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Leviathan (WI4, 1500m) on the Ramsay Face of Mt. Whitcombe, Southern Alps, New Zealand. On July 13, Guy McKinnon climbed this line to make the first winter ascent of the east face. Ramsay, housing two other lines that were established in summer and are notorious for rockfall, sees almost no ascents. [Photo] Guy McKinnon

On July 13, Guy McKinnon soloed the Ramsay Face of Mt. Whitcombe (2644m), Southern Alps, New Zealand. His was the first winter ascent of the mountain’s east face, an accomplishment described by The Climber, the quarterly magazine of the New Zealand Alpine Club, as “one of Canterbury mountaineering’s last great problems.”

McKinnon said that he had been “unhealthily obsessed” with the Ramsay Face since his first attempt on the mountain in 2002, via the North Ridge in winter. He made two unsuccessful winter attempts on the east face last winter, and in July he returned with more confidence to establish the 1500-meter line. Leviathan is a combination of snow shelves and ice steps, the steepest of which are WI4.

Although not New Zealand’s most famous peak, Mt. Whitcombe, located just south of Arthur’s Pass at the northern end of the Southern Alps, is one of the country’s most severe. The Ramsay Face, in particular, is notorious for loose rock. McKinnon’s line follows a path similar to that made on the first ascent of the face during the summer of 1962. That route, established by Ian Cave, Mike Gill, Philip Houghton and John Nicholls has never been repeated, as the already loose climb became more dangerous when monstrous rockfall beset the face in 1970. Only one other recorded line (Pooley-Stanton, 1972) ascends the face.

“I thought that climbing conditions were very good [during my ascent], although this is far from usual on the face,” McKinnon added. Reaching the summit took him six hours. Although he helicoptered in and out for the climb, and bivied that night, McKinnon noted that “if the Ramsay Lake is frozen, the route could be climbed in a long day from Lyell or Reischek Huts.”

From McKinnon’s report: “The gurus may laugh at these sentiments, but the feeling of elation after the climb, as well as a palpable feeling of rebirth, were for me hugely rewarding.”

Source: The Climber #61

McKinnon on Mt. Whitcombe’s summit after climbing Leviathan. He made two unsuccessful winter attempts on the face last year. [Photo] Guy McKinnon