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.

1am start from the Plateau Hut

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.

Topo of the Linda Glacier route drawn by Marty Beare, the section on the summit rocks is INVALUABLE! (Email me for a higher resolution version)

 

To see a 3D view in GOOGLE EARTH of the route all the way up Mt Cook please click here to view it in FOLLOWMYSPOT.  I mapped this route in my 2013 Peak to Peak expedition.

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.

Standing on the Linda glacier – scoping the route up Aoraki Mt Cook, December 2009

Negotiating a snow bridge over one of the HUGE crevasses on the Linda glacier, Aoraki Mt Cook, December 2009

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!

A guided climber in front of us getting belayed up the lower part of the iced up summit rocks

Dave leads the bulge while I belay from Spaghetti junction, so named for the large amount of sold slings in the rock at this point

Coming up the summit rocks in thick cloud, Aoraki Mt Cook, December 2009

Working our way up the summit ridge of Aoraki, Mt Cook

Standing on the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook (3075m), New Zealand’s highest peak, December 17th, 2009. A very special moment for me. The result of a 7 year dream. (Photo Dave Ellacott)

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.

Coming down the iced up summit ridge, We rappelled and downclimbed the bottom part of this as it was hard ice and quite exposed.

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!

Happy to be back in Mt Cook Airport, Dave and myself with another climber who shared the flight out and a very brave chopper pilot who flew in and picked us up in shit conditions.

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.

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  1. Hi John,

    Good account and I particulalry liked the photos of the summit rocks pitches. I’m planning an attempt on Cook in November this year and so if you could send me the high res version of Marty’s route stetch that would be fantastic. Also, any further info regarding the summit rocks (the most daunting bit for me) would be great. Your photo “Dave leads the bulge while I belay from Spaghetti junction” looks worringly steep. I guess its hard to see what is below and what is around the corner but the narrow snow ledge seems to peter out into a vertical face and is very exposed. I assume this accesses a gully or something around the corner out of sight? Hope so! Also did you pitch all 6-7 pitches on the sketch as shown or link them up as some are quite short.

    My background is a number of 2+ to 3- climbs around NZ on mountains such as Aspiring and Sefton and so this will be a little bit of a step up. Any beta gratfeully recieved!

    Thanks again for your article.
    Cheers
    Jon

    Jon.Hind@aurecongroup.com

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  2. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for the message. My name is actually Grant – most people call me Axe 🙂 Good luck with your attempt on Cook. The climbing up the summit rocks is actually pretty easy, albeit exposed. It depends on the conditions of the route how much you will pitch. It was beautifully iced up when we were there so we pitched the entire summit rocks. There are anchors along the way (old slings etc) which you can see off the route topo. There are only short bulges of vertical sections, (maybe 3 – 4m high) to get over then the angle eases off again to comfortable front pointing so it’s not a vertical big wall to climb. I would recommend you get pretty fit for this route, had a good early start from Plateau hut as it is a long day, and you take two 50 or 60m ropes to make the descent much faster. Maybe even take a 50m x 6 or 7mm cordelette (like I used last month on Malte Brun (https://climbforhope.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/malte-brun-west-ridge-trip-report/) for the abseils?? Be careful with the anchor points when you abseil as some of these looked a little dodgy when we were there. I will email you the highest res version of the topo I have.

    Happy climbing, climb safe and let me know how you get on!

    Cheers,

    Axe

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  3. Hey, I’d appreciate a copy of the route topo.

    Very interesting read, one of the best I’ve come across online.

    Cheers

    Jaz

    jaz.n.morris@gmail.com

    Like

  4. Hi Grant,

    Great account of the climb. Probably the best route description I have found. I would really appreciate a copy of the route topo.

    Cheers
    Matt

    matt-sheat@hotmail.com

    Like

  5. Hi Grant,

    Thanks for the write up and the topo — could you send me a high res version?

    Josh Gautreau

    gautreauj@gmail.com

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  6. Beautiful writeup; if the high-res topo is still available I’d love to grab a copy. Cheers, Joe

    Like

  7. This is probably the best blog about mt cook ive come around. Not sure if someone is still hanging around this page, but if yes i would love a higher resolution copy of the route:)

    eliya.elkhoury@gmail.com

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    • Hi there, yes still hang around here, I climbed The Linda route again in 2013 and noticed that the situation has changed a fair bit, I even believe there my be some bolted belay stations now instead of the disgusting mess of slings, (bolted belay stations on this route a very good idea as far as I am concerned as it is a popular route and will avoid the ‘old tatty sling pollution’ issue). So I don’t think the higher resolution route sketch is very relevant and don’t give it out anymore.

      Like

  8. Probabl the best detailed topo ive seen for the route. It would be great if you can send me a higher resoution photo:) ?

    Like

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