From Christchurch, I flew to Mount Cook National Park. The mountains in this park resemble Alaskan mountains. Everything is above treeline. I only had limited time before my scheduled hikes so, after discussing my options with a ranger, I made arrangements to stay at the Ball Hut which sits at the junction of the Tasman and Ball Glacier that flows off Mount Cook. The hut was reached by a 4WD road which climbed up a lateral moraine alongside the massive Tasman Glacier. The Ball Hut was a popular hostel-like accommodation that sits at the tip of a ridge that divides the Tasman and Ball Glaciers. The hut was crowded with climbers and a surprising number of people who were just hanging out. For every Kiwi, there were 3 Australians. Everyone was friendly. There was a great musician who spent a lot of time entertaining the crowd. The food was good.
There is no doubt why New Zealanders like Sir Edmund Hillary were such strong Himalayan climbers. The Southern Alps were the perfect training ground, thanks to the extensive glaciation and terrible weather. No doubt Hillary had started many climbs from the hut as the hut is the jumping-off point for many climbs in the park including Mount Cook which looms just to the west. New Zealanders have built many huts throughout their mountains to provide shelter against the ever-present sea- and mountain-inspired storms that occur on an all-too-regular basis. The vast majority of the climbs available from the Ball Hut involved significant glacial travel and multiple days. I was told that the only non-glacial ascent was the rocky peak north of the hut called Kaitiaki Peak.
After a night with too much Kiwi beer, I set out to climb the ridge that separates the Ball Glacier from the Tasman Glacier in hopes of reaching Kaitiaki Peak. One my left was the massive Tasman Glacier and, on my right, the Caroline Face of Mount Cook with the Ball Glacier dropping down from Ball Pass. My ascent covered a gain of over 2,000 vertical feet and involved a climber’s trail, some Class 3 scrambling and 2 spots with a fixed rope set by climbing guides. However, I stopped after gaining 2,000 feet at an altitude of 5,960 feet on a small peak just north of the Caroline Hut because the route turned into a steep snow climb after that point. While this small peak was dwarfed by nearby Mount Cook, it was a worthwhile vantage point and even its elevation seemed impressive as the Tasman Glacier was over 3,000 feet below. The views were outstanding.
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