Friday, 13 February 2015

The Traverse of the Remarkables

Arriving in Queenstown got me pretty psyched to do some climbing again, and the pinnacled ridge of the Remarkables was the most obvious target. I asked around some outdoor gear shops in town and found out there was indeed a route that included all the main summits, called the Grand Traverse; it was hard enough to be fun (ie not just walking), but not so hard that I needed a rope for any of it. Perfect!

The Remarkables at sunset. The Grand Traverse follows the highest part of the ridge just left of centre

So early in the morning I started making my way up the long winding road to the Remarkables ski station. Fortunately a labourer very kindly let me jump in the back of his truck, saving me 9km of tedious uphill plodding. I then followed a track under a chairlift and over a spur to gain the start of the ridge.

Beautiful early morning cloud-inversion over the Queenstown valley

Still there an hour or so later

The track up from the ski station

Looking towards the main peaks from the start of the route

I got going, following a rising traverse on the eastern side of the ridge just below the crest. I was a bit out of practice, moving awkwardly at first, trying to get used to the feeling of climbing solo again. But it was mostly pretty easy, just shuffling around on ledges and lines of weakness, the odd steeper bit on massive blocky holds. The crest itself looked wild in places - pinnacles rising up like fangs from some great jawline of stone - kind of tempting, but not without a rope or any real climbing talent...

Traversing around the pinnacles on the way to the summit of Double Cone

Looking back towards the first minor peak of the ridge, with the Southern Alps on the far skyline

Nearly on top of Double Cone, with Single Cone, the highest point of the Remarkables, just behind

Reaching the summit of Double Cone was meant to be the hardest part of the route, but I didn't notice anything too bad. I just followed my nose really, weaving through the steeper sections, anxious not to get stuck somewhere with no way up or back down. The exposure was mild but fairly constant. By this point I was flowing along nicely, moving effortlessly from hold to hold, and soon reached the top of Double Cone.

The fore-peak of Double Cone

Obligatory summit selfie

More mountains to the east

The next section of the traverse, to Single Cone

From the summit I downclimbed an awkward section to a col between the two peaks, at the head of a large rent in the rock called the Grand Couloir. A steep wall reared up in front of me, initially looking pretty tough, until I got closer and saw a line of massive flakes leapfrogging each other to a ledge above. Good stuff! This was easily the most fun climbing of the route, and over way too soon. It was also the hardest part, maybe just squeaking into the Diff grade, I'm not sure. I swung around on massive handholds, slapping my feet anywhere, having an awesome time.

Looking back at Double Cone 

The route then took a rising traverse across a blank looking slab. I wondered how the hell I was supposed to climb it, until once again I got close, and saw a foot-ledge running the whole way across, which I shuffled my way along without any trouble. This was all a bit easy to be honest, I had been hoping for some more challenging climbing. Still, the views were fantastic, and I soon clambered my way up the ridge to reach the top of Single Cone, the highest point of the Remarkables, around 2300m I think.

Summit of the Remarkables

The chossy looking remainder of the ridge, which the Grand Traverse doesn't follow

From the top of the peak I followed the ridge south and reached an obvious couloir. Here there were abseil stations all the way down, which made me a bit apprehensive - should I have brought a rope for this? The couloir was a bit grovelly, filled with powdery snow and loose rock, but I took my time and got down it no worries.

The descent couloir is the obvious fault running down from the centre of the photo

From there I ambled down a badly marked trail, and skidded down scree and steep grass into a valley. I hoped for a track to follow, but alas, I had to make do with ankle breaking rocks and tussocks of grass instead. Eventually the going got easier, and I jogged down a track through the bush to get back to the main road, where I managed to hitch back to town soon after.

Single Cone from the valley of crippling despair

This was far harder than anything on the climb, I shit you not

Although it was perhaps a bit too easy, the Grand Traverse was an awesome day out in the hills, with some amazing scenery to enjoy along the way. It's good to be climbing in the mountains again.