Kiwi Tracks: Mt. Rolleston, Low Peak (via Rome Ridge)

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Mt. Rolleston, Low Peak (via Rome Ridge)

What an exhilarating experience! The ascend to the Low Peak of Mt. Rolleston (2212m) was equally long, scary and beautiful. In short: a memorable day out amongst the tops!

Rome Ridge ImpressionThis trip came to me almost like a miracle since I didn't expect to get out into the mountains for quite some time due to the opening of Ya-Ya teahouse which requires me to work there on the weekends. But when Andrew (who was also on the trip to Mt. Cassidy) sent an
email on Thursday, looking for a partner to climb Mt. Rolleston the next day, I grabbed hold of the opportunity. Weather forcast predicted a perfect day and I could easily squeeze in a day off work.

So Andrew and I left Christchurch Thursday night to spend a cold night in Arthur's Pass village. After getting up at 5 o'clock, we stepped out into the bush at the head of Coral Track at 6:15. First light on Mt.Rolleston The timing worked out just perfectly when, after following the steep bush track in the dark for about an hour, we reached the bushline and caught our first glimpse of Low Peak in the golden light of the first sunrays. We saw the whole tour laid out before us: Rome Ridge is a long ridgeline leading all the way up to the summit.
From our perspective it didn't appear to be very far to the summit but we had been warned that this was going to be a long day and so we weren't fooled that easily.

Setting out in the snow on a much more gentle slope than in the bush made for quite a nice change. Relatively fresh footsteps indicated that First sun on Mt.Rollestonsomeone had been up there the previous day and we were happy to follow them, not having to kick our own steps (Thank you, stranger!). The weather turned out to be fantastic: not a single cloud in the sky, frosty temperatures and hardly any wind. Snow conditions were good, albeit not perfect. While Andrew would have loved it all frozen hard I was quite happy to have a 5-10 cm "cushion" on top. Walking was quite comfortable and we didn't need our crampons for quite some time.

Pristine Beauty... There is something really exciting about ridge travel, especially in the snow: you follow a fairly narrow path with steep slopes on both sides and you know the consequences of a wrong step, but at the same time you feel very safe. That's how I usually feel on a ridgeline, somewhat caught in contradicting feelings ...

We quickly found out how the appearance of the summit's proximity could be so deceptive. What looked like a long, slowly ascending ridge from a distance was in reality a series of steep drops and climbs along that ridgeline. Not quite as direct as it originally appeared. Ridge TravelBut Rome Ridge has a lot of character, constantly surprises you with unexpected angles and perspectives. I also found myself deeply impressed by the natural aesthetics of the smooth curves and variations that resulted from the interaction of rock, snow and light.

The route along the lower part of the ridge was fairly straightforward with easy walking for most parts. Aside from some very short steep climbs we could just stroll along and enjoy the fantastic scenery. After about 2.5 hours, we had made our way along the lower ridge from the bushline and had reached the gap which marks the begin of the final ascend to Low Peak. Neither Andrew nor I had done this trip before but we had heard that there would be a slightly tricky passage around the gap which we had to negotiate. The buttress at the gap can be circumvented on either side and we decided to continue following the footsteps to the SW-side. Panorama Rome RidgeAfter traversing down a snowfield and loosing about 100m of altitude, we reached the bottom of an icy gully which marked the way up. Andrew - the experienced one of the two of us - suggested to get the crampons and second ice-tool out, a call for which would be VERY thankful very shortly after. While we had our packs down, we put our harnesses on as well - another sensitive judgement!

Starting up a very steep section, Andrew came to life: he obviously embraced this bit of a challenge as a welcome change from the ridge-travel that we'd done up to here. Since he knew about my lack of experience with this kind of terrain, he made sure I was allright and offered to rope up if I needed to. Andrew climbing ahead'This is some seriously steep ground' were his words, I believe. But I felt allright and saw no reason to stop and rope up (until it was a bit too late, that is).

Only about 5m further along the wall (Andrew must have grown wings, since he disappeared very quickly out of sight), I grew a little uneasy about the surface conditions, finding my ice axe scraping trough powder or bouncing off solid rock on one side while the other side still anchored safely in firm ice. It was at a near-vertical bit (at least that was my impression of its angle), that I felt uneasy enough to decide I couldn't go on like that: One axe secured my position, with the other wildly feeling for a hold, one crampon semi-secure in a crack in the rock and the other one kicking! It was a nigthmare! I didn't really know what to do, so I called Andrew: 'I'm not o.k. anymore, I'd take you up on the offer of roping up!' (wondering how to rope up in that position since I couldn't move, let alone taking my pack off to get some ice-tools up to Andrew). It turned out that Andrew was just within earshot, but it was hard to understand what he was saying. He told me to back-climb into a safer position and that he would get the rope to me. Back-climbing? How should I do that? I felt a sligth panic crawling up, intensified through the slow tiring of the one arm and leg that secured my current position. I looked back over my shoulder, down the gully and decided that this was it: I was definitely going to die in this spot! For a moment I felt sorry for my friends and family and regretted to have far too many items left on the things-to-do-in-this-lifetime list.

