Odds & Sodds

I’ve done a few day missions recently which I’ll throw up here.

First is a trip out to the Pisa Range in between Wanaka and Queenstown which over looks the town of Cromwell too. It’s mostly flat, rolling terrain at a decent altitude which is mostly famous for Snowfarm, New Zealand’s only real cross-country skiing area and of course the Mighty SnowParkNZ (RIP). The range was named by J.T Thomson after the schist outcrops on the summits resemblance to the italian leaning tower.

Of course it’s not all flat and rolling and the end overlooking Cromwell is any thing but!
We spent the night at Kirtle Burn Hut and set off for the highest point of the range, Mt Pisa. The eastern edge of the range is a series of cirques with small vertical but varied terrain. The normal west to east flow of winds means the area gets huge amounts of blown snow.

Rolling terrain at sunset

Rolling terrain at sunset

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Fortune

The internet, and Facebook are a bit of a funny thing. The level of connection between people in different parts of the world, different time zones amazes me. I love being able to keep in touch with what people I meet on ski seasons are doing, in most cases knowing we probably wont ever meet again but that contact is always there.

I often also seem to keep in contact with people I haven’t ever met before over forums and the like. I was fortunate that one such person thought of me recently when Kyle Miller was looking for a place to crash in Queenstown.

I would have previously said I was lucky, but as Kyle might say its fortune that I happened to have just quit my job and then someone who is as interested in splitboarding around this snow-covered isle turns up out of no where.

Perhaps all those nights scanning over Hillmap and topographic maps dreaming about the “What if I could get in there?” will become “How the hell do I get in here?”

2 Years worth waiting

In 2011 after I purchased my first splitboard (See here) I decided I should build on my basic skills for backcountry travel and I partook in a New Zealand Mountain Safety Council course about backcountry travel. Probably one of the better decisions I’ve ever made as it really boosted my confidence about getting out there after I was caught in a large avalanche while snowboarding in the backcountry near Lech am Arlberg in Austria.

The course was taught by the head of ski patrol from the Remarkables Ski area and took place in the Wye creek and Doolans areas behind the ski area. The first day out in wye creek i spotted it, Looming above us from our lunch spot. Motivation if I ever saw it.

The Couloir at the end of the south face of Single cone in 2011

The Couloir at the end of the south face of Single cone in 2011

I got home and a photo of it became the wallpaper on my computer. Motivation to get out there and ride it. For various reasons last year wasn’t to be the year.

After seeing it in prime condition earlier this week, I had to get out there and ride it. Everything lined up and saturday was to be the day.

My usual BC buddy Todd had seen a photo of it i put on Facebook and was keen to get involved. After a late start we were skinning up the South Wye col above Lake Alta towards single cone. Saturday was busy in the back country. A lonely snowboarder post holed away above us and when we reached the col, 3 skiers entered from the valley below. The thought crossed My mind, But I brushed it off. Upon reaching the plateau below Single cone we skinned over to where I thought we could ride down to gain entrance. Skier tracks in a similar direction, Again I brushed it off. We changed over and rode down some fantastic deep dry snow in fun, gully style terrain with banks to slash and rocks to pop off, the only negative was the chunks of water ice that had blown onto the surface of the snow in places from near by rocks.

My thoughts to stay high on the ridge were terrible and after a bit of billy goating we had found it. And the skiers tracks were straight into it! Oh well. Its still gonna be fun. I wanted to check the pack as I like to be cautious about these things. A 15cm surface layer broke from 5 taps from the elbow on the isolated column. I wasnt too worried. Todd got to be guinea pig and drop in first as i snapped a few photos from the top. The light had gone flat at this stage and we both rode it rather cautiously. Bits of breakable crust sloughed behind but it wasn’t enough to be an issue, Just an annoyance in the flat light.

The one line had taken a bit longer than we had anticipated but it was a fun day out and I got to tick something off the bucket list thats been on there for a long time!

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Wye Not?

I was pretty tired getting home on sunday after the low altitude fun, so tired that i walked in to the house and left all my gear in the car. Not cool. An overnight low of -4°C left my wet gloves with surface hoar. So monday was a day off. Ive been trying to make the most of my current unemployment which unfortunately ends tomorrow. So something had to be done!

I decided late morning that i needed to go slide somewhere nice and mellow as I was to be on my own. Luckily behind the Remarkables ski area is a nice area called Wye Valley, its a glaciers equivalent to writing “I WOZ HERE ’93” in your desk at school. Undulating slopes, dotted with tarns with steep arêtes rising up on 3 sides, glacial horns fashioned from classic otago schist. A bit easier on the eyes than a scratched name on an old wooden desk!

After a quick skin to the col above the Alta chairlift it became apparent that it was very windy, and a lot of snow was transporting leaving patches of soft wind blown snow, etched snow, exposed melt freeze crusts. I ummed and ahhed for a minute or two whilst getting scoured by the blasting southerly winds before I decided to give it a whirl. A big +1 for the magnetraction on my new board! The snow was at least fast on the descent into the valley, I crossed over a large plateau and into the nice long natural halfpipe which leads down to the tarns, the head of Wye Creek. I snapped a few pictures of a couloir I spotted a few seasons back, it was bare when I first laid eyes on it but this time it was just asking to be ridden. Maybe when the Avalanche risk drops!

