It came all of a sudden. After months of waiting, the high had arrived. The only problem was that I had hardly any leave, and the high was due to arrive on a Monday afternoon. Turns out Alastair McDowell was in the same boat, with a friend due to arrive from Australia on Wednesday evening. So, our plan to attempt a grand traverse of Aoraki in a day was conceived! We had help along the way. Gavin Lang steered us to the idea of ascending the NW couloir, rightly pointing out conditions were still wintery up high. Reg Measures encouraged us to leave the cooker at home and don approach shoes for the way in and out. The week came. 1.5 days of leave booked. Al picked me up Monday afternoon. We caught a few winks sleep in Wyn Irwin then it was up at 11:30pm for a 12:30am start.
We jog along the Hooker Lake tourist track in the quiet darkness. Soon the lake shore comes into view. At the glacier inlet we stop to fill our water bottles. The only water we can rely on till the Ball Shelter. Dawn finds us beneath Pudding Rock marvelling at how filled in the Hooker is. No need for the chains today. We continue climbing. The sun finds us on the final slope to the Low Peak. We catch sign of two dots heading for the south face. Just then Al gets a text from Gavin saying hello – he can see us!
Conditions are excellent and a combination of front-pointing and walking sees us reach the Middle Peak Hotel in an hour, and another 1h 15 mins on to the High Peak for midday. We begin our descent. A few abseils, some ‘bridging’ down-climbing and we’re gliding down the Linda. We start to relax just the descent from Cinerama col and we should be out of danger.
Everything goes smoothly to the base of the Boys Glacier, but then our wheels fall off. Three times we veer right to early, get bluffed, and have to re-ascend before we’re finally standing atop the scree slope that will lead us down to the Tasman.
We pit stop at the Ball Shelter water tank – food, drink, approach shoes, and then begin to run it home. We feel confident we’re on the final stretch. We wonder how problematic the recent collapse of Husky Flat will be? We reach it in early dusk with enough light to spy the ropes through scrub rigged by Alpine Recreation guides.
We reach the Tasman carpark as the twilight transitions to night. We are alone. Another hour and a half and we finally reach the Hooker carpark 23:47hrs after we left. Time for most of a night’s sleep before the long drive for a 10am start at work the next morning. I give thanks for flexible working
Editor’s Note: Rose and Al have recently followed up their one-day Aoraki ascent with a half-day ascent of Aoraki’s southern cousin Tititea / Mt Aspiring (in 11 h 51 from Raspberry Creek return). As far as we know this time beats a very fast ski ascent / descent by Erik Bradshaw in around 14 hours round-trip on his birthday a few years back, but tales exist of faster round-trips using a paraglider. In any case, Rose and Al might well have the self-propelled speed record on Aspiring.