Ascending All 10,000 Feet
with Thomas Haines
by Krister Sorensen
Jan. 4-12, 2006
The drive to Mount Cook Village was very beautiful; the plains, the rolling hills and into the mountains. Amazing. It was raining pretty hard in the village as it seems to do a lot. The next morning we went to the visitor’s station to get some information about conditions on Cook. Not good. Reports were coming in that the Linda Glacier may be impassable. It was even on the national news! Despite the conditions we decided to make our way to Haast Hut.
We drove up the Tasman valley as far as we could and started hiking. We passed Ball Shelter with no problems but a little rain then we dropped down the moraine (which proved to be dangerous) and onto the rock covered Tasman Glacier. It was a long trek to the base of the Haast Ridge and we still had about 1000m to climb. The slope was full of scree and loose rock, but once we got a little higher it was covered by snow from a recent storm. The snow made it much easier to gain elevation. The sun started to set and the hut was still a ways away, so we decided to bivy on a couple of ledges right on the ridge.
The next day we made it to Haast Hut and decided to spend a night there because we felt too lazy to continue to Plateau Hut. It was a beautiful day when we made our way to Plateau. We got our first view of Cook and it was very inspiring. The hut was just finished the previous April so it was extremely new and nice, but it came with a price. NZ$35 a night for gas, lights, water and a bed. It was only NZ$5 a night at Haast, but there is no gas or lights at Haast. The hut is made for 30 people, but there were only four of us. There was a Japanese party of two that made a summit bid the day we got to the hut, but they only made it to the Linda Shelf below the summit rocks. They had been waiting at the hut for seven days for a good weather window. The next two days the wind picked up to a nice 120 k/hr breeze. I can’t really explain how bad the wind was other than it sounded like being in an airplane. There were gusts that shook the whole hut, and when we walked outside to go to the bathroom you’d just about get knocked over. It was interesting being stuck in a hut with two guys that didn’t speak a lick of English. Finally on January 9th the weather cleared up but the wind didn’t calm down until sunrise so we couldn’t make a summit bid. The two Japanese were able to fly out and 16 other people flew in.
Excuse this paragraph as I get on my soapbox. I know that flying in and out of New Zealand mountains is an accepted practice; however, I don’t know how you can justify cutting off almost half of the mountain and still go home and say you climbed it. I guess it is a personal decision you have to make, but this practice would never fly in Canada where the mountains are of similar size and elevation. Could you imagine someone landing a helicopter just below the North Face on Mount Robson, summiting, descending the Kain Face, and taking another helicopter out from the Dome? Never! But this is very similar to what happens in New Zealand. The whole time we were there we never met another climber that hiked in and out of any mountains but ourselves. I’m not trying to grandiose myself or my partner; I’m just questioning the ethic used in New Zealand.
Anyway, we had our sights set on the East Face with the Linda as our back up plan. We wanted to hit the summit ice cap at first light so we left the hut the night of the 9th at 9:00pm. Once we moved out from under the Linda and under the East Face we started to post hole pretty bad. We continued up the ramp to the point we decided to ascend the East Face, and it got much worse. The slope was about 45 degrees with an inch of crust on top of a couple feet of powder. We slowly made our way up the first 200 feet of the slope and decided it wasn’t worth it due to the effort and time it would take if the slope continued like this, but also the avalanche conditions would be very bad. We made our way back down and hooked back up with the Linda. This detour cost us at least three hours and quite a bit of energy.
It was about 1am when we got back to the Linda and we figured we would have some of the other climbers ahead of us, but this wasn’t the case. We were still in front of everyone. Finding our way through the Linda was not too difficult. At one point we decided to put another layer on. As I was taking the rope and slings over my head it caught on my headlamp and caused it to pop off, and it fell into a crevasse! I thought it was the end of our climb. Thomas set up an anchor and lowered me into the crevasse. Thankfully it was sitting on a ledge just were I could get it. If it had fallen any further the lamp and the summit would have been lost. It was quite an experience dropping into that crevasse, and very fun to climb out on the overhanging wall. Because of this delay a couple of Australian climbers caught up with us and stayed close behind us the rest of the way.
We had another slight detour as we missed our left turn to continue up the Upper Linda. We continued straight and had to traverse the slope high above the Linda until we met up with it again. We continued up the gully below the Gun Barrel and traversed onto the Linda Shelf. At this point we didn’t know where to go so we consulted the Australians. One had a copy of the guide book. I saw the narrow couloir right of the ridge was the most direct way, so we decided to do that. The Australians continued to the ridge and didn’t follow us. I highly recommend the couloir because, although it was steep, it had good ice and allowed us to skip two sections of the summit rocks and saved us a lot of time. The summit rocks were pretty dicey. Lots of mixed rock and snow sections with small sections of vertical ice. The only protection we used was one nut on the first pitch but then we only used the rap slings the rest of the way.
The summit was now only guarded by the summit icecap that I led up. Every now and then the snow would be consolidated and easy to walk on but most of the time I was post holing up to my knees. No one had been up there for over two weeks. It was hard work but I didn’t mind it. The summit ridge was covered in rime ice that really sketched me out, more than Thomas. We went out to the summit one at a time. The day was glorious. We had great views of everything right down to the ocean. We were the first to summit in 2006.
On the descent the snow was wet and sticky and it started to bail up on our crampons. After only a few steps down the summit ice cap I slipped. I was able to stop myself right away but if forced us to down climb most of the way to Summit Rocks. The Summit Rocks were quick and easy to rap down and we were soon on the Linda Shelf. Once we got below the Gun Barrel we took our crampons off and glissaded down as much as we could. This made things go very quickly. Once we got lower on the Linda the sun had really heated things up and we were post holing every few steps, but we finally made it back to the hut at 7:30 pm; 22.5 hours after we left. If it wasn’t for the detour it would have been much less. Besides the Australians there were also four Americans that summated that day. Their day lasted almost 30 hours!
The next day was our rest day before we hiked out, but it didn’t matter because the weather turned back to crap and no one was going anywhere. 100 k/hr winds with rain. The next day there was a lot of fog, but it was good enough to hike out. The rain had completely changed the Plateau Glacier and there were crevasses exposed all over the place. The fog also made it difficult to navigate our way across, but we knew the general direction we needed to go and made it just fine. We decided to descend the Boys Glacier because we heard it was much safer than the Haast Ridge. You couldn’t pay me enough to try and descend the Haast anyway. The fog made things very difficult at times and forced us to backtrack every now and then but we finally made it below the clouds. Descending below the Boys on the rocks to the Tasman was tricky, but by luck we were able to find a trail that took us down to the Tasman. We hiked down the Tasman, crossed a stream, hiked up the moraine, and took the trail back to our car.
The trip was amazing. We had difficult climbing, good and bad weather, and we met some pretty cool people along the way.