Mount Oates

5-6 October 2013

We are going out and may be some time. That was the infuriatingly vague but historically accurate description given to Margot, our contact person, before our attempt on Mount Oates, above Lake Mavis, at Arthurs Pass. The vagaries of the spring weather forecast had already taken a toll with Laurayne pulling out with doubts over her fitness, or a superior crystal ball. The Friday night departure became a Saturday trip to the Lake, with a narrowing weather window, before a major Monday front.

Friday rain meant a major diversion to find a five-strand crossing of the Bealey. That immersion and the caffeine refueling by the addicts at Springfield ensured everyone was awake. The three crossings of the Mingha provided no drama but ensured we were still awake by the time we reached Goat Pass with no chance of drying boots. The weather was supposed to be improving but it looked ominous as the comfort of Goat Pass Hut contrasted with the climb into the cloud towards Lake Mavis. Our leader, Raymond would accept no dissent. Up we climbed, arriving at the only patch of bare scree above a snow-covered Lake Mavis just as misty rain started. Over another superb Japanese-inspired dinner, the weather promised clearance as enough of a weak sunset appeared behind thick cloud to prompt thoughts of an early start.

Our early getaway stalled when we could barely see the other tent in the morning gloom. Cholesterol measures, different oats discussions and indecision reigned until a belated 8am decision to head up to the notch on the west ridge that we had observed the night before. As usual, once we were moving, momentum took over. The snow was in good condition and the traverse past the notch on the west ridge looked achievable. Navigation consisted of divining rock ridges glimpsed through thick cloud but when Geoff thought it was time to head up, Gary was sure he could see another side ridge and we continued traversing. Geoff was right. We emerged into glorious sunshine on the south ridge and had an interesting climb with one roped pitch back onto the summit that we had passed—anything to claim a traverse!

An 11:30am, belated morning tea, some summit shots and back into cloud for a west ridge descent. The snow had softened and there was some hilarious group bum-sliding back towards the lake. The view of our tents directly across the lake enticed Liz into a short-cut or swim attempt but since Geoff was carrying the only rope and there was no ice under the snow cover, sanity prevailed. Lunch, a prolonged brew, Douglas replacing all the rocks he had moved, a quick pack-up and then we were off down the scree to Goat Pass. The Mingha felt longer on descent, perhaps with less conversation, but we were back at the car by 5:30pm. It was immensely satisfying to look back up the valley to the summit we had left six hours ago and for many of us, who had tried before, think “been there”. We were: Raymond Ford, Liz Stephenson, Geoff Spearpoint, Douglas Woods and Gary Huish. (GH)

Photo from 2054m Mt Oates on a clear day