Shattered. It’s the best word to describe how I felt last week over the five days that we took to climb New Zealand’s Mount Aspiring. There’s nothing to get a person prepared for long days of climbing with a heavy backpack but long days of climbing and a heavy backpack. And it hurts. But good times with friends and stunning mountain views made up for the quarter-sized blisters, achy legs, and bug bites that I picked up along the way.
We called ourselves Team Faff, faff being the British word for any sort of disorganized state. Tim Burton, the unstoppable Brit, proved to be somewhat of a physiological mutant. He’s a ski mountaineer with excellent route-finding skills, great balance, and a wonky wit. Cecelia Mortenson—Cece—is also a mountaineer and a guide, and everything she does in the mountains seems wickedly calm and collected, whether that means she’s leading over a crevassed glacier in vanilla-shake fog or walking with crampons on an exposed rock ridge. I struggled to keep up with these two, being the least experienced member of our team and not really possessing any superstar skills beyond the necessary ability to suffer intensely for prolonged periods of time.
Day 1: Eight hours or so of walking into Mt. Aspiring National Park with seven days of food. Sleep at streamside camp because we can not find the rock bivy mentioned in our guide. Cece wakes up in the middle of the night puking (Was it the food? The water? She’s nauseous but otherwise fine the next day).
Day 2: Hard scramble up through Bevan Col to the Colin Todd hut at the base of Mt. Aspiring. No room in the hut, so we camp in a rock bivy just outside.
Day 3: Recce climb on the Rolling Pin. Sleep inside the Colin Todd hut.
Day 4: Early start (4 a.m. wakeup) and long day climbing Mt. Aspiring’s North West Ridge. Tim pukes three times on the glacier as we descend (Temperature change? The relief? He’s sick of Americans? He recovers within minutes, the mutant). Sleep at Colin Todd hut.
Day 5: Weather deteriorating, so we decide to walk all the way back down the valley. We leave excess food and fuel at the hut to walk down with light packs. Showers in Wanaka and nice dinner out.
I suppose I could go off about the actual climbing of Mt. Aspiring—it was a good, hard, long scramble through rock and scree, and at the top, we cramponed up some decently steep snow and ice. We returned home tired. It was sometimes scary and probably a bit dangerous. Those things were expected.
But I’d rather mention that the climb was more about getting to know people and a place. Being in a mountain hut with other climbers is a beautiful thing—sharing food and stories, sitting out on the deck and cursing the curious Kea birds that dug up buried sausages and ate our gear. My partners chided me for taking daily snowball showers, which involves stripping down and rubbing handfuls of snow all over my body. I find grainy snow to be a refreshing exfoliate, and maybe that makes me too girly or soft or self-consciously clean. Maybe I am, but those little natural pleasures are what make being outdoors such an invigorating experience. Seriously—try it. Next time you see a patch of snow, just cup some of it in your hands and then bury your face in it. And if you like it—I dare you—strip off your clothes and jump right in. Go on.
(I apologize for the lack of photos at the end here–for those of you who just look at the photos! But I’m on a public computer and having many techy difficulties. Arrrgh. Hopefully more photos to follow.)