Looming above this couloir was the mighty Single cone, hidden behind its sibling Double cone when viewing the eastern face of the Remarkables from Queenstown but forming one side of the impressive Grande Couloir above Lake Alta in the Rastus Burn. It has a rather impressive southface, 300 odd metres of near vertical rock.

The couloir and Single cone

The couloir and Single cone

I fixed my crampons for the skin out in the blowing winds, skirting around tarns and climbing back up towards the col i decided to have a look over another small col with views into the Doolans. The Doolans is the 3rd major catchment at the northern end of the remarkables and home to some long and very fun runs. I was greeted by some of the best coverage ive seen since i started backcountry snowboarding a few seasons ago.

Looking across the Doolans to unnamed peak 2008.

Looking across the Doolans to unnamed peak 2008.

After reaching the col and being battered by the winds, I changed over into ride mode and descended back into the ski area via Curvee Basin for the best snow and best turns of the day, I could have stayed in the sidecountry and ridden a few laps down Curvee Basin but was glad i made the effort to tour around wye creek. It was nice to spend a few hours in complete isolation away from anyone, or anything.

Adventure in Garston

Garston doesn’t usually spring to mind if you mention snowboarding. Its probably more off the radar than whatever the latest international destination is. But when a massive polar outbreak covers half of the south island in 30cm or more of snow it makes for adventure!

We probably could have found a better spot to go, we could have had a nice alpine start, who cares, no crowds, fresh lines, 5km of skinning, sounds ideal!

Todd and I met up in at the Garston Hotel, cruised up the nevis road after chucking on some chains and promptly dug out a car park. The farmer crusing up the road in his tractor was a little baffled, “you arent gonna try drive up there are ya?” Hell no! Just as well, as the drifts were metres deep in places.

Entrance to the nevis road

Entrance to the nevis road

There was a lot of skinning, and breaking trail was hard work. After about 2km the farmer arrived with his tractor again, “Should have stuck around, would have given ya a lift” Bugger! An attempt to short cut out of some of the long traversing sections of the road found us wallowing in deep snow, some terrible skiing later and we were back battling the skin track. Luckily it was a nice flat road. By the time we had gotten about 4km up the road the sun had turned the top 1-2inches of the snow into slush and wet skins werent working so well anymore. We stopped at about 900m and changed over. Sadly the sun affected NE facing slopes werent steep enough to get enough speed up and after about 300-400m down hill we headed back to the road. It wasnt the most exciting riding ive ever done but 6km down hill on a winding cat track style run is still fun! The lower sections of the road ended up being the most fun, dodging cattle and using the compacted snow in the tractor tracks to gain speed for some fun slashes and ollies into the untracked snow.

A very snow Southland

A very snowy Southland

Here comes the snow…

Its been about two weeks since i last went splitboarding.

Terrible I know, A large number of factors attributed to this, I’m a great procrastinator is one of them. One of the largest snow storms this country has seen in a while is another. I also had a little bit of man flu, weak I know!

Its been quite a storm for some parts of the country, most parts besides here in Queenstown. A change from the usual, this storm came in from the eastern quarter putting us out of its reach somewhat. It seemed as if everywhere around us got heavy snow and we escaped! Well at least down here in suburbia anyway, at altitude there was plenty of it.

During the past few weeks I also bought my other half a splitboard from the lovely folks at Firstlight Snowboards. Finding a womens specific splitboard (or even a smaller mens) proved quite difficult, I suppose most girls that snowboard arent exactly that stoked on climbing for hours up hill to slide down it for a few minutes.

As the storm encroached and airports and highways and nearly every accessible route into Queenstown was systematically shut down we wondered if the board would arrive intime for us to go ride on her days off. Thankfully we had a knock on the door from DHL on friday afternoon!

Saturday morning and everything wasnt looking too exciting. It was actually snowing in town after two days of promised snow showers, low cloud was everywhere and the visibility seemed terrible. Excitement prevailed and after some snow chain fitting we were up the 13km of dirt road to the Remarkables ski area. Due to the relatively high snow line in New Zealand, access is usually the biggest issue, and ski areas usually provide the easiest access. Thankfully most are public lands and designated as recreation reserves so uphill traffic is allowed.

High avalanche risk, bad light, snow and a newcomer to the sport meant we wouldnt be riding anything very exciting. On leaving the ski area boundary we met a friendly telemark skier who asked if he could tag along.

My lovely other half leaves the ski area behind

My lovely other half leaves the ski area behind

As i was trying to be a good teacher on the way up, it was actually rather eventful as the variable conditions meant that we came across a lot of tell tale signs for avalanches on steeper slopes. Wumphing, stiff snow, crust, wind slab was all encountered on the way up.

Change over time! Wye Dome and Double Cone in the background

Change over time! Wye Dome and Double Cone in the background

One quick ride down on some very nice cold dry powder, a little wind affected but 15-20cm deep in places, a quick change over and we were on our way up. Our telemarker got offered a ride home and quickly made a beeline for the car park. as we made our way up we decided to eat and then dig a pit just to have a look at what was going on beneath our feet.

Pretending i know what im doing

Pretending i know what im doing

Snow was a little lean where we dug which wasnt too bad as i didnt really feel like digging a massive hole. The layers were still all there and it was pretty obvious that things would move. Luckily the snow that fell before my previous trip has consolidated well albiet with a bit of a rain crust on top now.

The vis cleared up a bit and we had one last run down, this time back into the ski area and to the car and then off to the hot pools for a nice long soak. Best of all i know have a new buddy to go riding with who is just as excited as i am!