A 2-day weather window with good snow on the ground and the winter bonus season still in full swing - too good an opportunity to miss. Time for an attempt to add another 3 summits to the very short list (2) of ZL3 10-pointers that have been activated in winter.
Mt Stevenson - ZL3/CB-092, Braemar Dome in fore
Potential loop of 2 summits of Stevenson, and ‘bail route’ (yellow)
A chilly night at Telegraph Hut allowed a first-light start up the long 15km access easement to the boundary of the Braemar Conservation Area at the base of Mt Stevenson. A good leading ridge climbs steadily onto the Braemar Dome. The morning was claggy, and it wasn’t until 1500m that I finally broke through the cloud and glimpsed the two summits of Mt Stevenson.
The sharp ridgeline leading directly to the main peak of Mt Stevenson [ZL3/CB-092] (right) did not look like much fun, so I detoured east over the Braemar Dome to ascend the east face. This is where what was turning out to be a great trip, started to be not such a great trip. The snow on Braemar was more-like knee to waist deep slush with a thin crust of ice. Very slow going, playing with the minor curves of slope, trying to pick out the more shaded lines with better ice. 1hr30 to climb the final 300m to the 1900m summit of the dome.
From the dome, things looked straight forward. Cut across the darker (hopefully less soft) east face of the peak and cut up through basins to the summit. Sadly the snow was no firmer and it turned into an attempt to string together as many bands of rock as possible, with snow traverses kept to an absolute minimum or carried out only on south facing, icy slopes.
I finally reached the summit at 2:19pm after a 6am start. 2 hours 20 behind schedule. Views were, predictably, astounding.
Someone had kindly left an 8m mast on the summit for SOTA activators. Sadly, they’d failed to maintain the climbing-pegs to reach the top of it, and so after a brief attempt to bypass the gaps, I gave up and erected the SOTA pole!
The activation went well in the warm afternoon sun, with 9 confirmed contacts in ZL and VK. Sadly I was unable to complete a contact with NG9B who came in clearly at times, and could clearly hear my CQ calls but not my reports.
By this time it was too late to activate the 2nd, northern summit of the range - ZL3/CB-133. This meant the third potential 10-pointer of the trip [ZL3/CB-090] was off the cards, but I still expected to able to bag the 2nd one the next morning before walking out ahead of the change in the weather. So I dropped into the basin between the two peaks and set up my first-ever on-ice camp. I’ve pitched a tent in snow before, but always been able to dig down to dry ground. This was the first time I’ve ever just packed the snow down and pitched the tent on top. The result was very successful, expect for one minor glitch in the morning that cost me the rest of the trip.
The alarm was set for a 5am start to reach the northern summit of the range on sunrise - before the basins below the peak had time to soften. The summit lay less than 1km away, and <300m above my camp - easy!
ZL3/CB-133 - So near, yet so far - photo taken the afternoon before
Except that an breaking-down my camp, the rocks I’d used to hold the tent-pegs in the soft snow had frozen to the ground, and whilst using the ice-axe to lever one of them free, I felt a sharp twinge in my lower back. Oh well, take things easy - we’ll make this.
The flat snow basins between the camp and the dark face had not frozen as well as I’d hoped, and I kept breaking through into thigh-deep snow. The third or fourth time this happened my back gave me a further, final warning that this was not on. Seriously concerned that I could end up stuck waist-deep in a snow-hole with my back in continuous spasms, I decided to call it a day. Retracing my steps back to my camp-spot, a very careful descent of the valley followed - and then the 15km walk back from the park boundary to my truck.
So I managed 1 of my 3 winter 10-pointers, and the ZL3 winter 10-point tally for all activators now stands at 3.
The remainder of my week’s plans for an ambitious circuit of the snow-clad Wild Man’s Brother range was shelved, and replaced with a week playing in the Hakatere foothills, staying below the snowline, making good use of the network of backcountry huts, avoiding tents like the plague, and doing my flippin’ stretches before I get up!
Reports of all that fun to come.