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First ascent: Somnus North-East Buttress Solo

Updated: Jan 7

North-East Buttress, 700m, 15/16, first ascent.

Something really struck home with me while reading an article by Jane Morris in the recent 2013 New Zealand Alpine Journal. In particular her closing sentence: 'Doorstep adventures: make the most of them wherever you live.'

Living in Queenstown I know that I am fortunate to call one of the most beautiful alpine locations in the country home. However, with the exception of day trip forays into the Remarkables, more often than not I find myself looking further afield when seeking out climbing objectives. Mt Aspiring, Mt Cook and the Darran Mountains are all only a matter of hours away and in recent years this is where I have been focusing my attention. But Jane's article reminded me that I do not need to venture far from my own doorstep in search of adventure, and that climbs of equal quality can be found much closer to home.

So with the arrival of the first settled weekend of the year I found myself standing in Theatre Flat at the head of the Rock Burn. Enjoying the first warmth of the early morning sun as I stared up at the steep bush clad slopes that line the southern side of the valley. I knew that somewhere up through the tangle of vegetation and waterfalls lay a small hanging valley and further above that, still obscured from view, were the northern aspects of Somnus.

Three hours of bushing bashing, tussock hopping and then scree scrambling latter and I was standing below the North-east buttress. Gazing up at nearly 700m of, surprisingly, unclimbed rock.

After starting out up a series of low angled and weathered slabs I headed slightly left to gain the base of the left-hand of two main ribs that dominate the face. Skirting the right flank of this I followed the edge of the main gully that splits the two ribs, before moving left again to gain the centre of the rib itself. From here a series of pleasant corners, linked with short steps of face climbing, lead through the steepest part of the face before the angle relented slightly at around 2000m. This was followed by a right tending rising traverse to the centre of the face. Where a final steep section then gave way to blocky ground and a short ridge section before gaining the summit at just after 2:00pm.

Here I rested with a quick drink and snack while enjoying the amazing view. Small puffs of cloud dotted the horizon in all directions, through which soared the peaks of the Darrans and the lower Southern Alps. West to Tutoko, East to Earnslaw and on the northern horizon – Aspiring. It was the perfect summit panorama and remind me that really there is no place like your own backyard!

The descent was made via the standard North Face route, entirely on snow down to below 1700m, before reversing the bush bash back down to Theatre Flat. Then out the Rock Burn and over Sugarloaf Pass to complete a 16 hour round trip.

First ascent of the North-East Buttress of Somnus (2293m). The route follows the left hand of two prominent ribs that form the buttress before tending right up easier ground to finish directly on the summit. 700m of climbing mainly on solid rock with sections at up to grade 15/16, mainly on the lower buttress, before the angle eases towards the top.

Grade 15/16, MC4, Ben Dare 11th January 2014.

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