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New Zealand, Mitre Peak, North Side

Mitre Peak, North Side. Milford Sound, in southwest New Zealand, lies in a spectacular glacial valley, reminiscent of Yosemite. Reminiscent, that is, if one considers only the sweep of its walls; any further resemblance is literally drowned by the 250-inch annual rainfall. The rock is sound, but continuous crack systems, if present at all, are so obscured by a vertical carpet of moss and grass that the discriminating climber finds it easy to categorize these walls with that ubiquitous euphemism, "for the next generation.” And yet from my first glimpse (through the rain) of Milford Sound in March, 1964, I knew those walls were not to be neglected. Twelve months later I returned (still in the rain) with Jeff Foott and a pretentious array of American hardware. Our objective was a relatively moss-free slope on the north side of Mitre Peak (c. 5560 feet), a spectacular horn previously climbed only via the non-technical and horribly verdant east ridge. Unfortunately the north side drops abruptly into Milford Sound and the only access to this part of the wall is a tiny beach beneath a 100-foot sea cliff. A tractable fisherman put us ashore here and we left a tent and supplies in case of retreat. Half a day of bushwhacking took us nearly 3000 feet above the sound where we roped up at the highest trees. The next thousand feet consisted of moderate fifth-class rock alternating with appalling grass walls. By unprecedented luck, night caught us at the only decent bivouac site on the wall; here we were able to slither beneath a large rock which afforded a semblance of shelter for the next 38 hours of nearly continual downpour. Ten hours of very satisfying climbing on the third day brought us to the summit crest. We had negotiated at least twelve fifth- class pitches and by ample dumb luck and a couple of diagonal rappels had been able to avoid artificial aid. We bivouacked in a driving rain on the crest and descended via the normal route the next day. By nightfall when we reached the hostel, over 10 inches of rain had fallen since the start of our bivouac at the boulder.

John Evans