Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, is a huge glaciated peak along the west coast of the south island. With its massive bulk rising 3,000 meters from the valley floor, Mount Cook represents a significant mountaineering challenge for the experienced climber.
The mountain and almost 7,000 hectacres of the surrounding landscape are protected from development by Mount Cook National Park. The stunning alpine scenery was declared a World Heritage site by Unesco recently. The mountain range is the most popular tourist destination in New Zealand. Every year, thousands of tourists see the park by trekking through it or taking a helicopter or turboprop airplane over it.
The original name of the mountain is Aoraki or "Cloud Piercer". This name was given to it by the Maori, the indigenous people. When the islands were first settled in the 1200s, the Maori believed that the sons of Raki, the sky father, turned to stone and became the mountains. The summits of the mountains are considered sacred by these people, because of Atua and the other spirits that reside here. If you climb the mountains, please do not stand right on the summit, as it is considered insulting and is culturally insensitive.
The mountain was given its European name in 1851, in honor of Captain James Cook. The first ascent of Mount Cook was on December 25th, 1894 by New Zealanders George Graham, Jack Clark, and Tom Fyfe. The party ascended the North Ridge route.
The Mount Cook area has become quite popular in the movie making industry as well. In The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, several shots of Mount Cook and Tasman are shown as the party attempts to cross the mountains. They were turned back by an avalanche created by the evil wizard Saruman. In the unrealistic but exciting action movie Vertical Limit, climbers ascend K2 and fall into a huge crevasse. All of the climbing shots in this movie were actually taken on Mount Cook.
The closest major airport to the mountain is in Christchurch, on the east side of the south island. Flights from the U.S. usually depart LAX and land in Aukland, New Zealand. From here, a small commuter flight is taken down to Christchurch. Most flights from Europe and Asia go through Melbourne or Sydney, then directly to Christchurch.
Unless you have arranged to climb with a guide service, your group has 2 major options of getting to the National Park from Christchurch. First, you can rent a vehicle and drive there yourself. Another option is to arrange transportation to and from the mountains. This may be cheaper overall, but a rental car is handy to sightsee before or after climbing.
From the East: Take highway 1about 200 km south to the city of Timaru. From here turn unto route 8 west to the town of Lake Takapo. Hardcore adventurists can trek the 40 miles west accross rugged terrain to access the Tasman Glacier. This has been done by several groups. Most teams climbing the Linda Glacier route arrange for a helicopter or small plane to fly them and their gear unto the Tasman Glacier.
From the West: Take a commuter flight from Christchurch over to the small city of Hokitika on the west side of the island. From here, rent a car or arrange transportation for the 150 km ride south to the town of Fox Glacier. You then have 2 choices. Option one is to fly ($120 US if you share) or helicopter ($360 US shared) up to the basecamp on the Tasman Glacier. This is quite common, but a lot of people think it is cheating. The other way is to approach your high camp by foot crossing the Copeland pass, which requires 2 days. Ask around in the town of Fox Glacier for approach information and get a topographical map if you decide to do this.
Climbing Mount Cook is a serious undertaking. Do not underestimate the difficulty because of the relatively low summit elevation. There are no walk-up or non technical routes up the mountain. The standard route on the mountain, Linda Glacier, is signifcantly more difficult than Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier. Do not attempt this climb without very good skills in glacier travel, creavase rescue, protective systems, steep snow climbing, and ice climbing.
Due to often unstable weather, figure on 5 days for a summit attempt.
The Linda Glacier is the standard route on the mountain and sees the most climbers. It is rated grade 4- or New Zealand 3. Base camp is usually set on the Tasman Glacier at 2,400 meters. The climb up to high camp along Haast Ridge to Plateau Hut usually takes 10 - 12 hours. Summit day demands an alpine start due to ice avalanches along the route. The climb first follows an S pattern up the Linda Glacier avoiding many large crevasses. The route then attains the ridgeline on the climbers left up to the summit. The ice to 50 degrees requires fixed or running belays for this section. Round trip back to Plateau Hut usually takes 15-20 hours.
On December 14, 1991, the entire top of the east face of Mount Cook collapsed containing 10 million cubic metres of snow, ice and rock, turning the summit into an exposed ice ridge.
The descent to the Tasman Glacier usually takes 5-6 hours. Descending from basecamp can be done via plane, chopper, or foot. It takes one and a half days to get down to the trailhead from here.
Another way to climb is to have the helicopter/plane drop you off directly at the Plateau Hut. Proper acclimitization is required first, if the climb is attempted from here.
Winter climbing (May to October) is also quite common. Like other peaks, weather windows are shorter and avalanche danger is higher. The ridges can also be heavily corniced. Use extreme caution.
