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 January 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.
The Rolleston Range is rarely visited by climbing parties. To paraphrase the NZAC Canterbury / Westland guidebook, ‘Most peaks almost never see an ascent, even the more frequented peaks are rarely climbed.’ This knowledge added to the appeal of climbing Turret Peak. It also gave me a much needed break from the ‘100 Great Peaks’ challenge.
Some Christchurch friends, Nina and James and I decided to attempt this peak via the NE ridge (Grade 2-) as a social weekend trip sometime in May. This trip was confirmed for 10/11 May a couple of days prior once sighting the excellent weather forecast. What better way to get to know the last minute and fourth member of the team (Robert) than by spending Friday night on his couch? Over dinner we came up with a plan to make this a loop trip up Boulderstone Stream and down Kakapo Stream with a high camp at the tarns below Turret Peak.
We didn’t expect the route to be technical but decided to each bring a harness, a short rope and a few slings ‘just in case’. I volunteered to bring my 30m 9.1mm joker, but on seeing the sight of it (a few nicks here and there) and the fact it was a bit damp (my car boot has started to leak!) an alternative rope was soon provided! Funny thing was, the rope we ended up taking was over twenty years old! It belonged to James’s dad who possibly didn’t climb much, based on the seemingly excellent condition of his rope! As it turned out we ended up taking this rope ‘for a walk’ so its condition wasn’t put to the test.
Early Saturday morning we drove to the head of Lake Coleridge, passing Darfield and Windwhistle on the way and drove to the start of the Wilberforce Canal. True to the guidebook’s comment we didn’t see any other climbers at the road end. We met some duck shooters instead and they advised us that crossing the Wilberforce further up the valley was possible at that moment. That was great news as the alternative is to take a detour to below where much of the Wilberforce is diverted into the canal on route to Lake Coleridge.
The river is quite braided but one of the braids was quite big. We finally managed to cross near the start of Boulderstone Stream (our attempts lower down were aborted). The main difficulty was the water wasn’t flowing clear (snow melt?) so while it wasn’t actually flowing that high or that deep it still looked intimidating. It was also very cold!
Heading up Boulderstone Stream was straight forward although we encountered a bit of verglas on some of the river rocks higher up the valley.
We crossed onto the ridge north of Boulderstone near pt 1611 and sidled around pt 1892, before heading towards our intended campsite near pt 1731. We ended up camping 200m below this as it looked cold and snowy higher up!
We arrived at our camp easily before dark and had all the modern luxuries – running water, comfy beds and dehy kangaroo meat for dinner!
This was the trip where I finally accepted that it is no longer summer. I resolved that on the next trip I would pack a warm base layer instead of a glacier shirt! Nevertheless, we still got plenty of sleep and the alpine start wasn’t too bad (up at 5:30am).
The actual climb was fairly relaxed. There was a small amount of snow around but it was not well consolidated, rendering our crampons useful only for pack weight training. Possibly the climb is actually better with some snow on it, as some sections of the ridge were a bit chossy. Not too bad by NZ standards though! There were one or two sections where a rope could have been used, but care would have to be taken to ensure that it didn’t dislodge rocks if abseiling.
As they say reaching the summit is only half way and in this case I definitely agree. That problem was not with the descent of Turret Peak itself, it was with our descent of Kakapo Stream. The guide does mention a 500m bush bash and we found this quite slow going. I’d definitely recommend descending this instead of ascending it – or avoiding it all together!
We arrived back at the car just on dark, and checked out the new (for Christchurch) Burger Fuel on the way home. I returned to Wellington on the red-eye flight Monday morning. This was a fun, sociable weekend trip. I recommend it if you want to check out a new area, don’t want an epic challenge and don’t like arriving back at work on Monday feeling totally shattered.
Note: Nina has posted some excellent photos of this trip on the internet. Search <Turret Peak Nina Dickerhof>.