Mount Aspiring

  • Mount Aspiring
  • 3033 m.
  • Primary factor: 2469 m
  • New Zealand
  • Location: South 44.384204, East 168.727883
  • Difficulty: (YDS) class 5.6.
  • Attempted January 7, 2015


How to get there:
This is a very impressive peak, often called "the Matterhorn of the South". It is the highest mountain on the South Island of New Zealand, outside of the Aoraki/Mount Cook region. The point of departure is the tourist town of Wanaka, near the south end of lake Wanaka. If driving south on Hwy. 8, then Wanaka is served by Hwy. 8A forking right about 25 kilometer north of Cromwell.
From Wanaka, drive west around the south end of the lake, then further west into the Matukituki valley. This road is about 50 kilometer from Wanaka, most of it a fairly rough (still ok for ordinary cars) dirt road, ending in a large parking area. This area is certainly worth a visit regardless of how far you plan to hike. The parking is located at S44.51063, E168.74278, elevation about 370 meter.
Just shortly after the paved road ends, you will find Aspiring Helicopter on the left hand side of the road. They provide helicopter services in the area. In particular, they have a fixed price schedule transporting climbers up to Bevan Col.
This is a quick summary and reference to climbs made on this trip.
Route description.
This mountain is quite remote and hard to access on foot from the nearest road. People that walk all the way (from a road) run a significant risk that the weather has turned bad before they can attempt the summit. This has resulted in quite many parties make use of a helicopter to get near the base, climb the next day, then do the hike back out. The description below will outline this approach, a flight in to Bevan Col, the climb (only partially), then a possible way to return out on foot.
Hut climb:
The helicopter pickup location is near the upper end of the parking area. In 2015, the charge for a flight from here to Bevan Col was 300 NZ dollars per person. The helicopter lands a bit higher than the proper col at location S44.39495 E168.68875, elevation about 1850 meter.
From the landing spot, first descend to the col, then down to the glacier. This descent is first gentle, while the last part is somewhat steeper and across loose scree. From here, one must cross (descending a bit in the process) the Bonar Glacier, then climb a fairly steep (snow) slope in order to reach the New Zealand Alpine Club hut named Colin Todd. This hut is located at S44.37213, E168.69460, elevation about 1800 meter.
There are basically two different routes from Colin Todd and all the way back out to the parking. These routes can also be used to walk in. The first option returns to Bevan Col, then descends steeply to the valley floor. This involves abseiling and the mountain side is known for loose rocks and that this route is far from risk free, ie. there are objective dangers.
We picked the alternative route and this will be described in a bit more detail. Note that this route becomes more difficullt later in the season, see the description below.
First, return back down to the Bonar Glacier and continue more or less across, while ascending in the same direction as going to Bevan Col. However, well before reaching the other side, turn south and ascend the glacier picking your way around bigger crevasses and across small ones. Gradually, turn a bit left (west) and aim for the flat plateau (2100 meter) just west of Mount French (2356 m). Most of the route up the Bonar Glacier, including Mount French, may be seen on this picture. Continue more south and aim for the (south) leftmost part of the snow ridge that runs down from Mount French. You now have another peak, XX, off on your left side. This passage is called Quarterdeck Pass, it is not really a pass, but you cross a ridge to gain access to the upper part of a ramp that connects with the upper part of the French Ridge. The elevation here is approximately 2290 meter, this means that the route has gained about 600 vertical meter along this glacier crossing. The route down from Quarterdeck Pass is crevassed, increasingly so as the summer progresses. The top part requires care as you cross a crevasse, then continue on easy terrain that steepens to about 30 degrees. make a descending traverse right and negotiate perhaps 30 meter that may be about 45 degrees steep. There is a crevasse running across at the bottom of this slope, care is needed. The rest of the ice-fall is less steep, but heavily crevassed. One need some navigational skills to pick the best route between the crevasses and across appropriate snow-bridges. This passage may be different in different years and the crossing is likely to be increasingly more difficult as you get towards the end of January.
Once you are off the glacier, follow the top of the ridge (French Ridge) down to the French hut, belonging to the New Zealand Alpine Club - NZAC. This hut is located at S44.42862, E168.69380, elevation about 1470 meter.
From here, a pretty good ttrail continues down the ridge. This trail has a few short, steep sections down among the trees, but is generally like any steep trail in a forest on the way up on a mountain. The trail hits the main river, directly at a river fork. The left branch of this river has a bridge, but not the branch facing you. One may hike upstream to a bridge, or cross the river. This crossing is best done below the fork, ie. there is no use of the bridge. You may get wet to your waist, fairly deep, gentle current, but pretty cold (glacial water).
From here, a big trail will continue down the valley, all the way to the parking area. You pass Aspiring hut along the way. The hike from the river crossing to the parking is about 12 kilometer. This trail is quite popular and you are likely to see other people. Near the parking, you will see the day visitors in even larger numbers.
