Aoraki Mount Cook Expedition
The spectacular peaks of the Aoraki/Mount Cook region have attracted climbers from all over the world for the last 100 years and climbing Mt Cook (NZ's highest peak - 3,724 metres) is a long, physically demanding and serious challenge for experienced mountaineers.
Alpine Guides' Mt Cook Expedition is a 6-day guided package, based from Plateau Hut (2,200 metres). This program has been designed to give the best possible chance of climbing Aoraki Mount Cook. It describes the degree of difficulty involved, the routes, and the time required.
The dramatic nature of these mountains provides a rare challenge. The combination of heavy glaciation, tremendous vertical scale and unpredictable weather means that they are not readily won. To climb successfully here requires skill, fitness, patience, and a great respect for the mountains. However, the rewards are commensurate with the demands of attempting these mountains - the experience of standing on the summit of one of New Zealand’s major peaks is a rare privilege.
Professional NZMGA/IFMGA mountain guide on a 1:1 basis
All meals and snacks
Aircraft access to Plateau Hut
Hut fees and National Park fees
Accommodation in Mount Cook Village (if required)
Wide selection of technical equipment
What’s not included
Cost of the flight out
At least 10 days on crampons within the last 2 years
Experience climbing with 2 tools on 45 to 50 degrees snow and ice
Experience of several 16-20 hour days on alpine ascents (NZ alpine 1+ to 2+) or equivalent within the last 2 years
Previous glacier travel experience and demonstrate basic crevasse rescue skills
Competence on rock - seconding to Australian 14/US 5.7
High level of aerobic fitness - able to carry an 8kg backpack over 1,000 vertical metres in 3.5 hours.
A technical climbing course similar to our Alpine Skills Course, in addition to one or 2 peaks of NZ Alpine Grade 2 or higher within the last 2 years is an acceptable level of experience.
Climbing Season: Late October to Late December
The affects of climate change are evident on our mountains and have reduced the length of the climbing season for Aoraki/Mount Cook over the past 3 decades. Although it may be possible to attempt Aoraki Mount Cook later in the season (every year is different), we will only accept bookings that finish before late-December.
In the event of good conditions extending the climbing season, we may add more trip options to our schedule.
Early Season: before mid-November
The possibility of soft snow (slowing travel), and a heightened avalanche risk are the major constraints of an early season expedition. A climb may be possible but will be subject to your guide’s interpretation of the hazard level. For early-season trips it can be helpful if you are proficient with either snowshoes, or ski touring/split-board equipment.
Route conditions on parts of the Linda Glacier will deteriorate as summer progresses. There will be periods through summer where the degree of crevassing and ice-cliff activity makes the route too hazardous (in our opinion) to guide. We always take a conservative approach to this increasing risk.
Booking Conditions: Aoraki Mt Cook Expedition
These special conditions are in addition to our standard booking terms and conditions:
A period of 6 days is covered in the cost, even though the climb may take only 4-5 days. You have the option of retaining your guide and completing another climb or returning to Aoraki/Mount Cook village. This will be at the discretion of the guide, based on your ability and the prevailing conditions. No refund is due if you choose to finish early.
Extensions to the 6 days may be possible (depending on your guide’s work commitments) - this will be an additional cost of NZ$825 per day, which includes food and hut fees.
If the period is involuntarily extended, the cost is an additional NZ$ per day.
It is not possible to cancel your booking for a refund due to changing route conditions.
Mountaineering on the Aoraki/Mount Cook massif is a hazardous activity. Although technically the “easiest” route on Aoraki/Mount Cook, the Linda Glacier has a relatively high level of objective hazard. The route is exposed in places to avalanche danger from large ice-cliffs. It is essential that fitness, your ability, and conditions allow you and your guide to move quickly through these hazardous zones.
From December onwards, the route can become heavily crevassed. This slows travel through areas threatened by ice avalanches, and may be unacceptable from a safe guiding perspective.
The guide’s primary concern is always for safety. Your guide’s appraisal of your competence and route conditions will determine whether the climb can be attempted, or an alternative ascent considered.
+ Route Description: Linda Glacier
The most commonly guided route is the Linda Glacier and North-East Ridge from Plateau Hut. This is a long and serious climb, usually taking 15-18 hours return. The height gain is approx. 1700 metres (5,500 ft.) from Plateau Hut.
Probably around 80% of all ascents (and 90% of descents), both guided and recreational, use the Linda Glacier route. The Linda Glacier is the most straight-forward route, and offers the best chance to reach the high peak. The Linda Glacier route is always challenging, and not to be underestimated.
The Linda Glacier is relatively low-angled. Up to the Linda Shelf there is some objective hazard from ice cliffs on Mt Silberhorn. A steady and efficient pace must be maintained to minimise the risk from ice fall.
To reach the Linda Shelf the “Gun Barrels” must be traversed, and on the shelf itself, the “Mini Gun Barrels” crossed. Both areas are subject to danger from falling ice debris. Steady, rapid movement is required in these places.
You will normally be moving together with your guide until the Linda shelf steepens. The last 50 to 100 metres is pitched climbing, on 40° to 45° ice up to the base of the Summit Rocks. We try to be at this point just after dawn.
