One of New Zealand's biggest mountaineering challenges finally climbed

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 19/07/2013
The top part of the huge west face of Tutoko, with line marked. Guy McKinnon

By making a successful ascent of the west face of Tutoko, Guy McKinnon has completed what had been described as one of the greatest remaining mountaineering challenges in New Zealand.

Tutoko, at 2,746m, is the highest point of the Darran mountains, a range in the southwest corner of South Island that is noted for extreme rainfall and distance from any population base.

In 2010 the New Zealand Alpine Club's magazine The Climber published an article entitled The Great Unclimbed, which profiled the six major unclimbed mountaineering routes in the country.

The west face of Tutoko featured highly, as with a vertical gain of 1,900m it  was the biggest unclimbed face in New Zealand.

This steep alpine wall had only been attempted once: in the summer of 1974 Dave Bouchier, Butch Hill and Pete Moore reached the headwall before turning back.

Difficult access, the perceived length of time required for the climb, and a reputation for poor rock, meant the face received little subsequent interest.

However, an ascent in early winter, ie July, after heavy June snowfalls and the right weather patterns might allow ice runnels to form in the lower section, seemed logical.

But even reaching the base presents its own problems. On one recent attempt a competent party was psyched out by the colossal avalanche debris adorning the head of the cirque from which the face rises.

The article in The Climber suggested that three days would probably be needed for the ascent (with a long day before to reach the foot via the Tutoko Valley), after which a descent of the 'standard' route - the northwest ridge - would be very long and not easy.

All of which makes McKinnon's solo ascent of the face in just eight and a half hours more remarkable.

Starting from a bivouac at the base, McKinnon climbed the central weakness on this wall, which is bigger than the Eiger north face, finding superb conditions and reporting nothing overly hard, just "lots of it".

He graded the route VI, 4+. This is a Darrans ice grade, which is not exactly comparable with the French or Canadian system. However, as with French grades, VI does represent the overall commitment level: McKinnon noted that if the Darrans system was open ended, the face would probably be VII.

McKinnon reached the summit and descended to a bivouac on the crest of the northwest ridge.

Next day he tried to continue down this ridge, but was unable to get out the bottom. He was forced to re-ascend, then descend the north face to the high glacial basin of Ngapunatoru Plateau, and eventually down to the Tutoko Valley, from where he reached the roadhead after a continuous 21 hours of travel.

Tutoko was first climbed in 1924 (via the northwest ridge) by a British resident Samuel Turner and the legendary New Zealand guide Peter Graham. It was Turner's fourth attempt on the peak, beginning in 1919, his third ending only 200m below the summit.

For 37 years old McKinnon, this was his third attempt on the line. In 2011 it appeared a little too hard and frightening, and in 2012 he was thwarted by poor weather.

In 2010 he became the first person to make solo ascents of all 34 New Zealand peaks above 3,000m.

And the other five great problems? These are considered to be the east face of Pope's Nose Direct in winter, South face direct of Mt La Perouse, Southwest face of Mt Percy Smith in winter, North face of Mt Sefton, and the Cyclops in the Darrans.

Pope's Nose Direct with its difficult access, and Percy Smith (although 800m and therefore relatively small), are thought to be hard technical propositions.

Thanks to Damien Gildea for help with this report



« Back

Post a comment Print this article

This article has been read 399 times

TAGS

Click on the tags to explore more

RELATED ARTICLES

Get alpine hut discounts with a Reciprocal Rights Card
2
Get alpine hut discounts with a Reciprocal Rights Card

The Reciprocal Rights Card gives BMC members discounted rates in alpine huts.
Read more »

Galvan and Zerain disappear while attempting second crossing of Mazeno Ridge.
1
Galvan and Zerain disappear while attempting second crossing of Mazeno Ridge.

