Mount Cook – At Last

2687005626870013by Rob Campbell

9th February 1997

We had been at Plateau Hut for nearly a week – my guide, Dean Staples and I. Poor weather had made any summit attempt difficult. Several parties had come and gone, beaten by soft snow, low cloud and high winds. We were the only ones left.

The forecast was good for tonight, but another cold front was expected tomorrow afternoon. The usual start for Mt Cook is 0100 hrs from Plateau Hut. Dean suggested we start at 2000 hrs to get back ahead of the cold front.

So off we went in daylight – a very unusual alpine start. By sunset we had reached Teichelmann corner. Fortunately, we had checked the route through the maze of crevasses the day before, saving valuable time now.

We headed up towards The Gunbarrels by starlight, and then traversed the Linda Shelf – 45 degrees of rock hard ice. The moon rose over Malte Brun as we climbed the 60 degree snow slope towards the Summit Rocks.

The rocks were covered in ice and snow. On the last pitch, the piece of ice in which my axe was planted broke away from the rock. Although Dean had me on a tight rope, the stretch of the dynamic rope meant I fell about 5 metres – slightly disconcerting with a 1000 metre drop below.

The sun rose as we reached the top of the rocks- we could feel its welcome warmth instantly. There was still 250 m of ice cap to go . With a 1,500m drop down the East Face, we kept well back from the overhanging edge.

Finally, at 0715, we reach the top. What an incredible panorama- the shadow of the mountains stretching to the western horizon, cloud in the valleys, the Tasman Glacier snaking past nearly 3000m below, and all the other mountains of New Zealand beneath us.

However, the climb is only half over– the wind was picking up – we must get down, quickly. As we abseil through the Summit Rocks, pieces of rock and ice are thrown down on us by the wind.

Reversing the Linda Shelf, the wind reaches well over 100 km/hr, trying to blast us off the mountain. We creep across slowly – plunging our axes into the hilt with every step.

Once well below the Gunbarrels, we stop for a rest, and so does the wind. Then we race down the Linda, and back to the hut by 1500. We radio for a lift, and fly out just as the clouds start pouring over the Divide.

Back at the pub, we watch as Aoraki disappears into the clouds.

What a day- what a buzz! I can’t believe I’ve done it – and I couldn’t have without Dean Staples, UIAGM, and Alpine Guides – Mount Cook.

Watch the video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIDGisOK_n4

P.S. Rob is a forty something specialist anaesthetist in Perth. After 20 years in operating theatres he came down with agorophilia. The only cure is to gain altitude. This he first did in Feb 94 when he topped out on Mt Aspiring with guide Paul Scaife. In Feb 96, he climbed 4 peaks in the Mt Cook area with Dean Staples. In Nov 96, the symptoms of agorophilia were so severe that he underwent emergency evacuation to Plateau Hut, summiting Mt Cook on Nov 28. His symptoms are much better now. He no longer wears crampons in bed, much to the relief of his long-suffering wife, Wendy. 

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