Hillary Expeditions update

Wednesday 3 March 2010, 8:39AM


Three kiwi climbers have arrived on the Antarctic Peninsula, only to discover they have been beaten by a French team

Three kiwi climbers have arrived on the Antarctic Peninsula, only to discover they have been beaten by a French team up the route they planned to take on the remote Mt Parry.

However, they have already completed what they believe is a new route on a peak known as the First Sister.

The team of Penny Goddard, Dean Staples and Lydia Bradey last month set off for Antarctica by yacht from Ushuaia in South America. They said they had a relatively "friendly" crossing of the Drake Passage, as they didn’t suffer too much from sea sickness.

The climbers were awarded a SPARC Hillary Expeditions Grant to make an attempt up a new route on Mt Parry, a 2520m long ridge which rises straight out of the sea.

On arrival in Antarctica, they scoped the landing and conditions for their attempt up the west ridge of Mt Parry, "which looks amazing, a classic line".

"Unfortunately, we have received news that a French team has climbed this route just a few weeks before us!"

Despite this disappointment, the team has pressed on. To get their land legs back after the sea crossing, they climbed to the summit of Eta Island in the Melchior Island group and completed a ski tour crossing of a glacier on Wiencke Island, meeting the yacht again at Port Lockroy.

They got splendid views after climbing up Jabet Peak the following day. While up there, Lydia spotted an ``enticing’’ steep ice and snow line up the west side of the First Sister.

Two days later they set off from a camp at the base to climb this route.

"What a great day! Although the weather started off snowy and grey, we were soon climbing steep pitches of snow and ice, with two crux sections of steeper thin ice. Twelve pitches later, we popped out on to a beautifully flat ridge with great views along the spiky Seven Sisters range and down to the bay below. We descended a separate couloir with seven abseils and spent another night at our camp. We believe this is a new route and is New Zealand alpine grade 5."

Penny emailed this update from Paradise Bay where the climbers were waiting on a more promising forecast to try for a landing at the base of Mt Parry.

The Cavers

A team of cavers, also awarded a Hillary Expedition Grant, has reported a successful three weeks exploring untracked territory in the Ellis Basin cave system near Mt Arthur in Kahurangi National Park.

The cave system goes underwater and the group used diving equipment and piping to siphon off water to explore deeper underground.

Team leader Kieran Mckay says that during the three weeks the cavers spent in the Ellis Basin they added 2.4 kilometres of length to the Ellis system.

He said the cavers were close to making a connection between two caves which would mean the system would be more than 1000m deep.

"Another cave also lies close by and higher and should also connect". If this is the case, the system will then be more than 1300 metres deep.

The cave system is currently recorded as 187 in the list of the world’s deepest caves. Once these new connections are explored, the cave will be one of the world’s 20 deepest caves. Kieran says that it could end up being one of the five deepest caves in the world, once more technical exploration is completed downstream.

The cavers plan to go back underground in March to do further exploration, and they also hope to make another trip there at the end of the year.

"At the downstream end of the cave system, we discovered a huge tunnel heading almost right for the spring eight kilometres away. We passed one sump and found another which proved very difficult to pass with the gear we had," Kieran says.

"Lower down the system we drained a sump using pipes and a siphon system. Unfortunately we only made 50 metres of progress here and got stopped by another sump. This one we are all very keen to return to and dive. Unfortunately the bottom of the cave is going to require a lot of diving, using technology that isn’t easily available in New Zealand."

Kieran said he had contacted a team which was currently exploring a huge system in Mexico, with the intention of joining them in 2011.

"These guys use the techniques we need and with some luck I will get the necessary training and contacts for the equipment." Then, it will be back to the Ellis Basin cave system for more exploration.

CREATED | 02 Mar 2010