into alpine glacial territory.  With a smirk as wide as the circ below, my first chopper ride was just as I had imagined, though when we came into land by Pioneer Hut it became clear the load was too heavy for the wind and flat light lodging my stomach in my throat with each g-force turn.

After a quick re-shuffle of the crew down the glacier we were able to make the drop off with a lighter load at our new home base, Pioneer Hut.  The professionally guided group in front of us roped up on their way from the drop zone to the hut; I took this to mean that the crevasses lurking below the snowy surface may be more menacing than originally anticipated.  After settling in and heating our first brew we headed out on an evening tour to survey the area.  This provided a good chance to get used to the splitboard system and test the snow conditions, which were changing to ice rather quickly.

The first evening was full of banter with the guides, Gary Kuhns and Jim Blythe, both legends in their own respect.  Gary had taught my Avalanche Stage 1 course the year prior and is regarded as one of NZ’s most active ski mountaineers.  Jim’s carved out a niche guiding clients to the most exotic ski destinations in the world, a career most envy though few ever achieve.

The following days were spent touring around the glaciers on hard icy snow.  Andy literally showed us the ropes on glacial hauling techniques, roping up, knots, and best practice travel techniques.  It was instantly clear upon arrival that we were far from help and mistakes could turn into critical problems within seconds.  Having never been on a mission with either Andy or Lachlan also tested our ability to navigate the terrain of each other’s experiences and minds while sliding between burly couloirs and bottomless crevasses.

One of the major reasons I put forth the effort to get to the glacier was to ride the biggest and steepest lines of my season no matter what the conditions were.  I didn’t head into the glacier to put anyone’s safety at risk, including my own, but at the same time I didn’t go there to passively observe what may have been some of the best lines of my year.  This is where I discovered that perhaps we were not all on the same page and called into question my lack of participation in pre-trip objective planning.  Rather than charge off into the unknown, potentially jeopardizing safety and new found friendships, I accepted the wisdom erring on the side of safety with a mellow approach to the terrain on tap, soaking it all in for another time.  Little did I know, I would get more than what I was looking for two days later on a separate trip to a remote and desolate mountain that has probably never been snowboarded with New Zealand’s most experienced snowboard mountaineer, Shane Orchard.  Check back for the story within the week…

Keep an eye out on The Daily Dump Snow Report for more images and video from our trip.  Thanks to Andy and Lach for making the trip possible, and all the good fellas around Wanaka who lent me critical pieces of gear as well.

Rather than stick around for Treble Cone’s closing day festivities, I opted to travel out to the west coast of NZ and take part in a few missions that have been on the cards for a number of years.  The tight team consisted of Aussie Lachlan Humphreys of The Daily Dump Snow Report, Kiwi Andy Lagan who’s been based in Chamonix for the past ten years sharpening his mountaineering and climbing skills, and Finnish Heidi keeping the boys on our best behavior in the bush.  A tight team armed with splitboards and salami, we set off to hit Brewster Hut, a 3 hour / 1,000-meter climb straight up the nor’western side of Haast Pass.

We left at 5:30 with plenty of time as the sun was set to dip into the Pacific at about 8:30.  As with most backcountry kiwi missions, at least one river would have to be forged. The crossing is always frigid but relished as the legs are wrapped in an ice bath, perhaps superfluous prior to but much needed after the climb.

Brewster Hut proved to be quite luxurious.  It packed a baker’s dozen of beds within easy access to some pretty heavy lines, one of which we found out had been on the hit list of one of NZ’s most active ski mountaineers for years.  See if you can spot the couloir…


 Mt Brewster in the Alpine Glow and Ol’ Top Heavy up front

The Monday morning tour was mellow and edged more on the side of recon rather than full-blown mission. What we discovered was a route for relatively easy access to some big lines in the NZ backcountry, which we previously assumed required a helicopter, such as the one we took to the head of Fox Glacier the following day…

Lookin NW out to Brewstah with bur lines off the back.

Lachlan on top of Armstrong

Yes I am riding a 155, yes the stance is wack, but it’s a splitboard and essential for glacial travel! Top Heavy Couloir will be shralped!

I’ve just spent the evening preparing for a glacial expedition into the Southern Alps.  Imagine backpacks, down jackets & sleeping bags, sunscreen, ice axes, split boards, safety equipment, cameras, crampons, wool, blah blah blah scattered around the floor eventually settling into an organisational system consisting of bags within bags inevitably to become a disheveled mess again – ah, the life of stuff…  screw drivers and band aides aside, the mission will be made up of two main portions; the first will require a 1,000 meter climb up to Mt Brewster Hut – base camp for two days and a great place to cut our teeth splitboarding and practicing glacier techniques, and the second half of the trip requires a heli-access drop off / pick up near the top of Fox Glacier.

Although I’ve never been on the glacier I’ve seen it from a number of angles thanks to my good friend Ants who was able to hook me up with the best sky dive I’ve ever done.  So, in preparation for the trip I will share some photos from August 2009 in order to shed some light on where I’ll be for the next few days.  Also check the video from Diaries Down Under illustrating their trip from this time last year.

Take-off

 Hangin in an overloaded plane with two of NZ’s pioneering skydivers.  

 The road into Fox

 A few days away…

Northern faces of Aoraki (Mt Cook)

 

 The Tasman Sea

 I miss my boots

 Looking back

Make sure you jump from a plane before it’s over