Guy McKinnon has completed the long-awaited second winter ascent of the east face of Popes Nose, in impeccable style.
In Guy’s words: ‘On the 18th of July I finally made an attempt on the integral ascent of the east face of Popes Nose through the north-east face of Aspiring. The unfolding of this attempt was long and arduous beyond words and required mental effort and determination in excess of anything previously required of me by alpinism.’
Guy began climbing at 9.20am after a ‘taxing approach and desperate bivouac’. Climbing somewhere in the vicinity of the existing winter route Fuck the Pope (Brian Alder, Lionel Clay, Nick Cradock, Dave Fearnley, 1990), Guy describes some tense moments route-finding on the initial steep wall, but ‘good ice conditions and patience’ saw him through to the start of the tiers of the upper half of the face: ‘Here I encountered a fantastic ice playground of unimaginably good quality climbing, [I moved] quickly and with great pleasure.’
Guy topped out directly after five hours on the face, then made his way down snow ramps on the north side of the peak to the upper Volta Glacier where he suffered a terrible night, shivering in spindrift in a crevasse for 12 hours at the base of the north-east face of Mt Aspiring.
The following day the good spell of weather came to an end, but Guy was determined to push it out and so set off on the north-east face in awful ice conditions. Guy describes his attempt: ‘After about 250m of climbing on glassy hard and dinner-plating ice I reached a bulge at the start of what looked like a 25-metre crux passage. With tools and crampons skittering on iron hard ice I flailed axes desperately to reach the plastic ice flowing over the rock, but it was friable and unsupportable […] Gutted, I listened to a strong inner voice urging me to back off.’
Guy reached French Ridge Hut at 4.00pm that day—after crossing the Bonar Glacier in gale-force winds and a white-out—feeling that his retreat was a wise decision as conditions on the upper mountain would have been desperate and no sleep for two days had reduced his capabilities and mental state.
Despite ‘failing’ on his intended link-up of the two faces, Guy’s second winter ascent of the east face of Popes Nose, solo, walking in and out, must rate as possibly the finest alpine achievement of New Zealand’s modern era.
The first ascent was completed by a team of four, who flew in to the base of the face, bivvied en-route, and flew home from the top. That ascent stood as a benchmark for difficult winter alpinism in this country for 24 years. One of the members of that first ascent team, consummate Kiwi climber and mountain guide Nick Cradock, describes Guy’s ascent as one of the best and most important accomplishments in New Zealand mountaineering history: ‘On par with the first ascent of Zurbriggen Ridge on Mt Cook, Tom Fyfe’s first ascent of Malte Brun, and Bill McLeod’s solo of the Yankee Kiwi Couloir on Mt Hicks.’
Reflecting at home after this most epic of bold and committing adventures, Guy simply states: ‘I am extremely pleased to be warm again.’