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[TR] New Zealand - Mt. Cook / Mt. Aspiring 11/24/2017

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Trip: New Zealand - Mt. Cook / Mt. Aspiring

Trip Date: 11/24/2017

Trip Report:


Sepultura and I got a chance to do some climbing in the Antipodes last year; JasonG finally shamed me into submission! (I ran out of lame excuses!) Apologies for the subpar photographic skills and belated story.

Having been to New Zealand twice and not even catching sight of Mt Cook, I was ready for another try. Sepultura, having some spare time in December, expressed interest in the attempt. It was on!

The prime alpine season on the South Island is December to January. Historically, the summer weather on the South Island does not have long stretches of good weather like we get in the Cascades. The usual pattern is a day or three of good weather followed by a system of low clouds and precipitation. When you get the weather window down there, time to get with it!

Due to scheduling conflicts, we arrived in Christchurch on November 20th, historically a bit early for the good weather. When we checked the forecast, however, it was for a stretch of fair weather and warm temperatures. It was go time!


I can see it!

Not wanting to waste any time, we rented a car and drove to Mt Cook Village the same day that we arrived. We arranged for a flight into the Plateau Hut for the next day, and re-checked the weather. To our surprise, the forecast was still for good weather for the next five days!


Yard sale!


Our alpine chariot


Linda Glacier route goes just climbers left of the dirty snow

We had the hut to ourselves the first night. This is a rather rare occurrence, as it is the starting point for most of the routes on the peak. After all of the travel and time changes, we decided to take a rest day and only do a short hike to the start of our intended route, Zurbriggen’s Ridge. It did not freeze overnight, and stayed hot all day. We went and scoped the start of the ridge, but rejected the route as to risky for us. To get on the route we would need to climb a small icefall; the weather was too warm and the snow too soft. Who knew, the weather being too good in New Zealand!



Hut life!


Mt. Cook. Zirbruggen's is the ridge center picture right side of the peak.

That night the hut filled with 25 other climbers. A team of Kiwi guides was going to attempt Tasman, and another team of two Kiwis was going to attempt the Linda Glacier with us.

Leaving the hut at 0130 the next morning we were about 30 minutes behind the Kiwi team, but caught them prior to entering the Linda Glacier. The glacier was pretty broken up with a few exciting bridge crossings with the warm temps. The ridge was mostly melted out easy rock, with new rap stations bolted every 30 meters. We reached the summit around 0830, and spent about 30 minutes basking in the mild weather.






Upper rIdge



At belay


The summit

On the descent, we met the Kiwi team at the top of the ridge, which was the end of the technical rock. As the leader passed us, the discussion turned to how far they were from the summit and time to get back to the hut. His answer was, “We have bivy gear. We can stay overnight if we need to!” However, when his partner came past us, his answer was. “He can bivy if he wants to. I’m not!” It seemed that they did not have good team communications!




One of the "gun barrels" which must be traversed under on the route.

We made it back to the hut, RT about 15 ½ hours, which seems pretty typical for the route. Relaxing in the hut with our whiskey, we kept an eye out for the Kiwis. No sign. Just before dusk, a helo shows up and disgorges a litter, a few rescuers, and gear. Apparently, one of the Kiwi team members had fallen somehow and injured his leg. They long-lined both back to the hut, staged them and flew them both back to the village that night. According to the DOC rangers we talked to the next day, the able member of the team was so pissed at the other that he wanted to call for his own helo (he had rescue insurance), but the rescue team would hear none of it!

Back to the weather. We saw exceptionally good weather our entire trip. In fact, the locals told us that this was the best summer weather that they had seen in 20 years! But we did find the routes to be boney and broken up. In fact, the Kiwi team that tried Tasman was turned around on that peak and on Mt Dixon due to soft and dry conditions.

Next on the agenda was a climb of Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. On researching the climb, we thought that it would be easy to get the ½ Km ride across the water to the start of the climb from one of the local kayak companies. So we showed up, and started asking the question. To our amazement, the answer was; “Submit your climbing resume to our management online. If you are approved, we may be able to fit you into our schedule. Oh, and the cost will be $150NZ per person, one way.” Now, I realize that they probably see a lot of tourists with no climbing experience wanting to get on the peak, but this was a bit too much. I wanted to submit a resume just to see if I could get approved, but couldn't waste the time. (I would have included the NF Trango Tower solo, SANS O2!) We hung around the dock trying to hitch a ride with the local fishermen with no success. We might have gotten a ride had we stayed longer, but did not want to waste the good weather. On to Aspiring!


Mitre Peak

For Mt. Aspiring, we wanted to climb the SW Ridge, a classic ridge climb that ends with a WI3 pitch to the summit pyramid. We hiked in from Pearl Flats to French Ridge Hut for the night. With the weather forecast staying warm and fair, we decided to take another rest day. The hut is often visited by Kea, a species of alpine parrot that are known for being inquisitive and intelligent, as well as destructive. Later in the day, a French couple showed up and pitched their tent near the hut. The Kea ended up tearing a hole in the tent and getting inside while they made their morning coffee inside the hut.


The hike in


Climbing French Ridge




Some Kiwi humor

Getting an early start, we initially followed a Kiwi father/daughter team up the ridge. Parting ways on the Bonar Glacier at sunrise, we finally started to be able to see the route. It looked pretty boney. Getting on the ridge, we needed to belay a rock section that is usually covered. Nearing the exit chimney, we could see that it was bare. Having only four cams for rock pro, we elected to traverse the South Face and exit on to the NW Ridge to the summit.



The ridge





On the summit


Descending. Kiwi team below us.


The route

We finished the trip with a ridge traverse near Arthur’s Pass.

I finally got to see Mt Cook! Thanks Sepultura for a great trip! And JasonG for all the beta!



Killer Kea!

Gear Notes:
Alpine and glacier. Used rock pro for Cook, screws for exit pitch on Aspiring. Two tools nice.

Approach Notes:
Air into and out of Plateau Hut for Cook. Pearl Flats to French Ridge Hut For Aspiring.

Edited by Trent
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Awesome!  Thank you for sharing.  Great pictures, what a trip!  I gotta get one of those Harno-thongs!

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I guess you climbed the Linda Glacier route and descended the Zurbriggen? There were no bolts when I descended the Linda Glacier route. The upper 2000 feet or so was very "interesting."


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Climbed and descended the Linda. The bolted belay/rap stations were new as of this season.

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