Of Rome and Rolleston Reward
23-27 October 2009
Armchair climbers behold! Rome Ridge and Mt Rolleston. Veritable classics of the mountaineering bucket list. The allure of the 2275m high peak and 2212m low peak and their flanking ridgelines enticed three keen beans to venture South over Labour weekend 2009 to pit their skills against this generally grade 2 ridge and mountain.
Forecasts and avo risks had been studied leading up to the Friday evening flight south with positive indications of good weather and a consolidating snow base. The latest front was to clear early Friday leaving Saturday till Sunday evening clear, with a small front Monday clearing Tuesday. The local avalanche advisory was ‘considerable’ for the week up until Saturday, given the precipitation earlier in the week improving to ‘moderate’ as both the weather patterns and snow conditions harmonised.
Due to Saturday remaining a ‘considerable’ avo-risk, we chose to make our alpine assault on Rolleston Sunday. This provided us time to our own devices for which Dave and I took for a jaunt up Avalanche Peak (1833m) to investigate the snow conditions and meet multiple day-trippers making the most of the blue skies and Arthurs Pass scenery. The snow was predominantly wet and sugary and suggested little hazard from avalanche. Stu took the day to shake his flu a little more and hone his domestic skills. Freshly baked bread and a hearty vegetable and lamb stew were the result of his rest day, setting us up well for our 3am wake-up Sunday morning.
Like all good alpine starts, the only noise heard by the ears is the shuffle of feet and the crunch of breakfasts eaten. However, the internal cacophony is never silent. The stomach churns over the excitement, the body yearns for ‘just a bit more sleep!?’ and the mind racks itself of the challenges ahead. The echo of Graeme Kates (AP DOC and guidebook author) “bergschrunds so big you won’t be seen again” and advice to sidle which side of which feature also mingle for consideration. Oh the noise!
Yet all goes silent when packs are loaded under a velvet sky and the real adventure begins. Parking up at the Coral Track road-end we load up and check our watches: 4am. We negotiate tree roots with our head torches until the sun remits the night at 5.30am. We traverse a short section of tussock and snow before we start on Rome Ridge proper. The crampons bite firm into the cool dawn snow as we make good time along the ridge.
Approx 200m before ‘The Gap’, or the col that separates the Bealey and Crow faces of Rolleston, we descend Rome Ridge to sidle into The Gap, avoiding down-climbing a challenging steep section as advised by Kates the previous day. We harness and roping up for the next section, using simul-climbing techniques to climb the Bealey face and regain the ridge to the Low Peak summit.
Progress slowed in the soft snow of the face, reducing the effectiveness of snow anchors and often lacking alternative forms of protection. We persevered with the simul-climbing gaining Low Peak at around 3pm. Lunch was abbreviated, as while conditions were still warm and soft, thick cloud was rolling in reducing visibility and we were fully aware that the forecasted front was to arrive Sunday night. Descending, we remained roped up to simul-down climb the Goldney Ridge until we gained the Otira Slide. From here it was a matter of bum-sliding the steeper sections and knee-high slushing our way to the firm valley floor.
We made the Otira road-end at approx 8pm that night, 16 hours after embarking on our journey. Soundly exhausted we three motley looking mountaineers tried hitch-hiking the 3km back to the car in vain. Arriving back at the lodge we revelled in the what-ifs of our sometimes precarious position on the snow, knowing that another attempt was going to be necessary to summit High Peak at another time in the not-so-distant future.
- Party members
- Stu Hutson (leader), Dave Grainger and Scott Miller (scribe)