After the terribly sad news of the QZ8501 AirAsia disaster, I was alarmed to come across more bad news last evening regarding three climbers who are reportedly missing on Aoraki/Mt Cook (click here to read more). They were reported to be climbing the Linda Glacier route to the summit of the 3754m – Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. As with most climbing parties who climb Mt Cook – it seems they left Plateau Hut in the early hours of the morning, to make the most of the cold morning conditions (freezing the snow making it easier for travel) and under normal circumstances should have been back to the hut by evening time. They have since failed to return to the Plateau Hut sparking the Search and Rescue efforts.
The Linda Glacier route to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook is a route I know well, having attempted it three times and succeeded twice – most recently in December 2013 during our Peak to Peak expedition from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook completely by human power. Climbing Mt Cook, from Plateau Hut by the Linda Glacier route is a massive day, my first attempt in 2009 took us 19 hours for the round trip and in December 2013, it took us 21.5 hours to reach the summit and get back down.
There have been some factually incorrect press statements and diagrams of the route released (which is nothing unusual) – however to get an idea of what the actual route is REALLY like I made a 3-d fly though in Google Earth which you can view in Youtube in 3 minutes below:
There are a number of possible scenario’s that may be unfolding now. I will not speculate on what may have have happened to the team, suffice to say I am optimistic that these guys may still be ok. The best case scanario is that due to what ever reason they have been delayed, hopefully they will have found shelter from the storm in a suitable crevasse or snow hole in the Linda Glacier or on the Linda Shelf, of which there are many. It is possible to be caught out, and survive terrible weather on Mt Cook, I have been in this situation myself. Together with Alan Silva we were attempting to climb the Grand Traverse route on Mt Cook in December 2012. We got caught on the Hooker Glacier (the opposite side of Mt Cook to the Linda Glacier) and spent a very wet and cold night sheltering from intense wind and rain in a crevasse which we dug out further into a small snow cave. Whilst not a comfortable evening, we were cold and frost nipped but relatively unscathed the next morning, and were able to make our retreat (you can see a small Youtube clip below about our evening). Admittedly we were much lower down the mountain than these three chaps but similar survival stories are not uncommon through the years – one of the most notable being Mark Inglis and Philip Doole who were stuck very high on the Grand Traverse route for 13 days in 1982.
You can also see an interactive model in Google Earth showing the route we took up the Linda Glacier as tracked in real time by a satellite tracking system here. Be sure to choose the map overlay as GOOGLE EARTH on the left hand side of screen to see it in 3D.
I am still at this stage very optimistic for these three gentlemen. It is very important to remain positive. As with all fellow climbers that I know, we venture into the mountains to become closer to life rather than to death. Do join with me to send all positive energy in their direction. All storms eventually pass – may they have the strength and endurance to weather this one.