South Ridge Of Grave
South Ridge Of Grave
With a "high" due over Fiordland the four of us sorted four days gear, packed, rejected, and then repacked various sizes and shapes of pitons and jam nuts, being altogether unsure what was necessary on the six miles of the South Ridge of Grave.
Sometime about daybreak we tossed packs out of the cars, took a last longing look at the silent Milford Hotel and began heading up to Barren Peak, the start of the climb. Reaching Barren was made easier by the fact that Con and Barry had climbed it a few weeks earlier in order to become familiar with the area. They led us straight to the bluff that is climbed by climbing a tree and then stepping across onto the rock, the same technique in the same place by Dr. Lindsay Stewart on the first ascent of Barren many years ago. He was also the only other person to seriously attempt the South Ridge of Grave, but bad weather had forced a retreat.
Barron Col was reached late in the morning and here the persistant cloud coming over from the south had us worried that we may have beaten the anti-cyclone. And once on the ridge there were two ways only forward or back. We decided, after considerable debating, to push on and see what Huey had lined up. The first little step of 20 feet out of the Col gave me cramp in the most unbelievable of places, and I was very thankful to have Dick giving me a top rope.
Hereafter for a few hours it was just easy scrambling over and around and between big hunks of Darran granadiorite. We stopped about mid afternoon because we had found a reasonable bivvy spot and the sky was now looking decidely ugly. However as night approached stars began appearing and at 3.30 a.m., in the light of a full moon, I was woken to be given a hot brew.
"I couldn't sleep too well" came the explanation from Conway.
As we shouldered packs and witnessed the first glows of red and oranges in the sky radiating from behind the Central Darrens someone hesitantly remarked,
"Red sky in the morning...shepherd's delight?"
Progress was straightforward for a couple of hours until we reached the base of what we called the "2nd Nick". Here paraphernalia was donned and Barry led up a vertical pitch, then traversed under an overhang to a belay point. Packs and the rest of us followed on a top rope. If you don't believe pack hauling is hard work, ask Conway sometime. The next couple of hours was climbing as only the Darrens can provide. Steep exposed rock with plenty of scope for jam nuts. No need to abuse the mountain by driving in pitons. Lunch above this and a comment.
"Two hours and we'll be on the top."
1972 N.Z. Patagonian Expedition indulging in a favorite Vuwtc pastime - resting. Vuwtc members are Geoff Spearpoint (crouching), Tom Clarkson (pit), and Dave the boy Bamford (camera).
The brave Pursuers sickseed in hefting the Horrible Heffalump before huffing home. (Robert Ridge, see page 18.)
By late afternoon spirits were low and speaking for myself, energy was a hell of a lot lower. A brew and half a pottle of honey perched on a narrow ledge above the Grave glacier, and my pack lighter by a rope and some food, did wonders.
I remember thinking aloud;
"The old bitch is putting up a hell of a struggle to keep her virginity."
"All the better when she finally goes under," came the reply from a grinning Conway.
Sunset over the Tasman Sea saw Barry leading the last of the obstacles; a snout of rock. A top rope for the rest of us to save time and easy scrambling for a while brought us to a level patch of snow by 10.00 p.m. A ghostly moon rising above Te Wera aided us in anchoring the two bivvy tents with pitons, nuts, ice screws and axes, Dick's persistance with the "Bleuets" was paid off when some time, way past the hour of the wolf, he served a stew to remember.
Rain fell during tne night, not surprisingly, as we had had one good day, so it wasn't until the gentlemanly hour of 7.00 a.m. that we started plugging steps along the final narrow winding snow ridge. One hour later, handshakes on the summit. This was the 5th party to stand on her summit, and for Conway and myself, our 2nd ascent in little over a week.
Our cairns of the previous trip were a "God-send" as we had to descend both buttresses of the west ridge in mist. No problems were encountered but when standing on the summit of Mitis a few hours later, and the mist parted, Dick and Barry turned some unusual shades of white, when they saw the exposure of the buttresses they had just descended.
Whilst sitting on Mitis absorbing the warmth of the emerging sun, lethargy set in. Out came wet sleeping bags and the last of the biscuits and chocolate. What the hell! We knew we had a food dump only an hour below us at our old bivvy site, and now was a time for living it up. Elation was running high.
A sunset that night to equal that seen earlier, convinced me that the Harrison, in spite of its reputation, must be one of the greatest regions I have visited. Long will the memories of fading shafts of light on Pembroke's snow field, of darkness slowly climbing out of the valley to encompass us and of the comradeship remain within me.
A fairly quick trip down the valley, another struggle through the last of the bush, constantly telling myself "Don't fight it. " and Harrison Cove suddenly was there in front of us.page 38
"That's it boys" from someone. Later on the fishermen anchored out in the Cove sent over a small rowing boat. As we stepped onto their fishing boats, double size cans of beer were thrust into our hands, and we were greeted with "Merry Christmas chaps".
We watched the South ridge of Grave slip by as we travelled in style back down Milford Sound. Dick commented
"Four days to get there, and fifteen minutes to get back." We could only laugh. The prospects of bad weather were welcomed, as it meant back to Dunedin for Christmas, and we felt like a rest.
Barry Scott, Conway Powell, Dick Price and Kevin Helm.