1: Looking for George Mallory
2: Aspiring Climb Essay
3: Photo Essay - Credric, the aspiring climber
Looking for George Mallory
On Friday, Feb 6 2004, two climbers left French
Ridge hut for Mt. Avalanche.
A cold front with accompanying gale force winds
was forecast to cross the South
Island during the day. Whiteout cloud conditions
prevented others sighting the
climbers and by nightfall there were concerns for
the climbers safety .
On Sat. morning the hut radio crackled, adding to
the tension. The two Australian climbers were
still missing; the weather was abysmal with the
peaks shrouded by
cloud and shrieking winds. They were reasonably
experienced and one had
climbed Mt. Everest.
Eighty years ago on 8 June, 1924 George Leigh
Mallory and companion left for a
day climb which would thrust them into climbing
Ruth & George Mallory
(collection Mrs S. Russell)
missing, presumed dead. Everest, the iconic
household word for supreme altitude, mountain
endeavours and stories coining phrases like
Hillary's: "We knocked the
bastard off" and Mallory's: "Because
it's there." My own fascination with Everest
began in 1963 with a book: The Ascent of Everest
by John Hunt. The ultimate high adventure of
expeditioners with possum fur l ined boots and
legionnaire style hats
stirred my schoolboy interest sufficiently to
forge my own crampons.
The mountain of myths: Had Mallory beaten
Hillary? Who was the first? Why have over 160
climbers died in attempt to step on the top of
the world? Had Mallory, the
talented rockclimber, climbed the 2nd Step? Where
were Mallory and Irving?
"Do you have the names of the climbers
missing on Mt. Avalanche?" I asked and
was handed their D.O.C. intention card.
I knew most of the Australian climbers who ha d
climbed Everest. Jon Muir and
Pat Cullinan had both attended my climbing
courses. "You're joking!" I exclaimed.
There on the intentions card was the name of
Everest's most famous climber,
George Mallory and I was being asked to look for
In the spring of 1999, I was leading a
trek/climbing expedition in Nepal.
On 1 May, I was on Gokyo Ri (5400m) looking at
the windswept, north face of
Everest when someone said the BBC had just
announced: "The climber George
has been found." The grisly reali ty of
finding the remains of a peer, exposed and
vulnerable to the mountain elements did not sit
well with the romantic in me.
In the meantime, the search became complicated.
The National Rescue Center had been advised an
emergency locator beacon had bee n triggered 2
miles south of Mt.
Aspiring and they had dispatched a helicopter to
find it. We waited pensively
wondering what the helicopter with a policeman
and paramedic would find?
Had George Mallory triggered the beacon?
Mt. Avalanche is a pre-do minantly rock peak,
many would describe as weetbix
and choss, particularly on it's seldom climbed,
north ridge. At 2,400m (or 8,000ft)
the peak has a superb vista of the Aspiring
region. The South West face is a steep
snow route topping out on a cornice a nd exposed
pitch to the summit.
Triggering a locator beacon at 8,000 meters would
be of little use to Mallory in
1924 or 2004 for that matter. Above 8,000 meters
is now called the death zone.
In Wanaka, Deep Canyon Director, Dave Vass and I
switched places with the policeman and hapless
paramedic. They'd found the climbers had been
clinging to a cliff edge on the north side of the
peak. Unable to assist they flew
away. Twenty-knot winds streamed clouds past rock
walls and razor ridgelines
as our h elicopter swooped in search of the
climbers. "There!" They were 150mtrs.
below the summit on the north face. Below them
the Kitchener cirque, a cauldron
of ice and rock plunged 2,000 meters into the
East Matukituki valley.
"What a spectacular place to b e
stuck!" I thought. Dave and I considered our
options. The wind and cloud made helicopter
stropping them off the face
impossible. "Can you drop us on the
summit?" I asked Brendon. Dave looked out
with skepticism at the rocky top, no bigger than
the helic o pter. Brendon didn't
want to hook his skid, so we jumped! It took a
rapid mental adjustment to solo
down shattered, exposed rock, past abseil slings
to 20 meters above the climbers.
