The Remarkables Traverse
Jan 21st, 2018
4:40am, I hit snooze to catch a few more minutes of that sweet, rare, dream-sprinkled deep morning sleep. My body has somehow developed this amazingly convenient method of waking up twenty minutes before the alarm goes off.
Almost every time.
And it somehow feels beneficial to hit snooze at least twice.
Almost every time.
We spent the night in Lower Shotover, a suburb just below The Remarkable Range. A friend from University lives there, with two roomies, one of which is our new friend Maddy.
Tucked in Maddy’s bed setup sleepover style, I was half awake all night.
Whether it was from nerves or from excitement, I probably slept about a total of four hours. But sometimes, I think people function best that way.
When the clock struck 5, I thought,
if I think about how nice this bed is any longer, I’m never getting up.
So I mechanically moved myself out from under the covers and into the kitchen.
Okay, now I’m stoked.
I went straight to kitchen to boil water to make some coffee for Hannah and I, and snapping on a few layers of adventure-worthy spandex for the day ahead. As soon as we had our food and gear packed, we hit the road at 5:30 beneath a star-scattered dome. Beluga, my 1992 Ford Econovan Maxi, loyally hauled us up the winding road to the Remarkables Ski area.
We rose with the sun in elevation.
Consoling topo maps and panorama photos for route beta, we spent a few minutes wandering around the carpark trying to figure out where the hell we were supposed to start this thing.
Sure enough, the approach was a nice warmup on a Snowcat-packed road.
Carrying enough water for two days, plenty of snacks, and a 60m rope, I was embarrassed to feel a bit winded. Always over-prepared. Never enough trail running.
“Just the first wind, we got this” I assured myself.
Shaking off that morning rust, we pushed past naked skifields and chairlifts, reaching Lake Alta in no-time, the full traverse revealed itself.
Telecom Tower towards the right, North Cone to the left, the second half of Double Cone was followed by Single Cone and a lovely skree-sloped descent.
Soaking in the steep, chossy-jagged peaks, the objective ahead was a bit intimidating, but we felt better having a rope and small trad rack. The gusts of wind were more of a concern. Luckily, Hannah and I had established good communication, and checked in with each other periodically making sure we both felt solid about our mission.
We carried on to the solar panel shrouded station on top of Telecom Tower to suss out the wind situation. The route was surprisingly well-marked with a bit of a trail to follow. Hannah and I had some fun with the strong winds gooshing up the Southern edge of the ridge. A friend from town had warned me about the high winds that day, and said that some helicopter-led video shoot had even been cancelled.
But I thought, heck, we’ve made it this far, we can always turn around.
Hannah asked me if I was feeling alright about it and we decided to check out what it was like near North Cone next to the heli-pad.
Hannah and I descended on to approach the flat platform beneath the ridge, noticing two other climbers approaching the tower. We were slower moving than them, navigating our traverse over towards Double Cone. Initially, I was preparing to feel annoyed by a couple of hot-shot alpine bros ready to flash the whole thing and show us girls who’s boss.
As they got closer, I realized they were two mountain-seasoned young women about our age, rocking toned quads of steel in volleyball shorts, small daypacks, and sturdy alpine-approach shoes.
We stopped to chat with each other, and learned that they were from the states, Vermont in fact.
It’s always nice to meet people in New Zealand, and not feel forced to address the current political drama.
Ain’t nobody got time for that, the mountains don’t care.
Waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds and de-thaw our hands and faces, the two of us kept moving towards the objective. We waited there with the two other girls, Britta and Olivia, who had the same concerns about borderline-threatening winds.
I was feeling reluctant, not sure if the wind would die down any more as the sun came to warm the ridgeline. The other party was a few meters away, and probably feeling the same way, but we saw them transitioning to their climbing shoes and helmets. I knew I was over-thinking it. The direction of the wind was in our favor.
“I think if we turn back now, it’s because we’re intimidated…” Hannah reasoned. “…I think we’re perfectly capable.”
She was totally right.
But if we started climbing, we agreed that we were committed.
And I had never stood before a scramble like that.
I also had realized I had never climbed with Hannah before. But I knew she was strong, experienced, and I liked the way we were being direct with each other about our thoughts.
So, we laced up and followed the lead of team Vermont.
What am I doing.
Why do I do this.
Why am I like this.
I’m so glad I didn’t tell my parents I’m doing this.
I’ll tell them when it’s over.
As we ascended the North Cone of Double Cone, I was surprised at how good the rock was, like, really good. The footing was a bit sketchy in places, but what more could you expect with this kind of geology?
