Having seen Mt. Cook from the shores of Lake Pukaki and from above Hooker Valley, and seeing how it dominates the high ridges around it, it’s still been hard for me to fully comprehend its size. But looking at the figures and studying the experiences of climbers helps me to get a little more perspective on its true size and nature.
At 3,754 meters (12, 316 feet) elevation, it’s almost 9,500 feet above the outlet lake of Hooker Glacier to the south. It’s 9,000 feet above the Tasman Glacier directly opposite its summit to the east. For comparison, if you’ve been along Highway 395 through California’s Owens Valley, the summit of Mount Whitney (14,495) is roughly 9,000 feet above the alluvial fan at the edge of the valley.
In addition to its size are its steepness, its perennial cover of ice and deep snow, and its weather. Situated as it is, so close to the sea with frequent storms coming in from the west, and standing over 2,000 feet above its highest neigbor, it’s a bulls-eye for strong, cold, gusty winds and fierce storms. Weather changes are often rapid. Mix all these things together and you have a real challenge for very skilled, experienced climbers with superior stamina.
As such, it calls to many such climbers from all over the world.
some parties do the climb on their own while others take advantage of several guiding services with extremely competent guides. While you can do the whole thing from the end of the road in Tasman or Hooker Vallleys, many are airlifted to a large hut on a plateau a steep 4,000 feet (1,200 m.) above the Tasman Glacier http://www.teamarchitects.co.nz/plateau-hut–mt.-cook..html
. At 2,200 m., there are still over 5,000 feet of steep climbing involving crevasses and technical snow, ice and rock.
Here’s the informative website of one guiding company describing the climb itself, as well as what it takes to be ready for such a climb http://www.alpinerecreation.com/mtcook.html
. Explore the site; it’s got lots of information, photos and videos. Be sure to watch the 4-minute video on the climb. You’re taking off from the airport in the Tasman Valley. Don’t miss the marvelous view up the valley. Approaching the large 35-person hut, it looks so tiny amid its huge surroundings. When the helocopter departs, it tilts forward and drops steeply over the edge out ouf sight. The next morning the climbing begins. http://www.alpinerecreation.com/videos_mtcook.html
You can study this area, or any part of New Zealand, in detail with the Department of Conservation’s easy to use zoomable GIS topo map http://gis.doc.govt.nz/docgis/
. It’s fun to use it in combination with route descriptions and photos. You can choose additional overlays from the checklist on the left.
The Department of Conservation has an excellent 28-page discussion of the geology, glaciers, climate, ecology and tourism in the Park. http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/getting-involved/students-and-teachers/field-trips-by-region/canterbury/aoraki/aoraki-mt-cook-education-resource-colour.pdf
The Dept. of Conservation’s online brochure of the park is very comprehensive, including features, activities, tracks, places to stay and more. http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/national-parks/aoraki-mount-cook/
Glaciers Online is a Swiss “photoglossary” of glaciers and glacial processes worldwide. This section is on New Zealand. Lots of good photos with informative text. Select among various glaciers from the list on the left. http://www.swisseduc.ch/glaciers/new_zealand/hooker_aerial/index-en.html
Have fun exploring!