Volume 25, 1972




Max Dorflinger

The ice conditions in the Mount Cook region
looked perfect in mid January. My search and
rescue job with the Park Board enabled me
taking time off for climbing. The Caroline Face
did fascinate me a long time ago. It is also not
too far from Ball Hut and from there it is easier
to pick the best day for it.

I had not climbed with so many local
mountaineers which was a serious problem for
me. The face can cause trouble in warm after-
noon hours and needs therefore fast moving.
Should I try it alone was the question. I had never
climbed solo in my life, but really started to like
the idea ... it really fascinated me.

My rucksack was carefully packed, sitting in a
corner over a week before the climb. Crampons
and ice axe were sharp and I had to wait for the
next cold day with safe weather. Waiting I find,
is always the hardest part of the climb. I heard
about Stanton’s and Pooly’s intention to climb
the face but for a solo climb, I felt weather
conditions were still not satisfactory. I did not
know for how long I had to wait, nor would the
conditions still allow my attempt.

Eventually the luck went on my side.

After snowfall right down to the Ball Hut
road, the weather improved. John and Bryan’s
fast climbing time confirmed my calculations
about the conditions on the ice. My day came.
Barry Thomas who had followed the adventure
from its beginning brought me up to Ball Hut
one evening. After another short look at the face
I went to bed.

Nearly two years have passed since I left
Switzerland and with it my last big mountain
adventures. Once more I felt the whole antici-
pation before an exciting climb. Once more
through my head went a mixture of worrying and
overthinking of each detail. During such nights I
do not expect to sleep. A half an hour after
midnight I went on my way, across the Ball
Glacier and I reached the bottom of the impres-
sive face after 2.00 a.m. Moonlight was a help in
finding the way in the bottom rocks. My pro-
gress was satisfactory; once I had to pull up my
rucksack. First light showed me the way through
the seracs above the rocks.

The impressive ’schrund which cuts through
the whole face is technically the biggest problem
of the climb. It is the most outstanding spot of
the face and enables a magnificent outlook
underneath. I went there at 8.00 a.m. It was still
freezing cold. I prepared a fix-point with ice
screws and started the left traverse. The steep-
ness increased and I used all of my five screws. I
had to shift the fix-point forward several times.

After one hour’s icework I had the icefall
behind me and I walked happily along the flat
glacier above it. I saw myself already asleep in a
warm bed that night. The top section of the face
was continually steep and longer than I had
expected. It seemed to me nearly two thirds of
the climb. In places I did not find enough
friction of the crampons. Fixing an icescrew and
leaving the rucksack behind did the trick. I was
glad not to use this system more than five times,
as it took up a lot of time for abseiling and
collecting the rucksack. I reached the summit
ridge near the middle peak after fourteen hours
more or less continual front pointing. It was only
4.30 p.m., but I gave away the idea of climbing
down, for that day. It was nice sitting on a rock
in the evening sun. Why should I move then?
With the passing of time I gradually recovered.
I found myself on the top of a big climb. The only
man on top of the highest mountain of this
country. A beautiful sunset was celebrated in a
fire glimmering ocean especially for me.

I crawled into the slot on Middle Peak to get
out of the wind. From there I watched the light
fade through the hanging icicles.

A cold night came in quickly. My boots were
soon frozen after taking them off, and I was busy
rubbing legs and feet. I did not take special
bivouac gear with me. I preferred to have a light
bag for faster moving and maybe somewhere a
cold bivouac. Now it was cold enough in my slot.
After midnight I felt like going on. Moonlight
once more followed my cramponning along the
summit ridge to the High Peak. Sheltered from
the wind I really enjoyed the tranquillity of the
early morning. I used the first daylight to make
my way down the Linda and back to Ball Hut.