Aoraki Day 2: Picture perfect day

On waking this morning the weather had completely changed. Blue skies and clear views surround the hills with next to no wind. Wasting no time we got packed up and headed to the airport to catch a heli into Plateau Hut. Chopper rides are not cheap and were fortunate enough to split the ride with another ground of climbers headed into the hills.

Geared weighted and packed on board we were off the ground in no time, flying up the Tasman Glacier, rising high towards the Grand Plateau and Plateau Hut. The views were incredible. The Tasman Glacier is wide and the ever increasing lake at the head of the moraine a bright blue-green colour, contrasted with the white-grey icebergs blown and collecting at the the southern end of the lake. Lots of fresh snow covering the big mountains.

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Moving towards the Grand Plateau we were offered clear views of Aoraki and the Linda Glacier. Seeing our objective up close and from height really pressed home what an awesome mountain it is. The broad sweep of the Plateau extending beneath the high peaks of Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, Lendenfeld, Hasst and Dixon; huge seracs of ice clinging precariously to the sides and long tails of debris scattered in wide arcs at the base indicating recent avalanches.

After a smooth landing on the snow outside the hut we scrambled to do a hot unload of gear with rotors whirring away overhead. Securing loose objects and crouching down over gear as the heli rose, speeding off again to take the other passengers to their destination, snow kicked up in the rotor wash as the machine took off but then… silence. Such an amazing change. With heli gone, I was struck how peaceful the scene was. Not a breath of wind and silence, just silence in the mountains.

Our main mission for the day was to quickly get settled before roping up and hitting the Linda Glacier to reconnaissance a route through. No one had been through the glacier since a fresh dump of more than a metre of snow last week and conditions were unknown. Was the route going to be a tough slog through the fresh stuff? Had the snow partially covered crevasses? How hard or soft were conditions? These questioned all to be answered.

Wasting no time, we were roped up for glacier travel, crampons fixed to boots and ice axe in hand. We headed out to have a look and see who far we would get.

The avalanche forecast was at the highest level it can be with last weeks fresh dump unsettled and sitting on top of a harder lower of snow, causing real potential or slab avalanches to occur.

I forgot just how hot glaciers can be. While the temperature was down, the sheer amount of solar radiation off all surfaces around quickly counteracted this. Layers were quickly shed and more sunscreen applied as we moved through the glacier.

Working our way through the glacier the ground started to kicked up, rising sharply in a few sections, the hard work of slowly plugging steps beginning. While the sun baked snow was a little soft it wasn’t as deep as we thought it could have been after a metre of the fresh stuff. Many areas had been wind blown with the recent snows blown off the surface. Still it was slow work and another day or two of sun would be ideal to help consolidate the surface snow and help it settle onto the base.

The occasional roar of avalanches and loose ice falling away nearby filled the silence that was otherwise occupied with the jangle of climbing gear bouncing around on harnesses and heavy breathing.

Picking our way through large crevasses, partially filled in with snow and with snow bridges in tact we pushed up towards the foot of the Bowie Ridge before calling it a day. The terrain from there kicked up quite steep and it didn’t make a lot of sense to continue in the soft stuff. Further progress would be easier in the dark with the overnight freeze. We retraced our steps to the hut for some rest and food. We would return in the early morning to see if we could push to the top.

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