The first balaclava clad climber greeted me with
"I'm George" and a soft,
"Thankyou for coming."
The search was over; I'd found my Mallory and
companion. They were cold and
lacking in confidence after the night on the
face. We spoke nothing of Everest, nor
the Mallory name. The sharp wind and scudding
cloud made for an urgent rescue.
I imagined a night above 8,000 meters on the
north face with little food, no stove
or shelter; Tibet miles below. First the toes and
fingers freeze then the face stiffens
and the core temperature drops, inducing
hypothermia into the exhausted body .
He'd left behind his wife Ruth, daughters Francis
(b.1915) and Beridge (b.1917)
and son, John (b.1918) for the challenge of
Everest in 1921, 1922 and finally
1924. George, his namesake and companion, Cameron
had clothing superior to
the 1924 era; a goretex jacket and thermals
rather than a cotton Shackleton jacket, woollen
cardigan and underclothes of
cotton and silk.
They were willing and able to clip our ropes
fixed to the exposed ridge and
complete three abseils down to the Bonar glacier.
We flew them to French Ridge
1.30pm to recover their physical and mental
composureand complete their
mountain holiday and departed on first name
basis, all mountain peers.
As they spent the afternoon reflecting on their
climb, the inclement weather and
stee p and loose north ridge I flew into Bevan
Col with a group of Aspiring
climbers. I drifted off to sleep on a rock ledge
below the NW buttress, smiling at
the thought of my own personal search for George
Mallory- Because he was
Aspiring (3032m) by
When flying across the South Island, the
Southern Alps stand out like a gleaming set of
white capped teeth. Mt Aspiring (3032m) is one of
most prom inent and the only 3,000m. peak outside
Mt. Cook National Park. The classical
"horn" is surrounded by three
spectacular glaciers dominates the sky-scape from
the Hollyford to the Haast. The glistening Bonar,
Therma and Volta glaciers all drain to the we st,
hidden to all but trampers, climbers and
The first settlers, the
Polynesian Maori, called it - Shining white.
Chief Surveyor Thompson viewed the glorious
pyramid of ice and snow in 1857 and named it,
Aspiring. The Oxford dictionary adds colour to
that meaning with adjectives: rising, tapering,
and upward soaring. The word is derived from the
Latin, spirare - to breathe. However, a thesaurus
extract appears more apt for climbers: To
inspire, to perspire, and to respire!
It was six years later when Hector, Sullivan and
Rayner set out on their trans-alpine quest and
probed the upper reaches of the West Matukituki
and Waipara valleys in 1863 looking for access
passes to the West Coast. Doctor (later Sir)
James Hector (1834 -1907) was a surgeon,
geologist and vigorous expeditioner, later naming
many landmarks in the Canadian Rockies. They were
not the last to be repelled by the rigors and
weather of the upper Waipara valley.
Aspiring came to the attention
of Alec Graham, the outstanding Franz Josef
bushman, goldminer and mountaineer via a short
report by Charlie Douglas in A.P. Harper's book
Pioneer Work in the Alps of New Zealand Along
with Denis (Din) Nolan of Okuru, he led Dr.
Ebenezer Teichelmann from Hokitika, up the
Waiatoto valley only to be repulsed by the
weather and Therma icefall in January 1908. In
his memoirs Uncle Alec and the Grahams of Franz
Josef, pub. McIndoe, 1983 , Alec wrote of his
journeys to Maude Moreland, who published an
extract in her book. Through South Westland, pub.
Witherby, 1911 A further journey by Clarke, Head
and Graham took them past the ice caves
(avalanche debris) in Shovel Flat. They clambered
through the bush and boulders above Pearl Flat to
make a fly-camp amongst the daisies and lilies
beneath the waterfalls and 1,300 meter cliffs of
French and Joffre. After being awe-inspired by
the views from Hector Col, they decided to ap
proach the peak via French ridge. The next
morning they climbed to a high bivouac site on
French ridge (probably near the current hut
site). They completed an access recce to the
Bonar glacier (presumably the Breakaway).
