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Macpac New Zealand Alpinist of the Year 2019

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

The Macpac New Zealand Alpinist of the Year awards are judged over the 12-month period that follows the previous year's Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival. The awards recognise the best alpine climbs during a one year period, taking into account style, difficulty and creativity of the ascent. The award is open to all New Zealand citizens and Expedition Climbers Club members for climbs completed in New Zealand or overseas. This year’s awards ceremony will take place in August at the Ice and Mixed Festival in Queenstown, NZ.

A few weeks out from that event, we take a look at the nominees, and the climbs that earned them a nod.

Alastair McDowell, Rose Pearson, Caleb Jennings – First Ascent of ‘Moonshadow’, South Face of Mt Hutton. Tucked away at the head of the Cass Valley beyond Tekapo, this unclimbed face saw several attempts over the past years, including Alastair’s first try of the face four years earlier. This past August the 450m route was finally completed and the trio descended under a brightly glowing full moon illuminating all of the Southern Alps, hence the name of the route.

Caleb Jennings & Kim Ladiges – First Ascent of ‘Pilgrim’, Sheila Face, Aoraki/Mt Cook. The direct ice line on the Sheila Face has been one of the last un-climbed lines on Aoraki/Mt Cook for many years, but tricky conditions and a burly crux ice dagger have deterred many recent suitors. Caleb and Kim left Empress hut around midnight on the 5th of September arriving back to Empress 24 hours later having completed the first ascent of the direct line. They named the route “Pilgrim”, which goes at a grade of MC6, WI5, M6, 750M. The crux pitch involved a difficult detached ice pillar, with steep moves pulling over a small roof bulge. Caleb had made several attempts on the line with various partners over the past few years and was very happy to complete this project with Kim.

Rose Pearson, Sam Waetford – First Ascent of ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks’, Sheila Face Aoraki/Mt Cook. Shortly after the first ascent of Pilgrim, Rose & Sam headed into Empress Hut to make the first ascent of another new line just to the left on the Sheila Face, starting just up the Fyfe’s Gut. In a 23 hour round-trip, they ascended the new line which goes at MC5+, M4, WI4, 800m, and descended via the Linda and Dampier-Cook couloir.

Ben Dare – First Ascent (solo), SouthWest Face of Mt Percy Smith. Coined as an enigmatic and mythical beast, the Southwest Face of Mt Percy Smith is a reclusive and obscure piece of real estate. It is rarely visited, and even less frequently attempted. This southwest face has a reputation for being remote, dark, ugly and dangerous, and has been regarded as one of the last unclimbed problems in the Southern Alps. Ben Dare made the long approach to the face last September and climbed the face by a new line he named 'The Promise' Grade VI, 6+ (WI4, M5+, A0), 700m.

Climbing the final snow slope below the South Ridge of Percy Smith

Daniel Joll, Alastair McDowell, Chris Warner – Traverse of Les Drus, Aiguille Sans Nom, Aiguille Verte. The Integral ridge spanning the Flames De Pierre to Aiguille Verte should be one of the iconic Chamonix alpine climbs. Over the course of 5 days last September, Daniel Joll, Chris Warner and Alastair McDowell traversed the granite skyline ridge connecting Les Flammes de Pierre, Les Drus, Aiguille Sans Nom and Aiguille Verte, descending via the Moine Ridge to Couvercle Refuge. The 3 days of climbing involved traversing 3 kilometres of complex ridgeline, bagging 4 summits, ascending over 2000 metres of technical terrain, with 2 bivouacs just below the summits of Petit Dru (3700m) and Aiguille Sans Nom (3950m).

Alastair McDowell, Tom Seccombe – Winter Ascent of ‘Allain-Leininger’, North Face of Petit Dru. Les Drus is the most impressive granite monolith overlooking the Chamonix Valley. Often you will catch a glance of the intimidating, dark rock peak from the opposite sunny side of the valley, and its a wonder that this face would be so alluring. Alastair teamed up with British climber Tom Seccombe with the dream of severely blunting their ice tools and crampons on 850m of granite dry tooling up the North Face of the Petit Dru. They approached the face via Grands Montets and climbed until midnight where they reached a bivouac at half height. The second day they climbed to the summit, abseiled the North Couloir, and skiied back to the valley, arriving back at the car 25 hours after leaving the bivouac.

Lionel Clay, Alastair McDowell – Colton-McIntyre, North Face of Grandes Jorasses. Lionel had been dreaming of climbed the Grandes Jorasses North Face since he was a toddler. Now in his fifties, he finally climbed the face via the Colton-McIntyre route this winter with Alastair, at the very end of his 3 month sejour in Chamonix. The face was in horribly dry condition, snowfields replaced by large swaths of blue ice in between the crux ice steps. The slow, hard climbing took its toll, resulting in an uncomfortable bivouac on the face at two-thirds height, but the two topped out happily the following morning and returned to town another day later.

Daniel Joll, Kim Ladiges – Walker Spur, Croz Spur, North Face of Grandes Jorasses. Dan & Kim climbed the Walker Spur on the second day of spring in ‘winter conditions’ – 1000m of rock up to grade 18, mostly climbed in gloves and crampons. Slabby granite in this style was hard & slow going at first, but the pair made up time reaching the summit in 18.5 hours from the bergschrund, for a rare one-day ascent of the buttress. Within the same week, the pair also blasted up the Croz Spur over the course of two days, returning to town for dinner on the second day.

Honourables Mentions

Some climbs completed during the year do not meet the criteria of ‘alpine style’, but still deserve a mention.

Daniel Joll, Kim Ladiges, Alastair McDowell, John Price – First Ascent of ‘King Cobra’, Mt Barrill. This year’s ECC expedition was to the Ruth Gorge in Alaska, where this team of four set their eyes on a big wall ascent of one of the 1000m high east face of Mt Barrill. They free climbed a new variation of the Cobra Pillar route which went at 5.11c/23 for 14 pitches to the top of the Cobra Pillar, including some incredible stretches of splitter offwidth. Beyond, the route joined the original line via a few more 5.11 pitches, but on the summit push the team bailed approximately 200m below the summit, near the end of the difficulties, due to unstable snow slabs threatening the upper part of the route.

The Macpac NZ Alpinist of the Year awards are judged by a panel of veterans of the Kiwi climbing community, Al Uren, Kester Brown, Craig Jefferies and the previous year’s winners Daniel Joll and Jono Clarke.

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