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Chris Bennetts-Cash

Climber. Software engineer. Audio geek.

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An extraordinarily-busy November included two weddings, working in three different cities and various climbing and canyoning trips.

In the midst of this Wendy and I managed to pack and somewhat prepare for a trip into Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. With a few peaks in our sights we’d like three good-weather days, so plan on spending about a week at Plateau Hut followed by two days walking down via Ball Shelter back to the town.

Sunday, December 6

We fly out of Sydney around lunch time. While waiting to board I’m contacted by the helicopter company to ask if I’d like to join a back flight at 8.30am the next day. The timing is tight but achievable, and it will save us a few hundred dollars, so we go for it.

Arriving in Queenstown mid-afternoon we pick up our hire car and buy two weeks of food before setting out for Aoraki/Mt. Cook and reaching the comfort of Unwin Lodge around 9.30pm. While packing our gear for the flight the following morning we discover that our dorm-mate is also hoping to fly into Plateau Hut the following day but hasn’t booked a flight and make plans to share the flight with his party and bring the cost down to only about $100 each.

Monday, December 7

By 10am we’ve set up our home in Plateau Hut for the week and begin discussing plans for the day. While unpacking we bump into Gabriel, who Brittany and I were stuck in Colin Todd Hut with for a few days the previous Summer, and we discuss plans with him. He gives us beta on Mt. Dixon (don’t bother, it’s a choice between large, broken bergschrund and overhead cerac that could rain down blocks of ice at any moment). The weather couldn’t be better so we use the slopes of Glacier Dome for Wendy to practice self arrest and then continue for a walk around the Grand Plateau to investigate the approach to Mt. Dixon ourselves and see if we can find a safe way up.

Wendy gearing up for glacier travel outside Plateau Hut

Mt. Dixon looks feasible but unlikely - Traveling under the cerac is out of the question (ice was falling while we were looking), but we could probably cross the schrund to the right and traverse above it to reach the start of the climb. Probably. So this is probably a trip for another day.

Mt. Dixon. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a photo until we were quite far from it. Usual access is the snow ramp to the ridgeline on the right
A better shot taken two days later. The conditions are harder to see from this angle, but the appeal of the mountain is much clearer.

A bit of a walk around the Grand Plateau and some further self arrest practice ends our day when I get cold fingers and become desparate for the warmth of the hut.

Wendy hanging out in front of Aoraki (left) and Silberhorn (right)

Tuesday, December 8

Tuesday dawns another perfect day and we plan to climb the Anzac Peaks and assess the route to Mt. Malaspina.

Unfortunately, I pull out my camera to take a photo of Wendy negotiating the crevasse field of the Grand Plateau at the beginning of the day to find flat batteries, so we have no photos of the day.

The walk to Anzac Peaks is tougher than expected for both of us (so much steep terrain!), but it provides an excellent view of the approach to Malaspina. Maybe I’m a little over-conservative about these things, but the entire route looks remarkably like an avalanche magnet (Side note: We bumped in Jono again in Queenstown and he agreed that it can be very avalanchey). Our candidate climbs are becoming fewer.

Anzac Peaks proved a great introduction to alpine climbing for Wendy, and a fun day for me. We followed the line of least resistance to the top, then found a more challenging route and ascended a second time to give Wendy (and me!) a chance to climb some steep snow.

The Anzac Peaks. Taken from Plateau Hut

We returned to the hut after a fun, successful and more tiring than expected day. I returned last Summer with ambitions to start running again which were only partly achieved.

Wednesday, December 9

Glacier Dome. The fun route follows the major snow ramp, then the smaller ramp to the left and finally the rock and snow right of that to the summit

We agree that Dixon is out, so today we will climb Glacier Dome. It’s another bluebell day (our third in a row; remember we’d anticipated spending a week in the hut in order to get three good days?) but I sleep in until 8.30am. I’ve been feeling the effects of the past year since leaving the city and have done little other than eat and sleep while we’ve been in the hut.

We eventually get underway and before long are lamenting steep walking and pining to climb.

Long and steep - Our hut is the red dot in the background
Steep enough to rope up now
Climbing properly at last!

The final pitch becomes mixed climbing on rock protection (which is excellent), and the rock is even sound enough in some places for cams to be effective.

Wendy making her way up the final pitch
We even got some top roping photos of me when I refused to leave a stuck nut behind and went back to recover it after Wendy had given up trying to remove it
(I got the nut, although it has a few more scratches and deformations on it now)

Returning to the hut we met another party who had walked up our planned descent route and asked them about it. “Scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life” responds one of them. These people were on Mt. Cook this morning.

Consensus around the hut seems to be that foot access was fine a few decades ago, but the Boys Glacier has changed a lot recently and access is now difficult, dangerous, unstable and not very scenic.

And so we found some people to share a helicopter with and flew out a few hours later - A week ahead of schedule and leaving ample time for tramping, rock climbing, and visiting wineries.

View of the Fox Glacier and Malte Brun from Glacier Dome