A letter from French Ridge Hut – Jan 2008
By Grant Sutton, hut warden, January 2008.
The view from the hut is spectacular encompassing the head of the West Matukituki valley and the high peaks of the more distant ranges. On balmy afternoons everyone sits out on the deck gazing across the valley at Arawhata Saddle and Mts Barff and Liverpool or at Bevan Col where the helicopters land to disgorge climbers heading for Colin Todd Hut.
A storm is approaching, but with the confidence of recent summiters a party at Colin Todd have booked a flight out for 10.0 am. I wonder if the flight will be cancelled, the conditions are looking marginal. A gusty norwester is pushing a thick streamer of cloud over Hector Col and down into the valley below. It is still clear skies above but for how long? The pilot is airborne and asks what the conditions are like at Bevan Col via Doc Wanaka, we hear the optimistic reply on the hut radio, just as a reinforcement of cloud starts steaming over Bevan Col.
Today is my last day at French Ridge Hut. I’ve spent the past two weeks as warden here and I’m sad to leave. I’ve been trying to spot a Rock wren, the small ‘tail less’ alpine birds are noticeably absent. DoC has also been hunting for them around the hut but no luck yet. The stoat trap installed under the hut has remained untriggered despite the attentions of the local Kea. The largest flock at the hut numbered
15 but usually it’s 6 or 8 of the alpine parrots nosily trying to break their way into the hut.
Snow levels are low this season. The Quarterdeck has vertical slots. Going straight through, rather than around them made for some good pitch climbing the day after Sharon and I arrived.
One always meets interesting people at the French Ridge. This year a wealthy Texan and his guide – they recently summited Mt Vinsen in Antarctica and are headed for Everest in April. Marty Beare fresh from the Changabang 2007 expedition and Don French working on number 89 (I’m assuming you read Climber No. 62).
The low snow conditions have made the routes on Aspiring more interesting. The Ramp is cut off by ‘schrunds at top and bottom. The SW ridge is exposed rock and out of condition for most climbers. The normally snow covered slabs on the NW ridge offer slower scrambling rather than easy cramponing. Fresh bolts helped us with our dodgy route finding, but I suspect they may prove controversial.
French Ridge Hut is below the Quarterdeck (one of the two walk-in routes to Colin Todd hut). I linked the two routes together in an eight hour round trip from French Ridge, descending to the head of the valley then up to Bevan Col across the Bonar Glacier and down the Quarterdeck. Overnighting at Colin Todd would allow for peak bagging along the way.
It’s 1 pm, the wind has been gusting strongly since 10 am but the cloud has lifted slightly to reveal a few insignificant specs descending the snow arête on Mt Bevan, there will be no helicopter rides today.