Mount Murchison

26-28 November 2011

This trip has a checkered history, having been originally scheduled for this weekend, shifted back before Show Weekend and shifted back again. Maybe it was all ordained to get the best weather.

Eight of us were all set to go when we got an apologetic enquiry the day before. It’s pretty hard to turn down Geoff Spearpoint for a climbing trip, though he did get a ribbing for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday morning saw us ploughing into a nor-wester up the Waimakariri. Turning the corner at Carrington was a relief but the sight of Barker Hut sitting high on its rocky pinnacle never fails to inspire a mixture of awe and dread and the last hour was the usual gut-buster. The stunning scenery got most people racing around after they dumped packs. It’s not many huts that have three glaciers terminating at the same height in close proximity.

The wind buffeted the hut during the night but did not prevent a 6am start. Any cloud had vanished and rapid progress was made across the snow basin to the start of the White Glacier with a good covering of snow. The sun on the glacial snow slowed progress as we zig-zagged upwards. Crevasses fortunately were small but disconcerting for anyone who put their foot into one. We finally reached Kahutea Col about 9am and studied the hardest top 100m. The route direct from the col had a large chock-stone barring the way and Geoff recommended a snow chute 100m further north. The snow proved to be steep and soft but led to an icier drop on the other side, connecting with another snow slope close to the top. The sight of the top rocky knob after a short steep snow crest was exhilarating. The wind had vanished and the views in every direction were amazing. No animals were harmed in the ascent but some electrons were severely disturbed in the subsequent photography.

The thought of the predicted rain for Monday finally drove us from the summit as we wanted to go down to Carrington Hut for the night. The rope was used for some pitches on the descent but the softening snow reduced the risk. The cliffs on the true left started avalanching in the sun so we kept right and managed to bum-slide most of the way down the glacier. A brew at Barker revived us sufficiently to rock hop down the White River and reach Carrington Hut. It had been a long day and some were uncharacteristically quiet. One crashed between main and desert.

The forecast rain started early and we beat a hasty retreat down the Waimakariri, at least this time, against the wind. Mount Murchison is the highest in Arthurs Pass and one of the more technical mountain climbs the club has attempted. Getting nine members to the summit illustrates the growing confidence and ability of club members in this sort of terrain. We were Raymond Ford, Kevin Hughes, Gary Huish, Chris Leaver, Merv Meredith, Dan Pryce, Geoff Spearpoint, Liz Stephenson and Bill Templeton. (GH)