Climbing the stairsBut the moment passed and the spirit returned to me, so I started to try getting back to a safer spot. I made it down about 2m to a rock outcrop where I could at least rest my foot and get both axes into the ice. As I evaluated my situation, I noticed that my hands and feet were extremely cold. (Thoughts about losing fingers and toes ploughed their way through my brain)

Andrew had to back-climb quite a bit to get the rope down to my position. I heard him mutter unintelligible curses when the rope just wouldn't end up in the gully I was stuck in but invariably slip into the next gully over, only about 2m beyond my reach. We both got quite frustrated by the whole affair and were more than happy when I had finally roped up and began my 2nd attempt on the wall. It is amazing what a rope does to your confidence (even though Andrew didn't have too much confidence in the anchors he set up since the snow was very soft). I managed to negotiate the steep section with a lot of effort and leaned into the rope slightly twice (not only to test it!).

Andrew is loving it... The whole tricky section was only about 10 to 15m long, above the steep bit was a steep but nice gully with near-mint snow conditions ...
The way above the gully to Low Peak was certainly steeper than the lower parts of the ridge, but nothing complicated. The snow was quite good and we made good progress. About 20 Minutes below the summit we found a nice flat piece without wind that was perfect for lunch and gave us the opportunity to discuss the excitement we had in that gully.

After about 8.5 hrs we finally stood on the summit of Low Peak, rewarded with an breathtaking panorama. We were in the middle of a Winter-Wonderland straigth out of some fairy tale! Longingly, I looked towards the 'real' summit of Mt. Rolleston and decided to come back to stand there next time.
Panorama from Low Peak

Our descend was via the Otira Slide and out to the road following the Otira Valley. Friends of ours had come up this way about a week ago and we knew that the conditions would be fairly o.k. But a full day of sunshine had turned the top-layer into some soft slush (mixed with hard ice in shady spots), providing less than perfect footing. Long way downProgress was fairly slow since we had to face towards the slope for most of the way down. Towards the bottom of the slide, we tried to bumslide our way down - with mixed success.

When we reached the bottom of the valley, dusk started to come over us and we were overwhelmed by the lighting for the second time today. Walking out the Otira was uneventful and we were mainly driven by the desire to get back to the car. Every attempt to hitchhike back to our car at the head of the Coral Track was unsuccessful and so we ended up walking for an extra hour along SH73, before we could get out of our boots and rest our legs sitting down.

I want to thank Andrew first for initiating this trip and second for being such a great partner on the mountain, you made me feel really safe!

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Blogger patrick said...

Really excellent blog! I shall have to drop into yaya's for a cuppa tea sometime...

Keep up the excellent work (did you know you're linked off the google api weblog?!)

7:42 AM  
Blogger KiwiTracks said...

Hi Patrick,
thank you for the praise. It is good to know that people appreciate what you're doing and I'm always happy if visitors leave a comment.
I have to spend some time to watch all the snow-boarding videos on your blog...
I did notice the link from the google api blog when I saw peak in visitor numbers Friday last week. Many people visited and only one (you) left a comment! Thanks again for that.

I hope to see you at the tea house some time.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous rdnk said...

Man, you have a great blog here. I enjoy reading your climbing stories, and your photographs are totally awesome! Oh, I found my way here through Google Maps Api blog... keep up the good work!

- Sami

9:34 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Great blog here, some amazing photos. I can't wait to get back to New Zealand some day!

I'm like to integrate the google maps w/pictures into my blog similar to you've done. Could you give me some advice / direction on how to go about doing that?

3:19 AM  
Anonymous liz said...

Stumbled upon this whilst looking for information on Mt Rollerston. I know exactly how you felt when you were half dangling in the air with your crampons. I had a similiar experience whilst trying to head down the Franz Josef Glacier. A moment when your life flashes before your eyes for sure.

8:29 PM  
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5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off to climb this at the weekend! Good report, thanks very much!!!! (P.S. You write well)

9:07 PM  

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