We climbed to the top of Mt Alymer (2699m) today and sat up there and had lunch lodged in a rocky eyrie. (That’s the peak curving away to the right of the picture). Having scribbled that note I realize it makes the ascent more prosaic than I felt at the time of doing it. It was a nice steep warm up exercise and in the scheme of things it’s a pimple. But I should never detract from any accomplishment since it represents one step towards even bigger feats. The weather has been interesting. A moist cyclonic front has rolled in from the north and pushes up against this ridge we are on. From our perch we look out over a sea of roiling cloud. It pushes up the valleys and boils over the ridge and vanishes as it competes with the other, cooler and drier weather system pushing up the Tasman Valley and from the south in general. This Mt Cook range creates a clearly demarked line in the weather. As we sat on the ridge eating lunch we had a couple of clouds boil over us, cutting out the sun and chilling everything very rapidly. Peaks in the distance vanished in the fast moving cloud and reappeared before hiding their faces again. It was a good feeling to summit on the peak of a narrow snow ridge and to then take lunch. It had taken us three and half hours to reach it even though from the hut it looked like we could reach out and touch it. We departed at 0840 and picked our way across glacial cracks and onto the highest point of the Tasman saddle before ascending via a belay routine which I thoroughly enjoyed. We picked our way down the west ridge which was a matter of walking down a knife edge – done very carefully. I refused to look over the lip but was vaguely aware of a dark hole filled with boiling clouds below me. It is such an act of trusting gear and the little bit of experience I have and stepping down an ice lip telling yourself at each step that the crampons will do the job – just plant them properly. Unlike last year I am roped up and that makes me feel a little better, though of course last year we were not walking in these sorts of places. We abseil through a crevasse and then head over to an icy bluff on which we have a crack at some ice climbing. It’s a bit disconcerting given it is now mid afternoon and the face of the wall is very soft. Elke described it as a ‘delicate’ climb and she is right. Careful placement of pick and feet and the occasional slip (but not dislodgement) and I am at the top with a lot of huffing and puffing. Getting up there was a highlight and I quietly thanked all the rockclimbing I have done over the last 12 months. It has paid off and helped me to stay tuned in to where my weight was placed on that slushy ice. The day has been full of refreshed lessons from last time and w hole bunch of new things learned. The challenge will be consolidating it all and making sure I am as prepared for Ama Dablam as I possibly can be. The snow and ice has been dramatic today. The sun beat us up and that same heat is loosening ice and rock all around us. The crack, boom and rumble of snow and rock draws our ear all day. Every now and then a crack of a rock smacking off another rock like a rifle shot catches my ear. Sometimes it’s so close the sound makes me look around. The glacial cracks and fractures talk to us if they are large. Water trickles and tinkles through them, highlighted by the silence all around us. So too the blue green ice that shines its luminescence out at us. While high on the opposite slope to the hut we watched two choppers fly in to the hut (or was it the same chopper twice?) The scale is staggering – the chopper is tiny and is barely discernable as it makes its tiny foray into its chopper pad. There are another ten climbers with is this evening. On a twelve day course led by ‘AC’, they all seem like decent folk. 12 days is a long course. We chat to some of them for a little while but we are heading out early in the morning so retire relatively early, dropping off to sleep to the sound of their excited chatter as they huddle around the kitchen table and try and ignore the cold. I thought their booming voices would keep me awake but we worked hard today and the next I wake I hear only the wind beating around our darkened hut. I could care less, tighten the sleeping bag around my neck, and fade out again.
Diary 21st January 2014