At 12.30am on the 23, November 1909, they set off
by lantern to the peak. After crossing the
glacier in 1 1/2 hrs they reached the base of the
West Face. Graham described cutting steps all the
way up very steep snow slopes before reaching the
final 600ft along a sharp snow arete to the
summit in threatening weather. They retraced
their steps in rapid time into enveloping mist
across the glacier. Graham concludes his letter
with ."I am afraid you will get weary of
this rather rambling account, but still I trust
you find something of interest in it."
The face has since been successfully descended by
ski and snowboard and a pair of roped climbers
who tumbled down the face at 10m/sec2 and opted
for a SAR flight to Wanaka. Mt. Aspiring cops the
brunt of the Southern Ocean weather, adding to
its photographic allure and it's climber
frustrations. I often say to prospective clients:
"If you get fit and we get the weather
right, the rest will be easy!"
The ridge via the Ramp or the NW
Buttress is now the standard route and is still
the occas i onal scene of extended epics. The
average return climbing time is about 11-12
hours, although some parties have been observed
doing overtime up to 18 hours! As the most
popular route, the ramp has been the scene of
fatal accidents and should be treated w ith the
The classic Southwest ridge was
first ascended by Harry Stevenson, Doug Dick and
David Lewis in December 1936 and remains one of
the "must do" climbs in the Southern
Alps. The 14 pitch knife-edged ridge soars to its
crux, a 60-65 de g. couloir and summit, with a
5-meter waterfall ice start. The belayed climb
takes a fit, experienced party about six hours to
the top. Calf muscles usually scream for a taxi
and quads cringe at the prospect of the NW ridge
descent. The steep Northern and Southern faces
receive sporadic attention and are at the upper
end of climbing difficulty. The jagged gendarmes
of the upper Coxcomb ridge present an imposing
view from Aspiring's summit.
The South Face is normally a
winter and spring route when snow and ice covers
less appealing rock. My winter foray with it
turned into a 23 hour epic and me snoozing
soundly whilst snowshoeing back across the Bonar
The rock in the region is mainly grey and green
schist. Structurally, the schist dips towards t
he west at angles of 30 - 50 degrees creating
slabby west facing ridges and faces and steep
craggy east faces, commonly with small overhangs.
In part, this is due to the prominent Moonlight
fault which crosses the West Matukituki east of
Homestead peak an d through Wilmot saddle. At
times the Southern Alps appear desperate to
become farmland. The erosive powers of the main
glaciers, which formed the shape of the peaks,
continue as they recede. Large rockfalls occur
periodically, most recently off the low peak of
Rob Roy in January 2002.
Often, afternoon convection cloud builds from the
west to create whiteout conditions on the Bonar
glacier requiring climbers to have competent
navigating skills. Soft snow conditions and
sunburn can leave climbers tired, f ried and
looking like their passport photos. The most
enjoyable aspect of tramping and climbing is
Two years ago I came across an old member of the
NZ Alpine Club staggering up the West Matukituki
valley. He seemed dazed, but his glaz ed eyes
recognised me. When questioned he said, "I'm
just practicing for the Himalayas and trying some
drugs for improved high altitude performance. I
assured him they must have been working because
he was moving like someone at 8,000 meters!
Recognition of Tititea/Mt. Aspiring: As part of a
recent deed of settlement between the Ngai Tahu
tribe and the NZ Govt. acknowledgement was given
to Tititea's special cultural and historic status
held by the Ngai Tahu Whanau. Distant views can
be seen from Glendhu Bay, above Lake Hawea and
south of Haast, adding to it's mystic. Over the
past hundred and fifty years explorers and
mountaineers have fossicked on its flanks
recording their experiences in prose, poetry,
photographs and paintings: "When dawn
recoates t he mountains in colour and puts a
shine on the rivers." Aspiring's layers
continue to build and erode under the cloak of
cloud and wind.
The access: Easy walking access is via the West
Matukituki valley with views improving from
spectacular to awe inspi ring at the valley head.
