Bowen-Allan Corner, Moir's Mate, Darrans, NZ

January 5, 2008 / AU 18, 7 p, trad.

After climbing at Mt Somers, we wanted to use the next weather window to do some mountaineering in the Mt Cook area. Grim news about local snow conditions from the pilots at Mt Cook skiplanes force us to change our plans. We decide to head to the Darrans to salvage the rest of the weather window by doing a one-day climb: the "Bowen-Allan Corner". This route is widely touted as one of the best multi-pitch rock routes in NZ. We leave in a hurry and drive South.

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Driving the milford Sound road to the Homer tunnel.
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A clueless tourist feeding the keas (and apparently proud of it).
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The single-lane Homer tunnel.
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Scoping the route from the Milford Sound road; Moir's Mate is directly above our van.
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The route follows a series of disconnected corners and crack systems, trending left.

We make it to the Homer tunnel just in time to have a look at our route on Moir's Mate. The "Bowen-Allan Corner" is supposed to be one of the very best in the Darrans, an area about which NZ climbers cannot stop raving (though few of them have actually been there). The area is spectacular and intimidating, but the climbing is far from high quality, at least by world standards: few clean and/or continuous features, and lots of moss and vegetation, not to mention the rainy weather...

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Early morning approach hike to the head of the valley...
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...then up to a minor col and the start of the ridge traverse.
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A long knife-edge ridge (4th class) leads to the slabs at the base of the route.
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High on the very exposed ridge.
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Getting ready at the base of the route.

This pretty much says it all. I'm writing this page from Tuolumne Meadows, in the beautiful eastern Sierras of California, and I'm having a hard time saying anything nice about this route (after weeks of climbing on the flawless local white granite). I don't really have a good memories of the route. Sub-standard is my recollection, and when I look at the pictures, I'm pretty shocked that people think it is a good route! (and yes, I expect to get some mail from NZ about this, but hey...). We usually take the time to write a rough account in our journal immediately after the climb (that's how we manage to post trip reports after such a long time after the climb), but for some reason we did not write anything about this route... probably because we were both disappointed about it. So, I will let the pics tell the story...

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Eric starting the route.
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Higher on pitch 1.
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Views from the belay atop pitch 1.
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More tussock climbing on pitch 2 leads to...
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...a short bit of better climbing.

A few things though. The approach is guarded by an extremely exposed knife edge ridge. It takes us about 1.5hr to reach the base of the route. You may want to short rope a couple of sections of this if it is your first time across. We didn't pick the easiest way in one spot, and ended up making a fifth class move or two.

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Pitch 3, another yucky tussock traverse.
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Looking back to the party of two behind us, from the end of the traverse...
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Taking a break at the belay.
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Pitch 4 is a little better.
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Looking down at the Milford Sound road.

The first pitches (1 through 3) are really bad. Pitch 4 is a bit cleaner. Pitch 5 and 6 are good. The scenery is worth it, but not the climbing. A party of two locals who were behind us were raving about the route... different standards, I suppose.

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Eric on pitch 5 (the first really good pitch on the route).
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Following pitch 6, another good pitch.
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Simul-climbing to the summit.
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Summit shot.
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Views from the summit.

Above pitch 6, the angle eases and we simul-climb to the top. We then retrace our steps back to the top of pitch 6, to begin the rap and scrambling descent, well to climber's left of the route. When we reach the first rap anchor, we catch up with the two kiwis. They did not go up to the summit, having been there the day before. Two raps and some scrambling bring us back down to our packs.

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Scrambling down from the summit toward the rap station.
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A good view of the knife-edged ridge from the descent.
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Looking back at the descent and the summit, from the bottom of the descent and the start of the ridge.
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Taking a break at the base of the descent route...
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...before tackling the knife-edge ridge again.

A break and a knife-edge ridge later, we are back at the camper, which we had left on the large parking area by the entrance of the Homer tunnel. To our dismay, we find out that the keas (wild alpine parrots endemic to NZ) have chewed through the edge of our awning and unscrewed (!) our radio antenna (it takes 10 turns to do this!). Next time, we'll take additional precautions...

The next day, we drive down to the Milford Sound, the iconic NZ fjord. Too many tourists, too many big boats and helicopters, too much money being spent... but I guess you have to see it at least once.

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Pretty waterfall on the way back to the camper.
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Home sweet home.
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The Milford Sound, a New Zealand icon, and maddening tourist hotspot.
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It's all about tourism money...
 

A revealing anecdote about NZ's attitude to tourism: while at the sound, we inquired about access to the other side of the fjord, in hopes of climbing the iconic Miter peak (the normal route, which is a scramble, but only accessible by water). We were hoping to be able to either hire a small row boat, or a kayak or canoe, to make the short crossing, and leave it on the other side until we returned from the peak a day or two later, to cross back. It turns out that the DOC (department of Conservation, the equivalent of the US Park Service) prohibits the rental of self-guided human powered boats on the sound! They would get in the way of the huge powered tourist ships!! But of course, expensive, guided kayak trips are allowed! We were shocked, and in fact went as far as discussing the issue with one of the senior people at the local DOC office. Didn't make any difference, but allowed us to vent some steam...