Ascent to Mount Aspiring-northwest ridge on 2015-01-07

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad
Adrian Rayner
Pål Bjørstad
Date:Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Helicopter
Point Reached:Mount Aspiring - northwest ridge
    Location:New Zealand
    Elevation:7024 ft / 2140 m
    Remaining Elevation:2927 ft / 893 m (64% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

After our Single Cone ascent, as the weather is so good, Petter suggests we try for Aspiring while we are down here and see if Aspiring Helicopters can do an evening drop off at Bevan Col. We phone and they readily agree. We make the short drive to Wanaka for stove fuel and supermarket provisions, a quick takeaway pizza for lunch then drive out west past the Treble Cone ski area signpost to Aspiring's HQ on L (S44.63366 E168.92723). We finalise arrangements, pay our NZD300 each, pack our bags, agree a rendezvous time with James the pilot then a 40 minute drive along the busy dirt road (some streams to ford, best with high clearance but ordinary cars seem to manage it) along the and arrive at Raspberry Creek car park.

The heli pickup is at field gate, far NW end, S44.51101 E168.74251. The chopper arrives at 18:15 and whisks us off to Bevan Col, passing Rob Roy Peak and glacier, also French Ridge with its red painted hut (the pilot indicates the way down from Quarterdeck Col).

We arrive at the col at 18:30, actually dropped off on a level stony area 30m above the col (S44.39495 E168.68875, 1851m). There are a few heat induced clouds which finally clear early evening. We rope up and descend the snow to the true col (1821m) then descend R to the glacier, initially on moderate side slopes then easy glacier, Pål leading a sinuous route between crevasse fields with just a few closed crevasses to cross. After a long descent, a 140m steep ascending traverse leads to Colin Todd hut (S44.37207 E168.69455, 1789m) in 1h40 from the col. Painted red and standing on a large rock outcrop it's in a superb location, with some impressive peaks emerging as the evening clouds dissipate. The hut has mattresses and water. There are 5 others here: although with only 12 bunks the little place isn't crowded (perhaps more so in Dec. The local kea turns up and does its usual trick of interfering with anything left outside the hut: Petter's Spot device left transmitting outside the hut nearly goes missing. These mountain parrots are endangered with only 5000 birds remaining. It's tempting to speculate that death by ice axe is a possible contributory factor... We watch Aspiring tinted pink at sunset, then get an early night.

We're away at first light, 05:30; a kiwi team of three set off 30mins ahead of us. The route is essentially on rock heading directly for Pt 2151 with some easy scrambling YDS2+ Immediately before the tower (which we don't summit, could be pretty hard) is a big drop-off to the R and a 20m descent L (S44.37198 E168.70642) to the edge of the glacier. I downclimb this YDS4 pitch although it's pretty airy and the consensus is to abseil. There are 2 good slings in place so it's evidently a normal route, although there's a suggestion it might be possible to avoid the abseil by getting onto the glacier farther down. Following the edge of the glacier we get back onto the rocky crest for a short while then decide it's easier to fit crampons and stay on the glacier a short way until the next tower. This is bypassed by an airy trail on its L with a scrambly move taking us to the crest, into the cold wind - this was forecast although the forecast showers don't materialise: it's otherwise a gorgeous day and the surroundings are stunning.

This is pretty much as far as we get. A short scramble leads us to a very airy arete (S44.37489 E168.70879, 2137m) with some hardish scrambling. We rope up and Pål leads off but doesn't like it: with a lot of ridge still ahead, we agree it's best to turn round. We don't see the team of three and assume they go on to summit.

For the record, this exposed passage appears to be about 50m long, then the big steep tower beyond it is traversed on its L side (there was an annotated photo in the hut) to gain the steep summit ridge. I read there can be a steep ice/snow pitch to gain the small summit ice field.

We descend to the hut (5h round trip) and after a short rest we head down to French Ridge hut, understanding from other climbers that the descent from Quarterdeck Pass is crevassed but passable (it is more of a December than a January route).

Initially we retrace our steps back towards Bevan Col. Once approx level with Bevan Peak we trend L uphill then R to miss a heavily crevassed area of Bonar Glacier, then swing left, eventually passing L of Mt French, with Avalanche Peak straight ahead, and fine views of Aspiring's Coxcomb (south) ridge. Below Quarterdeck Pass we find a tent with two Australians. Their footsteps lead up to the pass (S44.41653 E168.72041 approx) which is a level area R of the saddle. Total ascent on glacier is 600m, a pretty long slog.

The descent from Quarterdeck starts with a short step down and a small crevasse crossing. Then a 30deg snow slope which steepens to 45deg above a large crevasse. Despite it being late pm, the snow being south facing is firm and footing quite secure. We traverse above the crevasse then the steep descent and crevasse crossing is protected with deadman and axe belay. The zigzag descent continues with several more crevasses crossed, one rather delicate with a partially collapsed snow bridge. Once off the glacier there are several easy snow slopes then a trail leads down to French Ridge hut (S44.42864 E168.69382, 1470m), another wonderful location. We enjoy the four beers Pål has carried all the way here. 6h45 from Colin Todd hut.

Next morning is initially misty but a partial clearance leads to some very scenic views, with cloud layers in all the right places. After a very nice initial descent on a good trail, the forest section has some very steep scrambles which are quite trying with a very large pack.

The descent finishes at a fork by the river. We wade across to avoid the upstream diversion to the bridge. We cross just downstream of a branch (cairn on far bank , S44.43705 E168.67228, Pearl Flat). The incoming branch here is bridged: the main river appears very bridgeable at this point, but perhaps a bridge would be vulnerable in winter. The wade is crotch deep even after several dry days: there are mosquitoes to greet us on the far bank.

The 12km walk from this point is on a good trail with great scenery. We pass a young American couple who plan to climb direct to Bevan Col via Bevan Col Gut: they're interested to know that the Quarterdeck is still usable. Once the QD becomes impassible, typically in January, the Gut is the only way in or out except by helicopter. We're back at Raspberry Creek trailhead in 6h from French Ridge. Not surprisingly there are a lot of folks along the last mile or so of trail, enjoying the great weather and scenery.

On the way back to Wanaka we call in to talk to Aspiring Helicopters and, having a spare day, make provisional arrangements for a trip to Skippers Range Highpoint tomorrow subject to the weather holding. We find a nice motel in Wanaka and enjoy a well earned meal and a couple of good beers.

Mount Aspiring photo album
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3687 ft / 1122 m
    Total Elevation Loss:8553 ft / 2606 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14.9 mi / 24 km
    Grade/Class:YDS 4
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Snow on Ground, Exposed Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Hut Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1653 ft / 503 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 931 ft / 283 m; Extra: 722 ft / 220m
    Loss on way in:722 ft / 220 m
    Distance:2.2 mi / 3.5 km
    Route:Bevan Col, NW ridge
    Start Trailhead:Bevan Col  6093 ft / 1857 m
    Time:5 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:7831 ft / 2386 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 5797 ft / 1767 m; Extra: 2034 ft / 619m
    Gain on way out:2034 ft / 619 m
    Distance:12.7 mi / 20.5 km
    Route:Quarterdeck, French Ridge
    End Trailhead:Raspberry Creek car park  1227 ft / 373 m
    Time:1 Days 1 Hours 20 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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