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First Ascent of the West Face of Lyttle Peak

Updated: Jan 8

Three of our other options for our biennial brothers trip had been abandoned due to weather or conditions. An idea which had been mooted, but remained on the back-burner due to the mystery and unknown nature of it, was an attempt at Lyttle Peak. Inspired by Rob Frost's article in The Climber, we decided that regardless of what happened, it was sure to be an adventure, and as such, late one Thursday afternoon, we set out for South Westland.

I'm not quite sure what was scaring me more as we drove down the Coast. I was silently dreading the notorious West Coast bush bash approach, but at the same time, the prospect of attempting a first ascent on a face for which we had no beta, and not even a single picture, was a truly terrifying prospect.

My history of rock first ascents is rather limited. The first attempt over at Charleston involved getting shut down on a fairly easy arete, and the second was an embarrassing failure barely five metres off the ground in a hideous off-width. I finally got a first ascent on rock in the Darrans which only took an hour and half for 40 metres of climbing. It is safe to say I didn't hold high hopes for the success of this mission to climb the West Face of Lyttle Peak.

Friday morning found us awaiting dawn at the bottom of the face. Steve's dreams of ropes riddled with gaping holes and other such misfortunes did little to alleviate my disquiet. However, stepping onto the compact rock at the base of the buttress somehow vanquished much of this anxiety, achieving something, about as close as my overactive imagination can manage, to a zen-like state.

After an initial solo up the easy terrace, we reached our first pitch up a quality crack, at the top of which the rope came off again, and we soloed up to the left hand arete. Here the fun truly began. It was my turn to take the sharp end, and my zen-state, which had led to careful optimism at this point, was brutally crushed by the sea of small, loose vegetated flakes which peppered the face. Three extremely psychological pieces of gear found me almost 50 metres up, attempting to construct something resembling a belay in rock which refused to remain affixed to the face. With three tenuous pieces, I yelled at Steve not to fall, and he gently seconded his way up to the belay. A little more unpleasant flake climbing brought us to a large, and rather unexpected system of gravel ledges which continued up the face.

After a quick two-hundred metres simul-climbing up the easy spur, we reached the large summit headwall. Whereas the rest of the face had opened up, generally revealing much more protectable rock than I'd anticipated the previous day, the headwall still appeared just as daunting and compact as it had from five kilometres away.

I'd pieced back together the shards of my composure by this stage, but it was still with some degree of trepidation that I took the gear and began to climb.

The person who coined the expression "between a rock and a hard place" clearly hadn't experienced the excitement of being between a rock and a yawning abyss. After an initial false start, Steve ditched the pack, and refusing to look behind, did an impressive pull up through the face to mantel onto the flat-ish ledges above. Now midway up the summit headwall, we found ourselves on a very exposed ledge system which cut the face in half horizontally. Above us, compact overhangs hung dauntingly, their shaded orange faces dark with foreboding. Taking the sharp end again, I had no qualms leaving the exciting, sparsely protectable overhangs to those who follow in our footsteps, and instead took the more Pete-graded route onto the ridge, involving an excellent wee traverse, and finally a quality crack which took us directly onto the ridge, just a pitch shy of the summit.

The fact that the Northern side of the ridge revealed a much more manageable descent relieved a little more of the pent up apprehension which had existed until this point. However there was more than enough excitement on the way down, with one exceptionally airy descent across a slab, followed by a down-climb of micro finger pockets.

Waking an hour early to rain saw us packing quickly to get out before the river responded adversely to the unexpected precipitation. Falling in the river before 7am put me in a dark mood for a good part of the morning, but finding a fairly good taped trail, high above the river through the bush did a power of good for the morale.

While in some respects we've ticked one off Rob's list of classic unclimbed routes, it feels like in some way we've added something different. It only requires one glance at the photo of the face to see the potential for new lines up there. Whether it be a harder, more direct line to the summit, or if in fact it's an easier line on one of the sub-peaks of Lyttle, there's a heap more adventure waiting for anyone who ventures up there. I hope that having some pictures and beta on the face doesn't actually remove that mystery, but instead encourages people to go and seek out their own adventure on this, or another line on this truly beautiful face.

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