This is just one of the stories in ‘Simon’s Trips’, a book honouring the life of NZ mountaineer, Simon Bell.
After his disappearance on Pikirakatahi/Mt Earnslaw in Jan 2015, his parents, Colin and Jeni Bell, compiled the book from Simon’s accounts and photos. Lorraine Johns, Rob Hawes, the late Steve Dowall and other friends also contributed stories of tramping or climbing trips they made with Simon.
‘Simon’s Trips’ was originally a gift to his family and friends but was later made available in return for a donation to the FMC Mountain and Forest Trust. These donations paid the majority of the costs of digitizing FMC’s publication ‘Safety in the Mountains’ (available here as the ‘Manual‘) and establishing the Wilderlife website. Simon’s estate contributed the balance.
Climbing Fyfe’s Gut
Fyfe’s Gut is fore-shortened. The closer you get, the bigger it gets. The guide mentioned you could climb the snow line (left) or in the Gut (right), which is ice. We favoured the ice line. I’m not sure which line was taken on the first ascent of Cook. The guide did however, say to watch for stone fall in the Gut. We felt like we had already gained a lot of height when we reached the ice.
This (above) was pitch one and we thought it would get us half-way up to the saddle. But the ice pitches just kept on coming. We really should have taken a look at our altitude at the start of the ice. I lost count of the number of pitches we did. It was at least 6 full 60m pitches.
The pitching was quite slow going. Rob and Steve climbed as a 2 and did swinging leads. They would leave the ice screws in for Lisa and I to use when we led up. We got into a rhythm. As the sun hit the Sheila Face, we got a few small stones funnelling into the Gut as promised! We were pretty stoked when we did finally get to Green Saddle. And even happier when we saw the way down would be an easy downclimb on snow.
The only thing that made us unhappy was when we got our first view of Tasman. Tasman and Silberhorn looked blue as! We could see why others had a hard time on the Summit Ridge!
The walk down to Plateau Hut was straightforward. Once we got to the lower Linda, we followed some tracks as others had climbed Cook that day.
We read in the hut book of a GT last year that had gone wrong. The expected NW storm came early. The party ended up rapping over the East Face, building a snow cave and waiting out a storm! The following day Rob and I did a half day trip to traverse Anzac Peaks and take in the views of the East Ridge, which also looked blue higher up.
We then spent a further 2 days at Plateau Hut, waiting out a storm, which deposited quite a bit of fresh snow. It was quite frustrating and we weren’t sure what sort of conditions we’d find on Tasman.
Tasman via Syme Ridge
On the afternoon of the 4th day, things had settled down and we made tracks to the base of Syme Ridge, and dug a pit to assess the snow conditions. The route we took is to the climber’s right of Syme Ridge.
You don’t actually get onto the ridge until quite high up. Lower down the ridge is quite rocky and looks awkward. Gaining the ridge was quite hard work due to deep snow. It also got pretty steep higher up before we reached the ridge. The sun hit as we gained the ridge. Once gained, Syme Ridge is actually pretty chilled out.
The higher up the ridge, the more chilled out it gets. The only difficulty in getting to the North Shoulder is the schrund. We managed to climb up this OK, but Lisa was cursing us with our long legs! Once on the North Shoulder, we walked across to to check out the Summit Ridge. We were hoping that the new snow had bonded to it and that it was no longer blue! We were in luck! The snow appeared to be well bonded to the ridge.
The others dropped their packs here, although I kept mine as it seemed the easiest way to carry snow stakes. I got to lead the two pitches which was great fun! I managed to use snow stakes as anchors. The other team put in an intermediate stake as well, to stop the rope getting snagged in sastrugi. The last part was pretty straightforward so we took off the rope, cruised to the summit and enjoyed the views!
I think the view from Tasman is awesome! We were all pretty stoked to make it here – particularly as we hadn’t made the GT and as we knew that even one week ago, the conditions would have made the Summit Ridge very difficult. Since I was first up and last down, I got to spend about 1 hour on the summit which was great!
The descent via the North Shoulder to Engineer Col and over Lendenfeld Peak was straightforward. I managed to send a text message from Tasman. On our way down, Steve managed to call his wife from the summit of Lendenfeld. She has great news for him – he’d been offered the job he’d been applying for. It started snowing and turned to a white-out at Pioneer Pass and we ended up using a GPS to navigate to Pioneer Hut. In the fading light and fog we saw something strange near Pioneer Hut and joked about it being a plane crash.
Helicopters and hut radios
The following morning we awoke to the sound of helicopters. We were beginning to think that there might be some truth in the joke we had last night about seeing a crashed plane. There was also a bag of broken eggs in the hut which was strange. We saw the remains of a crashed chopper being flown out by other choppers! It turned out there had been a crash. This has been kept very quiet in the media – hardly anyone at Fox knew anything about it. We got the full story when a guide and 3 clients flew in for an ice climbing course. It turns out they were the ones in the chopper crash – which was tipped over when a skid got caught in the snow during landing! Very lucky that everyone was OK.
The other interesting thing was that there was no radio at Pioneer Hut. It had been taken out by lightning a couple of weeks earlier, but DOC in Mt Cook hadn’t mentioned this, even when we said we were heading over to the West Coast. I don’t have any pictures of the crashed chopper, but the guide did show us a video of the wreckage.
The following day, Rob, Steve and I headed up to climb Haast Peak. Lisa had an injury and hadn’t been sleeping well in the huts and decided to fly out – using the guide’s sat phone to call the chopper.
I haven’t got too much time to go into the climb of Haast High Peak but it was really enjoyable. We had to climb a steep ice gully for half a pitch, then cruised up a couloir and up onto the Divide Peak. It was then a couple of full 60m pitches and some soloing along the ridge to the High Peak. The ridge travel was pretty mixed and good fun!
From Haast High Peak we traversed to the col between Middle and High Peak. It started snowing and got a bit miserable – it was hard to know just how the day would turn out without a proper weather forecast.
The next day we attempted Barnicoat but got shutdown when it started snowing at the base of the route. Then we waited out a storm, which deposited quite a bit of snow, for two days.
By this point in the trip we were running short on lunch food. We had taken to cooking pasta the night before and having it cold for lunch. To make it nicer, we added soup mix to it. Back at the hut we had some Weetbix with butter and salami as a pre-dinner snack!
It was taking considerable time for the avalanche risk to drop so we decided to walk out. The walk out was really enjoyable and pretty straightforward. I’d do it again in these conditions for sure! It was about 8 hours from Pioneer Hut to Fox Glacier – faster and easier than walking out from Plateau Hut. These are some of the pictures on the walk-out.
Thanks for listening!! I hope this presentation has been good motivation to get out into the hills and have some adventures!