The SW Ridge – Mt Aspiring

The SW ridge is a classic snaking feature that leads directly to the summit of Mt Aspiring (3033m).  The route follows the line between the West Face and the steep South Face and is clearly visible from areas around Wanaka.  The crux of the route is just below the summit with a short stepp section of ice climbing or mixed climbing for about 25m before the final 120m of 50 degree ice to the summit ridge,.  The difficulty of the crux pitch is determined by the conditions – when the gully is plastered in ice it can be quite steep but easy to protect whilst when in thinner conditions it is slightly less steep but harder to protect.  Regardless of conditions, it is a very wild and airy place to be with a great deal of exposure under your feet – really exciting!


This particular trip was with Louise Yeaman – a visiting Australian clilmber who had come to climb Aspiring earlier in the year but had been thwarted by a 5 day storm.
We had cut that trip short as the weather was so bad and Louise wa able to transfer her remaining days / time onto another trip.  Louise had set her sights on aoraki – Mt cook this time however the weather was once again against her.  After using 2 days of her trip time we once again postponed the trip to take advantage of what looked to be better weather that looked to be coming in in 3-4 days time ….

The forecast only got better as the next few days unrolled and we were getting geared up to fly into Bevan Col on the tail end of a southerly clearence. With a fair bit of new snow and heavy packs we decieded to camp on the bonar glacier rather than slog up to the normal bivvy spot directly under the SW ridge.  Without our packs on it was easy work to put in a good boot pack up to the start of the climb at thebase of the ridge.

The promised good weather continued the next day with lite winds and clearing skies.  The early morning sun turned the south face a deep redish pink as we approached the shrund at the bottom.  At this time of year the shrund was easily negotiated and then we had the sweeping exanse of the SW ridge infront of us.

Normally, to guide the SW ridge its best to have less than bullet proff snow / ice.  With softer snow it means that you can kick good steps for your client to follow you in, and with a short tight rope between you it’s possible to make good time up to the higher sections of the ridge line and or the final summit gully.

For this ascent we did have very hard icy conditions which meant that I wasn’t happy to have Louise climbing right behind me in the event of a slip or missed footing.  There would have been very little chance of holding a fall.  Instead I ran out 12 or so 60m pitches on perfect cramponing, daggering ice / snow all the way to the final gully.  Louise was a champion, moving steadily and surely up each pitch, managing the rope and making sure it didn’t tangle as I ran it out.

I could often hear words to the effect of … WOW ! as we got higher and higher on the ridge.

As I approached the couloir I could see that it was clear of snow and heavily iced and rimed up with sastrugi coating just about everything.  The good ice meant that I was going to get great pro and achors above without encountering any mixed climbing – it was a very fun and exposed section to climb.  Again Louise managed the crux pitch really well, cleaning all the gear with no fuss.  From here it was just a simple matter of the last 120m of 55 degree ice to the top and the summit ridge which suprised us by being very comfortable to walk along without any concerns.

There was not a breath of wind and the frozen bullet proof snow of the SW ridge gaveway to soft, each to walk in snow with great cramponing underneath.  It was a great pleasure to not be front pointing anymore!

We spent about 15 – 20 mins takng in the views before starting our way down.  The fastest and most straight forward route down is via “The Ramp”  – a long snow slope that ramps both up but also out and down at about 30 – 45 degrees.  It sits in the sun all afternoon and by now the snow would be pretty soft, may not take good anchors and could easily avalanche – instead we took the full NW ridge down to what is know as the Kangaroo Fields before getting back onto the glacier and slowly slogging our way back to the tent.

All we needed to do was drink loads of water and eat a little bit of food before falling asleep!

Awesome trip and a great job by Louise!

Early the next morning we had word of an inomig helicopter and opted for the backflight out.  This flight out got a little sidetracked as all the local heli operators were being used to flight a large, accidently lite fire up in the East Matukituki Valley.  we got dropped off amongst all the fire fighters as they were being ferried about but were eventually delivered to our waiting car.

Enjoy the image gallery below.