Bikes, Skis and Tools - Andy and Tim Take on Mount Aspiring

We’re an adventurous bunch here at Rationale. When we’re not taking on tricky projects for our clients, team members are often off tackling tricky projects of their own. Recently our Analyst team of Andy Longman and Tim Tan set off up the Matukituki Valley, armed with mountain bikes, touring skis and climbing tools for an attempt on the iconic Mount Aspiring.

Needless to say what ensued was epic, told below in Andy’s words…


Andy and Tim’s Mount Aspiring Mission

Mt Aspiring is a proper mountaineer’s mountain. From any angle it is steep, pointy and prominent. It is also reasonably remote.

There are two main ways climbers can access Mt Aspiring. For the purists, the trip starts with a long flat walk up the West Matukituki Valley. The French Ridge track is then used to access the Quarterdeck, a long glacial ramp that leads to the Bonar Glacier, which must be crossed to reach any of the routes on Aspiring. This option is beautiful but time consuming, and involves a considerable amount of plodding, both up the valley and across the glaciers.

The majority of plodding can be avoided if one catches a helicopter flight to the Bonar Glacier. This is undoubtedly the quickest way to access Mt Aspiring but it has its downsides. Helicopters are expensive, noisy and very thirsty for fossil fuels. There is also the argument that if you fly up half the mountain, you have only climbed half of the mountain…

So, in order to climb Mt Aspiring under our own power while minimising the plodding, Tim (my fellow Infrastructure Analyst at Rationale), our mate Alex and I find ourselves pedalling up the Matukituki Valley on mountain bikes with our camping, climbing and ski touring gear strapped to our backpacks. Our plan - mountain bike to Aspiring Hut, hike up to French Ridge Hut, ski tour the Quarterdeck and Bonar glaciers, and finally climb the classic SW Ridge of Mt Aspiring. We were of course dressed in Hawaiian shirts to remind ourselves that we were having fun.

The first day to French Ridge Hut was uneventful. We took our time with our 20kg+ plus packs in order to save energy for next day. We reach the snow at 1100m metres and were able to ski tour the last few kilometres to the hut. There is just enough time for a quick ski before the sun drops below the horizon and the snow ices up.

The next day we wake up at 2am, are out of the hut by 3am and reach the top of the Quarterdeck for a magical sunrise. Crossing the Bonar Glacier is fast on the skis and we have a hot drink at the base of the SW Ridge. The weather is mint, there are no clouds and not a breath of wind. It’s going to be an epic day!

Tim decided that he was going to solo climb the North West Couloir, while Alex and I headed up the towards the West Face and the upper South West Ridge.

We make quick progress up the lower snowfield until Alex plunges up to his waist in a crevasse at the base of the west face. Whoops! We carry on, kicking steps up the firm snow on the West Face, bringing the rope out for a short step of ice climbing, before reaching the upper SW Ridge proper.

Rope away we take turns kicking steps up the crest of the snaking 45 degree ridgeline, steadily gaining on the vertical step that guards the summit slopes. A steep gully of water fall ice is our way through.

I take the lead, start up the first ice step and realise it’s wayyyyy steeper than I thought! I’m not feeling all that good on my ice tools so I come back down and Alex gives it a go. He punches up the step and builds a belay with our remaining screws. He brings me up, then I set off up the next couple of ice steps. It is less steep now but the ice is very brittle making it an exciting lead climb!

Above the ice gully the terrain mellows out a bit so we put the rope away again and solo up 50 degree snow and ice gullies to the summit. Tim is waiting for us at the summit of Mt Aspiring after his climb up the North West Couloir and we take a few moments to relax and admire the view before we switch back into our climbing gear for the descent.

We carefully descend the North West Ridge and the notorious “Ramp” back to the Bonar Glacier. A short plod brings us back to our skis and we skin back to the Quarterdeck pass, arriving right on sunset. The ski back to French Ridge Hut by headlamp was definitely novel. I’m not sure if it was more or less scary being able to see the drop offs on either side as we ski down! Before we know it, we are back in the Hut sipping whisky, stoked with an epic day out.

The next morning we are in no rush and slowly pack up between cups of tea. By the time we leave the hut the snow has softened and we enjoy a few spring turns down to the snow line. It’s a lot easier heading back down the French Ridge track, then a plod back to our bikes at Aspiring Hut. The down valley breeze had picked up during the day and we flew down the lower Matukituki on our bikes, with our skis working like sails!

It pretty special to climb a peak like Mt Aspiring, especially with your best mates. It’s even better when you can mountain bike, tramp, ski and climb ice on the same trip. Needless to say, the beer back at the car sure tasted good!