Backcountry – My first Summit, Stef Zeestraten

August 21st, 2014

There’s only one way back down to the car on the river bed.

Mountainwatch | Stef Zeestraten

ED: Never one to shy away from adventure, New Zealand’s Stef Zeestraten takes us through a recent outing in the South Island…

Somewhere within some quiet banter at the Wanaka districts club, over a casual Friday night beer, my mate, Josh Douglas, persuaded me to skip town for the more rural setting of the Hopkins Valley (tucked in behind Ohau) for the weekend. With no exact plan as to what we were going to find or do, we left at about 6am with the truck filled to the brim with everything from a hunting rifle to ice axe, splitboard and skis. 

The can of worms we have opened after finding out what is over the ridge for next time.

Long after we left any kind of gravel road for mud, riverbed and boulders, Josh spotted an appealing peak high above the river bed. “That looks epic. Just straight up that scree slope around those cliffs and onto the snowline to the summit,” he mentioned casually. “Peace of piss, mate.” He sounded so convincing that I went with it and we set out on foot across the Hopkins River and straight up the guts of a looming 2000m+ peak.

Scree running is a little scary.

Not long before we were bluffed out in the forest, we discovered that the only way up was via a gnarly scree slope with large rocks and boulders loosening in the morning frost. Being way out of my element halfway up, I managed to make it up a near vertical section with basically zero grip under my feet and no safety net to catch me. I can honestly say these are the moments that you learn a lot about yourself and find out where your new limits are going to lay.

Josh Warming up at camp with a little Whisky.

Six hours of trial blazing up the guts of a mountain later, and we managed to make it to the snowline. Once there, we found what can only be described as one of the best camping spots in the country. Well view-wise anyways. Pitching a one-person tent on snow, mid-winter at 1500m is never going to be comfortable.

After dinner and some whisky to warm up, I endured about seven hours of shivering and a few hours of sleep. To finally be able to get up at 5am for breakfast and click into my splitboard was a glorious feeling after that night’s sleep. I proceeed to follow Josh up our planned root under the stars towards the top.

That feeling at the top.

Only 300 vertical meters short of the summit, we could taste the top. while the sun peaked over the horizon. Agonizing step after step, I made it to the top as Josh told me, “It is worth every drop of sweat, mate.” He sure wasn’t wrong. Words can’t describe the feeling of standing on top of your first summit. After going through every emotion that I can think of to get there, it really is something you can’t mentally prepare for.

Josh, just about to drop.

However hard the physical pain of carrying my snowboard up from the riverbed below was, it was truly breathtaking to finally put it under my feet and shred an amazing line back down to the camp site. There are not many other ways I have felt more alive than here in my own back yard, isolated from civilisation where decisions you make can literally mean life or death. I’m stoked to be alive, thanks to Josh for keeping me that way… – Dutchy

Our ride home..