The most common inquiry that we get at Aspiring Guides is for a guided ascent of Aoraki / Mount Cook - the highest peak in New Zealand and an impressive sight from whatever direction it is viewed. We can appreciate the appeal!
The reality is that Mt Cook is a much harder climb than most people anticipate. It is not as high as other peaks around the world, and doesn't have the issues of higher altitudes, but it more than makes up for it in technical difficulty, the length of the climb and the objective hazards. Expect a summit day starting close to midnight and lasting at least 15 hours and often longer, a long time to fend off fatigue and maintain focus for even experienced alpinists. Higher on the route, climbing involves up to 9 pitches of steep mixed climbing. Once on the summit ice cap the exposure of 3 vertical kilometers to the rugged west coast in one direction, and the entire 30km of the Tasman Glacier in the other, tugs at your feet.
It is not a 'walk up' mountain - it requires alpine climbing techniques. More significantly, many areas of the normal route are exposed to avalanches and unstable ice cliffs, and house swallowing crevasses. In order to mitigate these hazards, guides need to be comfortable that their client can move quickly and securely on steep exposed alpine ground.
In other words, Aoraki is unlikely to be your first NZ mountain. It is only guided on a 1:1 ratio and we only take clients who have done other climbs with us beforehand. On rare occasions we might guide someone who has a lot of previous comparable alpine experience as a first time client.
So, if that hasn’t put you off, and perhaps even enthused you more, the second most common inquiry is what do I need to do to prepare for climbing Aoraki / Mount Cook? It is not a quick fix and requires a commitment to training and building experience. We recommend that clients work on their general mountaineering experience through climbing long routes on other significant peaks, and that they also target specific skills sets with specialist training.
Check the flowchart out which shows a possible progression that could prepare you for a guided ascent of Aoraki / Mount Cook. It is of course not the only route, and may require a longer commitment to ensure you don’t just meet the minimum requirements but satisfy yourself and us that you are ready. It will still be a challenge and you will be pushed, but in the mountains it is always prudent to have some degree of reserve in the tank. Your guides along the way can assess your progress, suggest specific areas to work on, and give you a good indication of if, and when, you are ready. Even if Mount Cook is not your end goal and you just want to get out there climbing, it may give you some guidance on how to progress your experience.
For many the allure of another significant peak is an attractive start to the progression, which is why Mount Aspiring is our most popular climb. For many it is a worthy goal in it’s own right but is also a vital step in gaining the required experience for further climbs. Mount Aspiring is an excellent and challenging climb, and it is much more in line with what people who are doing their first big New Zealand climb are looking for. The summit day takes between 12 and 14 hours return and unless a climber is very experienced with recent climbs of this length, it is about the limit of what most people can do safely. It is objectively safe (unlike Mount Cook) and the guide can look after your safety even if you are being pushed to your limit. It would be fair to say that the vast majority of people that climb Mt Aspiring are happy that they did not tackle something more difficult. Aesthetically Aspiring is very beautiful and a "horned" peak similar to The Matterhorn - the summit is very spectacular. For those without previous mountaineering experience we often recommend adding a few extra days to the trip to allow further training and skill development.
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