“The weather’s not looking good, mate”, says Rex Pemberton as he stares at his laptop. It’s 5:30am on Thursday morning and we’re packed and ready for our bid to climb Mt. Aspiring. “Look here”, he says, “You see that!?” Rex stabs his finger at a large purple blob on his computer screen. It sits just off the West coast of New Zealand’s South Island. “That’s a big storm…a really big storm…and it’s heading straight for us”. Several of us have gathered around the screen now. “The weather report looked good just a few hours ago”, he says, shaking his head. “The storm’s building quick. We don’t have much time”.
I arrived in Queenstown early last night, the last member of our nine-person team to make it to New Zealand, and I have spent the evening acquainting myself with the people who’ll be my teammates over the next ten days. We’re a motley crew of men and women with disparate levels of experience who all share the common goal of wanting to climb Mt. Aspiring. Rex will be our expedition leader and, being both a world-class climber and the youngest Australian to climb Mt Everest, easily has the credentials to do so. Our team consists of Peak Teams’ CEO Amy Posey, adventurer and Peak Teamer Cameron Webb, elite climber Justin Robinson, adventure photographer Mark Watson, Caroline Pemberton (Rex’s sister), elite high altitude alpinist Mike Hamill (Caroline’s husband) and aerialist wing-walker Emily Guilding (Rex’s girlfriend).
Our plan today is to helicopter into an alpine hut on the flanks of Mt. Aspiring and take a shot at climbing its NW Ridge in coming days but the weather has other ideas. We make the two and half hour drive from Queenstown to an airfield north of lake Wanaka only to be met by a courteous rejection. “We’ve been grounded all day, mate”, says the chopper pilot. “It’s too cloudy up there to fly. You won’t be getting into Mt. Aspiring today. Maybe tomorrow”.
Currently there’s a weather system camped atop Mt Aspiring that’s forecast to be pushed out by a high weather system sitting just off shore. This high is our window to climb but the window is starting to close. The purple blob Rex pointed to on the meteorological satellite image this morning is nipping at its heels and is threatening to devour it altogether.
“Give us a call at 7:00am in the morning”, says the pilot, “We’ll probably be able to get you in. But remember mate, once the front hits there’s no telling when we’ll get you out.”