This is Simon’s account written for The Tararua Tramper
(Vol. 84, No. 6)
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.
Party members: Rob Hawes, Michael Archer, Tony Ruzek, Lisa Wynne, Mark Yeo, and Simon Bell
Saturday, 3 December 2011
We first met at NZAC Hut in Fox Glacier Township. Rob, Mark, Michael and myself had come over from Wellington on the ferry on Friday night and spent the night in Murchison, while Lisa and Tony had both independently made their way to the West Coast. Our plan, to fly in straight away, was sidelined by the ominous clag that had started to gather around the Fox Glacier. The first helicopter trip made it halfway up the glacier before turning back. Grounded! My mind returned to the long breakfast we had in Greymouth and I wonder if this stopped us from making it to Pioneer Hut today. We spent the day lounging around in the NZAC Hut.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
We fly in and make tracks to the base of Haidinger. Forecast for the week is looking pretty good.
Monday, 5 December 2011
We all climbed Haidinger via the West Ridge (grade 3). Things went smoothly on the way up. From hut to summit in just over 4 hours, despite poor visibility and covering steep and exposed ground. We took one pitch to get up the final snow/ice gully and had a bite to eat on the summit.
High on the tops of Haidinger
The fun began when we rapped off. We got the double ropes stuck. I climbed up to sort them, but when I rapped down they were stuck again! Rob climbed up again and changed anchor. The lesson here being that we had used existing slings. While looking to be in great condition, they were too tight and wouldn’t let the rope be pulled through at all. In the meantime, the others were standing around on steep ground in the shade getting cold! After this, the ground that we had more or less happily climbed up looked very steep and we did some further raps, with the more confident members taking the snow stakes out and downclimbing. The terrain eased off eventually and after a lot of downclimbing we arrived at the base of the mountain in time for a late lunch and an easy walk back to Pioneer Hut.
Pioneer Hut – inside shot
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
The weather looked average due to the westerly system of high winds. The others eventually decided on a half day trip to Halcombe (North Couloir, 3-), which should have been reasonably sheltered. I decided, based on the weather, they wouldn’t make it and stayed in the hut. To my dismay, they returned several hours later having succeeded . . . although they didn’t quite top out properly due to being blasted by high winds when they hit the summit ridge.
View from Pioneer Hut steps
Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Wednesday was also a bad weather day and I wished I’d ventured out to climb Halcombe with the others on Tuesday!
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Glacier Peak (grade 2+) looked very steep when we approached it at dawn. Rob assured us that it would look less steep once we got closer. Fortunately, he was right and we had no real issues climbing to the summit. The terrain didn’t require pitching and the crevasses were huge but easy to avoid. Douglas looked quite imposing from Glacier Peak, and we were only climbing the ‘descent route’! (Still a Grade 3-!) The only serious obstacle was a 30m rock step, which we pitched. The snow ridge after this was straightforward, but exposed. On the summit we stuck our heads down to look at the South Face in horror. (I was told at the hut that the grade 5 ice routes were in great condition!)
Friday, 9 December 2011
Friday was only ever meant to be a half day. Rob, Lisa and myself headed off to ‘have a play’ on Haast with the vague idea of getting to West Peak (3065m). The others decided to spend Friday resting in preparation for an ascent of Tasman the following day.
We were at the start of our chosen route (Route 14.53, grade 3) just at daybreak. The climb is up a steep snow couloir which later links into the West Ridge proper and the fun rock section begins. The ridge was mostly rock scrambling although we did two short-ish pitches to get up a slab and later a difficult one move wonder. We found a flat section maybe 100m from West Peak, had lunch and decided to call it a day.
As we hadn’t topped out on West Peak (the common descent route), we rapped down part of the route then rapped off the west of the mountain onto steep snow. We eventually arrived back at the hut around 6pm after 12 hours on the go. So, yes Rob, technically a half-day still! Not quite a success summit-wise, but a great day out nevertheless. We felt that we had completed the crux of the climb. Only a complete traverse of Haast would confirm this – anyone keen next year?
Rob and Lisa off to have a play with Haast
Saturday, 10 December 2011
This was it! Last climbing day and we left Tasman until the end. Owing to the ‘half-day’ Haast experience, a late-ish dinner and our early start (midnight), I ended up with a total of two hours ‘bedtime’ before getting ready for the super summit.
Tasman North Shoulder at first light
We had heard the conditions on Tasman were not great due to a huge chunk of the North Shoulder of Tasman having fallen out a few weeks prior, leaving behind rock and a steep ice cliff. We had also seen a party successfully climb Tasman the day before, but still being high on Lendenfeld around 8pm. The freezing level was above 3000m. We didn’t let any of this worry us and headed off in the slush towards Haast corner at a cracking pace.
We successfully climbed Lendenfeld (grade 2) and headed down to Engineer Col to inspect the North Shoulder. It was barely light, but already the shoulder looked imposing. We decided to wait 15 minutes until it was lighter to get a better look. We were still not too happy with what we saw and after a vote with only three in favour of continuing, we made a relaxed retreat and snapped some amazing pictures of the dawn. Back at Marcel Col we contemplated climbing to the high peak of Haast (only 150m vertical distance to the summit), but decided to cut our losses and head back.
Dawn from Engineer Col
In hindsight, the decision to turn around from Tasman was the right one. During the descent we bumped into the party who had climbed Tasman the day before and tented below Engineer Col. They had run into problems with the high freezing level and had to pitch most of the way down Tasman, despite having climbed up most of it solo in the morning.
We returned to Pioneer Hut around 8am, flew out just after 10am, had a shower courtesy of NZAC Hut in Fox, drove to Picton, caught a late ferry and were back in Wellington by 1:30am! While lying in bed, I tried to imagine what would have happened if we had decided to carry on. Would we still be on the mountain now at 1:30am? Given the progress of the other party, almost certainly! I was happy to lie in my bed in Wellington and recall the awesome climbing week, without having a final epic. Save that for next time!
Thanks so much for organising the trip Rob. Looking forward to the GTTT trip this year.