Malte Brun, the Zig Zag route..

Malte Brun’s Zig Zag route. Photo Ben

By Ben Briggs

One project completed (Caroline Face, Mt Cook) and its time to find the next. Cam, the warden of the Wyn Irwin hut where we were staying is a fountain of knowledge on the mountains in New Zealand and gave us so much beta we were spoiled for choice for our next objective. Finally we settled on Malte Brun, the highest mountain in its chain, opposite Mount Cook, and never skied.

Camp with Malte Brun and Zig Zag route in background

Sitting at our friend Evan’s on our first days in Christchurch flicking through the climbing guide I noticed a route called the Zig Zag. I pointed it out to Tom and Enrico and Tom said he had thought about it too but wasn’t sure how skiable it was. Our attempts to see it from the Plateau refuge left us none the wiser and every one we mentioned it to just gave us funny looks,

“you mean to climb right? Not to ski?”.

Luck seemed to have been on our side so with a positive feeling and with several good plan B’s from Cam we decided to give it a go.

We set up camp on the Malte Brun pass, from here the route is relatively short, 600m compared to the 2000m of the Caroline face, but its much steeper and more technical.

Tom and Enrico climbing the bottom of the Zig Zag. Photo Ben
Ben and Tom climbing the Zig Zag. Photo Enrico Mosetti

After a tricky bergshurd crossing we make quick work of the climbing, following the obvious line of weakness through the mostly rocky face. At the summit the clouds swirl in around us, momentary plunging us into darkness before lifting and leaving behind just an atmospheric mist.

Enrico skiing the Zig Zag. Photo Ben
Tom skiing the Zig Zag. Photo Ben
Tom skiing the Zig Zag. Photo Ben

The skiing is steep on a rock peppered face but the snow is good and in places its possible to link nice turns. Some extremely narrow passages and one mandatory straight line form the crux of the route and bring us to the short rappel.

Enrico slipping down one of the cruxes of the Zig Zag. Photo Ben

Coming off of the rope marks the beginning of the beautiful but sustained exit couloir. Until here the skiing has been over huge cliffs but the sizeable bergshrund huck still leaves no room for error.

Ben skiing the lower couloir of the Zig Zag. Photo Tom Grant
Tom at the bottom of the Zig Zag. Photo Ben
Ben hucking the bergshrund on Malte Brun. Photo Tom Grant

An icy cold night on the Col saps our motivation for some of our other plans and we content ourself to harvesting perfect corn in the sun on the only once previously skied North face of the Aiguilles Rouges.

North face Aiguilles Rouge
Enrico on the North face of the Aiguilles Rouges, The lower Zig Zag route visible in the background. Photo Ben

We know the walk out is going to be tough so we ski down the beautiful rolling glacier as far as possible before setting up camp for the night.

Camp on Malte Brun pass looking at Mount Cook. Photo Ben

10 hours of walking over some of the worst terrain imaginable finally brings us back to the village but we take some sick pleasure from our suffering, things aren’t meant to be too easy….. Although next time I will be flying out!

Soon after the weather changed but we were happy to be tourists and enjoy our time left having already accomplished more than we could have hoped for. New Zealand should be at the top of the list for any ski mountaineer, there are still countless first descents to be had, even on Mount Cook, but also beautiful mellower touring accessible to everyone (if you don’t mind some walking).

Thank you to everyone we met that helped us out along the way, to Tom and Enrico for being such strong motivated partners and to all of my sponsors who provide me with the absolute best equipment available.