Dispatch #2: BD athlete Steve Romeo reports on his ski mountaineering trip to New Zealand
Black Diamond athlete Steve Romeo decided to fly down to New Zealand in late September to feed his skiing need on the island's steep peaks. Below is his second report from the peaks of New Zealand, along with some stellar photos from Scott Fennell.
To read Romeo's Dispatch #1, click here.
It was nice to get a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed while waiting out the weather and resting my wounded finger, but after a few rainy days of internet, boozing and hanging with the locals, I was chomping at the bit to get back up into the mountains and alpine huts of New Zealand. So when high pressure came, I grouped up with some glacier guides and booked a flight with the heli ops to the Pioneer Hut on the Fox Glacier.
Our flight was scheduled to lift off at 9am, giving us more or less the entire day to ski, which was what I was here for anyway. Unfortunately, though the skies were crystal clear, the gales were up and we were put on hold. You could see the ground blizzard going on up on the glaciers, so we weren’t about to push the pilots to fly. Instead, we cruised down to the beach and drank ginger wine and stared at the ocean, then turned around and stared at the massive peaks behind us… then stared at the ocean, and then at the peaks… and then back at the ocean. You see where I’m going here.
Though it sounds boring, the sheer beauty of the ocean/mountain combo kept us more than occupied and left our minds to wander and dream about skiing. The huge peaks of Tasman and Cook covered in glaciers and seracs blew my mind, considering that I was standing next to the ocean and could very well, have been dropped right in the middle of them within a moments notice. A little tramp out to an abandoned gold mining mill also helped pass the time. After a couple check flights gone bad and it now being about 5pm, it was obvious we weren’t getting into the hills that day, so we retreated back to our street clothes and dinner.
The next morning our flight got off a little behind schedule, still due to high winds and even once we arrived, we took shelter in the hut for the first half of the day, as gales whipped up snow along the surface of the glaciers. Later, a warm-up tour got us up to Pioneer Pass, but the snow was frozen solid due to the winds and we retreated back to the hut to watch the sunset and get some chow.
The following day broke splitter bluebird with zero wind. We had scoped out some lines on Receveur and Big Mac on the other side of the Albert and Abel Janszoon Glaciers. A short stop and transition at Katie’s Col allowed us just enough time to admire the views into the Balfour Glacier and put on our crampons and grab our ice axes for the ridge walk towards our line. The snow softened like melting butter under the hot sun, but the underlying surface was quite firm, which kept my attention as I got back on my skis for the descent. The snow was smooth and even softened a little more as it rolled over in its steepest section, which brought the thrill factor down a little.
Following the exposure of the sun, we turned around and headed east, so we could ski the west facing slopes in the afternoon, hitting some fun shots off of Pioneer Ridge on the way. As we got closer to our objective, it was obvious that it wasn’t even close to softening yet, so we backed off and just did a link-up through Newton and West Hoe Passes. Fun challenging skinning conditions mixed with some spicy bergstrund step-acrosses and snow bridges kept the day interesting, even though the skiing was rather moderate. The next day we were going for Lendenfeld, a 3,000-meter peak in the area, directly next to Tasman and a bit more of a real mountain, so I was keen to relax back at the hut a little and soak in the airspace.
Sleep came easy, but was interrupted by some climber dudes getting up at 12am to climb Tasman Peak via the North Ridge, and after a short re-sleep, my watch woke me up, signaling time to get up and make some brew. We waited for dawn to arrive just enough so we didn’t really need headlamps to navigate through the glacier, figuring any extra time we would gain by leaving earlier, would be lost by slower travel in the darkness.
The frozen snow allowed us quick travel and the rock solid steep boot-pack up towards Marcel Col tested my aluminum crampons to the max, which held up to the task and verified their usefulness. Arriving at the col and then climbing up the ridge, it was obvious that our objective was in questionable shape, as blue ice patches and rimey chicken heads, to full heads and bodies, pretty much covered the entire snow surface. The climbing was fun, but it was obvious that a descent from the summit was in question, at least for me, and one by one we all pealed off at our comfort point on the ridge. The skiing was challenging, but luckily the transition back to our skis wasn’t too difficult, which can be half the battle sometimes. Breakable crust and more icy snow brought us back to the Fox Glacier and finally, fun turns on the way back to the hut. We got out for an afternoon ski, but the heat of the late day sun was a beat down, as energy was sapped from our bodies.
With bad weather in the forecast, the next day we filled up our packs with our remaining supplies and skied down to the Chancellor Hut for a cheaper heli ride out. We took the “American line“ and ended up having to navigate a narrow, steep, icy and shady couloir just above the hut. A “good to the last drop” adventure once again. Next stop, Mount Aspiring.
— Steve Romeo
[All photos by Scott Fennell]