I’ve always believed that for opportunities to present themselves, you have to put in enough effort and commitment to allow them to happen. And then if they do you have to be willing to seize them.
This belief led me back to the mountains after a decade-long hiatus. This was a conscious decision, spurred by the tragic loss of a close friend in a mountaineering accident on Mt Cook. With young children and life pulling us in different directions, I decided to put mountaineering on hold.
But deep within me, the mountains have always been a source of inspiration for me. My personality is driven towards finding ways to get out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally.
With many months away this year, and the opportunity to spend time in the European Alps, I was re-inspired to get back into the mountains on return to New Zealand. With the onset of the Ironman off-season, I had a small window to work with. Mt Aspiring, an incredible peak that has always captivated me, seemed like the perfect challenge. To me, Mt Aspiring is the centerpiece of this whole area. From its summit, you can see Wanaka, Clutha out to Dunedin, Mt Cook and even down to Fiordland. I often look up there when I am on my bike riding towards Mt Aspiring National Park and have spent many a moment daydreaming about what it would be like to stand on the top of this awe-inspiring peak.
Our party was initially three-strong, all of us had mountaineering experience, although not recent. I’m well aware of how quickly things can go wrong in such a challenging and changeable environment. All three of us are busy people but all fit and after a few rope sessions in the garage and some recall of the skills we all had under our belts, we felt confident we could make it if the right weather window allowed. We asked a few of the local guides about the conditions and they said they were as good as they have been in a long time to summit.
On a Saturday with 5 hours of training scheduled (the coach doesn’t let up even in the off-season), we decided to make it happen. The weather was playing ball and we had at least three perfect days to work with.
Just 1.5 hours before departure, we were joined by Sam Smoothy – a present-day mountaineer and one of the best big mountain skiers in the world. You can’t keep Sam away from the mountains for too long and he was keen to do one last trip before he heads over to North America for the endless back-to-back winter of adventure.
At around 3 pm we had pulled together everything we needed and headed up the valley where we had a flight with Aspiring Heli organised to Bevan Col. On landing, we then trekked a couple of hours across the glacier. The mountain looked stunning – still quite wintery with snow and ice. It was a still night in the mountains and we felt pretty lucky to have struck the right conditions to pull off this adventure.
We set off to Colin Todd Hut and spent the night there, joining a full hut of excited climbers. We began our ascent at 2am and the conditions were perfect. The ‘ramp’, a crucial part of the North West ridge, was in good condition, with only one major schrund at the bottom. We summited around 7am to an epic sunrise. It was truly one of the highlights of my life, standing there with good friends and seeing the whole area.
It’s these moments in life that you know you will hold onto forever. Super special times that remind you of everything good about life. Also, a deep-seated appreciation that life has given me this opportunity.
We didn’t linger long due to the wind, but we managed some breakfast before descending via a route called the Kangaroo. This allowed us to see more of the west ridge. After a quick lunch and another coffee at the hut, we began our 7.5-hour hike back to Raspberry Creek crossing back over the Bonar Glacier.
This adventure was an opportunity to return to an environment that I love, but it was essential to do it responsibly. Our crew was fantastic – like-minded people who prioritised safety and understood the importance of respecting the elements. To do something that challenges and inspires you is special, and I feel humbled by the life I get to live.
Now I am back into swim, biking and running. But the tank is full and I am ready for a huge season ahead.
As an end note, I would like to express my enormous gratitude to Macpac for providing me with top-notch clothing. It was great to test them out in the extreme elements and they undoubtedly held up without a hitch. Cheers team!