Aoraki Mount Cook Guided Expedition | Summer 2019
The spectacular peaks of the Aoraki/Mount Cook region have attracted climbers from all over the world for the last 100 years. 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.
Above the clouds, between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean, these mountains offer the opportunity to rise above life’s complications, worries and frustrations.
This program has been designed to afford the best possible chance of climbing Aoraki Mount Cook. It describes the degree of difficulty involved, the routes, and the time required.
Costs & Conditions
6 day Aoraki/Mount Cook Expedition
Price | NZ$6,300 per person
Guide Ratio: strictly 1:1
Season: Late October to late December
Price includes the following:
Guide fees on a one-to-one basis
Aircraft access to Plateau Hut
All meals including snacks and energy bars
Accommodation in Mt Cook village (if required)
Local road transport
Selection of technical equipment
Cost of flight out of mountains. See Egress From The Mountains below for more details.
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.
Alternative Climbing Options
Flexibility of goals is important. After you book we will keep you well informed if conditions change so that a climb may not be possible.
If snow conditions, weather, level of experience, or fitness preclude an ascent with an acceptable safety margin, your guide will recommend an alternative venue for your trip.
There are many other spectacular ascents to be made in the region. The following list names only a few
Tasman Glacier area - Mts. Walter, Green, Malte Brun, Elie de Beaumont, Aiguilles Rouges
Fox Glacier area - Mts. Haidinger, Lendenfeld, Tasman
Franz Josef area - Minarets, Mt. De La Beche
Experience Level Required
There is no “easy” route up Aoraki/Mount Cook. The Linda Glacier is the most commonly guided route. This is a long and serious undertaking. The Linda Glacier route involves traveling amongst crevasses and across snow bridges, steep exposed snow slopes, belayed two-tool ice and mixed climbing.
The Linda Glacier route is graded at NZ Alpine Grade 3+. This is equivalent to European AD level. In European terms the climb is comparable to routes on Mont Blanc from the Italian side. For North America the closest parallel is Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier.
Not only should you have previous mountaineering experience, but we expect currency and proficiency of technique for a safe and efficient ascent.
At least 10 days on crampons within the past 2 years
Experience climbing with 2 tools on 45º to 50º snow and ice
Experience of several 16-20 hour days on alpine ascents (NZ Alpine 1+ to 2+) or equivalent within the past 2 years
Previous glacier travel experience and demonstrate basic crevasse rescue skills
Competence on rock - seconding to Australian 14 / US 5.7
A high level of aerobic fitness - able to carry an 8 kg backpack 1,000 vertical metres in 2.5 hours
A technical climbing course similar to our Alpine Skills Course, plus one or 2 peaks (NZ grade 2 or higher) inside the last 2 years is an acceptable level of experience.
If you have questions about experience please contact us.
Guiding 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 will add more trips options to our advertised 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 is helpful if you are proficient with either snowshoes, or ski touring/splitboard 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 for Aoraki/Mount Cook
Due to the serious nature of guiding Aoraki/Mount Cook only experienced IFMGA guides are employed for this assignment. There are a limited number of guides and therefore a limited number of Aoraki Mount Cook Expeditions available every season. Early booking (sometimes 5 to 6 months in advance) is absolutely essential.
We run an advertised set of trip dates for the ascent. Providing a guide outside of these dates is subject to guide availability. The first step in booing is to contact us with your proposed dates.
Unless otherwise arranged, the Expedition will start at 08:30 at Alpine Guides office in Mount Cook Village, and finish at 17:00 on the last day of your trip. A morning start makes most effective use of time, allowing you to fly into the mountains by lunch time.
Alternatively, we can arrange to start at 13:30, and finish at 12:00 noon on the last day, to better fit in with public bus services
If you choose a 13:30 start it is less likely that you will be able to fly into the mountains on the first day. Ensure you choose the right start time on your booking form.
If you arrive in Aoraki/Mount Cook Village on the day before your trip begins, your guide will probably not be available. Our office staff will be happy to answer any questions you have.
Your guide will look after equipment rental, and other gear requirements at the start of your trip. Preparation takes on average 2 hours.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Alternate 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: November – 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.
Equipment and Clothing
Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.
Choosing your clothing | Seasonal Variation
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.
Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The program is designed to work around these changes.
Make a Booking
Please ensure you have talked to us about guide availability and your experience
We require a deposit of NZ$1,000 and completed booking form for each person booking.