Aspiring to Great Heights in the Fashion World

It all started at Bush Ball.

After a few too many vodkas at Bush Ball I devised a brilliant plan. Like many of my spontaneous ideas, it had to be voiced immediately. Terra happened to be within earshot (and was the only person who was likely to take me seriously…). Within seconds I was excitedly exclaiming, “Terra, we should go up Mount Aspiring in ball gowns”. Naturally – as only Terra would – she took me seriously, agreeing to be my partner in crime. Somewhere between Vengaboys and the Spice Girls (apparently this was Andrew’s ipod??) we decided that spring would be the ideal time to fulfill our Bush Ball challenge.

However, the very next day we started looking at the forecast and spotted three brilliant days. Initial plans of climbing Mount Sefton and heading over to soak in the hot pools at Welcome Flats were thwarted by open crevasses. We spent an evening oooo-ing and aahhh-ing over topo maps with a bowl of popcorn, trying to come up with plan B. Then it dawned on us. Why wait until Spring for Aspiring? We grabbed the Aspiring map and turned to each other and smiled. We didn’t need to say a word. Our plan was hatched. A phone call to Aspiring Guides confirmed that the route was doable and we started packing.

Late Tuesday afternoon – after dress and rubber ducky shopping – we were on the road to Wanaka. Like all good trips, there were a few hitches. Terra suddenly remembered her 6-monthly thesis progress report was due the very next day. Meanwhile I was frantically phoning Nelson to sort out work stuff. I phoned my mother to say I’d be out of reception as we were “exploring the Matukituki valley for a few days”. I didn’t tell her that we had a bag full of rock pro, harnesses, snow shoes, avalanche transceivers, shovels, crampons, ice axes and hammers, helmets and other equally exciting items: sometimes it’s easier to tell your mother about these kind of trips when you are back home. But she knows me all too well. This was the text message she sent me just before we arrived in Wanaka: “Okay…now is the time to tell me if you have a bigger mission planned than you are letting on…”

We giggled about our trip intentions sheet: two 22year old dress-clad females, Aspiring-bound, in early June. The poor DOC staff in Wanaka. At least they knew we had a PLB. By the time we arrived at Raspberry Flat carpark it was very late, and we walked the two hours to Aspiring Flats hut in the dark. It was 12:30am when we arrived and we crawled into our sleeping bags for a short sleep.

We cursed our alarm clock at 6:30am, but after a hot breakfast we were rearing to go. The first stage: getting to the end of the Matukituki Valley. It was a 2-3 hour walk along the valley floor, following a well-marked trail. Shortly after Scotts Bivvy the valley comes to an abrupt end, bluffed out by steep rock faces, which is where we were heading. It wasn’t long before we realised how difficult the conditions were. The rock was steep and icy. Really icy. We took the rope out. Terra being her usual self, used a nut to attach her pack to the rock, then proceeded to use her pack as a step, got up, set up an anchor and passed the rope to me. There were various situations like this in our trip. We often found ourselves saying things like “if only we had a few extra pitons” and “if only it was Spring….” I did my first aid-soloing. The rock wasn’t getting any dryer and we both started sketching out. One slip-up and we were toast. Or at least one or two of our limbs were toast. And we had hoped to retain the PLB for use as a microphone, not a flight out. If we slipped there wasn’t much chance of self-arrest. It was hard rock, and a long way down. We pitched around three 70m sections and then started worrying about how we were going to get down on our return trip. We didn’t yet know if our alternative route, over the quarterdeck and back via French Ridge was passable. Late autumn conditions, eh? Why did we come to Aspiring in June? Why didn’t we bring a few extra pitons? Why didn’t we bring more chocolate? Most people fly in when the conditions are like this. Why didn’t we? I wished the voices in my head would stop ranting on!

We came to an even more precarious section where Terra slipped and caught herself with the tip of her ice hammer on a small piece of rock. There often comes a time in trips when you reach “the line”. The dreaded, “lets weigh up our options” line. We had just reached it. We only had 2hrs of daylight left and we weren’t even half way to Colin Todd hut. We had spent the better part of the day stuck in a wet, shady valley, surrounded by icy rock. We sacrificed one of two precious pitons to rap down to the stream to some flatter ground where we could relax. We spotted a good bivvy rock and decided the smartest option was to spend the night there and devise a new plan for the morning.

Our accommodation was 5-star. Complimentary back massages with every toss and turn during the night. Nice indoor-outdoor flow. A private swimming hole. An ensuite bathroom. Ah, bliss. We ditched our gear and started to explore the creek bed for an easier route towards Bevan Col or back down to Scott’s Bivvy. We were excited to discover a bolted rope anchor downstream (which would help us get out) and another investigation upstream showed us an achievable route up to easier terrain. Woo hoo! We knew there was still a possibility that we could fulfill our challenge and make it to the top of Aspiring in dresses. We immediately began rationing our food and gas, which led us to discover new culinary delights: mix together green curry paste, coconut cream powder, pre-cooked rice, cheese chunks, salami, sunflower seeds, dried apricots and cold water. No need for a cooker. Yummy! No seriously, it went down a treat. We were even more excited about our cold, uncooked polenta for breakfast.

