It is heavily glaciated and there are no easy routes to the summit. To stand on this peak motivates climbers the world over.
Aoraki / Mount Cook is a serious mountain and not to be underestimated due to its comparatively low altitude. It is regarded as more difficult than Liberty Ridge on Mt Rainier and is comparable in length and difficulty to Aguille Verte in Chamonix, France and Mt Huntington in Alaska. Routes on Mt Cook have an element of objective hazard that is impossible to eliminate. We prefer to only guide Mt Cook when conditions are optimal. We end our Mt Cook season when conditions on the glaciers make progress slow and expose climbers to a higher level of risk.book now Skills required
Graham, New Zealand, Mt Aspiring
We usually meet at 8:30am at our office in Wanaka. Here you will meet your guide and do a complete gear check, as well as go over the weather forecast. Any last-minute items of equipment are assembled and loaded into our vehicle for the drive to Mount Cook Airport (2hrs). You can leave any gear or valuables at our office. Mount Cook Airport is a small airstrip within Mount Cook National Park located on the eastern side of the mountain. Here we load the helicopter for the 15-minute flight to Plateau Hut (2,200m). Usually, there is time for a walk to the dome next to the hut to get a shake down of your equipment and to begin to settle into this amazing location. The helicopter lands near the hut so we are able to provide excellent food and can cater for individual tastes.
To give the best possible chance of success we need the biggest possible weather window. To ascend Mt Cook you need favorable weather and snow conditions, and we find that a five day option provides a high level of success. Some trips are lucky enough to have long periods of fine weather and to have a choice of summit days, while other trips need to take advantage of a narrow period of opportunity. If you have not worked with your guide before, this can be a chance to get to know each other and work on your climbing teamwork. There is the opportunity to climb some of the smaller peaks in the area while you wait for the weather to clear on the higher mountain. The Anzacs (2520m) are an excellent day out and a chance to get used to climbing in this magnificent area.
Summit day usually starts with a 1am wakeup call. It can be difficult to eat at that hour but your guide will provide a hot drink and breakfast before you start out. With hard snow conditions, progress is fast across the lower part of the glacier and as the valley narrows into the Linda Glacier you will start to encounter more crevasses to navigate around. Early in the season, this can be straight forward but as the season wears on, progress can be slow. Sunrise should see you at the top of the Linda Shelf where you will begin to encounter your first rock on the route. The summit rocks are generally easy climbing, but after this you begin to feel the effects of the altitude and effort. While the summit ice cap is easy climbing with short periods of pitching, it can seem like a long way to the summit. The summit of Mount Cook is like no other, here you stand on a small island in the South Pacific at an elevation that puts you higher than anything from Asia to South America.
You will be tired after your ascent so a late sleep and big breakfast are the first business of the day. The helicopter lands, bringing in a new load of climbers and you wish them luck before you pack your gear and fly back to Mount Cook Airport and then drive back to Wanaka.
All routes have significant objective hazard requiring climbers to be fast and efficient. This is not the mountain for your first alpine summit. If you would like to climb Mount Cook but are unsure of your experience level, contact us, or complete our skills form and we can advise. For more about our suggested pathway to skill development, check out these tips: Progression to Mt Cook.
This is the most common route due to its relatively high success rate. Access is by flight into Plateau Hut situated at 2210m. This route can take 14-18 hours, the route starts by ascending the lower Linda Glacier and traversing the Linda Shelf. The Linda Shelf is exposed to the "Gun Barrels" of the glacier above. Here we are moving together so speed and good footwork are important. From here 2-3 pitches of moderate (35°- 45°) snow ice take us to the Summit Rocks. 3-4 pitches of mixed climbing follow through the rocks to the summit ice cap, this can be hard ice or all rock depending on the season. The summit ice cap is exposed but generally only short sections need to be pitched. The summit ice cap can be hard water ice or soft snow depending on the temperatures. It is usually climbed moving together with some short sections of pitching.
Summit day is usually between 14-18 hours. Unless you have some experience with this sort of endurance the sheer length of time you need to exert yourself can be the biggest barrier. Pack weights are usually under 10kg. When snow conditions are firm you spend extended periods front pointing and will need to have very good strength in your calves and legs for this sort of sustained effort. Very good balance and crampon technique are required for the Linda Shelf where the route is very exposed and you and your guide will need to move quickly and confidently.book now
Mt Cook via either the Linda or the Hooker is grade 3 on the Mt Cook Grading System (AD European). The Linda Glacier and the Linda Shelf, in particular, are exposed to icefall and avalanche and while in modern times there has not been a major accident due to this objective hazard, there have been close calls. Parties need to be able to move quickly and securely. There is mixed ice and rock climbing up to 50°.book now
All our trips in the mountains are physically demanding. It goes without saying that the fitter you are the more you will achieve and the more you will enjoy the experience. If you are new to mountaineering here are some suggestions: -
Endurance Fitness is the Key
In terms of fitness training for any mountaineering objective -endurance (both mental and physical) is the most important personal attribute you can have. You need to be able to keep moving at a steady pace for 10 hours + while carrying a load and sustain this over multiple days - very few of our mountaineering trips require only one day of effort.
For big objectives like Mt. Cook, you really need to aim to be able to climb 1000m vertical in about 3 hours. While you will start to feel the effects of altitude at 3000m, altitude is not generally a big factor in climbing NZ mountains. The degree of difficulty and technicality of the climb is.
One of the best ways to get "endurance" is sustained hiking under load. Short intense workouts at the gym are only slightly helpful. Big hikes ie., > 10 hrs on rough terrain with a pack is best. Hiking trips of 4+ days are ideal training. But we understand that this type of training is pretty hard to get as a city dweller. Stair hiking with a 15+ kg and 20+ floors works remarkably well. But nothing beats getting out of the city to national park areas and mountain trails. Make a pre-dawn start to get used to using a head torch and give yourself a 15+kg pack weight. Filling your pack with water bottles is a good way to get weight into your pack.
If you already rock climb - keep it up. If you have not done any rock climbing, then look at doing at least a few sessions with a local climbing instructor or indoor climbing wall. Being able to abseil & belay are important basic skills. Practice your knots - figure of 8, clove & italian hitches and prussik knots are important - here’s a great website to help.
If you have any questions at all, please contact us - we can send you information about a full training program for mountaineering and ski touring in NZ.
New Zealand is famous for its changeable weather. The mountains here are characterised by long sunny fine periods mixed with sudden and sometimes heavy rain or snow. Our experienced guides are well equipped to provide the best possible trip and have many years experience in judging the conditions.
Travel in bad weather is an art in itself. By using Aspiring Guides you give yourself the best chance of success dealing with whatever the weather may throw at you. We also offer a bonus one day weather contingency on ascents and winter trips that require helicopter access. This means your trip could start a day late if you choose to use this option.
If the weather remains adverse and prevents the trip from operating as originally planned, you have the opportunity to carry out sub-alpine adventure and skill development activities. The guide fee applies and any trip costs not utilised will be refunded.
It is important that you have read and understood our booking terms and conditions. Once a trip begins there are no refunds.