Beaten By Brewster

At about 5.30 on Monday night I got a phone call from Jeremy Lyttle, a renowned heavy hitting mountain biker and keen ski mountaineer. He wondered if I wanted to climb and ski off the peak of Mt Brewster in the Haast Pass with him, starting early the next morning. Without any real thought, consideration or knowledge of the mountain I said yes.


Coming out of the treeline from the brutal “staircase” at 1100m. Photo: Jeremy Lyttle


We left Queenstown at 5am and started walking at first light from the Haast Pass valley highway up 1000m vertical through the native bush to the Brewster Hut, up the notorious “staircase” (a very steep, “straight up the guts” climb, involving clambering up steep banks and tree roots).


A good view of Mt Brewster from above the Brewster Hut. Photo: Jeremy Lyttle


The staircase was gruelling. We spent the remainder of that day venturing out above the glacier at the base Mt Brewster to suss out our climb up and try and see if there was a possible route to ski off the peak.


Jeremy Lyttle staring down the mountain



Jeremy & I starting out for the summit before first light



In the first light the moon sits above the Brewster peak



The Cast Touring system served well on the mission and was great for quick up hill touring with the Dynafit Speed toe piece. Click for the Cast Touring website



Walking slowly up the west ridge with ice axe and crampons


The next morning we set out at 6am in the dark confident of summiting the peak but mindful that the peak was very far from our hut and that we would be pushed for time.

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Trying to show enthusiasm when actually I am extremely tired. Photo: Jeremy Lyttle


By the time we had reached the Summit ridge on the west side of the peak it was already 12pm and close to our turn around time of 2pm in order to get back to the hut before dark. I was already very low on energy and doubted that I could make the the summit in time.

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The highest point I got to with the West Coast in the background. Photo: Jeremy Lyttle


At around 1pm, half way up the west ridge I had no energy left, I was very exhausted and knew there was no way I would make the summit by 2pm. I willed Jeremy, who is a power house of staminer, to carry on while I skied down the west ridge south face and kept an eye on him from the Glacier below.


Skiing down the west ridge face


By 2pm Jeremy had also not made the summit and had to turn around. He skied down the west ridge face and together we skied down the glacier.


Cruising down the glacier with the mountain that defeated us in the background


We just made it back to the Brewster Hut before dark, had some food, packed our gear and started the dreaded descent back down the “staircase” to the valley floor in the dead of night.


Jeremy in the dust light just before the descent down the “Staircase”


The descent was super brutal on the legs and knees, it was 3 and a half hours of down climbing pain. When I finally got to the vehicle I was totally exhausted, and my legs just didn’t work.


A flat section and relief on the way down the “Staircase”. Photo: Jeremy Lyttle


So we failed to make the summit and we did not get to ski of the peak. But, we made the necessary decisions to stay safe without incident to return and try again another time…

Thanks to Jeremy for organising and leading the trip.