Maruia River, Ada, Gloriana, Faerie Queen

Labour Wknd 22-24 Oct 2011

Day 1: Raymond limited numbers to eight so 2 car-loads headed west at 0700 on the Saturday morning

Cannibal Gorge car park has a bad reputation for car break-in so we’d arranged for a car minder to keep the cars at Boyle Lodge. Rather than wait and feed the sandflies non-drivers headed off on the Cannibal Gorge section of the St James Walkway. Gary nobly stayed at the car park till the drivers came back. We all met up in an hour just before we came upon avalanche snow lying in a stream-bed. We had to walk on hard snow over a snow-bridge then climb off a steep wall of snow to resume the track. Now we had an inkling of why DoC closed the walkway a few weeks back. Numerous signs tell walkers not to loiter in avalanche zones. We stopped for lunch in warm sun at a picnic table outside Cannibal Gorge Hut then walked on another hour and took a break at Ada Hut.

When we got opposite Camera Gully we left the walkway, headed through beech forest, crossed the winding Ada River, headed through denser trees, then alongside the respectable gully stream. When we emerged into scrub and tussock we looked around for tent space and found adequate sites for four Minarets. It was now 5pm on a mild afternoon and we made ourselves comfortable.

The next morning after a calm and cool evening we awoke to a blue-sky chilly camp, breakfasted, sorted climbing gear and with the excitement of an adventurous day ahead left camp 0745 to strike out for the quite majestic peaks of Gloriana and Faerie Queene, silhouetted against a cloudless sky, the call of a few kea high in the trees wishing us well—or were they thinking what a great time they might have in our camp while we were away?

An hour’s travel up the banks of Camera Gully Stream we trekked onto hard snow and continued up onto the edge of the large snow-filled basin where we rested under the vista of Gloriana. Dropping a little into the basin we skirted the large snow-covered tarn and continued the now steeper climb to the saddle that separates the two peaks, arriving around 1400 hrs. The weather was holding, one of those days you could swear it was like this all the time in the mountains—cobalt blue sky above, glistening white peaks stretching to a blurred horizon in the far distance, the wind a barely discernable zephyr.

It would have been nice to loll around on the saddle for the afternoon and compose romantic poetry but there was work to do! We split into two parties, Gary, Merv and Liz would tackle Faerie Queen, Merv was quietly determined, glad to have the opportunity of resolving the unfinished business of summiting FQ, Liz, nervous, excited, confident and grateful for the chance to climb this peak. Gary led on, purposeful, assured.

Kerry & Dan led off No 2 party, striking a direct line South up the steep rocky ridge towards Gloriana, Raymond would follow with Yvette & Karen, evaluating their progress.

Kerry led up the Gloriana ridge carrying the strange taber-like staff he had found in the bush the night before, having developed a curious attachment to it he resembled the sorcerer from Lord of the Rings.. The route grew more precarious, steeper, razor-backed with iced gully’s to be negotiated or carefully skirted. With the fall on each side now many hundreds of meters, Frodo consulted with the Sorcerer should we go on? “YES” he cried, thrusting the magic taber forward. “We are the spirit of the mountain!”

Raymond’s strong, clear voice behind, “How-we-doin-then?” The spell is broken, back to reality. Yvette and Karen had returned to the saddle and Raymond had pushed on to meet us. Buoyed by his energy and skill we looked up after surmounting a particularly sharp and icy ridge to see the last 50m to the summit—an easy snow ridge. We climbed, then could ascend no more. Kerry triumphantly struck the taber into the snowy peak of Gloriana and we puffed with relief and awe at the spectacular views from 2,218m.

Raymond led the descent, leaving the ridge after a few hundred meters and front-pointed down the steepest decline before the mountain fanned out onto the wide snow and ice terrain back around the tarn basin. There was no sign of the FQ climbers but Yvette and Karen could be seen far below. We struck out for camp, arriving at 1815 hrs after a 10½ hr day, sun and snow-burned, thirsty, hungry, sweat-stained and very happy.

Following the Saturday advance to the 970m Camera Gully base camp described in November’s Footnotes, a cloudless Sunday morning saw eight intrepid climbers emerge from the tents and continue up the gully just before 7:30am for the distant snowy slopes of Gloriana. We dodged the waterfall on the true left and skirted snow coated tussock until we could don crampons further up the gully. Two of Gary’s thar sightings were confirmed by others but Kerry’s photo of a rock bluff failed to confirm the third. The shady snow was crampon heaven but the sun-softened snow was knee-deep, making for slow step plugging. By the time we reached the tarn basin at 1800m, it was obvious that we could not reach both Gloriana and Faerie Queen and the party split. Liz, Merv and Gary started for the saddle and a Faerie Queen destination while Raymond, Dan, Kerry, Karen and Yvette followed with Gloriana in their sights.

Faerie Queene 2238m Liz, Merv and Gary headed off at 12:30pm from the 2000m saddle and dropped down the northern plateau to traverse under the three intermediate peaks. The sun was intense and wading was a better description of progress than step plugging. Melt holes were another hazard and we took turns digging each other out. The climb back to the ridge took forever but at last we could see the snow-fluted summit ridge. The final 100m involved several rock steps and a stunning drop down to the Ada River that did not encourage close contemplation but we finally reached the top just after 3:00pm. The view was superb but the distance back to camp encouraged our retreat. We thought that following our outward steps would be easier but further sun-softening meant that we just sank deeper. The final climb back to the Gloriana saddle sapped any remaining energy while the descent to the tarn was delightful. We floundered back down the gully and arrived gratefully at Yvette’s smoke signal about 12 hours after we left.

Raymond Ford, Merv Meredith, Gary Huish, Dan Pryce, Karen Keith, Kerry Moore, Yvette So, Liz Stephenson

Maruia River near Ada Hut

On Fairie Queen

Three dots on FQ taken from Gloriana