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New Zealand Update: From Solo to Sport

New Zealand’s highest peak, Mt. Cook (3754m). The unfrequented Caroline Face, where 20-year-old Dave Manning made an audacious solo in November, is on the right. [Photo] Dave Manning

From the sport crags of Christchurch to Mt. Cook (3754m), New Zealand’s spring season, September through November, yielded numerous ground-breaking ascents in various disciplines–most notably a solo ascent of the 2000-meter Caroline Face of Mt. Cook by the upstart mountaineer, Dave Manning.

Manning, 20, had attempted to solo the Caroline Face, the southeast-facing wall that is Mt. Cook’s largest, twice prior since climbing Mt. Aspiring (3033m), another big peak in the Southern Alps, in July. He began his third attempt in November. Manning avoided the early rock pitches by approaching via the Caroline Glacier. He quickly made his way through a series of “cautious” bridge crossings to a “lovely frozen snow path threading through cliffs” to rejoin the Clit Route (the variation is known as Rockphobic). A snow cone leading into the central ice cliff covered in sticky powder snow brought Manning to the crux of the route, an overhanging block of ice that, though short, had “epic exposure.”

Sunrise on Mt. Cook. [Photo] Dave Manning

He continued thorough more “terrible snow and some lose rock”, finally reaching the summit ice fields near 7 p.m. Manning wrote, “No great sense of achievement on topping out on the face, I was exhausted and pretty shaken up. The brain had stopped functioning properly many hours before. The original plan had been to head over High Peak and descend to Plateau but it was too late for that so I bivied up top. Which was fantastic–there’s nothing quite like being at altitude when the sun’s coming and going. Another long day took me out via the Hooker.”

Over the course of a week in September, Michael Madden and Matt Quirke pioneered two routes, one ice and one mixed, Visually Impaired (IV AI5, 7 pitches) and Poor Visibility (III AI3 M4, 6 pitches). They flank both sides of Moonshine Buttress, a subpeak of Conway Peak (2323m).

Also in September, Kiwi rock legend Derek Thatcher established the country’s most difficult sport climb, Kaz’s Project (33 [5.14b]) at The Cave, just outside Christchurch. Then on November 3, Thatcher made the long-awaited repeat of Angel of Pain (32 [5.14a]), the Castle Hill testpiece established by Eric Talmadge sixteen years ago.

Sources: Mark Watson, Dave Manning, The Climber,,