Climbing Aoraki – Mount Cook, New Zealand

by Kelly on December 22, 2009

Climbing Aoraki – Mount Cook, New Zealand‘s highest mountain at 3754m and raising money for Arthritis New Zealand, was one awesome mission.

We had 12 days stormy weather before summit day which meant a lot of snow on the mountain.  We flew into Plateau Hut on Monday 14th December and while the weather was good the avalanche conditions were extreme.  We went and climbed Glacier Dome, a small peak nearby and waited a few days for the snow to stabilize.

A very keen Swiss and Dutch guy and a couple of Kiwi’s had plugged steps the day before we set out, which helped no end, we were all eternally grateful to these guys for their hard work!  We set off at 1 am on the morning of Thursday 17th December from Plateau Hut at 2200m.  The stars littered the sky, but with no moon, head torches were a must.  We made our way across the plateau and up the lower Linda Glacier.

The glaciers went as deep as a very tall building goes high, they were beautiful to look at, but deadly.   Linda Glacier was very glaciated for this time of year and it even had the guides a bit rattled, the first glacier we came to had a VERY skinny natural footbridge to cross.  Look left or look right, either way you looked was a long, long way down before you would reach the bottom… This was a very BIG wake up call for everyone at 2 am on a Thursday morning!  We continued up the glaciers, over skinny natural galacier bridges, past the gun barrels that are renowned for avalanches and made it to the top of the Linda Glacier at 5.45 am; in time to see a magnificent sunrise, which bathed the mountains in pink.

We were now at the bottom of the summit rocks.  With 4 other parties in front of us there was a bottleneck allowing time to take some pics of the sunrise before we began our ascent up Bryce’s Gully and through the summit rocks.  It is massive country in their, those mountains are just HUGE!

The ice was in good condition as we climbed our way through the summit rocks, at times using anchors from those that had gone before.  It is sometimes tricky to test their stability when there is a lot of snow and ice surrounding the anchor.  On those common routes it would have been ideal if the anchor points were bolted into rocks that had been tested and were known to be safe, the guides said that it would most definitely save lives and valuable SAR time and money.

With a lot of vertical climbing I could feel the calf muscles screaming out!  On this leg, the weather started to come in and the views became obscured with cloud; you’d be looking at a wall of white then all of a sudden it would give way to a view hundreds of metres below, a surreal feeling.  As we were approaching the false summit we cramponed across Green’s Coulier, Dave my guide said this is where my mate skied down – he skied right from the top of Mount Cook and I was looking down the Coulier which had an absolutely massive drop off… crazy!

We finally summited Aoraki at 1 pm that day in cloud, wahoo!.  With 10m falling off the top of the mountain in 1991 the summit is no longer safe to stand on and we were just below this point.  Just enough time to take a couple of pics and eat a few dinosaur sweets, mmm sugar hit… and we were on our way back down.  We teamed up with another guide Tim from Adventure consultants and his client Eddie from Oz so that we would have more rope to rap down.  The wind picked up just slightly enough so that there was a bit of spin drift.

We reached the top of the Linda Glacier at about 8 pm and zig zagged our way back through the glaciers.  Right at the top Tim heard the Glacier cracking and moving… just glad I didn’t hear that!  The snow has softened through the course of the day and every now in then you’d find your leg disappear into the snow.  We bypassed one of the glaciers and went over avalanche rubble rounding the Silverhorn corner.

As we were coming across the Plateau back to the hut, the wind started to pick up as forecasted and soon after we were in our hut the winds picked up to 130 km / hr.  With the hut on a cantilever the wind was whipping up underneath and buffeting against the hut shaking a bit!  All in all it was a 22 hour round trip, I was absolutely exhausted when I reached the hut and after having a small feed went to bed and slept for 17 hours (with breakfast in between). When I looked out the window that next morning, just right near where we had a drinks stop, before we crossed the Plateau back to the hut there had been a huge rock fall/slide that night.

We were lucky to fly out on the Saturday, our helicopter pilot definitely had balls to fly into the white wall of cloud to come get us, it was still windy and raining quite heavily.

Through out those 22 hours of the climb I lived every single moment… you had no choice when every foot step counts!  And right now, I’m just looking forward to drinking beer in the sunshine and enjoy the festive season with my friends & family…

I climbed Mount Cook for Arthritis NZ, the Timaru Herald and The Press ran a great story on it the other day you can check out the article at  If you would like to support this cause by making a donation to Arthritis NZ you can still do so by clicking on this link

Merry Christmas everybody and a safe and happy New Year!

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