All the gear was piled into the rental car and we drove south to Wanaka. In town we repaired my boot and ate some amazing burgers. Some wet weather paid us a visit and we had a down day/rest day. Not needed, but not unwelcome. Our time in country was winding down, but we had one more shot at the mountains. Beau suggested we do a Mount Aspiring strike via the French Ridge Hut. We packed up 2 days worth of gear and food and began the walk in.
All our packs in a row.
We strolled though the lush valley full of sheep. Some Lord of the Rings shit going on right here. Adam, myself and Billy armed for battle and on a mission. (photo- Beau Fredlund)
Our journey was fraught with peril, including this ornery young Orc that tried to block our way. If you know Adam F you know of his limitless appetite. Now, I’m not sure if Adam was completely joking, but he kept mentioning how he wished he could crawl under and suckle milk from the bulging teets of the sheep. Almost two years later that’s what I remember as I look at these photos. Still laughing at the earnestness in which he went on and on about it.
Lord of the Rings antics transformed into Indiana Jones adventuring with some airy bridge crossings. Not exactly designed to make for easy travel with skis and boots on packs. Beau knows, doing the shimmy.
A quick dip in the river allowed us to skip another bridge and saved us a few miles of travel. Adam and I getting our feet wet. (photo- Beau Fredlund)
The next part was something I’ll never forget, no matter how many therapy sessions I sit through. The nice wide open valley stroll was OVER. Beau had mentioned the 3,000 foot climb to the hut, but he hadn’t mentioned it was through steep jungle terrain.
The trail was pretty well defined, but deadfall covered it up in many places and these handy yellow triangle markers helped us stay on track.
I mentioned the trail was steep and I’ll mention it again. We climbed roots and stabbed whippets in the soil to aid in purchase and gain ground. The photos don’t do the ridiculousness of the climb justice. This must be done in person to be fully appreciated.
I’m no climber but a heel hook seemed like the proper move here. Strange times call for strange measures. Despite tight hamstrings, it worked. (photo- Beau Fredlund)
With heads down we kept moving and were victorious on this battle with gravity. Adam F breaks out from the thickets and into the alpine with much relief.
Beast of burden Haas following right behind
Soon after we encountered snow and skinned the final few hundred feet up to the French Ridge Hut. We had the tin igloo to ourselves and made it home.
Beau and Adam went for a recon ski that night while Billy and I were content to chill and rest up for what promised to be a big day tomorrow. An alpine start was in order and we started out of the hut in the dark. The sun slowly slid into place and gave us a glorious sunrise on the wide open approach slopes.
Looking across the valley to Mount Barff getting all pink and purdy. Spoiler alert; we’ll go on to ski the lookers left face on this peak the day after Aspiring, so keep it in mind.
Adam and Billy getting the first light as we reached the upper basin.
From here we had a great view of old Mount Aspiring and the face we hoped to ski, which is the lookers left in the shade just off the ridge.
Beau was all smiles looking at the objective! I think he’d skied Aspiring twice before, but was really excited about a potential new line for him.
As we got closer to the base we got a better view of things. You can see the “sneak” off the summit pyramid through the rock band. It appeared to be a snow/ice mix that we’d probably have to rappel down.
Beau doing his best silhouette impersonation.
Getting higher and higher.
The slope finally kicked up and unfortunately we found conditions were a firm frozen crust that was not likely to soften up. It would be good for climbing, but not skiing. We deployed the sharp and pointy things and headed up. (photo: Beau Fredlund)
Billy and Beau traversing off the face to hit the ridge.
Adam in the lead.
Beau makes the final moves over some rocks with massive exposure below.
From here we climbed the standard route that follows the ridge to the summit. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
A group of climbers topped out right about the same time as we did. There was no rush to descend. The snow was locked up pretty solid and icy and though it was sunny out the wind and cool temps weren’t going to let it soften up. Our plan of the steep and exciting West Face wasn’t going to be safe, so we opted for the standard climbing route. After a nice picnic we dropped in. The snow was bad, about as bad as I’ve seen it. It resembled frozen golf ball halves. You could ski it, but it shook you up really good. Slow and steady was the way to go with lots of stopping and watching the other guys scratch their way through it.
Billy off the top of the world!
The sound was the worst thing, it was so loud you couldn’t talk. We made our way down the ridge and the climbing party we had met and was now descending actually caught up to us and passed us because we were moving so slow. HA! It’s rare that walking down the mountain is faster, but it was on this day. At least for the first several hundred feet.
Adam catching air. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
The ridge continues, but the standard route dips off onto a 50 degree ramp. The snow was still super firm! Beau and I decided to down-climb while Billy and Adam carefully edged and slid their way through on skis. Beau and I were impressed.
We had considered plans to link up another nearby peak, but the day was leaning in the late afternoon direction and we opted to ski the remaining 3,000 feet down to the hut and rest up for tomorrow. The crew making the small bump before we could ski wide open corn right to the back door of the refuge. (photo: Beau Fredlund)
A proper whore bath in the sink afterwards.
Adam doing what he does second best, eating. The thing he does first best is climb and ski mountains, which could account for some of the appetite. Not sure where the rest comes from.
We slept in the next morning and got started with the sunrise. Today’s agenda was to descend the 3,000 feet of jungle to the valley floor, climb up 5,000 feet and ski Mount Barff (in the background). AND THEN, we’d hoof it back out the valley 8 miles or so to the car. Big mountain dreams are one thing, but big mountain realities require big effort. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
The hike down the jungle trail was much better than the up had been. Thank you gravity. We hit the river and dropped every last ounce of gear possible for the climb up Mount Barff.
There was a trail similar to the one up to the French Ridge Hut, but not as long and we were carrying much less so it went by fast. We stopped at the hut for a quick snack and then hit the snow and skinned up onto the huge open slopes. The contrast of green and white were something I don’t recall ever seeing.
Beau Fredlund powering up.
We switched to crampons for the final thousand feet. Beau nearing the summit of Barff with yesterdays line off Aspiring in the background.
The summit was reached by circling completely around the back and continuing up a small ramp of snow that we were then able to ski back down. The clouds and weather looked to be moving in so we high tailed it out of there. The crux was a transition off a flat ridge onto a 50 spine. Contemplating the maneuver. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
Looking back up at Adam and Billy while Beau navigates the steeps.
The snow up high was the locked up corn variety, where it’s edgy, but just barely and you don’t leave any tracks. And it was steep enough that you really didn’t wan to blow an edge or take a spill. Beau with the full perspective on our 3,000 foot descent and long walk out the valley under his tips.
Billy Haas ripping into the soft corn snow that we found lower down. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
Some crazy edge of the world action of Beau enjoying this island of extreme contrasts. (screen grab from video)
Downhill, though still difficult is still downhill. A pleasure to be back in trail shoes. (Photo: Beau Fredlund)
The walk out was long, seemed about twice as long as the way in, but that seems to happen. Maybe it’s the anticipation and the unknown that draw us along into the adventure. On the way back we are left in the moment where our feet and backs hurt. Those are some of the prices we pay on ski outings. Afterwards, sitting here, almost a year after this experience I look at it as some of the best money, sweat and effort I’ve ever spent.
Huge thanks to Adam, Billy and Beau for partnering up on this once (ok maybe a few times) in a lifetime trip. Thanks to you readers for allowing me to catch up on this story from over a year and a half ago. I’ll try hard to stay current from here on out!