Mt Clarke

The tips of my boots were trying to dig into the frozen rock and ice with not much luck. Thankfully I had my ice axe and was stoked to feel it lodge its tip into ice and take hold. I’d left my crampons back in the truck to save on weight, probably a mistake I won’t make in the future.

It had been a cold and dark winter with far too many working days and the lack of powder had me craving for adventure. Missing that important juice called vitamin D. Splitboarding to the summit of Mt Clarke in the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park had been on the bucket list for a couple of years now. I’d done my research and determined it wasn’t a very technical climb, being able to skin right onto the summit. With death drops on either side down into the Dart and Rees valleys she was still something to respect and not to be taken lightly.

It’s still early morning and the sun hasn’t made its way over the ridge, snow still frozen solid; falling was not an option at this point. My three mates below had faith I knew where we were going and what route to take. I’d clearly taken the wrong line this time and assured them we would be down climbing later tomorrow on a different passage. Letting them know it wasn’t far till we popped out and onto the ridge – hopefully giving them some confidence. Mt Clarke was 1500 vertical meters from our current location and we planned to summit the peak later today and ride off the top. I had covered this ground hunting in the previous summer months but things were different now, being the first weekend of spring the sun was still low in the sky and keeping the snow and ice frozen and firm.

There’s always that anticipation before you head off on a trip into the mountains, especially the southern alps of New Zealand. With unpredictable weather and average snow conditions she can be a hit or miss kinda deal.

Sometimes just getting to the start of your adventure can be a mission. All these things where running through my head as we sped up the Glenorchy road towards the Rees valley. The truck was loaded up with four smelly working men who had finished their long week slaving away for the man. But now it was our time. The weather maps looked good for the weekend with a massive high over the lower south Island. The Hilux was loaded up and she was punching it in 5th gear trying to make camp by dark. As we round a corner Mt Clarke looms in the far off distance. Staring you right in the face. Tempting you with its long snowy slopes and sun soaked ridges.

Finally we enter the Rees valley and cross Muddy Creek and onto the 4wd track. We wound our way up the valley criss-crossing the river and losing the track every now and then. We made camp on dusk with the warmth of the day still hanging around. Camp was erected in no time and the fire was trying to cook my venison sausages (with not much success).

Sleep came easy that night. With the working week over and the dreams of the next days adventure.

Up the next day, first mistake. Pack your bags the night before. We pissed around packing and tying boards, snowboard boots and anything else which couldn’t fit inside. Eventually we hit the trail.
It’s always special entering a national park and today wasn’t any different. We crossed the swing bridge over the blue waters of the upper Rees River and entered the Mount Aspiring National Park. Ditching clothing layers once the pace was up, we carried on up the valley through the beech forest.
Exiting the bush, the sound of your boots crunching on the frost covered grass reminded us winter still had its hold of these high country valleys. The morning sun reflecting off the mountains in the distance. They look like something out of Art of flight with an Alaskan style spine set ups.
Looking up we can see the top of Clarke slip. Rylie – the man behind the camera decides to ditch his hiking boots at this stage and plans to wear his snowboard boots for the remainder of the trip. He claims he’s done something like 556 days in these boots this year – they look like a pair of old garden gloves with holes in the toes and resemble a pair of gumboots. But he thinks they’ll last the trip and will be sacrificed to the snow gods if all goes well.

After 45 minutes of climbing and the morning and the sun still hasn’t made its way over the ridge, snow still frozen solid; falling was not an option at this point. The boys below had faith I knew where I was going. I’d clearly taken the wrong line this time and assured them we would be down climbing later tomorrow on a different passage. Letting them know it wasn’t far till we popped out and onto the ridge. Hopefully giving them some confidence. Things are a little sketchy for the next half hour as we make our way up the frozen snow and ice but emerge on top a little white knuckled and short of breath.

The views are amazing and we take 5. We set up camp for the coming night put on a brew, down some scrogging strap on the skins and hit the road.

Its relatively easy work touring for the first hour, though sideling on split board isn’t the nicest feeling on the feet. We take regular stops to take in the view of the Forbes Mountain range. Blown away by the expanse of the permanent snow and ice, making us all feel insignificant compared to its size and power. We finally make it up to the Clarke Glacier and decided to split up, Riley – always after the best angle – heads to a close peak with a view of the summit. Jesse stays with Riley to keep check and make sure all is well. Both Henry and I agree to head for the summit. The last push is always going to be hard going. Your lungs are burning, legs feeling like jelly.
We work across the glacier and skin all the way onto the summit. Bodies are beat from hours of traversing in snowboard boots and lugging heavy packs.

Sheet ice on the summit and we are on all fours crawling around still wishing I had those crampons. A full 360 degrees view down the Dart and Rees valleys, over to Mt Aspiring to the North, Mt Earnslaw to the South.

The sun is starting its decent towards the horizon and now is a good time to drop in before the spring corn firms up. Dropping down the glacier it’s full speed euro carves. Getting super low and maxing out the Gee Forces. The snow is perfect spring conditions. All that hard work was worth it. We meet up with the boys and rip down the valley towards base camp.

We park up on a rock outcrop over looking our tent. The sun was setting behind Mt Head in the distance, our bodies beat the bootlaces open on our boots letting the blood rush back to our aching feet. A massive day we were ready for sleep.

Three humans in a four man tent is a tight fit, if he’s not your missus then another head on your pillow is pretty rank. A tent clogged up with farts and the sound of snores – it was an early rise. A sketchy down climb with rolling boulders and icy rocks we were stoked to get to the valley floor and back to the truck.

Pumped on an epic weekend in the hills. Climbing to the top of Mt Clarke at 2285m and riding off its peak was done and dusted.

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