Text and pictures © 1994-2023 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2021/11/05
"Ay, to the proof; as mountains are for winds,
That shake not, though they blow perpetually." — William Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew.
Left: Mt Cook as seen from Mt Cook village.
After spending a year in Antarctica and a week in Tasmania, I went to New Zealand for a 2 months climbing trip, starting with Mt Cook Village in the South Island. This beautiful sunsets on Mt Cook (Aoraki, the Cloud Piercer, 3764m) is taken from the village. The normal route is on the other side. Mt Cook has a triple summit, here is visible the southern (and lowest) one where the routes are all difficult and dangerous.
It is said that there are 3 kinds of rock in NZ: the good, the bad and the ugly. The good is schist... The bad is mica... The ugly is argillite... When you end up in the last two, you go with axes and crampons ! That should give you an idea what the climbing is like down there. But the beer is good.
The usual way up Mt Cook: fly up to the Plateau, go to Plateau Hut with lots to eat, wait a couple weeks for the storms to stop a while, slalom between the crevasses of the Linda glacier, get to the ridge (right picture) by going the long way around the schrund, climb the Summit Rocks (picture below), climb the last steep icy bit and decide whether or not to stand on the overhanging collapsing summit... Kidding ? Hmmm, kind of...
Right: On the normal route of Mt Cook.
Left: Here at the start of Summit Rocks with Rod Haslam, an Aussy met in Mt Cook Village. The rock is not so bad there, most of what could fall has already made it to the Plateau.
Left: Craig Jenkins going up on Silberhorn, a minor summit on the ridge of Mt Tasman, but a nice ice climb and much safer than the serac-laden Tasman Direct anyway (the traverse underneath Tasman is called the Death Mile or something like that...). On this route there is some 70° ice, but it's not very sustained. The normal route of Tasman is on the other side and I climbed it with Jenny 6 years later.
Right: View on the Linda side of Mt Cook. Summit Rocks are visible just above the head of the climber in the back. The ridge on the left is the east ridge I later climbed.
Left: Mt Tasman as seen from Silberhorn.
Mt Tasman is the 2nd highest summit of New Zealand and considered one of the best looking mountain in the world. The climb via Silberhorn is a classic snow/ice ridge climb. Only trouble when climbing Tasman this way is the ridge... There is an easier route on the other side. Also going down from Silberhorn is not so easy, there are many rappels. Bring some snow-stakes or an ejectable ice-screw. Or better, look for snow-stakes (we found about 5).
After the normal route, Silberhorn and some minor summits, Craig and I wanted to do something bigger. We had time to think about it while waiting out a 10 day storm in an empty Plateau Hut. After a failed attempt on Zurbringen's Ridge in bad weather, we took off for the East Ridge of Cook, visible on the left of the picture.
Notice the gray stuff directly below the summit ? That's a leftover from the real summit that fell off in 1991. See, I wasn't kidding that much about how bad the rock is.
Left: East face of Mt Cook.
Right: East ridge of MtCook.
For the East Ridge, you cross the plateau, go up the glacier at the base of the face to reach the base of a small face that leads to the ridge, then climb some mixed on the left of the ridge. From there it's slow going: sharp ridge (right), steep ice, long traverses. It ends up on a long face before finally setting foot on the south summit. We did a lot of pitches (I carried only 3 screws).
Left: The summit ridge of Cook.
It's a nice and scenic climb, only trouble is, we started at 23:00 and arrived on the south summit at 20:00. Long, long day. We snowcaved in the schrund right below the south summit: one sleeping bag for two, my tiny stove that I had to warn up with a lighter, a small freeze-dry and we collapsed in a cold sleep.
In the morning we did the long traverse of the highest mile to the main summit (visible in the back).
Then, just as we were going down from the summit, hogback clouds showed up. 15 minutes later we were in the fog. 15 minutes later it was snowing (and incidentally we were also out of food). So it turned into an epic. In the fog the Linda glacier was a real maze, 50 cm of fresh snow making the smaller crevasses all but invisible. We could hear avalanches falling down both sides of the valley ("Hear'em ! Hear'em !"). I must have been scared shitless 'cause I started having a nasty case of diarrhea !
When we got to the plateau it was already night, the fog lifted and we saw the hut about an hour away. Spirits lifted we took a rest but, just as we started again the fog fell back. Going by altimeter and compass I almost banged my head against the toilets of the refuge. It was 47½ hours after we'd started.
Guidebook for Mt Cook area: "The Mount Cook Guidebook" by Hugh Logan, published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.
Left: We climbed the East Ridge late in the season (April) and it was quite cold. I froze a couple toes and the doctor told me: 'No more climbing for 3 months !'. So I took off hiking for the Copland pass. Well, that's not climbing, is it ? Probably not, but it's one of the nicest way to get to the West Coast, and only way from Mt Cook Village. I spent the 1st night just below the pass, at the Copland shelter (photo). From there, perfect sunset on Mt Cook, and last view of it too. There is some snow/ice on both sides of the pass (visible in the background of the photo), better done with crampons.
Left: The Copland shelter.
Right: The infamous sock-eating sand flies.
And then you are on the other side, prey to the infamous sand flies. Those damn tiny insects fly in clouds, you never see nor hear them coming and they take a piece of skin as a take away dinner. Ouch !
Left: Hot spring down the Copland pass. Well, I hadn't thought about taking a bathing suit, so what d'you expect ? In the back is visible the western side of the Footstool or Sefton.
I then went further south to attempt the only 3000m peak not in Mt Cook National Park, Mt Aspiring. Two days to walk up from the valley to Collin Todd Hut, sleeping under a rock on the first night. It started raining just as I got there and the rain lasted for 6 days. I spent the time reading and re-reading book 2 of Tolkien's Lord of the Ring, curled up inside my sleeping bag. I ran out of food and only saw the summit on my way down. When people ask me what is the best thing to have for climbing in NZ, I answer: 'patience'.
Guidebook for Mt Aspiring area: "The Mount Aspiring Region" by Graham Bishop, published by the New Zealand Alpine Club.
Bored to death by the rain, I spent the last week going up north to see if it was any better. Nice crossing of the Tasman straight. All those houses along the coast that can be reached only by boat. Must be hell to live there... Then I headed West to go to Mt Taranaki (left, aka Mt Egmont).
If you are in good shaper, it's an easy trek to the summit. I recommend going down the other side: moon-like scenery high up, and then deep rain (again) forest.
After that the trip took me to Rotoruoa (too much rain) and some other rainy places. One thing worth doing is a guided tour near Rotoruoa: you can see geysers, hot springs, boiling mud, read volcanic ashes... Auckland is not as nice as Christchurch, as the bars are too far apart.
But that's not quite the end of the story as in the following decade I'd do a 2nd and 3rd trip to lovely New Zealand.