The Summit Rocks are normally iced up, but can be a rock climb in mid-late summer. 3 or 4 pitches are belayed to the summit ice-cap.
Conditions on the ice-cap vary from soft snow-ice to solid “boiler plate” ice. This section to the summit can be time consuming, and always requires concentration and care. Usually it is only necessary to belay short sections.
After 8-10 hours climbing the view is indescribable, stretching for hundreds of kilometres up and down the Alps, to the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean.
The descent (by the same route) usually takes 7-10 hours. The descent requires concentration and good crampon technique down the ice-cap. Your guide will lower you through the Summit Rocks.
Speed through the Gun Barrel section is essential, as warmer temperatures will soften the snow, increasing the risk of avalanche.
+ Alternative routes on Mount Cook
Other route options for climbing to the High Peak of Mount Cook are possible. However, these climbs are technically more demanding and committing than the Linda Glacier.
Route conditions and your experience will determine whether we can attempt an alternate route. If you have not been with Alpine Guides beforehand we will require references, and possibly a training climb, before guiding can commence.
Zurbriggens Ridge, Grade: 3+
Season: October – early-December. This route involves 1,000 metres of moderately steep (40-45°) snow and ice, requiring solid front-pointing technique, up to the Linda Shelf. The route then joins the Linda Glacier route.
This route requires almost 800 metres of pitched climbing, making for a long day on the mountain. In some seasons an ice-cliff near the top of the ridge presents an unacceptable objective hazard.
East Ridge, Grade: 4
Season: October- December. The breathtaking line of the East Ridge joins the summit ridge 200 metres below Aoraki’s Middle Peak. It is a long sustained 45-50° ice/snow climb.
From the summit ridge an exposed traverse follows to Middle and High Peak. A bivouac may be required due to the length of the climb. The descent is via the Linda Glacier route.
Due to the level of commitment, and degree of exposure involved on the East Ridge route, we guide at a 2 guide to 1 participant ratio with suitably experienced clients. The second guide is provided “at cost”. Please contact us for details on pricing.
From the Hooker Glacier
Climbs via the North West Couloir to Low Peak (grade 3+) and High Peak via Porter Col (grade 3+) are also available using the Ascents Program, our one-to one guiding package.
The approach for these routes is via the Hooker Glacier, which is a no-flying zone. Including time for 1.5 to 2 days walking in to Empress Hut, we recommend (at least) an 8-day trip.
Arguably, the objective hazard from rock and icefall getting to Empress Hut and Porters Col is at least the same level as in the Linda Glacier.
+ The Summit and Ngãi Tahu
Aoraki/Mount Cook holds a special spiritual significance for the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, and the Ngãi Tahu tribe in particular who consider the mountain to be an ancestor, and sacred.
Alpine Guides respects the wishes of the Ngãi Tahu people and we will not guide our clients on to the absolute summit of Aoraki, but stop a few steps from this point. This is in fact the highest safe point on the mountain.
On December 14, 1991 the High Peak of Aoraki dramatically collapsed, taking about 10 vertical metres and millions of tonnes of rock and ice down the East Face. The transformed peak is now an exposed and unstable ice arête.
+ Access to Plateau Hut
A walk/climb to Plateau Hut is a strenuous exercise of 1.5 days. The route options are limited to 2 difficult climbs that can only be attempted in good weather.
Flying in makes the best use of available good weather. Because this does not allow your guide to determine your ability and fitness, a “training” climb (the Anzac Peaks, for example) may be attempted before Aoraki Mount Cook. This is at your guide’s discretion, and ensures our standards of safety are maintained.
+ Egress from the mountains
Two means of egress are available at the end of the trip: walking or flying out. Flying out is the most common option and choice. Please - ALWAYS BUDGET FOR A FLIGHT OUT, even if you want to walk.
1. Fly Out
It is possible to fly out from Plateau Hut. This costs approximately from NZ$450 by ski plane, or up to NZ$800 by helicopter if you have to cover the full cost. This price will be significantly reduced if the aircraft is shared with other climbers. We always work to try and make this flight as efficient as possible.
Flying out is an extra cost that is not included in the fee. Please budget for this.
Read more about aircraft transport.
2. Walk out
The walkout is a normally a descent via Cinerama Col and the Boyes Glacier. This is an extremely rugged trip with 1 - 2 hours walking on nevé. A steep glacier descent is followed by approximately 300 metres of scree, 1,000 metres of boulder stream, and finally (at least) 2 hours walking over moraine. Descent to the road end takes approximately 6-8 hours.
The walk out must be done inside the allocated trip dates. In some situations (due to weather, conditions, and fitness) it may not always be possible to walk out.
Your guide is the final arbiter on whether a walk out will go ahead.
+ Equipment and Clothing
Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.
Our gear lists cater for all eventualities. Sometimes you may not require everything on the equipment list. Weather and conditions when your trip starts will help determine what is needed on the mountain.
Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The geat list is designed to work around these changes.
Kia tuohu kotou, Me he maunga teitei, Ko Aoraki anake.
"If you must bow your head then let it be to the lofty mountain Aoraki."