Post subject: 4 Days at Pioneer Hut, Fox Glacier Nevé, West Country, NZ
Posted: Sun Sep 09, 2012 2:54 am
Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2011 4:08 am Posts: 128 Location: Melbourne, Australia
To mark my 1st anniversary of splitboarding, I headed back to the scene of the crime (with better gear this time!), New Zealand's South Island.
None of my buddies were up for it (babies, wives etc ), so I booked on a guided hut trip with other randoms.
Last year I toured over the eastern side of the main divide, in the Mt Cook area. This time we toured around the western side of the main divide. The weather was a bit dicey to start with, so our departure was delayed by a day. The huts on the western side of the divide are usually accessed by helicopter from Fox Glacier township. Our original goal was Centennial Hut, but the weather wasn't co-operating so we pulled in to Pioneer Hut. Here's a map of the area with huts and some of the routes we toured, http://bit.ly/Tx7Ak3.
Pioneer Hut is on a knife edge ridge line next to one of the Fox Glacier Nevés, at about 2,200m.
There was another party at the hut when we arrived, which made it a bit cosy at dinner time, but all those bodies helped warm the hut up nicely!
Given that the touring was on glaciated terrain we practiced (down in Fox Glacier village) belaying someone out of a crevasse and building snow anchors with our boards/skis (up at the hut). We also practiced using crampons and ice axes, as I'd never used these in anger.
Our group had a guide and 3 other guys (2 Aussies and 1 American from Montana). 3 of us were splitboarders and the guide and 1 other guy were 2-plankers.
The first days touring was really ordinary, the light was horrible and the tour-able portions of the nevé close to the hut, were quite wind hammered. Our last run back to the hut was a forgettable flat-light sastrugi traverse. At this point I really wasn't feeling that optimistic about the whole thing!
Overnight it snowed a little and the next day we set off on a day tour to Centennial Hut. Again, the light was really flat and it was snowing lightly. We had to make it over West Hoe Pass to get onto the Franz Josef Glacier nevé.
When we got to the top of the pass, the weather had come in again and we (well the guide, Andy!) decided it just wasn't that pleasant touring in a white-out, so we headed back to Pioneer Hut. Even though we got lemons in terms of visibility, I made some lemonade on the way down the pass, and entered the white room / got totally shacked! ... Really wish I had've put my goggles on instead of sunnies!!
There were some annoyingly short downhill sections across the glacier. Despite Bryce from karakoram assuring me that the heel lockdowns would be ready, he couldn't get them to me in time. My telemarking skills are non-existent, so check out the f&$king gaper skier!
The weather started to clear up in the evening and we enjoyed one of Pioneer Hut's signature sunsets. Sorry if this is too many photos, but words cannot simply convey how beautiful the view from this hut is.
This must be the world's most scenic toilet, let's just say that apart from the clunk, a sunset "Number 2" at Pioneer Hut is about as pleasant as that sort of thing gets!
Top of Mt Tasman (NZ 2nd highest mountain)
We got the weather forecast for the next day (hut radio) and breathed a sigh of relief as the next day was going to be a cracker.
This is what we woke up to.
Brekkie finished, we loaded water and food and toured up to Pioneer Pass, at the top of the main divide.
The view east from Pioneer Pass
Conditions on the descent were quite nice as the sun had softened things up nicely, shady aspects still had a "little" powder.
After that descent, we laid in some more tracks into a another bowl above the hut
Time for Lunch
We'd logged over a thousand metres of vertical already and we were running low on water, so we headed back to the hut.
2 of the guys and the guide headed back out for another tour. Those 3 little dots give you an idea of the scale of the terrain.
My legs were shot so I settled in for a nice scotch and enjoyed the scenery
... which included the obligatory "world's most beautiful sunset"...
If I didn't splitboard, I would never have seen this sunset
The avalanche danger was relatively low, but I had read about some suspect layers down lower.
We toured primarily fairly low angled terrain, as with the sun coming out quite strongly on the final day, there was potential for some slides on steeper sun-exposed aspects. This was confirmed later in the day when I saw two avalanches from the hut. They looked to be about size 2-3 (canadian scale), i.e. will f&$k you up big time!
This next one was more interesting as it is primarily south facing (only got the sun very late in the day). It was a classic case of wind loading, the wind having previously come from lookers right across the knife edge ridge and loading up the slope to the lookers left of the ridge. It's hard to get any scale from the photos, but believe me when I say you would have been lucky to live if you got caught up, particularly with the glaciated terrain.
For those prepared to get really technical, there are some insane lines around, but I'm just not that experienced (or probably fit) enough to get up a mountain like this. The good lord invented helicopters for these lines!
The next day was out last day. The weather was forecast to deteriorate throughout the day and possibly be marginal for a heli-pickup later on, the alternative being touring out to a lower hut (Chancellor Hut, then get heli'd out from there), which would have been quite an effort, especially since the hut was also well below the snowline. So the decision was made to forgo any touring that day. Also we had a solid 3 hour drive from Fox Glacier back to Wanaka as well.
I don't wanna get all deep on ya, but there's something magical about spending a few days in a backcountry hut splitboarding. It's no just longer all about the "down", there's adventure getting to the point where you do get to go "down". There's no internet, Ipads, iphones, electricity or running water for that matter. There's no hurry for fresh tracks. Sure the weather can mess things up, but I've never felt so alive.
I can tell you the first back in Wanaka did not even touch the sides!