CLIMBING MT AVALANCHE
I had been wanting to climb Mt Avalanche in Mt Aspiring National Park ever since I first wandered up the beautiful Matukituki valley thirty five years ago on arrival in New Zealand from UK.
Its symmetrical shape and triple peaks above Avalanche Glacier crown the junction of the East and West Matukituki valleys and are visible from parts of Wanaka where we now live.
An invitation from climbing friends was too good to pass up and we were away the next day. The long plod up the valley to Pearl Flat and a steep climb through beech forest and tussock took us to French Ridge hut in about seven hours.
We had been experiencing strange low cloud effects for a week but hoped the next day would be clear. It wasn’t. Leaving the hut at 4.30 am we made good progress up onto the Quarter Deck in heavy cloud. At dawn a pinkish cast entered the scene and suddenly there was visibility. Stretching above us was our glacier route to the Bonar glacier and above and to the right our objective, the West Ridge of Avalanche, dark and free of snow. Below us a sea of cloud filled the valley.
After a couple of hours’ careful route finding through crevassed ice, we broke out onto the Bonar glacier to a perfect clear view of Mt Aspiring’s south face and the SW ridge on which two years before I had suffered a terrible experience when my friend John fell to his death. I was glad to return but it was with great sadness that I reflected on that day and the loss of a great friend.
Crossing the glacier we made good progress on firm snow up to the foot of the rock slabs that run up to the high peak of Avalanche. Leaving our ice gear at the schrund we climbed the rough weathered rocks past huge exfoliating flakes following deep cracks.
The climbing was easy but often loose with big drops to the glaciers on all sides. No room for mistakes here.
The summit consists of spectacular broken rocks balanced above huge drops towards the Kitchener cirque with its icy blue lake far below and still further down the East Matukituki river winding its way towards Wanaka. The two lower peaks stood out in front of us with sharp jagged ridges bristling with gendarmes connecting the summits but barring access.
Mt Aspiring shone majestically across the Bonar glacier, its summit still hundreds of metres above us.
Warm conditions allowed us a rest and some lunch on top before abseiling back to the schrund and a hot plod across the glacier in full sun before following our footsteps carefully across snow bridges over crevasses to the safety of French Ridge below and the comfort of the hut, a meal and a sunset to remember.
DOCUMENTARY FILMING BEGINS
The next day after a long and tiring decent to Wanaka a film crew arrived for two days shooting towards a year long documentary featuring our sculpture work. It looked like rain so Philippa and I made a hurried plan to make a sculpture on the shingle river banks of the Matukituki River near the West Wanaka estuary into the lake.
The film crew were surprised to find that we where going to make a sculpture simply using river water on the dry river bank.
After carefully marking out its position using a stick tied to a string we began to fetch water in buckets and pour it onto the gravel beach. It proved to work well and took less time than we imagined to draw a dark grey circle twenty four metres across.
When viewed from above it had the shape and presence I had anticipated and and I photographed it in overcast light giving plenty of detail in the sculpture as well as the mountain landscape beyond. The wet circle gradually begun to dry out so the crew filmed with time lapse to show it disappearing.
The next day rain was forecast to arrive from the west so we devised a sculpture concept that was about rain.
Gathering dry driftwood from the lake edge we made a work on a shingle beach which would change colour when it became wet. Sure enough right on time the sky darkened and big drops of rain began to spatter the driftwood.
Having filmed and photographed it dry we continued to capture the changing conditions and their effects on the sculpture while protecting the cameras. When fully wet some of the wood took on dark rich colours that increased its contrast with the beach. The flat light gave an evenness to the range of tones so that the camera could capture them well.
The film crew returned to the city but next day was very sunny so Philippa and I revisited the sculpture and photographed it in bright sun and also at sunset with the snow covered mountains visible in the background.
SCULPTURE IN CENTRAL OTAGO
The next few days where spent making final preparations for a sculpture exhibition for which I had to install a steel work 2m x 2m titled Cyclic Flow. The site is in the park like setting of Rippon Vineyard overlooking Lake Wanaka.
Sculpture in Central Otago is a biennial show of selected sculpture works installed along a 1.5 k walk through one of the most scenic vineyards in the world. The installation went without a hitch and the exhibition opened with a gala dinner in the new Rippon event centre positioned on a hill above the vineyard – a spectacular venue built with rammed earth walls and recycled timbers.
Today I returned there to give an artist talk and enjoy the sculptures of the 35 artists involved along with live music.
The sculptures remain on show for three months.
Next week I go to sign up for my pension. Retirement however, is not on the agenda.