Climbing the Footstool

Welcome to Mt Cook National Park

Of all our national parks Mt Cook National Park is the least accessible. Even Fiordland National Park for all its remoteness and challenging weather is home to several Great Walks and plenty of shorter excursions that can be completed relatively easily from a car park. Mt Cook National Park is not like that. The main access point is the road to Mt Cook Village, so far so good but the road comes to an abrupt halt just beyond the village. There is scarcely any transition from tame to feral. One moment you are amongst crowds of camera touting visitors enjoying the gentle manicured paths, board walks and bridges coupled with plentiful signage and carefully labelled viewing platforms that mark the lower reaches of the Mueller and Hooker valleys. The next you’re sharing ground trails with goats though these trails quickly surrender to do it yourself route finding through scree, rubble, bluffs, unstable rock piles, thin shreds of alpine vegetation and scrawny tussocks. The Spaniards are typically robust but the associated puncture wounds and blood stained clothes render them a last resort. The flimsy stems of the beautiful Mt Cook lily are everywhere but afford little by way of physical support. Should you survive trial by vegetation you have the typical moraine, glaciers, crevasses and the steep snow slopes that go hand in hand with big mountains to look forward to.

Road to Mt Cook
Road to Mt Cook

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Trials and Errors

My first attempt to climb Mt Brewster took place in early 2013. First though we had to wait out the summer storm that cut off the West Coast and stranded both tourists and locals. While there are few places that rival Wanaka if weather forces confinement we were well and truly ready for the hills when the Haast River was finally fordable.

Brewster hut
Brewster hut

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Many Happy Returns

Aspiring sunrise
Aspiring sunrise

As my crampons scrape across the last chunk of sastrugi coated ridge I’m aware of two things. The sky is lightening with the promise of dawn and there is not much slope between us and the star sprinkled sky above. In the stillness of a fine, calm morning snowy peaks stretch out below us in every direction, icing on the cake punctuated by the cappuccino froth cloud nestling on the valley floors. Continue reading “Many Happy Returns”

Mt Sefton

Xmas day
Xmas day

Moist, wispy clag mopes lethargically around us as we pitch our tent on a small, snow bald outcrop at 2451m. Scott Peak towers above us blocking the view across to Welcome Pass but not our main objectives the Douglas Neve and Mt Sefton. The former a glistening collection of crusty white wrinkles hinting at the plethora of crevasses laid out like an enormous three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The latter glowering in the distance shadowed by its’ more muscular neighbours, La Perose, Tasman and Cook behind. Continue reading “Mt Sefton”

Monte Rosa

Snowy mountains and a grumpy train guard competed for our attention as we disembarked from our train at Rotenboden station already 2819 metres above sea level. Our tickets were for another station further down the hill but the guard let us off with stern instructions to pay extra on the way back. Welcome to Switzerland! Back towards Zermatt we could see the Matterhorn (4478m) and the more rounded peaks of the Briethorn, Castor and Pollux. In front of us across the Gorner glacier Lyskamm (4527m) was a sparkling tower of shiny ice reflecting bright sunshine. To our left and totally upstaged the Monte Rosa massif sat like an inflated snow blob blocking the view into Italy.

Mt Rosa, Lyskam and Matterhorn
Mt Rosa (left) and Lyskamm, Gorner glacier.

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