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Heels 1968

The Bracken Snowfield

The Bracken Snowfield

Last Christmas, Clive Bolt, Arthur Robson, Philip Kyle and myself went for a trip up the Rakaia River, intending to do some climbing from the Bracken Snowfield, a high snow plateau just to the west of the Main Divide at Erewhon Col.

We arrived at Glenfalloch Homestead on the evening of 23rd Dec. By Christmas Day we had struggled manfully up to Banfield Hut where we proceeded to spend Christmas Day appropriately.

The weather improved next day, so we decided to climb something up Jagged Stream. By 7 a.m. we were heading in the direction of North Pk. (8658') via the Assault Glacier when a large globule of ice discharged itself with a loud bang from a hanging glacier above it. The psychological barrier thus created led us to attempt the less exposed approaches to Bastion Peaks. We didn't know much about this peak, but had gleaned from Banfield Hut log book the information that one goes up a "central couloir".

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Sidling across from the Assault Glacier under Bastion's Face I encountered a couloir which I presumed to be the couloir. We plugged up this till the soft snow became tiresome, then moved out the left onto rock. From here we followed a rib-like excrescence on the face, composed of steepish, usually loose rock and soft snow, which though exposed was fairly safe from avalanches or rock fall. The top was reached at 11 a.m. and after descending dangerous soft snow in the main couloir (correct route) we arrived back at the "hockey field" to meet Arthur and Philip.

Next day (or the next?) we travelled on up the Rakaia to Washbourne Hut where a split decision had us en route to Louper Stream and Whitcombe Pass.

That evening we camped just above the Barron Glacier in the Whitcombe River. Thanks to Hughie, the morrow was fine and four heavily laden twits scraped and slogged their way up the Barron moraine and Glacier to Barron Col to be met by the massive bulk of Mt. Evans (86l2') and sex in the form of a "dinkum Aussie sheila' who soothed our parched throats with a jube each. She was with another party who had their snow cave just on the Bracken Snowfield side of Erewhon Col. The other four of her party were climbing Evans that day, now shrouded in ominous billowing clouds. We spent the rest of the day digging our cave next to theirs in a rain storm which cleared up in the evening.

Next day was fine. Clive woke at 3 a.m. and we discussed our designs on Evans' spiky North East Ridge. We decided against it because of our poor condition due to the exertions of the previous day and general lack of fitness. Louper Pk. instead was to be our baby. We left the cave at a gentlemanly hour while Arthur who had suffered sunstroke the day before and Philip remained dormant.

By midday we were on top after an interesting mixed climb up the North Ridge. We returned the same way to be back at the cave by early afternoon, rendezvousing with the derision.

We went to bed early intending to attempt Evans via Red Lion Col the next day. At 4 a.m. the next day I went outside. A fresh cold wind was blowing, with ominous high, ragged cloud. The weather was obviously breaking - it was a matter of how long it took, but we decided against attempting Evans. Instead we clomped up to the Amazon's Breasts to photograph the eerie lighting effects of the stormy dawn.

We had a few days left, so we decided to wait and see if the storm would blow itself out after a couple of days. It didn't. We spent four days snowbound in the other party's cave, who had gone out the morning of the storm, while an A.U.T.C. party who had come up the Wanganui River occupied our cave. By the third day of the storm about six feet of snow page 31must have fallen outside our cave and we had difficulty keeping our entrance clear.

On the fourth day, however, we decided to leave. We couldn't find the Auckland party's cave and it was still pretty stormy outside, so we roped up, put on storm clothing and headed for Barron Col vaguely discernible between snow showers across the Bracken.

Two hours or so later we arrived, somewhat relieved, down in the Whitcombe and crossed back over Whitcombe Pass into the Rakaia. Next day we travelled down the Rakaia to Glenfalloch while the nor'wester still raged on the Divide.

- Ross Gooder