Friday, 22 October 2010

Trip Report - Mount Rolleston, 16th October 2010, by Paul Swettenham

I had wanted to climb Mount Rolleston from a young age after hearing stories from my Granddad or ‘Papa’ as we called him. He spent much of his time in Arthur’s Pass and would take my mum (and her sister) to the Pass, in August for school holidays to the family bach. He climbed many of the peaks in and around Arthur’s but his favourite and one of his most memorable missions was Rolle.

He told of returning after summiting, coming down and seeing the glow of his father’s cigarette in the dark waiting for him, of course they had no headtorches back in the day and this guided him back to safe ground.

My Papa had a great life and passed away some 13 years ago. Before his funeral I sketched Mount Rolleston on his funeral programme and vowed that one day I would climb the classic Canterbury peak in honour of my Papa – Albie Fehsenfeld.

After a stint of 10 years away in Bristol, Edinburgh and the Himalayas I returned to Christchurch for a year in 2008 only to be thwarted a couple of times but yet persevered, believing that one day I would stand on the summit my papa had, joining so many other keen climbers that had come before.

I joined the CMC after finally returning to ChCh in June of this year, after another stint in the Himalayas with my guiding company Sunstone. In the back of my mind that was always going to be the focus and after a couple of postponements I turned up at El Presidente – Nick Moyle’s pad in Ilam. After meeting up with Wayne and Nick we were off to the Pass, via Darfield picking up Mike on the Friday night.

Good banter ensued about climbing & mountain biking and Wayne & Mike had also been aiming to climb Rolle for some 3 years, so there was certainly some shared karma. We listened to Nick’s comments about the classic peak amongst spear fishing & free diving stories gathering kai and we were all excited, yet a little on edge about the ensuing weather forecast.

The NorWester threatened to come in on Saturday arvo – would we beat it?

We snuggled down in Kennedy Lodge and got up at 3am, some brekkie and started to hear some large gusts coming in up the Pass – had it arrived early? Would we be hammered on exiting the bush line?

We set-off at 3.40am from the car park and when we did stick our noses out of the top of the Coral Track – it was completely still. Unbelievable - clear & calm with thousands of stars above us. Suddenly it dawned on us that we were gonna burgle this peak – bring it on. We tramped up donning our crampons, and to our surprise the snow was firm and we weren’t even breaking through too much – another bonus.

The Sun started to rise and the day was going to be a cracker – as long as that bloody Norwester didn’t come in and gatecrash our party. We started to get into the rhythm and caught a party returning concerned about the wind. Jeech it wasn’t that bad we thought– are they crazy!?

The first steep pitch the boys cruised up and the snow had good purchase, a little soft in places but timing was looking good and we pressed on as things could only continue to soften. We came to the gap with Nick checking the route out and as we decided conditions & confidence was good, we decided to climb without ropes on this crux of Rome Ridge. We rounded this and got onto that classic ridge line with fantastic exposure over to the Crow Valley and with the Low Peak firmly insight – were we really going to nail this? – Yep it seemed so – bring it on.

More hard work and we maintained a good pace kicking on and taking in the sublime views as we gained height. Finally we made it to the Low Peak having fantastic views over inversion clouds out to the West Coast and Tasman Sea and the first view of the smooth Crow Glacier that borders middle Peak and leads to our final goal – High Peak and the Summit of Mount Rolleston at 2275m.

We pressed on to finish the job off, crossing the Crow Glacier. A last crux stepping right, making a small traverse with huge exposure, hundreds of meters below to crank the axe and gain the final summit ridge. Nick kindly offered the summit and I took the honour for my Papa. I finally topped out and looked around at the majestic 360 degrees views on a perfect bluebird day. The boys came up to join me and we toasted the old boy – Albie with a beer on the summit. An unusual brew a Mad River ‘Steelhead Extra Pale Ale’ that my Dad had flicked me.

9.30am summit – just under 6 hours. We had a good old drink and reflected how bloody lucky that we’d burgled it, but of course only half the job was done!

Time to cruise it down. A snack on Low Peak and we cruised down the lovely soft conditions towards the Otira Slide and once on it pulled out a few arse slides. Warm sunshine and that lovely feeling that you’re out of the danger zone and it’s bagged & tagged, into more chilled surrounds bathing in our glory.

A spot of lunch in the valley discussing the vagaries of life and we cruised on down the creek to the start of the Otira Valley as hints of the Norwester came in and the wind started to get up. We were home & hosed and it was off to the Wobbly Kea for a couple of pints to spin a few more yarns and plan the next mission.

Thanks to Nick Moyle for leading the trip and trip members Wayne Robertson (driving), Mike Jennings, Paul Swettenham.

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