Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mt. Cook (Aoraki) and some mountaineering history

Mt. Cook which had been hidden behind clouds the previous day- stood out clearly rising behind Lake Pukaki as we drove in from Lake Tekapo. Mt. Cook or Aoraki- named by the Maori meaning "sky piercer" is the highest mountain in New Zealand- at 12,316 ft (3,754 m). While much smaller than the Himalayas- it is just as challenging. The first 10,000 feet are a vertical ascent. That and the sustained glacial climbing, rapidly changing weather conditions, high likelihood of avalanches (we heard two just yesterday) and between 15-20 hours to the summit and back- make this climb only available to the most experienced climbers. About 250 people climb this every year- although I am not sure how many of those actually summit.

The first recorded ascent was done in 1882 by William Green (Irish), Emil Boss (Swiss) and the guide- Urich Kauffman (Swiss). The first woman to climb was Freda du Faur who's photo is below. In 1906, when visiting Christchurch from her home country of Australia to see an exhibit- she also visited Mt. Cook. It appears that she was then hooked. By 1909, she was training as a mountaineer. Only one year later- she summited Mt. Cook (in a skirt on less) on 3 December 1910- with the fastest recorded time. Her life is fascinating. Before her suicide in 1935, she published an autobiography entitled "The Conquest of Mt. Cook" which was published in 1915. I found this audio documentary about her life-

And Sir Edmond Hillary, a resident New Zealand mountaineer, reached the summit in 1958. The locals believe that his training on Mt. Cook provided him with the skills needed to summit Mt. Everest.

So- no, we won't be snapping photos from the summit while we are here. In fact, the weather has turned so much that we're stuck indoors for what may be the entire day. We did have perfect weather for the majority of the day yesterday so went on a hike through Hooker Valley- complete with three frighteningly long swing bridges (which Nate clearly is not bothered by- photo below), beautiful views of Mt. Cook, the excitement of hearing two nearby avalanches and the chance to see and hold glacial ice that broke off the glacier last week... An incredible day- I'm so thankful we arrived yesterday and not today!