A weekend away is always nice, especially into the mountains. Queenstown was the destination for a spot of mountain running, luging, frisbee golf and drinks thrown in too. A gathering of friends from around the world was an opportunity not to be missed. So there it stood on a Sunday evening, to the north… somewhere… with the rain lashing down on the cab window – “the weather is getting better” the driver said as we pulled into the hostel… I didn’t know whether it was his welcome to Queenstown speech or whether he knew what was happening, he was certainly wise enough.
“the weather is getting better” the driver said as we pulled into the hostel… he was right!
He was right. Next morning, the cloud lifted and blue skies poked out from the back of Ben Lomond (1748m), a 16km return from Queenstown itself up and over the gondola (very steep) along the valley and up the ridge at the back to the rocky summit. The fresh snow had left about 40cm of powder on the hills, enough to make the route interesting.
Unfortunately, across the valley in the Ramarkables on the other side of Lake Wakatipu – unbenown to myself, a climbing tragedy had taken place. The climbing and mountaineering communities were hit very hard with the loss of Jamie Vinton-Boot, one of New Zealand’s best climbers. He was swept of his feet by a snow slip, lost his axe and plunged 500m down the western faces of the Remarkables. His climbing partner, Steve Fortune – survived and managed to reach him below but it was too late; the following Search and Rescue Teams were unable to revive him. A tragic loss for New Zealand, the Alpine Club and of course his wife Jess and his newborn son Mahe who he leaves behind.
Still I was on my way, climbed up to the top of the Queenstown Gondola from the hostel in around 30minutes, and was onto the beautiful singletrack behind the chairlifts and tourist routes. Ben Lomond looked very awe inspiring and shone in the sky like a 6000m mountain, the new snow meant that I had to be careful and take my time. I thrashed up the singletrack to where the new snow had fallen at around 1200m altitude.
From there the going was a little bit tougher than I’d have liked. The snow was beautiful powder though, it wasn’t wet, it wasn’t cold – it felt like running on a carpet, so soft (and a tad slippy). From the ‘1 hour to the summit’ sign, which I’d passed within the hour, the snow was above my ankles, totally stoked to be up there with blue skies above.
there were numerous cornices that I quickly avoided, so not to slip over the edge.
The trail zigzaged up the side of the ridge and cut back across the face around 1/2 way up the final slope. Here is got waist deep and I lost the track – I was the one laying the footprints in the fresh stuff, no one elses prints to follow, so I decided the best route was to get onto the ridge as quickly as possible as I knew the avalanche risk would be higher than usual this morning.
I chose a zig zag route through the boulderfield and tussocks (where I could see them through the snow) until I hit the ridge where there were numerous cornices that I quickly avoided, so not to slip over the edge. After I found some solid ground, I edged my way up the final 100m of climb until I saw the summit a mere 30m away, the only problem was that from me to the summit was 30m of ice, rocks and drops. Still, on all fours using my fists as snow anchors – I traversed the last section and made it to the trig point.
It felt so good being at the summit, views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables in the distance. There was little to no wind and the slopes were so beautiful with white powder glistening in the sunshine.
On my way down, the clouds came in again making it difficult to descend and follow my tracks. After I rejoined the snowy ‘track’, I met some other guys on the way up in shorts and tee shirts – possibly not the most prepared, but told them that the top was a little bit sketchy… and to be safe.
On my way down, the clouds came in again making it difficult to descend and follow my tracks.
More speed as I got further down the hill, spotting a Kea on the way – it felt amazing and the colours on the mountains were incredible… Back down the the gondola and a spot of luging was in order! Super Mario eat your heart out!
Thoughts go out to those affected by this last week’s loss – to Jamie’s family and friends – a tragic story; but it shows that the mountains don’t discriminate skill or stature. You must always respect them wherever you go and live life to the max while you still can.