single cone (remarkables) - 7608' - east face class 4 - november 2019
Single Cone is the highest peak in the Remarkables, which are a rugged but small mountain chain immediately east of Queenstown in the south island of New Zealand. Peter Jackson based the mountains guarding the borders of Mordor in the LOTR movies off these mountains, and indeed they are often spooky looking due to the numerous days of low clouds emulating a dark and dreary theme. Single Cone also is one of just 10 ultra prominent peaks in all of New Zealand (peak with over 5000 feet of prominence). With this designation you might think it would be an exceptionally long day to ascend, however due to the existence of the road leading up to the Queenstown ski area, the round trip ascent took me merely 3 hours to complete, with a short 2200 feet of elevation gain. Since the weather was not forecasted to be nice, I got a late start and decided to give it a go at the last minute when I saw it was quite clear.
The drive from Queenstown up to the ski area switchbacks up the west side of the peaks before circling around the north flanks and into a hanging valley on the northeast side of Single Cone. It is a true spectacle with dozens of incredible viewpoints overlooking Queenstown, the airport (where you can see planes take off and land below you), and the massive Lake Wapatipu. On clear days, much of the Mount Aspiring National Park, with all its rugged peaks would be visible as well.
Upon arriving at the public parking area, I ran into a guided party of 4 (New Zealand gets a lot of guiding business!) who were also planning to go up via the same, standard route I was taking via the east slopes and SE ridge above Wye Pass. Adam has a nice page about it here on Summitpost.
Since it is November (think May), there was still a ton of snow on most of the route with the only dry spots being the initial walk through the ski area to Lake Alta which sits in the bowl right below Single Cone (and adjacent Double Cone) at an elevation of 1800 meters. The car park was all the way up at 1600 meters which allowed me to hike to the lake in just 20 minutes. The lake was still mostly frozen over as I passed left of it heading up a small ridge around the SE side of the lake aiming for Wye Pass.
I made very quick work heading up to Wye Pass, which sits at around 1950 meters. The view to the south upon reaching the pass gave me panoramic views of the Hector Mountains. Due the the previous days rain, up to 6 inches of fresh snow covered aspects of the higher peaks above 2000 meters. From the pass I turned west and crossed a borad flat plateau aiming for s spot on the upper SE ridge. Ascending the east facing slopes was tedious due to post holing. I am sure the guided party well behind me would appreciate my hard work. I reached the ridge where I was greeted with brilliant views of the lake and Queenstown below. The final walk to the summit pyramid was beautiful.
Ascending the summit block usually involves some class 4 scrambling on slabby rock and up a chimney but it was all still snow covered. I was easily able to ascend the chimney on 40-50 degree snow without touching rock and emerge on the final few feet of the summit ridge, topping out less than 2 hours from when I left the trailhead. I ran into one of the same guide/clents I met at the Homer Hut a few days earlier who had come up one of the couloirs directly above the lake! They were shocked to see me. The full Grand Traverse between Single and Double Cone was laid out before me, and with a better weather day I may have tried it but it looked a little dicey. Two people also just died on this traverse less than 2 weeks ago, so I simply enjoyed the chilly and windy summit for 15 minutes before quite literally running down the mountain! Beers were consumed at the car while chatting with some other travelers before I started the drive back.
During the drive back down, I thoroughly enjoyed the many viewpoints and took many photos. Watching some airplanes land and take off was cool to see as the airport is right below, and the sheer amount of beautiful greenery is nothing short of stunning.