MT ASPIRING SKI EXPLORATION

I spent one year in New Zealand guiding down under for two local Mountain Guide Companies. It was an amazing experience as a European guide… ( this will be the subject of another story). So when the French Gear Company Petal heard I was there.. they jumped on the opportunity to get some exotic ski photos for their upcoming new light ski touring gear. Our initial plan was to go on a ski mission traversing the Southern Alps from East to West in 5 days. We needed to cross private land ┬áto start the trip and unfortunately the farmers closed quite a few of these access points due to the lambing season. We had to change our plan last minute and decided to head into the Mt Aspiring National Park instead. Our plan there was to attempt to tour around Mt Aspiring, nobody had ever done this before in winter… Packed with 5 days of food, we started the trip into the unknown…

Mount Aspiring National Park is a huge natural reserve which covers 3500 km2 of primitive forest, big glaciers and high mountains. Like anywhere else in New Zealand access into the mountains can be really complicated. Either it involves long hours/days to approach into deep valleys, or either you fly in with a helicopter. We chose the purist way and walked in… With the idea of walking out. We planned 5 days to do the tour. Unfortunately the New Zealand weather didn’t allow us to do it this way…

Our team was Nick Morgan an Australian IFMGA Mountain guide living in NZ, his partner Beck and myself. This wasn’t our first exploration but it was our first time together. Our plan on the first day was to access French Ridge Hut from Raspberry Flat, then the second day ski up to Colin Todd Hut and from there bivy out for two/three nights. Our idea was to reach Ruth ridge on the Upper Volta Glacier on the North part of the Mt Aspiring Range and from there head down towards Raspberry Flat. A nice tour…

The first two days were long but we were in a region we knew well from our summer guiding… It was nice to come back in winter! Unfortunately a storm hit us the second night… so we had to start late on the third day… It gave us time to actually make the decision to either continue or turn around. The weather forecast wasn’t very optimistic for the next few days… but not bad either! So we decided to give it a go! It was a challenging day and we took a committed path with no option to turn around… too complex and exposed glaciers/slopes. We found a great spot to bivy under a giant rock. The next day the storm hit us when we were just on the summit of the ridge… What we saw of the descent wasn’t really encouraging… we had to turn around and refugee ourselves under the rock bivy again for one more night. The next day, with more snow on the mountains, all routes with steep slopes were forbidden! We chose between two options attempting to get back to the valley.. but the one we chose didn’t work. Once again we had to backtrack to the rock bivy…with no food and gas left for. The next day we had a short window of sun before the arrival of the next big storm, due to set in for the next few days… We had to give up on the mission and call the rescue before putting ourselves into danger that was easy to avoid… It was a hard call but the right one! When we flew out we saw that it was possible to get out via the option we didn’t choose…. Next time!