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October 2021 Issue
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Around Aspiring

Phil Penney leads above a schrund on Moncrieff Col. Photo: Shaun Barnett/Black Robin Photography

In December 2002, Shaun Barnett circumnavigated Tititea/Mt Aspiring and climbed the majestic mountain’s Northwest Ridge

On the Volta Glacier, it’s blisteringly hot, the sun burning the snow to a blinding white. Phil has wrapped a cotton shirt around his face, leaving just an eye slit. A sheik in a desert of snow.   

A steep ascent leads over a lip where we can rest, boil the billy and melt snow for much-needed liquid. As we round the buttresses of Aspiring’s Northeast Ridge, increasingly good views of Waiototo Lake and Haast Range unfold.

The constant noise of crumbling ice reverberates off the Coxcomb Ridge above us. After one more dangerous traverse beneath ice cliffs, we cross old avalanche debris and reach safer ground in the Therma Glacier.

Late in the day, we gain the ridge above the Bonar Glacier and pause to take in fresh views. Evening light washes over the shapely Eros and Iona peaks, with the more distant but recognisable forms of the Olivine Ice Plateau and Mt Tutuko beyond. On a pile of rocks, still warm from the sun, we cook a dehydrated kumara-cashew nut stew.

In the evening’s last light we reach Colin Todd Hut, finding it empty. What a grand location for a hut – set on schist slabs with views of the Northwest Ridge and surrounded by a panorama of other peaks. Nearby, Ranunculus sericophyllus shelters in rock cracks, and a kea skulks. This, to me, is perfection – an  alpine place, yet one where life survives.

December 2002