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.

We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Simon’s Trips here on Wilderlife. If you would like the complete PDF, Simon’s Trips may be downloaded here, and a donation made here.

November 2012: Lorraine and Simon join Rob Hawes’s club trip to climb Mt Aspiring. Others in the party include Richard Davison, Steve Dowall, Stu Hutson, Nina Sawicki (‘Teapot’) and Lisa Wynne. Stu wrote this account for The Tararua Tramper (Vol. 84, No. 1), which includes an account from Nina’s NZAC trip and a memory from Marta and Andrew Scott.

Stu’s Account

On November 4th, I flew down to Queenstown then caught the shuttle to Wanaka with Richard. We were the last to arrive for the climb of Mt Aspiring. After meeting at Rob’s place we shopped and packed for the climb. At Raspberry Flat we all packed and finished our dinners, donned those heavy packs (seven days of food) and cruised to Aspiring Hut, it was snowing further up the valley. The weather was predicted to still be bad the next day, worsening.

We woke to Nina drinking tea. The day was cool but clear and it was decided to go up French Ridge, as Bevan Col was expected to be avalanche prone. We took off early and headed for the ridge leading to French Ridge Hut. After crossing the river we headed up the ridge and dragged those heavy packs up over the roots, mud, rocks and eventually the snow. It was great to break the bush line and view up, down and across the valley. We pushed on through the soft snow and eventually made the French Ridge Hut. The bad weather had not arrived.

Later in the day a guide and client arrived from Mt Avalanche. They had been caught in an avalanche. The client had saved the guide — they were understandably somewhat subdued. On the radio that night, a couple of Aussies had said it took them ten hours to get to Colin Todd Hut . . . good grief the snow must be really bad.

The next day we left the hut and headed for the Bonar Glacier, via the Quarterdeck 2140m. As we approached the deck we roped up for glacier travel and headed over the pass onto the Bonar. We made a straight line for the hut and on a fine day arrived at the hut within seven hours in total. We found that, with us, there were 19 people at the hut: us eight, the two Aussies and guided groups. Luckily Rob had told the guiding groups we were coming and they had set up tents outside the hut so that we could use the hut bunks. We were very thankful. Rob set up Simon’s tent and slept there. Nina had got into a tea zone and was taking all tea offers.

 

 

The first group headed out at 1:00am (Rob, Nina, Lorraine {sick} and Simon). They had brekky, then completed getting ready and left. The second group headed out at 2:00am (Lisa, Steve, Richard and Stu). As we headed for the Ramp, we could see lights bobbing to and up it. There was a bottleneck at the start of the Ramp as all groups all converged. Richard and I got our turn and we soon got into the rhythm of pitching. There were multiple lines going up the Ramp, sometimes getting in each other’s way.

After eight pitches, we were at the top of the ridge. Richard put the rope away and we joined the ascent. 19 people were at various stages to the summit, sometimes walking through soft snow, hard ice and rime. Rob and Nina reached the summit first (in our groups) and were treated to great views. We were not so lucky. We all pitched the last 60ms, ropes were everywhere, and we were treated to clouds everywhere. The clouds rolled in big time and the wind started to rise — the bad weather had arrived six hours early. We only spent a small time at the summit (3033m).

Visibility got worse, the wind became stronger and it started to snow, we started to lose definition of where the big drops were. Richard and I roped up to make sure if one of us stepped into space that the other would arrest the fall. Everyone kept behind us as we pitched down. At times we couldn’t see much of the rope and definitely not the end of it. Eventually we were at the top of the Ramp again; and after some calling, everyone was there. Rob and Nina missed all this fun owing to their summiting earlier.

The wind was blowing hard and we were getting cold, so we jumped back onto the Ramp and started heading down. The Ramp sheltered us from the wind and we warmed up again. Richard and I sped down the Ramp. Due to the snowing and the drop in temperature, the Ramp only spat at us occasionally with only a few chunks of ice bouncing off our helmets. We jumped off the Ramp and roped up again for glacier travel and headed through the clouds, following our morning footsteps back to the hut. After a couple of hours we were all back at the hut with big grins on our faces and a smiley face drawn in the snow. As each group came in there were high-fives, hugs exchanged and lots of tea (‘Yes please,’ says Nina.)

The next day most people relaxed, while Simon, Rob and Steve climbed Rolling Pin.

 

The day was the finest of the trip with great views everywhere. The radio that night told us that the weather was turning bad again and that we had better get off the mountain. So we all got up at 4:30 in the morning, and after brekky and packing, headed for Bevan Col. We sped across Bonar, over the col, and headed for the dreaded gut.

When we got there we saw it had been almost completely filled with snow. This allowed us to get down to the valley quickly. Thank goodness for that.

 

 

At the bottom we had a rest, ate, packed our climbing gear and headed for Aspiring Hut. Not long after that the rain started and by the time we got to the river crossing it was starting to pour. The river was still low so we all got across easily and we spent a few hours trudging through the heavy rain. We stopped at Aspiring Hut for a break, a bite and more tea (‘Yes please,’ says Nina.)

We then completed the trip by walking back to Raspberry Flat and headed back to Wanaka. After a shower, we had dinner to celebrate another great trip and Nina had swapped tea for a glass of wine. Thanks Rob for organising a great trip – everyone had a great time.

 

Nina’s account

Eight climbers and a melee of alpine gear and food in varying states of disarray congregated in the garage of Rob’s family bach in Wanaka on Saturday 4 November. There had been some recent heavy snowfall, so after numerous cups of tea and discussion we elected to add shovels, probes and transceivers to our already heavy packs. …… Steve had a minor trip on a slippery rock and bravely continued with a torn gastrocnemius muscle and never once did we hear him complain. Tears rolled down my cheek with the pack weight and angel Lorraine kindly produced a pink coconut ice lolly. She has become a friend for life! Thanks so much to Rob for his exceptional leadership (and decision making) and all in the group who supported each other over the seven days.

Marta and Andrew’s Memory

We met Simon in 2011 at Colin Todd Hut. We’d walked in across the Bonar glacier in a total white-out and through soft fresh snow, all while trying to stay ahead of a group of eight that was also making their way to the hut. The next day we watched the group (which included Simon) make quick progress across the glacier and arrive at the small hut. We spent a few days in the overcrowded hut and sat out some miserable weather waiting for a clear day to climb Mt Aspiring. Aspiring is on the 100 peak list, although we’re not sure if Simon had begun his pursuit of those mountains.

We remember that Simon slept a lot in the hut, almost excessively but maybe being well rested was his secret to climbing well! He seemed to spring up as soon as it was time to climb. There was only one day suitable for the climb of Aspiring which meant that 19 people summited on the same day! Simon was climbing with Lorraine and we seemed to climb near them for most of the day. The weather turned earlier than predicted and it started snowing before we got to the summit. Surprisingly, no one wanted to turn around even if it meant that we got no view from the summit. The visibility was terrible on the descent and we were glad to have other people around with people yelling out trying to locate the top of the ramp.

We kept in touch with Lorraine and Simon after this trip to do some climbs or get trip information. We were amazed with the climbs that Simon did over the years and how natural he was in the mountains. Simon was always cheerful and had a spring in his stride when we bumped into him in the hills. It was clear that he belonged in the mountains.

 

We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Simon’s Trips here on Wilderlife. If you would like the complete PDF, Simon’s Trips may be downloaded here and a donation made here.

Photo credits:  Simon Bell