Summer Snow (Part Two) – Ocean Peak

“A Mish a Day” #11 The East Face of Ocean Peak(1848m) – Part Two. Mt Aspiring National Park. 16.1.2012. When a mission is going to plan things are as good as they can be. The objective of the mission (either a hut or peak etc) is getting closer, motivation generates itself and each step is an absolute joy. But sometimes things don’t go to plan, and the love for your favorite pastime is put to the test. I find that a lot of my adventures offer secondary fun. The enjoyment gets delayed sometimes and you need to be back at home looking at your pictures to appreciate what you have just been through. I am lucky that when things haven’t gone to plan I have always been able to sort out the problems and get back home safely…

Once again, I go back to how mountaineering is a sport of mostly walking, with a little danger sprinkled in. The dangerous places are where a smart mountaineer stops to think the situation through, and overcomes the obstacle as safely as possible. The young me thought as long as I follow this mantra I should be ok, and all the dangerous situations I would face would be slowly thought through. However, sometimes things happen so quickly that you don’t have any control over what’s going on, and you just have to ride it out… After my European mate (a Chamois) showed me the way through the bluffs on the upper parts of Ocean Peak’s East Face I only had a short, steep section of snow to go. At a slightly intimidating angle the snow slope was easy enough and after kicking in the last step for the first time I stood on the summit of Ocean Peak(1848m). The endless views of snow-capped peaks topped off the epic snow scramble. Standing tallest were the massive summits of Mt Madaline(2536m) and the monarch of Fiordland, Mt Tutoko(2723m). As much as I wanted to say on top, taking in the glorious views, it was time to get off the mountain. After a few steps I was back on the steep snow slope, and I had to turn backwards around to climb my way down it and then down through gullies in the bluffs. I was sticking to the track I had made in the snow on the way up, and this gave me a sense of security high up in the mountains. I got to a point where my tracks seem to stop at the edge of a 20 meter or so cliff. I was a little bit confused, and I paused from a moment to reassess the situation.

Before I knew it the snow around me began to avalanche and slide off the bluff over the cliff, taking me with it. I was airborne for a second or two, then came to a sudden stop at the base of the cliff. A mix of shock and amazement had me back up on my feet in seconds, and a quick check over revealed only a few scratches and bruises but amazingly no major injuries. I was saved by the fact that the area below the cliff had a good amount of snow built up in it, and also the snow of the avalanche had somehow cushioned my fall. It was around five minutes later that the reality of what just happened began to sink in. Looking back up at the cliff I realised I had just dodged a bullet, and still to this day I am amazed that I got no major injuries from temporarily flying down the side of the mountain. I was very happy to get back on the track, and out of harm’s way, and for the rest of the hike back to the car I thought about my lucky tumble. Being caught out in an avalanche in January (mid summer) seems ridiculous, But it was a clear example of how, no matter how much you plan things out in your head, things can change in a split second. This showed me that danger is something I need to always be wary of when going on a mish in the mountains of Aotearoa!

Lake Harris and the Upper Routeburn

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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