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Wellington to Cathedral rocks and back – A 24 hour full value trip

Updated: Jan 7

Last weekend the weather planet aligned and Jono Clarke, Graham Johnson and I made a trip to Cathedral Rocks (Matihao south face), Mt Ruapehu. I'd never been there before but had heard about it and was excited at the prospect. We left Wgtn at 2am Saturday bound for Whakapapa. After a rendezvous with Graham we strolled up to the summit plateau (+ 1000m) and meandered our way around to Cathy rocks. Despite being late spring with a high freezing level, we found ice with good hoon potential. Never mind that though – we had our eyes on the real prize i.e. the unclimbed terrain in the middle of the face. As there are so many options here it took a bit of deciding on what to actually try. We settled on a crack system to the right of Matt Thom and Steve Fortune’s route Mr Lava Lava.

I took the first pitch up a superb corner with exciting moves and solid gear. After 1.5 hours and a fall, I pulled onto a small perch atop the pillar and built a 3 pin belay.

Graham came up and cleaned the pitch but wasn't keen on going higher so I lowered him off and the climbing machine that Jono Clarke is tied on. Jono came up and led through up an awkward groove and then onto the face. He pushed the line to 3/4s height and made a belay. I scratched my way up, glad to be on 2nd and impressed with Jono's lead.

I set off on the last pitch, made 5m with some good gear and decided the right hand crack on the face was a better option than the corner crack. This crack gradually petered out to nothing and the rock deteriorated to crappy conglomerate with little blobs of rime. I sunk a wire behind a doubtful piece and clipped it with a screamer. There was no more gear and just 2 options – run it out or fall off. The easy ice and the top were tantalizingly close and I wanted it. I made some tentative moves then nek minute I was flying. Two pieces ripped to culminate in the mother of whippers after which I found myself level with the belay. I was a bit knocked around and needed to get down. We bailed.

The rock, the climbing and the pro were mostly very good (with the exception of the very top). The rock was featured and there was usually enough to move up on – we found it to be M6-7. This face is a very good resource for M climbing and to quote Steve Fortune 'a mixed climbers dream'. There are a great many lines to be done here so go get on it.

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