Two new NZ Alpine Club huts; French ridge (1465
meters- 20 persons) and Colin Todd hut (1800
meters-12 persons) provide comfortable alpine
shelter and a climbing base for the peak.
Accessing Colin Todd hut requires a crossing of t
h e Bonar Glacier with rope, crampons and ice
axe. A steep, rough, undeveloped route leads from
Pearl Flat to French Ridge Hut (elev. gain 900m -
The upper valley and access to Colin Todd Hut is
a more direct, steady and arduous climb. The
track d eteriorates towards the end of the forest
opening up into a bouldered meadow and the reward
of 1300-meter walls or rock and ice, streaming
waterfalls and regular snow avalanches. Rock
slabs are climbed towards Hector Col and finally
long snow slopes to Bevan Col and a fantastic
view of Aspiring.
Winter and spring months are mostly reserved for
mostly local and intrepid visitors. In July and
August the snowline is low and when sunlight is
short, the valley floor is cold and occasionally
snow covered. However, in clear weather, tramping
in the Matukituki Valley its winter snow-cloak is
enchanting. In the alpine zone, skis or snowshoes
make snow travel and peak access easier.
Helicopter access is a practical option to avoid
carrying skis through the forest t o bushline.
The charter cost is approx. $200 p/p including a
National Park landing permit ($88.50). A strong
intermediate ski tourer can glide for ten to
twenty minutes on the moderate slopes of the
Bonar Glacier; ski off the Pope's Nose or the
undulati ng Iso and Therma Glaciers. Strong ice
skiing, mountain and glacier skills, avalanche
awareness and safety equipment are all-important
considerations. Skis should be short with sharp
edges and light hiking boots carried for the
Perspire and Respire
Geoff Wayatt pauses to make some personal
observations on his 77 ascents of Aspiring and 38
years in the region.
I rushed to tie off rope coils while my new rope
co mpanion strode across the snow flats towards
the Ramp. "Hold On!" I yelled as rope
snaked tight. Immediately the shadowed figure
plunged his ice axe into the snow, then turned to
me staring, "Don't ever say that, unless you
a falling!" he yelled. Oops! I n the
pre-dawn darkness, I had earlier made the mistake
of successfully bouldering a rock problem on the
ridge, which repulsed Derek, the experienced
Alpine Club member. He made mention of
Australians falling off NZ mountains. It was his
fifth attempt on the peak and my first. It was
apparent he wasn't going to let anything,
including a novice Tasmanian prevent him
summating. Fortunately, the fine day and our
uphill snow running mellowed his mood. I learnt
on that trip in January 1966 was that the locals
could accurately read obscure mountain weather
A repeat ascent from the valley four days later
with friends from a climbing course involved more
fun and shared excitement. Richard snapped his
Japanese "Hope" axe on the summit. Big
Ben fell through all the snowbridges. Rae and I
ran back down the glacier to the hut in a round
trip time of eight hours. We were Sixties kids,
bounded only by the limits of our imagination,
skills and experience. It was also an age of
change in mountaineering. There were advances in
boots, crampons and ice axes. Stepcutting gave
way to greater use of cramponing skills, followed
by the superior grip of curved picks and ice
After Seventy-seven ascents of
the peak (Feb 2004) the mountain and people
climbi ng it have provided a personal fascination
over the past 38 years: To see a bobbing rock
wren, New Zealand's only true alpine bird, at
2380 meters 1,000 meters above it's normal
habitat was a highlight. Where as most mountain
summits are high points on ri d gelines, topping
out on the spire-like summit provides a
360-degree of Mt. Aspiring National and horison
highlights of Aoraki and Mt.Tutoko. Recently two
Chilean climbers spent 4 cold days in a snowcave
on the peak, only to be found when a rescue
helicopter pilot saw a hand push out of the snow.
I once watched two climbers traversing the Bonar
glacier un-roped. Each time they reached a
crevasse they raised their arms to a gymnasts
I wonder how the Bonar glacier looked in the
early 1900's? Access from Bevan Col was probably
a straight walk onto the glacier. We now drop a
hundred meters from the Col to the white ice.