The ascent wasn’t as hard as it looked, and we had the other two ladies, Britta and Olivia as our route-scoping friends. We helped each other out with views from our different vantage points.
A few slightly-stupid and exposed, yet easy moves later, we were already standing on the second summit of Double Cone.
Holy shit, this feels like a dream…
Just moving, breathing and climbing.
That’s all I have to do right now.
If I get psyched out, I get sweaty, fall and die… or at least messed up.
But you know, I’m kind of okay with that risk.
I accept it.
I’m doing something that I love to do.
We saw that Olivia and Britta were moving quite a bit faster than us, already at the summit of Single Cone, travelling much lighter. However, Hannah and I found ourselves ‘accidentally’ following the vertical pitch towards the ‘bold and heroic’ route along the ridge of Double Cone. We took our time and stayed in good communication.
Mostly, I think we just wanted to justify bringing the climbing gear in the first place.
What’s the fun in it if you don’t get a little bit of vert?
What’s the fun if you don’t scare yourself a little bit?
Now I’m starting to sound like my dad… I can’t wait to show him pictures later on.
Manifesting a good finish to this adventure... Thinking of how good it will be to get down and enjoy those cold pilsners in the van fridge.
Hannah and I were constantly in awe of how difficult we were making it out to be in our minds, yet how capable we actually were. We found ourselves on top of Single cone soon enough, ready for a bite to eat.
My relationship with the mountains is kind of like a bootycall.
This metaphor for what my relationship with the mountains is like came up mid-ascent of Single Cone.
They don’t actually care about you or what you do.
You can love/hate them all you want.
But they remain indifferent.
It’s kind of a one-way thing. Like, you call up on the mountains like, hey, wanna hangout?
The mountain’s just like, yeah okay. I’m here, just chillin.
Come over whenever.
And you go over there, and do your thing.
And then it’s over.
Sometimes you feel great. Sometimes, you find yourself thinking, never again. I need to just settle down already.
But the difference with the mountains and a bootycall, is that you don’t really feel used by them. It’s completely your call, your choice.
So maybe that metaphor doesn’t really work.
Maybe these are just high-altitude thoughts.
Whatever, Hannah thought it was funny.
At the top of Single Cone, I tried to force myself to have a few handfuls of trail mix, but my stomach always feels sick in the mountains. I always force myself to eat some for breakfast in the morning, so I don’t completely bonk mid-morning. Not sure why this is, but I like to think it is because I need my gut to think and feel out decisions... As sensitive as it is, I think it’s most powerful when mostly empty.
It can’t be bothered with digesting food while it’s double-timing as my intuition.
We watched the other two girls disappear as they made their descent down the ridge. Hoping we could catch up with them later, we wanted to exchange contacts for future adventures together.
Navigating a steep slab down Single Cone, we ran into three mountain guides ascending the Eastern ridge, two of them in training. We stopped to chat and get some beta on the best way down. The leader, donning a cringeworthy 70’s porno-style ‘stache, referred to us as ‘young lady’ and ‘sweetheart’ which Hannah rightfully hated.
We spoke to them about the traverse and our initial hesitations regarding the wind.
“Well, you look like you’d just blow off the ridge there!” Said the ‘stached guy with his Central-Otago kiwi accent.
Well that’s just annoying.
Dude, c’mon. Really?
What year is it?
We kindly excused ourselves, as ‘proper young ladies’ should, anxious to continue a long trek down a series of settled rock slides.
Turned out, downwards was the hardest part. Down-climbing was probably the most difficult, as well as traversing the endless supply of skree. Gotta love it.
I slipped and fell a few times, thankfully just on the grass on the steep descent back towards Lake Alta.
We rejoiced once we stepped foot on an established trail again, making our way to where we began the day. Which felt like yesterday. It was about 2:30pm.
Rad. We did it.
I’m so glad we did.
I’m so glad we didn’t turn around.
Hell ya, another experience to tick off.
This one wasn’t so stupid after all.
Maybe just a little bit.
Hannah and I high-fived each other, and got pictures at the bottom from some day-trippers. We actually felt kind of cool hiking down with the rope and jingling hula skirt of trad gear.
Might have also forgotten to take off our helmets.
As we got to the car, we were happy to see a note scribbled on scratch paper from the Vermont girls. Yay for new friends!
We scarfed down the rest of our lunches and each had a celebratory beer, glowing in that post-summit bliss.
Descending from the hill, I reflected on how good it was to push my personal limits. To push the boundaries of what I think is possible. Of what I’ve been conditioned to believe I am capable of.
This is why I do this.
It’s empowering and sure feels good as hell when it’s over.
The physical barriers are there, but far and few between.
It’s all in the mind.