I remembered vividly the sleepless nights I had in Plateau hut at the base of Mt Cook last year, also in November, the wind was shaking the hut so violently the first thing I did next morning was to climb underneath the hut to make sure the cables holding the hut were still in place, as the hut is perched precariously on the edge of the glacier. The weather didn’t clear up through the week and I was glad to be able to get out before it turned really nasty.
It seemed this year I was going to follow the same destiny again, every day I developed a routine of walking to the Hermitage hotel, ordering a coffee and a cake, then staring aimless into the gloomy hooker valley, with my thoughts wandering away like the clouds in the valley, drifted randomly and swiftly across the south face of Cook… On Sunday I met fellow WTMC members Sharron, David, Mike and Fraser coming out of Murchison hut. They certainly had more exercise than I did but same weather prevented them from a more serious climb. I left Mt Cook village half dismayed half relieved that I could at least leave that pointy peak for another year.
Luckily this year my friend Bruno in Wanaka showed a bit of sympathy and agreed to be my climbing partner for my second week of holiday. A former Wellingtonian, Bruno has very impressive climbing records, including a recent ascent of east ridge of Mt cook. Bruno suggested south west ridge of Aspiring, a classic route as well as the first ascent route. We left Wanaka on the early Tuesday morning. Our plan was simple: Walking in that morning and camp on the Bonar glacier, climb it next day and out by following day. Being almost dormant for last few years I found myself constantly staring into Bruno’s diminishing figure in dismay.
The Weather was just perfect that night, we were the only party camped out on the glacier, and both of us managed to get some reasonable sleep after a tiring day. At 4:00 AM we started walking, the moon was shining brightly and Bruno switched his light off, the only sound was our crampons falling on to the firm snow, it was in perfect condition and we had no problem to navigate to the base of s/w ridge. The climb was quite straightforward and we gained height quickly, stopping occasionally to admire the early morning sun casting a perfect pyramid shadow of Aspiring into the distant cloud. At the couloir we started to pitch, the ice was bit rotten but the climb itself was not difficult. We reached the summit at 9:30 AM, about the same time I would normally have my first cup coffee in the office. We ran into two Russian climbers at the top so few handshakes and photo sessions as usual. Our descent route was via the North ridge and the Ramp, which is the common ascent route. The Ramp is infamous for its fatalities and I would hate to come down on it in soft snow, which it would be later in the day. We abseiled the last section of the Ramp as the snow was replaced by loose rocks. Few hours later we were in the good hand of Jo the French ridge hut warden. Listening to the amusing story of a German girl who had been told by an unobservant Doc staff member that the track from the base of the mountain to French ridge hut is quite easy, which took her good 7 hours.
I treasure the experience to be with the Alps again, something I really missed in the past few years: To see the darkness of the night, to listen to the silence of the mountains, and to appreciate the life in this lifeless landscape.