Regional glaciers have melted rapidly through the
mid 1980's. The Dart glacier's surface has
ablated up to four meters annually .
Aspiring's West Face provides a good example of
change. During the four decades of Aspiring very
large slab avalanches that sweep the face bare
every 8-10 years. As a result of the drop in
glacier level and loss of toe support for the
mountain snowpack this occurrence has escalated
to an annual autumn event.
The Ramp route is now revealing ice patches, some
glide-slab cracks with movement and avalanching
which, if the trend continues, will threaten the
viability and hazard of this popular route. \par
\par The cl imbers give the peak it's icon
status, including the pioneers, hard route
achievers and longtime devotees like authors Paul
Powell and geologist, Graham Bishop. Twenty years
ago, under 100 climbers sweated from the valley
to the peak each year. Today, Col in Todd hut has
over 1500 visitors with about 500 climbing to the
Bridges in the West Matukituki
valley make the tramping easy, however, a climb
to the peak remains a classic climbing challenge.
The Hector Col slabs are an exposed rock
scrambling tes tpiece above a cascading stream -
the source of the Clutha River. Helicopter access
to Bevan Col is rapidly changing people numbers
and activity patterns like the Wanaka housing
boom. Huts are now often overcrowded and the
access routes are eroded watercourses long
overdue for maintenance.
On my first visit in 1966, I saw
thirty deer roaming the flats at dawn. Then came
the helicopter harvesters of the 70's swooping
the landslips with sirens blaring. Now only the
odd deer trots nervously past the avalanch e
debris and into the forest. Their culling has
resulted in rapid forest regrowth and a profusion
of flowers in the sub alpine zone. One of my
recent delights was to pass rannunculas buchanni
at 2380m on the NZ buttress of Aspiring and then
see a lone rock wren bib-bobbing along, 1,000m
above it's normal habitat.
My climbing focus has been to
maximise the 24 hour experience through living in
of rock bivouacs, snowcaves and igloos. I make
careful plans concerning route selection,
weather, personal equipment with more concern
about the prospects of "thunder rather
raindrops". When climbing with clients I
constantly watch their feet for signs of
carelessness. Loss of personal concentration and
tiredness can often lead to them having a
gravitational garage sale with serious
During the late January period I often advise
climbers to re-evaluate the mountain conditions
and to expect less forgiving, late summer ice.
The warning signs in local huts appear to have
lessened the accidents on the Ramp, however the
increased traffic as a result of building of the
new French ridge hut has already resulted in
several close encounters with crevasses on the
One lone climber was recently found by one of my
climbing course groups five meters down a
crevasse, hours after falling into the slot!
About fifteen people have died on the mountain
since the first fatality in 1972, many on the
Ramp. If you have a personal garage sale, it's
preferred to choose a slope with a run-out I
think its worth novice trampers and climbers
remembering that Ed. Hillary and George Lowe
gained their fitness and experience in the
Southern Alps by slogging it out on "valley
to peak" ascents. Their efforts and skills
took them to the roof of the climbing world,
excelli ng on the successful1953 Mt. Everest
expedition. \par \par Next time you meet a
tramper or climber crawling along a valley
battered, burnt, and blistered after a valley to
peak, such as Aspiring; recognize their effort,
like that of the first ascendants. Congratulate
them and lighten their step.
Travel times: Raspberry Flat roadhead to Aspiring
Hut (NZAC) - 2 hours; to Shovel Flat 3 hours; to
Pearl Flat 3 1/2 hrs. Pearl Flat - to French
Ridge hut-2 1/2hrs+; to Colin Todd hut-7hrs.
French Ridge Hut to Colin Todd Hut - 5 hrs
(alpine) Maps: Mt Aspiring region NZMS 260/E39,
Aspiring, 1:50, 000, pub.Terralink $12.50
Guidebooks: NEW! Mount Aspiring Region, Al Uren,
pub.N.Z.A.C. - ($30) Moir's Guide-Nthn Section,
Ed. Geoff Spearpoint, pub.N.Z.A.C.1998 A tramping
guide-($30) Land Aspiring , Neville Peat, pub.
