Mt Doom V’s Cook

It’s no secret, but then it could be I’m not sure… I think I have shouted it off the rooftops a good many times. Maybe I only whispered it to myself and forged an expression of excitement and enjoyment at the prospect of reaching summits and letting my soul be absorbed into the open wilderness that is The Great Outdoors. But I think I have and now I come to think long and hard my social networks and posts are fulfilled with entries and retweets about the outdoors and my love for the natural power of Mother Earth and her trophy cabinet of mountains. Yes I love mountains. Love to look at them, photograph, walk, climb you name it I’m in love with these rocky growths.

So with that being the case a trip to New Zealand was just what was needed. In part The Land of The Long White Cloud is known for its rugged landscape in part thanks to The Lord of the Rings films and this brings us to our first stop. I have been dreaming of doing the Tongariro Crossing from when I first started planning my trip. Yet another good reason to fuel my love for volcanos and the power that our planet has. I’m not and never will be a LOTR fan and so Mt Doom or Mt Ngauruhoe was always on the cards as it was a big hill, with an added bonus that it was an active crater volcano.

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Mt Cook on the other hand could never be climbed. Well not by me. A full on mountain experience with all the gear and very much more than just an idea of how you use it. Over 200 people have lost their lives to Aoraki, many unaccounted for, many just fallen. In recent years Mt Cook has shrunk, first a massive 10 meter rock and ice fell from its peak in 1991 and then in 2013 some boffins re measured the tallest mountain only to make it smaller still by 30 meters. But still standing proud and measuring in at 3724 meters or 12,000 feet in UK money it’s NZ tallest mountain and one I have longed to see.

Sure I could climb Mt doom and it was a tough hill to conquer, with scree and scrambles the 2,291 meters was the highest I have climbed (double the height of Ben Nevis UKs highest mountains) the view of the volcanic waste land of the centre plateau restored the energy banks and washed away any exhaustion my body felt. Staring into the main body of the crater surrounded by several active volcanoes soon wiped the fatigue from my legs. The crossing with its blue and emerald lakes and barren alpine rocky Mars like setting did more than evoke the senses. If it wasn’t for the herd of fellow walkers marvelling at this unique spectacular then I would feel like I was in another world.

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Mt Cook will be a mountain I’ll climb one day and as I walked to the glacier lake at its foot, the impressive imposing structure towering into the sky hiding behind his blanket of cloud only to uncloaks himself enough to spur me on to get that golden photo opportunity. Mt Cook has a wonderful tale connected to it which makes seeing the mountain so more magical.

Aoraki and his brothers while visiting their fathers (god of sky) new wife (god of land) was sailing trying to find land when their boat capsized in the ocean and turned to rock, forming the South Island. Aoraki and his brothers climbed up, only to also be turned to stone forming the mountains that go to make up some of the Southern Alps.

Mt Cook is a special place and to be in his shadow is a breath-taking awe-inspiring experience, the Crossing is as breath-taking but only when you walk the track. Aoraki gas the same power and commands the same respect by just sitting there, when I do return to climb him I know I’m going to be over powered by his charm, and true organic beauty.

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Both have been an experience to treasure and I feel lucky enough to have said that I’ve stood in their shadows. If anything my love has grown stronger and I want to explore more terrains of our planets wonders.

A Windy Hill Top – Part 2 of Weekend in the Lakes.

Right lets climb some mountains. We are after all surrounded by the beasts and whats the point of going to Lakes if you’re not going to climb anything. The original idea was to climb the Pike from Great Gable but with the recent dumps of snow the reports were still showing that both peaks were hiding beneath snow drifts and Great Gable was a little icy on some of the more challenging sections of her back.

The back up was to concentrate on the Coniston Fells. I’d already done the Old Man and some of the others to the south, but both of us had failed to do Wetherlam. Once told by a friend this mountain is off the tourist trail but can be reached via several routes.

As we started the walk, the word of the day was ‘Up’ followed by ‘Steep’ Straight away we were climbing through disused mines and quarries and before we knew it we were trekking our way down to the river bed through a forest only to climb out of the gorge to a field of sheep on the side of a hill. As the trail rounded around a corner we found ourselves with Wetherlam looking down on us from the left.

At this angle she looked like any other mountain, a sheer cliff face with a ridge over looking a valley floor. But as the path took us in a kind of horse shoe route up and down to her base, the true scale was revealed.

This was not going to be a usual ‘stepped out’ climb of the lakes. It was not going to be a steep walk. This was a scramble, this had scree, and as the clouds wrapped around the peak and the wind blew in the mist to haze our view of what lay ahead. We began with earnest to climb.

The start the hike was as you find on Crinkle Crags, or climbing to the summit of Bowfell. Steep rocks, with a kind of worn path leading you to the summit. From the start we spotted cairns every couple of meters suggesting this was not the straight forward walk we thought. Before long we had broken though the mist and clouds to find that the path we were following which zig-zag its way up the side was slowly being blocked and cordoned off by snow.

The sheets of snow that prevented us from continuing were just that. The water that was running down the mountain was melting the snow from the bottom up so what you had was a sheet of thick snow bridging across rocks leaving often large voids beneath. It was at this junction I thought best to turn back but my walking buddy found a way.

So we scrambled around snow covered path to find the path further on ahead. All the time trying to spy the next cairn and find a safe route to it. Say what you like about them, but these piles of rocks have helped me to navigate my way to the top and back down again several times when the path and visibility has not always been great. Onwards we trekked  and as the scramble turned into a bit of a rock climb as the steep path turned into a sheer climb, we hugged the rock face shouting warnings of scree as we clambered nearer to the summit.

The top of her was patched up in snow and as we navigated around the snow drift to attack the summit from the south we found that the wind carried us up to her crown. The wind ripped and roared past, over, below and through us, and with every gust it tried to push and shove us over in a playful spirit but with sense of underlining menace . Occasionally the wind would  get a little more frustrated that we were not playing and decided to out right attempt to blow us off the mountain in angry from s refusing to play its games.

The original idea of the walk was a circular one, taking in several more peaks before we returned to the car and as we headed east to come off her snowy peak we encountered several snow drifts, some on the edge. The wind was not getting restless at beating us black and blue and the wind chill was not adding to the fun. We decided that the only safe way back was the way we knew and to head on down. As we descended the cloud broke and we saw snow filling the ridges and troughs, giving the impression that the mountain top was flat like a dining table. While we were sticking to the path and making sure we were with insight of cairns we both agreed that we could have easily strayed away and  seeing how the snow was bridged further down the hill-side with the water melting the drifts from bottom up we knew we had made the right choice. None of us knew this mountain and I didn’t want to dance along on the carpet of snow to only to be buried at waist height, or sink into a tarn, swamp or bog.

I think that while the day was filled with excitement, the fear factor was stronger than when I walked Grib Goch, and there was something about the fairy tale opening of the walk with the empty mine shafts and blasted   out  quarries that nature had reclaimed which slowly changed into the bleak stoney atmosphere of a foreign planet with a mix of climbs as we grew closer to her summit.

The Lakes has always been a place at the bottom of my list. But the more I visit and the more I bag, my opinion of the landscape looking samey changes. But with the scrambles and scree this makes yet another Wainwright and mountain that makes me want to visit the Lakes more.