Mountaineering with Alpine Guides at Mt Cook…

A few months ago I organised to do Alpine Guides Mountain Experience Course out of Mt Cook Village, doing travel pieces for the Dominion Post in Wellington and Australian Geographic  Outdoor Magazine. I set of for Mt Cook Village last Sunday, not too sure what I had got myself into, but excited about the thought of learning mountaineering skills and having an adventure around some of the best mountaineering in NZ.

Aoraki (Mt Cook) poking out the clouds I drove towards my adventure…

Arriving into Mt Cook Village and the Alpine Guides desk I was quickly introduced to Martin and Tara, who would be on the adventure with me and then to Mark Austin-Cheval, our intrepid guide for the week. This was our group that we would be eating, sleeping, climbing and learning together for 7 days. We sat down and Mark informed us of the weather and the plan for the week. ‘The weather is great and we are leaving for the Mueller Hut tomorrow morning for 4 days…’ Gulp, straight into it. He then instructed us to pull out all of our belongings from what we had packed and place them on the floor, this is a little personal I thought? I later realised that every tiny thing you bring you will be cursing its weight.

Slowly, what seemed like a ludicrously small amount of clothes for 4 days, (I did sneak in a spare pair of undies much to Mark’s dismay, real climbers go weeks in one pair of gruts you see. Thank goodness for my Icebreaker or I would be one smelly climber!) began to grow, how was I ever going to fit all this, plus my camera gear into my F-Stop camera bag? Shall I go as far as to cut the handle off my toothbrush? I decided I want quite at that caliber of mountaineer yet. Although I did have to make a tough decision on what lenses to take and yes, I would take my Manfrotto tripod, star photo taking would be incredible up there. The Canon 5D mkII evec Canon 24-105mm, and 24mm 1.4 for the stars went in my bag. Cripes. This was one heavy back pack to be hauling up 2000m.

My load, minus the food and cooker to lug up the side of a mountain…

The next day we were up at sparrows fart to start the climb to the Mueller hut. This hut is situated 1000 vertical meters above Mt Cook Village and is a fantastic hut for its views of Mt Cook. I had heard the walk was a grueling 4 hour up, and it was a pretty hot day…. Like most things it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be, and soon we were up at the hut.

The hike to the Mueller

Sundown on Mt Cook from the Mueller hut

Aoraki at night before the stars and moon arrive

Mueller Hut with the full moon rising.

Mt Sefton under the stars and moonlight.

The first morning up there we had training on how to use our ice axes and crampons and lessons on self arresting (stopping yourself sliding if you career off down the hill unintentionally), making snow and rock anchors, climbing and repelling. After a lunch and an extensive sun cream application we set of for part two of our adventure. We walked through the snow, sometimes roped together above rocks in case we fell, up to the Annette Plateau below Mt Seally. It was stinking hot and every part of you exposed to the sun got burnt, even the inside of your nostrils! We arrived at our bivvy site, where we would be spending the night, and it was a first come first serve basis on where you would lay your head. Small piles of rocks were build up around flat(ish) human sized cleared spots. This was our bivvy. I was so glad it was a clear calm night!

Our bivvy site under the setting sun

Self portrait sleeping in my bivvy bag under the stars (50 min exposure)

Waking with the sunrise I took some snaps over the first light, and after a quick brekkie we were off to summit our ‘Un-named Peak’ below Mt Seally. I asked if we could name it, alas, not enough of a mountaineer yet to go naming peaks willy nilly… We roped together while we crossed the Annette Plateau in the unlikely event we fall into a crevasse, best to be safe than sorry… Soon we were climbing up a steep pitch, using snow anchors an belaying each other to the top rocks. From there we scrambled across the top, with a few safe anchors on our rope attaching us to the rock in case we had a mishap and slipped. Crampons on rock is pretty interesting. You know that sound of nails down a blackboard? Not dissimilar. Soon I had forgot all about that sound as I was concentrating so hard on not falling…(and not looking down) Soon we had concurred the ‘Un-named Peak’ and sat triumphant as we gobbled down our sarnies for lunch.

The last push to the top of ‘Un-named Peak’ (feeling not dissimilar to what Sir Ed Hillary would have felt climbing Everest, after all Mt Annette was said to be the first ascent he did, just by where we were)

After a lengthily luncheon it was time to walk the long trudge in the scorching afternoon heat back to the Mueller Hut. We certainly slept well that night. The next day we descended down to Mt Cook Village and slept like babies. Awoken at 6am (this apparently is when all mountaineers like to rise) the dorm was a frenzy of folk packing for their adventures. We packed up a day pack as we were off rock climbing.

Red Arette. If you squint and look really close you can see 2 folk on this rock face. This is what we climbed, almost to the top if the picture. Pretty terrifying to say the least!

Martin and Tara climbing up after me. We climbed 100 meters up this rock face. I managed to get a few snaps in between being terrified, swearing and sweating profusely! Not much room for movement when you are 100 meters up!


I didn’t think I would be able to do it, but it ended up being a really satisfying and fun climb. I want to get better at climbing with a camera so I can shoot rock climbers and BASE jumpers. We will see… The course was a fantastic introduction into mountaineering and I couldn’t recommend it more. A MASSIVE thanks to Alpine Guides for providing such an amazing course, which has left me hungry for more… If you want to find out more about the courses check out their site