Mt Cook’s Collapsed Summit

Mt Cook’s Collapsed Summit


Aoraki Mount Cook being the biggest,
most complex and highest mountain in the country, represents one of the most interesting. With it’s eight ridges or so, it’s multiple faces, it’s big, it’s complex and it’s challenging. It’s a special place. Early in November 1991, Brian Whedon and I decided that we were going to do an East face, climb and we sit off in early December having planned the trip. We climbed the east face in about 10 hours, Seven days later the whole of the east face fell off and fifty million tons of rock roared down into the Tasman Valley, filling it with mud and ice. So we had actually done the last ascent of the old height of the mountain. In December 1991 a big rock avalanche came down Mount Cook and took the summit off. At the time there was a bit of a
debate as to how much came down the mountain and how much the top was reduced by. The figure eventually settled to ten metres less, making the height of Aoraki 3,754 metres. Our model for some reason differed from that height
by a substantial amount. Since the big avalanche there’s been an estimate of the change in height but we’re here to determine whether they estimate is
correct or not. We’re presently at Plateau Hut which is at about 2,200
metres and this was the first step in our trip to serve a Mount Cook. The most important instruments for us
are the two GPS’s – the trimble R10’s. We will use those to survey the top of Mount Cook. This is a University of Otago and GNS funded trip so we’ve had to be really careful about the safety measures. We’ve got two guides working with us and we’re going to use the standard protocol which is one guide per client so there will be a party of four. As preparation for the climb we did some snow safety this afternoon. So you are roped together and you need to have fixed points and anchors you use snow snakes and other things to protect yourself. So we ended up waking up at about midnight. Other climbers were busy getting ready to go we did the same, and then I think we lift
the hut at about 1am. Walking through that darkness you follow
just a small train of head torches porches and that’s your only kind of reference point, because it’s otherwise completely dark. One thing that happened to us was that there’s a large shrund at the top of the linda which was basically a big crevasse and it was really difficult to pass through, there was only one little small section that had a bridge but it was almost vertical. But we managed to pass through that and then it was not too far after that time that the Sun really started to appear, and that moment of brilliance when the Sun comes up and suddenly you realize how high you are and that vista of the New Zealand landscape suddenly appears. It’s just a brilliant feeling. it’s beautiful. There’s certainly plenty of ice falls in a place like this and so they’re the uncertainty. So as you pass up through the linda have to be fairly careful, there’s a particular point where you do pass under some ice cliffs. At that point you really want to just keep moving quite quickly and minimise the risk. We were fairly high, not too far away from the summit rocks, and at that point we really got
into pitching where you really have to belay and move through a rock band that
separates you from the summit. It was beautiful conditions and the sun had come
out so we warmed ourselves up, and it was just really enjoyable climbing on some little steep rock bands. a lot of it’s quite poor quality so you have to
be fairly careful about what you hold because falling off and you don’t
want those rocks to fall on people below you. But there are sections which are
actually really nice rock as well. Then the last section to the
summit was really straightforward. The summer itself is reformed and
it was quite a nice area to sit down and we could really place the GPS’s on the
location that we wanted to be. We had some stakes that allowed us to
drive a pole into the ice and then we set the GPS’s on that and
they’re simply pre-programmed so it’s really just a matter of pushing go, and then the critical thing there was just to maintain a static survey, for us to be
there at least 20 minutes. Given the difficulty of climbing Mount Cook to actually get to the summit and do what we were supposed to do, it was a really great feeling and to take those unique measurements was an achievement I think. Of course when you get to the top it’s only halfway, so
the deceit is something that you have to be fairly careful with. It was uneventful,
the abseils went well, we did that as a party of four with double ropes which allowed us to pass through that section fairly quickly. The snow had softened significantly over the linda shelf so that was quite an easy walk. The the climb itself was a total of just over 18 hours. 10 hours to the top and we probably spent about 45 minutes almost an hour at the top doing the measurements, and then back down and so I think we were just over 18 hours. The GPS measurements that we took
got a height of 3,719 metres, however the very highest point of the
mountain is a short distance along the knife-edge summit ridge. our GPS
measurements were therefore used to calibrate a 3D computer model of the
mountain made from aerial photography. We were then able to calculate the height
of the highest point of Aoraki Mount Cook which now stands at 3,724 metres. This is 40 meters lower than the summit height prior to the 1991 rock avalanche. We climb mountains for various reasons,
various personal reasons but we also climb and look at our
landscapes for understanding our world much better, and I think this contributes
to understanding our world.

16 thoughts on “Mt Cook’s Collapsed Summit”

  1. Believe that would now make it 39th highest mountain on the planet, Seems it would have been far cheaper for you guys to have got a helicopter to the summit.  ( Na good on yah lol ).

  2. Классный видос. Есть куда стремиться. Мы в августе взошли на Elbrus. А товарищей наших с МЧС эвакуировали. Это был полный ***))

  3. Thank you for making this video. It gives a real insight into the climbing involved in getting to the summit to make the measurement – as well as showing the beauty and grandeur of Aoraki.

  4. 7:04 I watched this whole thing to find out how much the height had changed by. I couldn't understand the accent. is it 14m less than the 1991 measurement?

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