A Backcountry Adventure on New Zealand’s West Coast

Charlie and Craig Murray, Jamesa Hampton, Kenji Boekhoult and Sebastian Varlet explore the peaks above the Franz Josef Glacier.

 

I believe that whoever created this planet was listening to Metallica went they were making New Zealand's West Coast. The glaciers, so impossibly white they look like they’re sponsored by Colgate, patiently grind their way through vast Manuka forests and stop just short of the world’s most violent stretch of coastline. Like a bully with an infinite supply of energy drinks, the Southern Ocean uses every ounce of her might to relentlessly pound the shoreline. It’s an utterly exhausting and compelling picture.

In addition to this titanic natural confrontation Antarctic storms join the fray, romping out of frozen southern latitudes to unleash a battery of wind, rain, snow and hail on the land. But as the sky and the land separate as if exhausted in the aftermath of a rampant encounter they leave behind a magical stillness. This post-climatic calm is the moment everyone waits for.

The easygoing Cantabrian stuntman Jamesa Hampton had been given the inspiration to explore the West coast by his helicopter pilot neighbour and in early September he saw a weather window. The crew was a mix of local and travelling talent; the indomitable brothers Murray, Craig and Charlie know their way around the Southern Alps and a pair of skis better than most. Kenji Boekhoult arguably Canterbury’s most talented underground charger and fresh from the 4 Star FWQ event, French freerider Sebastian Varlet added some euro flavour. They struck out from Wanaka at 5am for Franz Josef on the West Coast and a 10-minute heli bump later they, and all their gear, had been delivered to the front door of the Centennial hut.

 

Backcountry Cabin New Zealand

 

Constructed in 1991 to mark the centenary of the New Zealand Alpine club, Centennial hut is one of the jewels in the Southern Alps crown. Nestled into Tusk Rock which pokes out of the neve of the Franz Josef Glacier it has an incredible view out over the Tasman Sea. It holds 20 people on a first come, first serve basis and with a stretch of good weather like this it was bound

to be full. That in itself is one of the most entertaining parts of the trip because you are guaranteed to be sharing the bunks with some real characters.

 

Skiers Mountain

 

The snow was not all time, not bad, just not epic, so while early starts to watch the sunrise were their own reward, they weren’t a necessity. But as the days warmed and the snow softened the skiing started to heat up. The terrain above Centennial is not predominantly big line skiing, instead you have a multitude of short steep walls that rise out of the glacier. All you need is one strategically placed boot pack and you can access large areas of the ridge and from there the possibilities are wide open.

 

Jumping Skier Snow

 

The crew used the days to explore the glacier and surrounding peaks, logging upwards of a 1000 metres of vertical a day and using the rest of the time to practicing crevasse rescue techniques. Because they were a relatively large crew they were able to split into smaller groups to explore lines.

 

Mountain Sunset

 

The last ascent of the day was always a special one though as it wasn’t about the descent as much as it was a chance to soak up one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces, a West Coast sunset.

 

Photos: Matt Cherubino

Athletes: Charlie and Craig Murray, Jamesa Hampton, Kenju Boekhoult and Sebastian Varlet

 

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