Wellington 8 Climb Aoraki, Mount Cook
On the 16th November we converged on Unwin Lodge, parked some of the cars at end of the Tasman Glacier, headed for the airport and flew to Plateau Hut. The wind picked up so we spent most of the day in the hut.
Day 2 was very windy but we wanted to explore the start to Mt Dixon and headed for its south-east ridge. We started the climb but the weather was deteriorating. I was getting repeated spindrift down my back and was getting very cold as were others. Our footsteps from the walk to the mountain had gone as we were blown back to the hut. Simon Bell and Rob Hawes put the first of two tracks up the Linda Glacier in preparation for climbing Mt Cook.
Day 3 was predicted to be the same but we woke to a fine-ish morning. Rob and Stu (again after the storm) put in a track up the Linda Glacier and the rest of the guys took off to Haast Hut. They found the hut in need of repair with snow making its way into the hut through a broken door and window. They removed the snow, repaired what they could, informed DOC and headed back to the Plateau. In the afternoon a group of guided people turned up for the next day. Some of them headed up the Linda Glacier and bivvied at Teichelmann’s Corner (TC). We decided to make an attempt on Cook the next day, so we spent the rest of the day preparing and pretending to sleep.
Day 4. We got up at midnight or just after, had breakfast, roped up for glacier travel and headed out. The last group was away by 1:00 am. We ground our way up the Linda; initially it was not that cold but as the morning advanced and we got high it became bitterly cold. We weaved our way around or jumped over the crevasses as we headed up. By the time we got just past the Gunbarrel we were all very cold. Everyone was putting on clothes, most putting on their down jackets. At this point we unroped and free-climbed the Linda Shelf (LS) which was a mixture of hard snow and very soft snow. We made our way over a schrund and up the couloir heading for the Summit Rocks. I noticed that my drink bottle had frozen for the first 4cms and that I had to use my ice axe to break the ice to get a drink. People with water bladders couldn’t drink at all. At this point, all of the climbers had converged on a single steep snow gully. Some of the ones above were dropping ice, snow and some rock on those below. Not ideal.
We finally got to the Summit Rocks (SR) and Spaghetti Junction, as the first belay stance is known. I had to wait in line for 45 minutes to start the Summit Rocks climb. Later we found out that it had warmed up to -9 degrees (it was blowing so it felt much colder). There were two alternative lines to climb the snow and slabs of the Summit Rocks. Each required occasional awkward moves over smooth rock steps, but the well-frozen snow made for good ice tool placements and everyone made it through the Summit Rocks without difficulty. After two rope lengths, Simon and I were sitting at the top of the Summit Rocks looking out on amazing views on a very clear day. Thankfully the sun had arrived and it had warmed up enough to allow people to drink, have a bite and take off some of their extra clothes.
Simon put the rope away and we very carefully walked past the summit schrund and up to the top. Wow what views, you could see the Tasman Sea in the west, endless mountains lower than you, numerous glaciers going in different directions and more. What a buzz. Everyone was high as and we needed to remind ourselves we were only half way. We still had to get down. After an all-too-short stay at the top we started heading back down.
It wasn’t long until we reached the top of the Summit Rocks again and Simon and I decided to have lunch as there was a backlog of descending climbers. It was a great place to lunch: we could see over Plateau Hut, a mere dot below, to Tasman Saddle in the distance. We finally got our turn and abseiled past the summit rocks and back halfway down the gully to a bergschrund above the Linda ice shelf. We down climbed and jumped over the schrund on to soft snow and made our way back around to the Linda Glacier. As we descended we witnessed two large ice avalanches off Mt Vancouver and the debris partly covered our route below.
Simon and I re-roped for glacier travel and ran for it, crossing the avalanche debris where some of the ice blocks were the size of a fridge. We ran from one safe-ish area to the next and eventually could rest and wait for Dave and Steve. Once they came into view we took off again heading down, weaving our way through or jumping the crevasses. On jumping the last one I pulled a calf muscle and limped my way home. This allowed Dave and Steve to catch up and we high-fived our way across the Plateau. All the other guys in the group had returned and we were the last. Everyone was buzzing big time; some had left smiley faces in the snow. Rob was waiting outside the hut with a giant pot of hot tea and we partied! It had taken us 15 hours. 17 people summitted. A storm came in that evening and we were glad to be in the hut.
Days 5 - 8. Snow, severe gales, generally bad weather except for day 7.
Day 9. A fine day but with gale winds. The snow of four days ago, transported by gales, had created prime avalanche conditions: a large avalanche from the east face of Mt Tasman was seen or heard by everyone on the Grand Plateau. Rob, Simon and Steve headed off to climb Mt Dixon’s south ridge which they gained via a steep snow slope. The winds backed off for around 2 hours, allowing wonderful climbing, before increasing again at the summit. So getting off was the top thought in their minds. They eventually succeeded in a bold traverse of Mt Dixon, returning down the south-east ridge for a 12-hour day. The weather forecast for the next few days was poor that night so we all agreed to head out in the morning.
Day 10. We packed and headed out in a southerly severe gale. We headed for Cinerama Col, around the back of the ANZAC peaks, onto the Boys Glacier and down to the scree. Most of us stepped into a crevasse or schrund at some point, often sinking up to our chests. We scrambled down the scree onto the Tasman Glacier and dragged ourselves up the dodgy moraine wall to rest at Ball Shelter. It took ten hours in all to reach the road end at the Tasman Glacier terminal lake. Once there we rushed off to Unwin Lodge, claimed a bed, cleaned up and headed out for a celebration. What a trip, what a buzz - thanks Rob.
- Party members
- TTC/NZAC: Rob Hawes (leader), David Grainger, NZAC: Steve Dowall, Richard Davison, Matt Knarston, Mike Pryjma, TTC: Simon Bell, Stuart Hutson(scribe).
- Selected pictures from the trip