Jun 21, 2017

I summited Kaitiaki Peak (2222m) 


I am now a “mountaineer”.

Finding myself kitted out with crampons, an ice axe and helmet all came about because I wanted to do something a little different for New Year. I should have expected such a challenge when I had the conversation with my boyfriend, after all he is an experienced mountaineer and outdoors instructor. 

On my last day at work just before the summer holidays, Simon and I met for lunch to go through the last details of our trip which was planned to start in three days’ time - New Year’s Eve.  A quick weather check changed our plans completely, we had to bring our trip forward and start our adventure tomorrow, yes TOMORROW! 

I quickly finished my work at the office, raced home and packed my stuff before driving south to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. We had a short night in a beautiful hut near the Hooker Valley road, the perfect place to base ourselves for mountaineering.


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Day 1: Finding the best spot to sleep (or “bivi” how professionals would call it!) 

We started our hike at the Blue Lake shelter on the way towards Ball Hut. An easy and flat walk opening to incredible views of Tasman Glacier and the surrounding peaks. Kaitiaki Peak looked imposing and I felt intimidated, I was either going to be standing on top of that summit the next day or quivering at its base wondering why I hadn’t suggested celebrating New Year’s at the beach. 

The Tasman Glacier, 29km long and up to 3 km wide, is the longest glacier in New Zealand. The icebergs floating in the terminal lake are an amazing sight. However, with the glacier lake growing rapidly, the glacier itself is retreating.

Once we reached Ball Hut (after 3 hours) and fueled up we started to scramble up rocks until we reached the Ball Ridge (an 850m climb). It was hard going as we reached one false summit after another. I finally fell into a rhythm and forgot the pain and couldn’t wait to reach the ridge. From there we passed Caroline Hut (1800m) and climbed another 140m to where we set up our camp – more precisely our bivy-bag. 

All day long the weather had been on our side, we had made the right call to bring the trip forward by two days - no wind or clouds. During the night, we were woken up several times by Mr. Mount Cook roaring – snow and ice thundering down the mountain in small avalanches!


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Day 2: The Summit – YAAAAY! 

Today was the big day! We started walking at dawn and continued along the ridge until we reached the first snow slope – it was time to get the ice crampons out. These spiky thingies had caused so many people to make comment about their inaugural outing: “Oh Eva, it’s gonna be your first time wearing them – good luck!” or “Watch out, you will definitely fall over!”. I had something to prove to all my city friends. 

We climbed to Kaitiaki Peak (at 2222m). We were over the clouds and the views were unbelievable – especially the South Ridge of Aoraki/Mt Cook. I was incredibly proud of myself, there was no quivering lip for this young mountaineer.


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Crossing Ball Pass at 2130m 

From the peak we climbed down to 2130m and crossed Ball Pass. I did almost miss the moment to appreciate crossing the pass, but luckily my trusty boyfriend, a.k.a personal guide, pointed out the geography. Like a true novice I pronounced “Oh, was that it? It wasn’t that bad, I am not sure what all the fuss was about?” 

The views changed as we looked across at the South Face of Aoraki/Mt Cook, the Hooker and Mueller Glaciers, Mount Sefton and the Copland Pass. It was all breathtaking and there was no other place I wanted to be at that moment.


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The Descent  

Like every novice that opens their mouth too soon I quickly realised the fuss was all about the descent. It was steep and scary and the route finding wasn’t easy either. After some trial and error AND a couple of tears (from the novice) we managed to find a safe route around the gorges and bluffs down to the East Hooker Valley.

From there we climbed up and down never-ending moraine terraces until we reached the Hooker Valley lookout. 

Clean and good looking tourists admired the stunning views from the lookout. I just wanted to push past them and jump into the glacier lake and hug the icebergs now I was safely back in civilisation (maybe a sign of a light sunstroke). 

We returned to the hut and we were STOKED. I had officially had my first taste of mountaineering and I couldn’t have been happier.


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