Diagonal Couloir, East face Mt Sibbald – Sibbald Range

By Manuel Nadler

On Wednesday, August 2nd, my friend Jamie Paterson and I set off into the Macaulay Valley to stay in the Macaulay Hut for a couple of nights. The weather forecast looked very promising and so did the snowpack. Our goal was to ski/snowboard some interesting looking lines around Macaulay Hut. With some objectives in mind, we parked the car at the end of Lilybank Road behind a shed, packed our stuff, crossed the Macaulay River and soon found ourselves skinning up the flat valley. It’s a total of 18km to the hut from Lilybank where the snow was about 50cm deep. It was almost 1m at Macaulay Hut. We weren’t rushing it and with a one-hour lunch break at the remains of Stony Stream Hut (consisting only of a concrete fireplace), it took us 6 hours to get to the hut.  (for driving access up the Macaulay Valley please view the post titled Mt Sibbald)

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For Thursday, we decided to climb an unnamed peak (Peak 2124m) from which we would have a good view of the area and Mount Sibbald. The weather was just perfect without the slightest breeze. We took a lot of pictures, scanned the area and enjoyed fluffy powder up high, less so the firmly frozen avalanche debris down below. Already on our way up, we opted for doing Mount Sibbald the next day.

On Friday morning, we left the hut one hour before sunrise, skinned the flat 3km to the Upper Tindill Stream at a good pace and could soon enjoy the view of the east face of Mount Sibbald, dipped in gorgeous colours by the rising sun. We could see the winding lower part of the Diagonal Couloir and its narrow exit. It looked to be in pretty good condition. We were stoked. However, since we couldn’t see the couloir’s middle section (which faces south and can hardly be viewed from the skin-up route) and had seen a huge crown wall of a wind slab avalanche above the couloir’s entrance, some question marks remained. The higher we climbed the deeper the powder. The normal route was certainly in prime conditions. Having reached the col, we turned left and skinned up the ridge and the north facing summit slopes to the middle peak. We took in the great views of all the surrounding famous mountains like Mount Cook and Elli de Beaumont. Even Mount Aspiring was visible in the distance and so was the sea on the west coast. After our summit break we got ready for the descent. Although we could have easily skied down from the middle peak and traversed the east face to reach the entrance of the couloir, we decided to ski the north facing slopes from the summit to a huge crag, behind which we climbed up 20m to the ridge. On the eastside below the ridge we dug a pit and tested a surprisingly stable snowpack. I snowboarded down to the 1m high crown wall we had spotted from below, jumped it and surfed through epic powder to a ridge, skier’s right of the couloir’s wide entrance. Jamie followed my line with a broad smile on his face. After the entrance the snow was harder due to its northerly aspect and at the steepest section of the couloir (50°) it was very icy. When jump turning in that section the edges of the skis/snowboard made ear-piercing sounds almost like kittens in a blender. Hence, we skied very slowly and cautiously for the next 100m until the snow got softer. From there the line changes to an easterly aspect, becoming mellower (40 – 45°) and narrower. To ride that section was pure joy! At the end of the couloir we had to jump over a 1m high frozen ‘waterfall’ and eventually skied back to Macauley Hut to call it a day.

To my knowledge, the Diagonal Couloir has been skied by a few people since its first descent in 2014. Whether it has been snowboarded before, I haven’t found out. In any case, it’s a very aesthetic, long, steep and worthwhile descent from Mount Sibbald. However, one needs to know exactly where the entrance of the couloir is-other lines on that face end in bluffs.

On Saturday, we wanted to ski the SSE face of another unnamed peak (Peak 2228m) close to Macaulay Hut. The weather was perfect for the third day in a row and we picked a route up the east ridge using crampons and ice axes. The ridge itself was pretty straightforward and we had good fun digging through the snow. The SSE face of that nameless peak was in good condition that day. It’s 40° max. and it offers a descent of more than 800m vert gradually getting mellower until reaching the stream at the bottom. It’s possible to continue the descent down to the Macaulay Valley. However, due to a nasty crust, Jamie and I climbed about 200m up to a nearby col after our 800m descent and rode down on the other side of the col back to the hut. On Sunday, it rained and we slept in. At noon, we skinned the 18km back to the car and enjoyed the rest of the evening in the spa of Tekapo Springs. What a wee trip!

For more details on Mt Sibbald, access, standard route etc, please see the post Mt Sibbald  here: http://skitouring.co.nz/mt-sibbald/