Hope of finding the noted partnership of Argentinian Mariano Galvan, and the Spanish-Basque Alberto Zerain, who were attempting an alpine-style ascent of Nanga Parbat's Mazeno Ridge, has now faded after an aerial search on the morning of the 1st July.
Read more »

New Alpinists booklet: your first steps to alpine climbing
1
New Alpinists booklet: your first steps to alpine climbing

People of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can enjoy alpinism, but if the prospect of learning new skills in a harsh and complex environment seems a little bit daunting, then our new booklet will help to guide you along your first steps as an alpine climber.
Read more »

Post a Comment

Posting as Anonymous Community Standards
3000 characters remaining
Submit
Your comment has been posted below, click here to view it
Comments are currently on | Turn off comments
1
1) Anonymous User
23/07/2014
Guy McKinnon has completed the long-awaited second winter ascent of the east face of Popes Nose, in impeccable style.

In Guy’s words: ‘On the 18th of July I finally made an attempt on the integral ascent of the east face of Popes Nose through the north-east face of Aspiring. The unfolding of this attempt was long and arduous beyond words and required mental effort and determination in excess of anything previously required of me by alpinism.’

Guy began climbing at 9.20am after a ‘taxing approach and desperate bivouac’. Climbing somewhere in the vicinity of the existing winter route Fuck the Pope (Brian Alder, Lionel Clay, Nick Cradock, Dave Fearnley, 1990), Guy describes some tense moments route-finding on the initial steep wall, but ‘good ice conditions and patience’ saw him through to the start of the tiers of the upper half of the face: ‘Here I encountered a fantastic ice playground of unimaginably good quality climbing, [I moved] quickly and with great pleasure.’

Guy topped out directly after five hours on the face, then made his way down snow ramps on the north side of the peak to the upper Volta Glacier where he suffered a terrible night, shivering in spindrift in a crevasse for 12 hours at the base of the north-east face of Mt Aspiring.

The following day the good spell of weather came to an end, but Guy was determined to push it out and so set off on the north-east face in awful ice conditions. Guy describes his attempt: ‘After about 250m of climbing on glassy hard and dinner-plating ice I reached a bulge at the start of what looked like a 25-metre crux passage. With tools and crampons skittering on iron hard ice I flailed axes desperately to reach the plastic ice flowing over the rock, but it was friable and unsupportable […] Gutted, I listened to a strong inner voice urging me to back off.’

Guy reached French Ridge Hut at 4.00pm that day—after crossing the Bonar Glacier in gale-force winds and a white-out—feeling that his retreat was a wise decision as conditions on the upper mountain would have been desperate and no sleep for two days had reduced his capabilities and mental state.

Despite ‘failing’ on his intended link-up of the two faces, Guy’s second winter ascent of the east face of Popes Nose, solo, walking in and out, must rate as possibly the finest alpine achievement of New Zealand’s modern era.

The first ascent was completed by a team of four, who flew in to the base of the face, bivvied en-route, and flew home from the top. That ascent stood as a benchmark for difficult winter alpinism in this country for 24 years. One of the members of that first ascent team, consummate Kiwi climber and mountain guide Nick Cradock, describes Guy’s ascent as one of the best and most important accomplishments in New Zealand mountaineering history: ‘On par with the first ascent of Zurbriggen Ridge on Mt Cook, Tom Fyfe’s first ascent of Malte Brun, and Bill McLeod’s solo of the Yankee Kiwi Couloir on Mt Hicks.’

climber.co.nz

RELATED ARTICLES

Get alpine hut discounts with a Reciprocal Rights Card
2

The Reciprocal Rights Card gives BMC members discounted rates in alpine huts.
Read more »

Galvan and Zerain disappear while attempting second crossing of Mazeno Ridge.
1

Hope of finding the noted partnership of Argentinian Mariano Galvan, and the Spanish-Basque Alberto Zerain, who were attempting an alpine-style ascent of Nanga Parbat's Mazeno Ridge, has now faded after an aerial search on the morning of the 1st July.
Read more »

New Alpinists booklet: your first steps to alpine climbing
1

People of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can enjoy alpinism, but if the prospect of learning new skills in a harsh and complex environment seems a little bit daunting, then our new booklet will help to guide you along your first steps as an alpine climber.
Read more »

BMC MEMBERSHIP
Join 82,000 BMC members and support British climbing, walking and mountaineering. Membership only £16.97.
Read more »
BMC SHOP
Great range of guidebooks, DVDs, books, calendars and maps.
All with discounts for members.
Read more »
TRAVEL INSURANCE
Get covered with BMC Insurance. Our five policies take you from the beach to Everest.
Read more »