It was only around 6:00pm when we crawled into our four-poster bed. Well-fed and snug in our sleeping bags, at 555 743, we were inspired to start writing this very TROG, on the back of a topo map. It wasn’t long before TROG writing gave way to song-writing. It got pretty bad when we progressed to changing the lyrics of Christmas carols….

On Thursday morning when our mountain alarm clocks started squawking we leaped out of bed to save our belongings as the four cheeky Keas began closing in on us. We bid our dear Kea friends farewell and left our luxury accommodation just before the 10am check out time. One 70m pitch and we were out of the icy rock and into easier terrain. The next few hours entailed rock scrambling, some steep snowy slopes (we utilised our axes and hammer at one stage) and SUNSHINE! The sun was particularly nice as we didn’t even get 1 minute of sun on Wednesday. When we finally reached Bevan Col we saw that the glacier crossing was straightforward and breathed a sigh of relief. We had plenty of time up our sleeves and enjoyed a leisurely lunch with spectacular views of the summit. 567 756 and we were officially on Mount Aspiring, wearing dresses. What a beautiful day.

The trip over the glacier was hassle-free and the scenery was stunning. Not a cloud in the sky. It was one of those days that you ponder how lucky you are to live in such a fabulous country (I find myself pondering that alot!). We roped up, setting up the correct prussicks and safety lines, ready for any crevasse rescues. I lost one leg twice, but nothing bad eventuated. Upon arrival at Colin Todd Hut a radio sked to DOC in Wanaka confirmed our suspicions. The forecast was poor, with gale force winds forecast for the following evening. Maybe we could summit early the next day, but then we’d be stuck at Colin Todd hut for days before the storm cleared, and would have to leg it across the Bonar glacier with high avalanche risk and low visibility. Land SAR would love us.

Initial disappointment turned to excitement at the thought of a hot-meal and sleep-in. We really indulged, with cooked lentils! With warm satisfied bellies, we transformed Colin Todd hut into a theatre, with the table being centre stage. We performed our very own unique mountain musical, using wooden spoons as microphones, and enthusiastically performed our originals with some of the best dance moves of the century. It was all very tasteful, of course.

The next morning I rapped down to the glacier. At the bottom, I put a waypoint into the GPS and named it “Dulkara’s chicken slope”. Terra laughed. She didn’t seem to be fazed at all, but the 70 degree slope – with slightly soft snow – had me on edge! I kept talking to myself: toughen up, it’s all psychological, it’s all in your head Dulkara, just do it. Then the other voice in my head would kick in: gosh I’ll be flying down there fast if I fall, eeeek it does look a little steep, why aren’t I all snug at home in my bed? Ah, I’d better get back into practice with these steep slopes. It had been a while.

We followed the steps of the mystery men (who had summited on the day we were supposed to – the cloudless still day with no wind that we spent fighting icy rock!) across the Bonar and found the glacier crossing was quite straightforward, with few crevasses. The wind was starting to pick up so we kept up a swift pace to Quarterdeck pass. It was nice being able to follow other people’s tracks as it gave us a sense of security: the route must be fine.

Surprisingly, we found the Quarterdeck to be in superb condition and travel was fast. I rapped down, following the tracks, and then belayed Terra as she retrieved the snow stakes. When things started to flatten out we simul-climbed until we reached the end of the glacier, when we put the rope away. We both let out a sigh of relief – it was a trail all the way back to the car. No more dodgy terrain ahead to work through. Phew. We had a short break at French Ridge Hut before heading down, where we grabbed a bite to eat and did some more singing on the deck. Terra showed off her country roots with some Shania Twain. “Man I feel like a Woman” echoed through the deserted Matukituki Valley. I hope the Keas enjoyed our performance. We had really gotten into our Mountain Musical. If you watched our trip video you could be forgiven for thinking we spent the whole time holed up in a hut singing and dancing like 10 year olds!

The track down from French Ridge hut to the valley is gnarly, with huge steps and slippery tree roots. We were pleased to reach the valley floor before dark and we kept up a brisk pace to make the most of the daylight. Again, we arrived at Aspiring Flats hut in the dark. But this time we greeted a warm fire with enthusiasm, along with its creators, one of whom was an old friend of Terra’s from Wellington. These were the first people we had seen in 3 days! We had planned to walk back out to the car after dinner, but after a pot of hot chocolate the thought of bed next to the warm fire became too inviting and we gave in to our sleeping bags.
The next morning we awoke to the sound of pouring rain on the hut roof and laughed at our luck. Nonetheless, we retained our zest and embraced drenched underwear, wet boots and slippery cow poo for the relaxing dawdle home. Another great kiwi mountain adventure!
Oh, and we will be back to climb Mount Aspiring shortly. With our dresses of course!