|North Ridge||Grade 4||FA||1894||Jacke Clarke, Tom Fyfe, & George Graham|
|FWA||1978||M. Judge / D. Price|
|Sheila Face: Left Buttress||Grade 4||FA||1973||Bill Denz / P. Gough|
|Sheila Face: Central Buttress||Grade 5-||FA||1967||Austin Brookes, Ron Dickie, & Ralph Miller|
|FWA||1979||Tobin Sorenson & John Allen|
|Sheila Face: Crest||?||FA||1980||W. Atkinson / P. Sprungli|
|FWA||?||McLeod / S. Middlemass|
|Sheila Face: Right Buttress||?||FA||1974||H. Logan and D. Pluth|
|FWA||1989||Bill McLeod and parnter|
|Earles Gully||?||FA||1994||A. Riechlin|
|Earles Route||?||FA||1909||J. Clarke / A. Graham / P. Graham / L. Earle|
|Hooker Face||Grade 4||FA||1956||Barcham, Herron, McCallum, & Tornquist|
|Porter Col Route||Grade 3||FA||1894||Tom Fyfe & George Gramahm|
|West Ridge||Grade 3+||FA||1906||Peter Graham, & Henrik Sillem|
|South Face: The Creamer||Grade 4+||FA||1990||Kippax / Smith|
|South Face: Sweet Dreams||Grade 5||FA||1983||A. Harris / M. Roberts / P. Sinclair|
|South Face: Slovenian Route||Grade 5-||FA||1994||Vanya Fulen|
|South Face: Wet Dream||Grade 5||FA||1983||K. Logan|
|South Face||Grade 4||FA||1962||John McKinnon, James Milne, Richard Stewart, & Peter Strang|
|South Face: White Dream||Grade 5||FA||1980||Brodie / Perry|
|FWA||1989||Cammell / Hornsby|
|South Face Direct||Grade 5-||FA||1972||Bill Denz|
|South Face: The Gates of Steel||Grade 5||FA||1981||Bill Denz / N. Perry|
|South Face: David and Goliath||Grade 5||FA||1987||Aubrey / Axford|
|South Face: Nerve Runner||Grade 5+||FA||1987||Cradock / Dyson|
|South Face: Romeo and Juliet||Grade 5||FA||1987||L. Clay / A. Palmer|
|South Face: Sodom and Gomorrah||Grade 5+||FA||1988||B. Alder / D. Vass|
|South Ridge||Grade 5||FA||1948||Harry Ayres, Ruth Adams, Ed Hillary, & Mick Sullivan|
|Caroline Face: The Denz Route||Grade 5||FA||1972||Bill Denz|
|Caroline Face, The Clit Route||Grade 5||FA||1970||John Glasgow & Peter Gough|
|FWA||1981||Rob Hall / Steve Lassche|
|Caroline Face: Miroslav Route||Grade 5+||FA||1990||S. Miroslav|
|East Ridge||Grade 4||FA||1938||Dan Bryant & Lud Mahan|
|East Face||Grade 5-||FA||1961||Don Cowie, Lyn Crawford, Pete Farrell, & Vic Walsh|
|East Face: Great Gully||Grade 5||FA||1979||W. Atkinson / Rob Hall|
|East Face: Rumblestilzkin||Grade 6||FA||1991||B. McLeod / P. Dickson|
|East Face: Whiston Route||Grade 4+||FA||1983||M. Ball / N. Cradock / N. Whiston|
|Caroline East Face: Jones Route||Grade 4+||FA||1973||M. Jones|
|High Peak Route (destroyed)||?||FA||?||Cowie / Crawford / Farrell / Walsh|
|FWA||?||Pooley / Dodge / Rainsbury|
|Zurbriggen Ridge||Grade 3+||FA||1895||Mattias Zurbriggen|
|FWA||?||P. Byrch / Hyslop|
|Bowie Couloir||Grade 4-||FA||1969||Barry / Nicholls|
|Bowie Ridge - Lower Buttress||Grade 4-||FA||1962||Conaghan / Cox|
|Bowie Ridge - Upper Buttress||Grade 4-||FA||1956||Irwin / MacInnes / Robinson|
|Bowie Ridge - Complete Buttress||Grade 4+||FA||1991||B. McLeod / P. Dickson|
|Bowie Face||Grade 5-||FA||1984||Boekholt / Cradock|
|Linda Glacier||Grade 3+||FA||1912||Jack Clarke, Jim Murphy, Hugh Chambers, & Hugh Wright|
|The Grand Traverse||Grade 4-||FA||1913||Freda Du faur, Peter Graham, & Darby Thomson|
|FA - First Ascent FWA - First Winter Ascent|
Here is a list of commonly used technical equipment.
Compass and map.
Harness - With adjustable leg loops, gear loops, and belay loop.
Avalanche transceiver and probe.
Altimeter - Helpfull.
Helmet and Headlamp.
Several large locking carabiners.
Several long ice screws.
Several pickets or Deadmen.
2 technical ice tools with straight shafts.
Rope - atleast 2 60 meter dynamic coils.
Prusick Loops - Optional for glacier travel.
Snow shovel and saw.
Internal Frame Backpack - 6,000 to 7,000 CI
Sleeping Bag - Down or Synthetic 0 to -10F is suitable in summer, -20F or warmer in winter.
Crampons - General purpose mountaineering crampons.
Boots - Double plastic boots are highly recommended. "High End" leather boots with lots of insulation can also be used.
Overboots - Only needed for a winter ascent.
There are no permits required for climbing here. If you use the hut, there is a fee to pay. I beleive that it is about $20 NZ or $8 US per night. This hut cannot be reserved in advance, first come first serve.
When To Climb
The season's a bit earlier than it used to be due to warm summers and snow/glacier recession. November to early January are fairly reliable and crevasses are smaller. In February and March, routfinding becomes a major problem. Can be climbed at any time under more difficult conditions.
Not a problem in Mount Cook National Park
Eyewitness Travel guide to New Zealand
- Alpine Guides Website
If you don't want to organize your own expedition, drop them a line.
- Department of Conservation for Mount Cook National Park
- New Zealand Climbing Links
- More Links
- Another company that guides Mount Cook