Cloudy Peak Mission
We've been back in New Zealand for 5 months now and I haven't managed a single post! The shame! The trouble is not lack of fun trips to write about, it's lack of time afterwards to do it! I have started studying again and seem to find zero spare seconds in my day. Nevertheless, I am determined to do some trip posts again.
Since Christmas there have been several 'highlight' trips, one being a 5 day sea kayak adventure we did in Marlborough Sounds, another was a week's mountain bike orienteering carnival down in central Otago. But the one which I really want to write about on here was an amazing trip I did up Cloudy Peak with my friends Grieg and Clare.
It was the same weekend as Sprint theBays Orienteering up North, which Chris had decided to do. We decided we needed to do a really good trip to make him jealous. We had a three day weekend, and I foolishly left Greig entirely in charge of the trip planning without paying the slightest attention to what he had in mind.
We drove up the Rangitata to the Erewhon Station and parked our car under the shade of some trees because it was a baking hot day. We had a picnic and then trotted off down the road towards the river. I soon discovered the river was the most delicious temperature for swimming, so spent some time drifting lazily down stream.
We were walking in to a high valley where we planned to camp for the night before hopping up early to have a go at climbing the Great Prow. This rock climb was rated around 10, 12, and 14 was the top grade so I thought it sounded ok. I'm not sure if Greig had quite mentioned the fact it was at least 9 pitches yet.
Trying to avoid a scrub filled mountain side we traversed high early, only to discover we had actually come up one whole valley too early and needed to go down again. "One of the countries top navigators" wasn't performing so well thus far. Once back down in the river we found the correct valley to head up and sure enough it was a full on scrub bash grapple climb out of the river and up a steep ridge, my favorite thing!
Finally as the day wore on we emerged onto a beautiful grassy alpine meadow with a tinkling clear stream running through the middle. The great prow loomed up ominously before us and I had my first realisation that this thing was going to be scary! Trying to put that thought to the back of my head I enjoyed a delicious dinner and snuggled down into my warm bag.
Too soon the alarm went off and we slowly got oursleves organised in the dark - it was about 4 am. We started walking up the river in the pitch dark, then realised we might not have any more water on the way up so Greig had to run back down and fill up our bottles. As light began to fill the valley we could see little lights way up on the cliff above us - there were two other parties out on the same climb as us.
Next thing I heard a thumping sound and turned round to see Greig sprawled out on the rocks. He had tripped up and sliced his hand open! Clare and I suggested perhaps having to lead the whole route today wasn't the bast plan, but Greig was pretty happy once we had strapped his hand up with MeFix and strapping tape. We started climbing the long scree slide which takes you to the base of the climb.
Finally we reached the first of the small bluffs and Clare happily free climbed her way to the top, leaving me with no option but to reluctantly follow. We scrambled up a series of easier bluffs until at last we reached the base of the Great Prow. It was now very light and we could see it was going to be an overcast day with some cloud hanging about the tops. We were hoping Cloudy Peak might not live up to its name, but this looked unlikely.
We could see the others climbing up slowly above us, and everynow and then there would be a sound like a screaming buzzard as a little rock hurtled its way towards us, I found that quite terrifying so as Greig lead the first pitch I danced around out on the scree slope avoiding rocks and telling Clare that I wasn't sure about this!
Finally it was our turn - we were going to climb simultaneously on the double rope. My pack felt terribly heavy - we had 9 hours worth of water and clothing and I had taken Greig's gear as well. We struggled up the climb until there came a crux I just couldn't climb with the weight on my back. I dumped my pack, climbed up and then leaned over and managed to get a sling onto the pack and haul it up as Clare held it out to me.
Feeling very desperate I had to leave the pack again and climb up to Greig. I wasn't sure what to expect when I reached him and told him I had left the pack halfway up, but he calmly abseiled down and climbed back up with my pack. We unloaded a bit of the weight from my pack and continued on up into a nasty chossy section and a dodgy anchor point. This was the lowest point of the climb for me - we had taken a long time to get this far and it felt very exposed. I didn't want to keep going, but I didn't really want to go down either.
Luckily for me Clare was very positive and encouraging and we slowly kept climbing pitch after pitch. Greig's good route finding skills found us back on route again. Some of the pitches had very big exposure which I was out of practice with. The cloud was starting to come in and obscure our view back down into the valley.
Eventually we reached what we believed was the final pitch, but it was hard for Greig to find a route through that was only grade 14. He did find one, but it involved a super airy move around a ledge out to the right. From their we scrambled up some rock gullies and into a little cave. The last pitch was a right grovel trying to climb up a chimney with an ice axe (for hammering in pitons) which kept getting stuck. I was so determined to get up that thing that I strained and pushed and pulled until I was up and safe and poor Clare was left struggling away on her own.
By now it was 7.35pm and I was seriously worried about the time, given it was about to get dark, it was very cloudy and we still had to negotiate our way down the mountain. We climbed on up the rotten ridge, first in our climbing shoes, then we changed into our light weight boots again.
Finally at about 8pm we reached the top of Cloudy Peak. We stopped for only a moment and then continued our hurried route down the mountain. I was finally back in terrain I knew, so I went ahead and tried to pick the best line down the loose rock ridge. I have never used a GPS in the mountains before, but this time round I was so grateful for it!
Greig read the map, but the GPS provided a great backup to confirm exactly where we were. We knew we needed to reach a saddle and from there the descent was much more straightforward. We started heading down a progressively steepening gully and stumbled across a little waterfall which meant we could fill our empty bottles with some much needed water.
Greig guessed we were one gully too far across, so we scrambled across quickyl and in a very short break in the mist I caught a glimpse of a clear route all the way down to the saddle. I was so happy to see this and we descended carefully down to the saddle. By the time we reached the saddle it was dark and you could only see a few metres ahead because of the thick fog.
Clare was really feeling the effects of the day by now, but I was quite energized because I was so happy to be alive! (-: We made our way down the endless scree slide, on the look out for our 'poo spot' which was the spot where we had left the scree and climbed the bluffs. We knew once we reached that spot we were back on familiar ground.
Clare and I were quite fixated on finding our poo spot, until Grieg pointed out we should just keep going down - did we really want to find the place we pooed 13 hours ago? After negotiating a small bluff the slope of the scree lessened until finally we were back in the valley. We were much higher up than earlier and we found ourselves bashing through thick scrub.
After a few stops for food and rest along the way our safe little tent in that beautiful meadow was calling us. Greig saw a huge pyramid shaped rock and I saw a deer with very reflective wide spaced eyes - it was only Clare who had the sense to shout out - "Guys, its the tent!" We cooked up some water and ate instant potatoes with tuna - completely delicious. Then we crawled into the tent well and truly spent after 19 hours on the mountain.
We slept in late and then emerged to a fairly grey day and the voices of the other climbers descending. They had had a much shorter climb, being of a much superior climbing level to Clare or myself, but also said they had found the route challenging.
We walked out chatting happily about the fun of the day before and managed to follow the newly slashed route that the other climbers had made through the scrub section. After bum sliding down the last steep section of tussocks and bracken we met the climbers sitting outside their 4WD truck beside the river. The offer of a ride out was too good to turn down, so we enjoyed a bumpy ride back out to the car sharing stories of adventures.
Chris was so jealous when he heard about the trip. Sprint the Bays had been good, but nothing quite compares to a good scary climbing trip with some great mates!