Godley to Mt Cook - the high point of the traverse

Lydia:

Being typically behind on the blog writing, our last update had us at Godley Hut, after a (mis)adventure filled week coming through the Gardens, down the Perth and over Sealy Pass.

Having spent 14 hours of Christmas Day on the move, we were glad to have Boxing Day at Godley Hut, feasting on trifle and pan forte that our awesome supporters had brought in. We waited out a brief dump of rain for half a day and hit the ‘old dusty’ again, crossing the Godley at a very easy crossing spot just in front of Eade Memorial Hut.

This is a doozy of a hut – a three-bunker that has seen a lot of love, and came complete with crocheted blankets, solar lighting, and complimentary beer! 

We set off early for the Classen Glacier, scrambling around the edge of the terminal lake on relatively steep, loose ground. After taking considerably longer to reach the head of the lake than we had estimated, we checked our location and discovered that the lake had extended a further 1.5km up the valley than the map (published in 2012) indicated. Our shock at the extent of the glacial recession in Mt Cook National Park was to become a recurring theme for the week.

Heading up the Classen. It was a warm climb.

Heading up the Classen. It was a warm climb.

In beautiful weather, we scrambled up the moraine of the Classen, and up a snow slope that headed to the saddle. Allan and Alexis took turns in the ‘Hurt Box’, plugging steps in the knee-deep slush while I staggered along behind. We were met by a sharp wind on the saddle, so paused for a quick lunch in a wind scoop before heading down towards Murchison Hut.

Alexis successfully led the way through a series of crevasses on the descent into the Murchison Glacier, and we made it to the hut in time to have a relaxed afternoon eating copious amounts of food that had been left in the hut.

The next day we headed for Tasman Saddle in murky weather. The Murchison side of the saddle only just went, and we had a lengthy zig-zag ascent to get past some pesky slots. The view from the top was familiar, looking strikingly similar to that of the all the other clagged-in saddles we had crossed.

Tasman Saddle. Or something.

Tasman Saddle. Or something.

We followed a compass bearing down to Tasman Saddle Hut, hoping but not believing that the bluebird forecast for the following day would eventuate. Alas, in the afternoon the sky cleared and the sun came out – a promising prospect for an ascent of Elie de Beaumont the next day.

Beaut weather at Tasman Saddle Hut. Mt Cook (under cloud), Tasman and Minarets in the background.

Beaut weather at Tasman Saddle Hut. Mt Cook (under cloud), Tasman and Minarets in the background.

With a freezing level above 3000m, an alpine start was in order. We set off at 5am headed for the Anna Glacier. A series of large schrunds almost barred our way, but we managed to find a path through the labyrinth via a snow bridge. Unable to ascend via the saddle between Elie and Walter we took a more direct route up the face.

Our progress was slowed as we decided to pitch some of the steeper sections – a conservative decision, but feeling a little out of practice on steep terrain, we thought we'd play it safe. On top, were treated to a spectacular panorama of the Mt Cook region, looking all the way back up towards the Gardens, where we had been a week before. This was my first 3000m peak, and I was struck by the extent of the view, all through country we were very familiar with now.

A little apprehensive about some large overhanging icicles hanging precariously over our route up, we tried slightly different route down. This proved a good lesson for us, to be absolutely sure of the descent route if it’s different to the way we came up. We ended up mucking around preparing an anchor for a rappel over an overhang that may or may not go. It didn’t. So we climbed back up again, traversed a couple of hundred metres and descended by our original route.

Mt Elie de Beaumont. Our route went up the face to the saddle in the centre of the photo. 

Mt Elie de Beaumont. Our route went up the face to the saddle in the centre of the photo. 

As usual, we were carrying our GPS tracker, which was sending out our location every hour. People at home were looking at our dot paused on the side of the mountain for a few more hours than expected. The tracker really is a blessing and a curse – it’s great for people to be able to follow our progress, but at times like these I think it caused a bit of unnecessary anxiety.  

Following our footsteps back through the labyrinth on the Anna glacier, we raced the sunset back towards the hut, reaching it just on nightfall. After a 17 hour day, we gratefully crashed into bed, totally unconscious as the new year clocked over.

We spent New Years day in the hut, waiting out a storm and eating the freshies that the guided group who flew out that day had left for us (cheers!). After a good rest, we were ready to take on the Tasman glacier and get to Mt Cook Village to see friends and family and eat some good food.

The bash down the glacier was pretty straightforward. We had an easy wander down to Darwin’s corner with virtually no plugging required, before walking through endless valleys and crests of ever-changing moraine. Though loose at times, we didn’t find it to be as apocalyptically bad as it had been made out to be. We eventually scrambled up Garbage Gully, our route out of the moraine just near Ball Shelter.

We had a sleepless night in the shelter, being constantly bombarded by a pair of kea, who thought it would be fun to steal everything that we didn’t bring inside. Three pairs of stinky boots in a 3 bed biv doesn’t make for great air quality. I ran outside in the middle of the night to find one of them taking off with a walking pole, dragging it by the strap towards the drop onto the moraine below.

We met Allan’s mum Anna for a cuppa at the Tasman Valley roadend. I think she was a little shocked at how gaunt we had all become, and set about remedying that with plenty of Christmas goodies. She took our packs in her car, and we donned our running shoes (or crocs in Alexis’ case) for the final leg into Mt Cook village. Running along the road felt like flying, and we quickly covered the ground into the village.

Must. Get. To. Buffet.

Must. Get. To. Buffet.

We had timed it perfectly, arriving just as the Hermitage buffet was opening. They seated us in the corner, as far away from the respectable tourists as they could get us. The last shower any of had had was two weeks (and a lot of sweat) ago. We got our money’s worth, each eating multiple plates of fresh food, and of course we had to try every dessert option.

This was our half way point, so we took a few days off to catch up with friends and family over the holidays before we set off south again.