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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Climbing The Footstool, Mt Cook

Summer of the Alps - our first big foray into Mount Cook National Park has finally arrived My first experience of the was in December 2008 with mine and the Bell family climbing up to Mueller Hut - a sensational location to spot frequent avalanches off the south face of Sefton. This time we were aiming for Sefton's younger brother hidden behind the shadow of the blocky giant - The Footstool.

Views of the Mueller Glacier lake from near the top of the climb to Sefton Biv
Campsite on the side of Lake Pukaki at dawn

Back again December 2012 with my great Canterbury climbing mate Adrian Melton were more than eager! We'd been climbing all round the Port Hills over the past four weeks in preparation and finally our grand mountain adventure was here. Tom Swan and his flattie mate Liam jumped in for the ride for a hilarious road trip south!

Adrian and I warmed up with some multipitch climbing at Sebastapol Bluffs on the classic Red Arete route. Four pitches and 90 metres up red sandstone slabs made for a fun morning out. We practiced some ropework for glacier travel and crevasse rescue in preparation for the rumored 'steep and heavily glaciated Eugenie slopes' that we'd face Sunday morning.

Third pitch on Sebastapol Bluffs

Sweet view from the top of Red Arete! Nice intro to multipitch climbing

Posing at the lookout on the Hooker Valley track.
Tom, Adrian, Liam and Me

In the afternoon we set off up to the stunning Sefton Biv. A grunty climb up from the Hooker valley floor through scree slopes snowgrass and climbing around rocky buttresses, all the while spotting the cairns for the easiest route. In places we definitely didn't take the easiest route. A party of four were hot on our heels, spurring us on to reach the biv first - only space for four at the hut, and those four were ours!

Powering up the steep climb

Our eyes gleamed as were topped out on the ridge and spotted the wee orange biv tucked in the snow, hardly six foot high. Avalanches & rockfalls cracked and rumbled below us, mountains exploded through the doorway as we sat back eating potato mash through the evening. On my list of top backcountry huts in NZ I recall Syme Hut on Fanthams Pk Taranaki, Barkers Hut high in Arthurs Pass below Mt Murchison, but this - Sefton Biv - surely tops the lot. The search goes on!

Sefton Biv

Oldest historical structure in the Mount Cook National Park, built in 1917 by Peter Graham & co (then chief guide at the Hermitage)

Asleep before sunset, and up at 1.30am to a howling gale. Not ideal. We slept in til 3am and to our surprise and fortune the wind had completely died out. I took a look out the doorway, and the sky was clear, stars shining about the lofty summit of The Footstool, 2754 metres, just north of Mt Sefton. We were off at 4 aiming for the lower col on Footstool's East Ridge to traverse onto the Eugenie Glacier then up to the Main Divide for the grade 2+ route.

Alpine start 0410

Planting the axe shafts deep into soft snow on the way up Tewaewae Glacier in the early hours

Stunning light on first rays

No freeze overnight made for energy-sapping soft snow and crumbling crevasses riddled up the Eugenie Glacier. Our progress was off schedule to summit at 9am. Not wanting to risk the avalanche prone slopes as the day heating up to a blazer, we aborted at 8.30am and bootskied down to the Hermitage. A swim in Lake Pukaki sealed the deal on an excellent alpine adventure in the high mountains. Nice!

Gaping open crevasses on the broken Eugenie

The faux-summit of the day

Golden location

Team shot as we head back for home

Hooker Lake and Mt Cook range rising to Aoraki Low Pk in the left

Boot skiing down the Stocking glacier

Strong Nor-westerlies howling over Mount Cook producing some fascinating cloud formations

Swigging back a cold one at the end

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