Dept of Conservation, 1994, Nat. Park Handbook
LOCAL ACCESS & CONTACTS: Access information,
party intentions, huts,
fee payments: Dept. of Conservation, Box 93
Wanaka, ph(03)443 7660 Fax (03)4438777
Climbing courses & guiding
service/information: Mountain Recreation Ltd.
Box 204, Wanaka Ph/Fax (03) 443 7330
Shuttle Transport: Edgewater Adventures, (03)443
8422 or Good Sports,
(03)443 7966 (approx $20 p/p one way)
Colin Todd & French Ridge alpine hut fees:
NZAC Members $8, Non members
$15, Aspiring hut: Non members $20, members $10
Guide books, club
membership: NZ Alpine Club, Box 786, Christchurch
Aspiring Helicopters (03) 443 7152; Wanaka
Helicopters. Ph 03 443 1085;
Backcountry Helicopters Ph 03 443 1054
Geoff Wayatt is a Wanaka Mountain Guide, Director
of Mountain Recreation Ltd
3. Photo essay - Cedric, the
a photo essay introduction to Cedric's Aspiring
aspirations, he has travelled to Nepal and
A serial photo essay about an
oldtimer with a young heart going to greater
Cedric places a piton runner, then
Cam runner & clings onto his
reversed curved Pulsar ice axe.
Perserverence pays off as Cedric
tops out in the setting Sun - A summit at last.
Back in the garden day to day life gave Cedric
opportunity to think of greater heights.
Cedric had a chat with his uncle
Malcolm the famous Himalayan mountaineer
about climbing a snow peak as his ice axe didn't
work well in the rock.
You'll need some crampons said Malcolm and some
boots and icecrews.
Cedric bought some very sharp BD
Sabretooth crampons from
The ice screws
looked so nice Cedric put them in a vase!
From the range, he picked a pair of Salomon Super
Mtn 9 - Guides from Mountainrec..
enjoyed the rest and stretch.
What will happen to Cedric in his quest to become
Heading up the Matukituki valley, Cedric
comes to a vast lake, sets up
camp and goes to sleep for the night. In the
he dreams of being
on a vast ocean in his One Planet rockledge
sleeping bag w/dryloft cover
The ocean is
filled with mysterious sharp toothed creatures.
What will the future hold for Cedric and his new
half Dome helmet. Is floating in the
lake all a bad dream?
Cedric did survive
and returned to Wanaka damp, but not
Snow was now falling on the mountain tops. Winter
Cedric joined a Logn Park High
School group on a snowcamping course.
According to Cedric igloos made of snow blocks
looked stronger for
mountain winds than straw houses.
Cedric sets the night sky
alight on the Mt. Cardrona expedition
with the lights of Queenstown behind.
A self portrait photo to send to
Salomon skis and boots; One Planet
clothing and packs.
continues in Nth Queensland.....
Yep, a lot of inhabitants bite,
scratch, itch or suck but the abundance of
diverse land & seascape makes Nth. Q'land a
By travelling with four friends I only got
attacked 1/5th of the time!
The tropical rainforests of
Bartle Frere and Mossman were amazing!
Self portrait on return journey
from Lady Musgrave Island, 1770, a coral cay.
I got a bit
swamped in the mangroves of Shaw Isl, Whitsunday
We saw amazing
butterfly breeding creeks in the Whitsunday Isl.
Zoe bay, Hinchenbrook Isl. Pretty impressive Aye?
Note the Aussie style hat!
I declined the
"swimming with the crocs" offer enroute
to Hinchenbrook Isl..
The leeches on
Barle Frere, Queensland's highest peak - Sucked!
That's me (Cedric)
in the middle of the Whitsunday Intrepid
on the summit the spectacular Mt. Oldfield.
Watch for pics
from my latest Nepalese adventure in Sept 2003
under the adopted Nepalese given name of Gangi
Meyer (littlest sister)