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New Route on the South Face of Marian.

Updated: Jan 7

Mater Dei, 1000m, 20, first ascent. Trip report and video from the ascent.

Its not often I find myself checking the weather forecast for the Darrans while on holiday in Chamonix. Ben had just informed me that my flight from France would arrive in NZ on a public holiday and that he was taking Friday off work. A long weekend of climbing was on the cards. I really did not know if my recent knee injury would allow me to even get to the base of a mountain in the Darrans, let alone do any climbing. But always an optimist, I suggested that Ben should pick me up from the airport and if the weather was good we should go straight to the Darrans to have a crack at a first ascent on the South Face of Marian. Amazingly as I punched the Metservice website address into my laptop a row of yellow sun pictures appeared across the ten day forecast! WTF! 3 days of near perfect weather starting the day I arrive. This almost seemed to good to be true. A flurry of texts and viber calls followed with some instructions for Ben to pick up food, batteries and discussions on what gear we would need for the trip. We settled on a plan for light bivvy gear, a full rack, Jetboil, ice axes, crampons and enough food for one night out on the mountain. Unsure if my knee would hold up to doing a big route in a single push, we decided to maximise the good weather and allowed for a bivvy somewhere on route or on the summit ridge. I did not know if I should be happy or sad but as I sat through the 30 hours of flying, airports and transfers making my way from Chamonix to Queenstown all I could really think was that I wish I had had more than 4 hours sleep in the last two days!

I arrived in Queenstown at 12pm on Thursday the 6th and by 6pm we were making our way down to Homer Hut. Arriving with just enough daylight to spare to sneak in a view of the South Face of Sabre and to check how much snow remained on the south faces. There are some major snow patches on the middle ledges of Marian and Barrier and we were not to sure if they would have melted enough so early in the summer to allow us to climb up the lower tier without getting completely wet from the waterfalls that pour out from them. Luckily our brief look at Sabre suggested the south faces were looking pretty good.

3am the alarm woke me from a brief sleep. Four hours is really not enough to recover from two days of flying but a forecast like this was just to good to pass up. By 3.30am we were out the door and heading for the Barrier Face and the approach to the Marian valley. My knee was sore and stiff as we walked the rough path of the Gertrude Valley. I complained constantly and am sure Ben must have been getting worried, wondering if his climbing plans would all go to shit before even reaching the base of the mountain. Luckily after an hour of walking the pain settled down and we continued up over the Barrier Face. Making good time to arrive at the Barrier Crosscut Col at 8am. Thankfully the descent down to Marian from the Col was fairly straight forward, and by 10.30am we were setting off up the first six pitches of Maid Marian. Making our way to the large terrace that splits the South Faces of Marian and Barrier.

The climbing was more run out than I remembered. Perhaps I was hesitant about my knee or maybe it was just the tiredness and jetlag. Either way I often found myself looking down at the 10m plus run outs as I moved through the first three pitches. Fighting with myself to relax and enjoy the climb. The final pitch of the lower tier was one we previously had to aid around, due to jammed blocks stopping us from climbing through a small chimney and hole that takes you onto the terrace. Last time we were here however we had pushed off all the blocks and now the pitch can be climbed free at a very pleasant grade 20. This now makes the approach to the main face a very good 6 pitch line with grades ranging from 17 -20. However……..even though the actual technical grade might not sound too high I am fairly sure the nature of the climbing will keep most climbers engaged and entertained.

Arriving at the large terrace around 2pm we surveyed the upper 15 pitches of the wall. Both of us were feeling a tired so we opted for an easier looking line on the left hand side of the South Face. Initially we scrambled across the lip of the terrace, under the large snow patches. Constantly casting nervous glances over our shoulders as these had been dropping ice avalanches all morning and we did not waste any time getting around them. This was followed by around 250m of simul-climbing, mostly at grades 14 - 16, to where the ground steepened again. Leading to six pitch crux that ranged from 17 - 20 and provided the main engagement for the upper part of the route. A further 100m of easy climbing then brought us to the summit ridge where the line finished just down and left of the true summit.

Video from the ascent

This time we were lucky enough to top out with 30 minutes of daylight to spare. We made the most of this by getting the majority of the way to Barrier Peak before the sun set. At around 10.30pm we dropped our packs and found a slightly flat rocky ledge just past the summit of Barrier Peak. Exceptionally warm temperatures combined with light winds made for a very pleasant bivvy and surprisingly both of us managed a good 7 hours sleep before the final descent across the Barrier ridge and back down to Homer Hut.

Mater Dei, 1000m, 20, is not quite the same quality as the original south face line Maid Marian. The climbing is less sustained and the rock slightly more mossy. However it probably provides the easiest way up the South Face of Marian and makes for a great day out for anyone who is tempted to head that way and does not think they are ready for the more sustained Maid Marian.

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