Aoraki Mt Cook
During December 2009, together with my climbing partner David Ellacott, we flew into Plateau Hut (2200m) on the Linda Glacier by Helicopter. We were attempting the traditional and most commonly climbed route on Mt Cook – the Linda glacier route. This route is rated as a grade 3 using the NZ grading system. Height gain to the summit is around 1500m+ from the Plateau Hut. The summit is at 3754m. Most climbers attempt this as a long one day climb from Plateau Hut (although some slower groups may bivvy higher up on the Upper Linda). A normal ascent can take anything from 18 – 24 hours non-stop. It’s a big day in anyone’s book. See the below 3D flythough of the route I made using Google Earth.
We first had the Linda Glacier with all her huge crevasses to negotiate. The first day we arrived we dumped our gear in the hut, roped up and crossed the plateau to the Teichelmann Corner. This corner was ‘interesting’ as it is threatened by seracs and rock fall from the Silberhorn ridge. We chose to sneak around under the serac’s as fast as possiblle. Access up the Linda from further out in middle of the Glacier was cut off due to a huge crevasse. As we crossed underneath it, we were pretty nervous as it was creaking and groaning and making all sorts of noises. We turned around on the lower Linda, happy to have scoped out the route for a planned early 1AM start in the morning.
At 1AM the next morning we left the hut early. There were two European climbers also in front of us. We set out but was immediately apparent that the overnight freeze was not cold enough. We spent hours wading up the Lower Linda, onto the upper Linda Glacier, sharing leads with the Swiss climbers. However around sunrise we felt we were going too slow so Dave and I chose to return to the hut. The Swiss climbers continued and had a very long day but managed to summit.
The next morning we were up and off again at 1AM. With a much better freeze, our decision to retreat yesterday was justified we had much faster going all the way up the Lower Linda and onto the Upper Linda. It was still soft, however once we reached the upper Linda it immediately firmed up and I soon realised it was because we were walking on huge avalance debris which had come down the Gun Barrels! The Linda Glacier route really is exposed to significant objective danger, especially from the Gunbarrels and from Teichelmann’s Corner. We arrived at the Linda Shelf in the dark still, I was always nervous about crossing this as it looked like a very steep traverse with a huge drop off if you slipped. Which it was. But the snow was in good nick and we plodded up in footsteps of a guided group in front of us. We reached the famous Bergschrund at the top of the Linda Shelf where a snow gully leads up to the base of the summit rocks. Here there is two pitches of 60 degree calf burning front pointing to reach the summit rocks. We alternated leads as we climbed up through the summit rocks. They were all completely iced over making it a really nice ice climb and it was really enjoyable climbing, never desperate, but on serious ground with nice exposure. We popped out the of the summit rocks and belayed two more pitches up onto the summit ridge. The summit ridge is beautiful. Its quite exposed in places so the guided groups were getting belayed all the way to the summit.
We unroped just before the false summit and moved up the summit ridge independently and carefully in the cloud until we reached the peak at around 10AM, 9 hours to the summit. There was nothing to see – only cloud. We tried to turn on the mobile phone but there was no reception – apparently some days there are. I was bummed out there was no view as I wanted to see back down the Tasman valley to the lakes where I had so often driven into Mt Cook village, gazing up at the summit and wondering what it would look like to look back down from up there!
We set off back down after 15 minutes. It was slow going down. When we reached our ropes, I belayed Dave down a couple of pitches of the summit ridge then downclimbed to him. I had to pass a girl getting guided up who kept slipping on the iced up ridge which scared the hell out of me, and I kind of disliked her for a the few minutes I had to cross her path!!
When we got to the top of the summit rocks we screwed up big time. We rappelled straight down a gully which was the natural fall line, thinking this was the way we came up. However it wasnt. When Dave got down to the end of the rope he could not see any anchor. I rappelled down to join him and we made a crap anchor with some nuts in a dodgy crack, then he semi-down climbed/rappelled further down. I was not happy at all and we both knew we were off track. I am sure many people would make this mistake especially in a low visibility situation like we were in. I unclipped from the anchor as did not trust it and stood there on a small shelf big enough for my toes only clinging onto onto the rock. Dave then dropped his Ice Axe and swore like hell as it bounced off into thin air. We then decided enough was enough. Dave came back up to the anchor then I climbed back up 25m to the top of the summit rocks. Once I got back up I belayed Dave back up and I scanned around and could just make out a small sling way down to the right side. We had found the descent gully! From then it was rappel after rappel, we had a 60m rope so could only rapp down 25- 30 m max at a time which made it really slow. It would have been good if we had two 60m ropes and I recommend others to team up or try and get 2 x 60m ropes to make the descent much faster. Also BE VERY CAREFUL you choose the right side gully to rap down from the top of the summit rocks. Don’t follow the natural fall line or you will be in trouble. We probably lost 1.5 hours of time on this mistake – but it could have been much worse.
As we finally dropped down over the famous Bergschrund we saw Dave’s axe lying in the snow at the bottom of a steep gully at the base of the summit rocks. He wanted to go and get it, I really could not be arsed, especially since we would have to climb somehow back over the Bergschrund, which was now melting and very soft after all day warmth, and not in a nice condition to try and get back over. So we left the axe and headed back down, for an uneventful trudge all the way back down the Linda Shelf, down over the avalance debri under the gun barrels, and onto the lower Linda, weaving our way in and out of the crevasses and over narrow snow bridges. The last hurdle was the race under Teichelmann Corner. Once again it was creaking and groaning and I was REALLY nervous, we tried to semi-run under it, it was more of a swift walk. That night as we were safely in the hut the reason for our anxiety became realised as the entire corner unloaded and spewed a huge trail of rock and ice over our tracks from that day. Arrived back at he Plateau Hut 19.5 hours after leaving – a mammoth day but very very happy!
We then got stuck in Plateau for 3 days in a very big storm which made getting to the toilet an epic journey. We ran out of food, lucky another guided party lent us some of there supply. Finally a chopper managed to get in between a break in the cloud and the wind and we had a very bumpy flight out. It is a weird feeling being on the Plateau in this extreme world then 20 minutes later being at Mt Cook Airport, really hard to adjust to such an fast change of environment.