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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 9, No. 1. March 1, 1946

Wilkin Climbers Scale Virgin Heights in Otago Alps

Wilkin Climbers Scale Virgin Heights in Otago Alps

Without doubt the most successful in the history of the Tramping Club, the Wilkin Valley Alpine Expedition will ever be remembered by the nineteen present, not merely by their triumphant climbs—two virgin peaks, the attack on Pollux and the crossing into East Matukituki, but also for the imposing majesty of scenery, the wide unspoiled river valleys, beech forests and uneroded grass flats, and by the friends won in the Alpine Club—without their co-operation such an excursion would have been impossible. Friday. December 21, saw the University party and the Wellington section of the Alpine Club board the "Rangatira" for the daylight voyage to Lyttelton. Ahead was a 36-hour journey—boat, train, bus and launch; sleep would be hasty, intermittent. . . .

Behold the grandeur of the West otago Divide, a splendid ripple of peaks, lost to the Cook group one hundred miles north, merging into the milford beyond Aspiring to the south. Thin country was once a high plateau, but glacial dissection and other interminable forces have slowly eroded in [unclear: ealleys]—long hollow fingers radiating from the higher peaks, twisting, meeting and ultimately leading to the expansive rubble plains—the glacial mor-raines. Of these valleys the Wilkin is but one, twenty miles long, up to four in width, it is enclosed by two breath-taking [unclear: walls]—save where it is intersected by its subsidiary inlets, the South Branch, Wonderland. Newland and Siberia Valleys—every one a [unclear: Shangri-la].

And into this solitude gaily charged 95 paranoiacs, armed to the teeth with ice axes, crampons and rope, primuses and dehydrated food. Pack horses, tents, supplies, all passed up the gaping corridor to Jumboland, where a small village was raised between breakfast and lunch. For fourteen full days, between sunrise at five and dark at nine, parties relentlessly and without apology hacked their rugged way up snow grass, rock and ice wall—sometimes resourceful, other times agile, occasionally fortitudinous, but always alert—pinnacle after pinnacle of the princely kingdom fell to man's omnipotence. Then, as a cinematograph in reverse, the vision retracted, the Wilkin was left to her emasculated sophistry.

Leader of the University party was Barney Butchers. With several seasons' climbing experience he combined activity with an adeptness for the intricate organisation the journey required.

Kuri Conquered

Rising 6,000 feet behind Jumboland base camp was its peak Jumbo. Across the river, rearing its massive snow bulk into the sky, was Aeolus, a "cake-walk" that caused at least one aspirant to throw in the sponge on a misty day. But these were not for ex-volcanico Robin Oliver and his dauntless band. Mt. Alba, tucked safely away at the head of Newlands Valley, was the call. One glance at Alba and they decided to try their luck on the virgin Mt. Kuri. The first attempt was unsuccessful but the following day saw the indomitable three. Robin, Dick Jackson and Frank Evison, sidling along the razor-back rock ridge that led to the summit. Overjoyed, they returned to Jumboland. The rapine had begun.

Meanwhile in the North Branch two diligent climbers were prospecting a route up Pollux, the highest peak in the region, only twice before climbed. The entire party accordingly joined them.

From a glade by the river at the north forks Pollux comes first into the traveller's view—bluff surmounts ridge, ice-dome surmounts rock, all culminate in the highest at the corniced summit ridge. Behind his nearest brother's face scowls Castor, twin son of Leda. Over, 3,000 sheer feet of rock bluff he sheds his glacial cap—every few minutes the air is rent as the ice avalanche pours its streaming foam down to the valley floor below. From the valley. Castor is unclimbable—the only route to its summit leading from Pollux.

Three o'clock next morning and a small torch procession wends its way up the snowgrass slopes to the foot of the rock bluff. By six they reach the centre of the snow dome on the main spur; at eleven they rest at the foot of the summit cornice. Then Robin Oliver leads the first rope, cutting steps in the ice for every foot of the climb. One slip could spell disaster—no one slipped. Afterthree hours on the overhanging cornice the summit is attained—8,341 feet. To the north lies Cook; the south, Aspiring; the dense forests of the West Coast contrast with the barren wastes of Central Otago. Five minutes on the top, the view admired between handfuls of scroggin, and party descend Twenty hours out of camp, they return victorious.

The day after Barney Butchers led two ropes up the virgin Ragan. Several previous attempts had been frustrated due to choice of route and weather conditions. The cloudless sky endured, however, and in the early afternoon Don McLeod climbed what appeared to be the highest of the summit rocks.

One party did not return till after dark, the others choosing a "short cut" down.

Afterwards the Pollux party crossed from the South Wilkin to the East Matukituki. The expedition took four days, being only the second, ever made. They arrived at Wanaka raving about a storm on the Pearson saddle which let down the Alpine tent in the middle of the night, the unclimbable Mt. Picklehaube, and a batch of scones baked for them by a fair maid on Mt. Aspiring sheep station.

The bulk returned down the Wilkin, climbing Mt. Turner by way of interest. Several others left earlier for the Haast Pass trip to the West Coast. Back at Wanaka township the party split up, individuals leaving for Wellington, Queenstown and Dunedin—most, if not all, have reappeared since.

A notable innovation was the addition of two meteorologists to the party. Save on one occasion, when a disagreement almost led to bloodshed, it was generally agreed that they were worth their weight in millibars.

A pleasant sequel was an evening sponsored by the Alpine Club in Wellington showing films and slides taken during the trip. At this well-attended gathering veteran mountaineer Mr. A. P. Harper spoke laudably of the Varsity club's efforts.

And after, of course, came the reunion—but who reads the police files?

Summit Cornice of Pollux: No. a, Milburn, belays Oliver leading first rope; Bev Morris under overhang in ice. Jackson leading second role. Photograph by Evison.

Summit Cornice of Pollux: No. a, Milburn, belays Oliver leading first rope; Bev Morris under overhang in ice. Jackson leading second role. Photograph by Evison.