Skiing the Mahu Whenua Traverse
At the start of September Dave Hamilton and friends departed Treble Cone with the intention of skiing the Mahu Whenua Traverse to Coronet Peak. Weather and conditions were not in their favor but equally were not that unusual for New Zealand. I think Dave’s notes about the trip are worth considering…
We were a group of four with considerable international and NZ climbing and ski-ing experience and had a great few days on the traverse at the beginning of the month. It has been a lean snow year but we decided to have a go all the same on a forecast that was moderate at best; we allowed four days for the Traverse, which should be fine in good conditions.
However we had two days of fierce westerly winds gusting to 120km/hr, which gave us some challenges even getting to the Mount Hyde Turk. The west sides of the ridges were stripped and icy; there was also enough wind to blow us off our feet, producing huge difficulty skinning and skis acting like sails when we resorted to walking!
The East sides were better, but in places we were forced to skin traverse under threatening cornices and in places they were too steep. Rounding Mt Motatapu and the Veganhorn was slow and challenging and Mt Hyde Turk was a very welcome sight! Blizzard set in on day 3 and we enjoyed refuge in the wonderful Turk, which was quiet and retained its warmth well.
We got up early to a wonderful cover of fresh snow, a wonderful, windless, white world! We skinned up the ridge till it steepened and then after some avalanche assessment put a few turns in on the fresh powder! We then traversed under the peak to take the easy S ridge to the summit, but were beaten to it by the Heli skiers. Of course there was plenty of mountain left for us to leave happy turns on including a very enjoyable run down to the St Just Turk! It was very bare over Mt St Just and Vanguard and we were starting to get low on food and fuel, so we accepted Erik’s kind offer of a back-flight out from there after shifting numerous bags of gravel into the Turk base !
I have a few thoughts to share … don’t underestimate the Traverse … we did! There is much more route finding than say on Symphony, that will change between trips, depending on snow cover, rocky outcrops, wind and ice, as well as potential avalanche issues generally on the eastern side that will be the choice side for most of the ski-ing and skinning. The distances and height changes are modest looking, but if conditions are suboptimal they will feel considerably more. It is a great Traverse with the brilliant and well-spaced Turks making it much more comfortable, but don’t underestimate it!
In mid September Thomas Schattovits, (qualified alpine guide and from Austria so probably born with skis on) and friend left Treble Cone aiming for Mt Hyde Turk. It took 6 hours to reach Motatapu Saddle Turk and the next day another 6 hours to reach Mt Hyde. Their comments were similar to Dave’s – complex terrain and many opportunities to get into situations (like steep little gullies) that consume a lot of time and are potentially dangerous.
The traverse is a significant step above “slack country” skiing. Just because you have the gear, fitness and have been out the back of ski areas doesn’t mean you are necessarily up to it. Terrain judgement, understanding weather and snow along with efficient movement are of critical importance when covering this complex terrain. Walking the traverse in summer will allow you to understand what you are getting yourself into. The Crown Basin Turk is a great place to start, it is also possible to do weekend there-and-back trips to the Motatapu, Vanguard and Coronet Turks. Such trips provide an easier opt-out if you think you are getting in over your head.
Of course, make sure you have the right gear, locator beacon and know as much as you can about avalanches and other hazards. I’ll provide more thoughts as the days get cooler in 2021.
That’s enough for now!
16 October 2020