“Why do we have to go so early? Will it be a long day?” Hannah asks.
“That is a good question” I think to myself. “Well there are a couple of reasons…” I start off. I briefly mention that it should not be that long of a day but it is good practice for longer days. I also emphasize snow conditions, avalanche and rock fall hazards, weather and soft snow conditions as the primary reasons.
“Oh, ok,” she responds as we walk back to the tents.
“G’night” I say as I bend over, unzip the vestibule and crawl in.
As I situate myself I hear her explaining the “early” start to her peers.
We are poised to make an attempt on Anderson Peak. At an elevation of 1840 meters this snowy peak guards the north side of this alpine basin on the western edge of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The south facing slopes offer what appears to be a non-technical ascent that will likely involve ice axes and steep snow. Hannah, and her fellow leader of the day tomorrow, Paul, will do a 0530 weather check. Then if all looks good, or not bad, we will depart at 0730 and poke our noses up the slopes for a look around.
Six hours later wind and rain batter our slowly disintegrating Kaitum 2. After an hour or so of bantam weight gusts, I pony up, put on my layers and make a quick round of the student tents. Two need work so I rally the students to tighten their guy lines and improve (aka bigger) their rocks. (Later today, three students would tell me that getting out at 0300 in the rain and wind and engaging in the hunker games was been a highlight of their section.)
The weather check happens and Paul and Hannah are at the door of my tent. I hold the vestibule door taught in my hand, keeping it from flapping in the wind as I chat with them. Rain falls heavily from the clouds that surround us. They query and I suggest an 0700 weather check. We reset alarms and catch a few more minutes of shut eye. The only difference two hours later is that it is lighter, so in true New Zealand fashion we bail and make a plan to hunker.
Throughout the day the rain crescendos and diminuendos on the taught, faded, weather beaten fly. The barometer though slowly creeps up and the clouds do the same, granting us increased visibility. Twenty-four hours after our first briefing for Anderson Peak we are going for take two. Once again student load their standard kits into their packs and turn in, anticipating an “early” morning.
The dawn breaks calm but not clear. Clouds obscure the summits of Anderson, Armstrong and their various satellites. But it is not raining and it is not windy. Once again the leaders approach my tent and I unzip the vestibule to converse with them. “I suppose it is nice enough to go have a look around” I reply to their questioning uncertainty. They agree and spread the word. It is a go. I reset my alarm and dream of sweet dreams for another half hour.
Warm oats and granola fuel me as we kick steps up the soft wet snow, slowly moving upward into the clouds. The train inches upwards and Jim and I coach students on their step kicking technique. We zigzag back and forth up the broad slope. Somewhere near the top, Paul takes over and we beeline up a wide swath of snow to the top. At the ridge top we pause, eat, drink, and check the maps. Our intuition and a map check has us point our toes to the north and into the cloud. Much to our chagrin though we quickly find nothing but descents down steep, rocky precipices below us. So we pause and wait. Soon enough a small breeze kicks up and the ephemeral clouds move just enough to let a high point peek through the clouds to the east. To the north a deep green valley spills out below us. A quick map check has us moving up a talus cone and across a steep ridge of snow to a snowy, cloud enshrouded summit.
Later, as rain patters lightly on the fly we again enjoy the security of our humble abodes and the knowledge that our “early” start was not for naught.