Summit climb:
From the Colin Todd hut, there are two routes. In spring, one may move up the Bonar Glacier close to the mountain, then ascend steep snow to reach the north-west ridge higher up and above the technical part of this ridge. This route becomes impossible as the season progresses. The snow is steep and protection is needed. Several accidents have happened on this snow ramp.
The alternative route is to follow the ridge all the way from Colin Todd. First, this route is fairly easy, the ridge is broad and the route is basically YDS class 2, perhaps class 2+ a few places. This route will ascend towards a big rock gendarme, 2151 meter. Just left of this point, there is a steep down-climb (YDS) class 4, most teams will abseil down this pitch. Next, one may follow snow right next to the high ridge before connecting back on rock where the ridge becomes quite narrow with several local tops. There is a bypass along a narrow exposed ledge on the left side, then across yet another hump and from here one need to rope up, as actual climbing begins.
Since we turned around in this vicinity, this page cannot give much more "first hand" information. The ridge has a very steep step that is bypassed on the left, then the somewhat more gentle top section.
This trip turned out to be a very nice and varied mountain trip having essentially all good qualities except gaining a summit. We called Aspiring Helicopter while driving down from the Remarkables Ski Area and agreed on a flight to Bevan Col departing around 1800. The forecast for the next day was excellent. I had read about this west-ridge route on Aspiring and even watched a video by the local guide company that tried o explain the level of difficulty of this route. That all looked quite doable and I knew that Pål Jørgen would (most likely) be able to lead a climb of the indicated level of difficulty.
The chopper came at 1815. We quickly rose above the valley floor and got a new look at the nearby landscape. In no time we had Mount Aspiring in clear view then we were at Bevan Col. Along the way we had a look at the French hut as well as the glacier ramp up to Quarterdeck Pass. We roped up and found a good passage across the glacier, then up to the Colin Todd hut. This hike took 1:40, so arrival was around 2015. There were two parties in the hut, 3 from NZ and 2 from Tsjekkia (having lived an extended period in NZ already). The party of 3 planned to climb the next morning, while the 2 would have a rest day.
I left my Spot outside, before I knew that the local kea bird would attempt almost any item left outside. When we arrived, Aspiring was partly in the clouds, but the clouds cleared and we had a very fine evening.
We started our climb the next morning at 0530, first light. The party of 3 started about 30 minutes earlier using head torches. It was a nice morning and we made reasonable progress up the broad ridge, following cairns now and then, clearly on a route that had seen some use. Near the first big break in the ridge we found the abseil point, several slings already making a safe anchor. The next leg was pretty easy, we decided the snow was more convenient and used our crampons. Then, the ridge became more narrow as we bypassed a hump on its left along a narrow, exposed ledge. Still, no need for climbing. However, soon we realized that the easier part of the approach was over. We roped up and Pål started out across another small hump on the ridge. Then, he obviously stopped to explore the next section. After a while, I called to check on the situation and he replied: "Here it is extremely steep in all directions". A bit later, he called back ans said that he felt uncomfortable leading the next pitch. A very clear and honest message to which I replied that he should come back. I then informed Adrian and Rob, that at least today, this mountain was a "size too big" for our party and that our climb would end here.
The scenery and the landscape were just too nice to feel disappointed. We just had a very nice time in a very wild place as we returned to Colin Todd. The round trip had taken us 5 hours. We have lunch and then agree to set out across the Quarterdeck route in order to make the French hut before evening.
We crossed the large Bonar Glacier with Pål leading the rope team, going left of Mount French, the ascending to Quarterdeck Pass. There were surprisingly many crevasses, but they all were pretty narrow and easy to jump across. We had good views of Aspiring, a different look from this viewpoint. Just before the final ascent to Quartedeck, we ran into a single tent with two climbers that had ascended from the French hut, the previous day. They claimed that the slope below Quarterdeck was 60 degress, possibly only 55. Hmm. I told them that this was certainly wrong, however, since I had not been there (and they had!), I was prepared for a rather steep slope that we would need to protect. The surprise was therfore evident when itbturned out that this snow slope was rather trivial, mostly around 30 degrees, possibly as much as 40-45 for a very short stretch at the very bottom.
The route-finding further down where the glacier was more broken up with seracs and huge crevasses, was more of a challenge, however, Pål led us through, between and across various obstacles in a very good way. We arrive at the French hut after what is now a full day of mountaineering in excellent landscape with many really high quality aspects. The trip from Colin Todd to the French hut took 6:45 in total time. Pål has carried 4 half liter cans of beer all the way from Colin Todd (on top of all other weight!), very popular for dinner! We enjoy a nice evening then good sleep.
The next morning, we descend and walk out to the car. This was also a very nice hike with beautiful scenery all around. The river crossing was cold. I first tried to cross in such a way that I could use the bridge for the second half, but this was not such a good idea. As the water started to touch my backpack, with increasing pull also from the current, I turned back and picked the crossing a bit more downstream. We truly enjoy the good weather and the breathtaking scenery as we walk out. The upper part of this Matukituki valley can only be seen by foot. Waterfalls coming down from glaciers higher up, very nice peaks can be seen up on all sides. We arrive at the parking lot about 6 hours after leaving the French hut.