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Trip Report – Walking into the Night, The Footstool

By: Christopher Tipper (as told to Christopher by his pet penguin)

Source: Otago Climber Newsletter (Nov 2017)

I know it’s early but working in the evenings has begun to force my hand. I’m here for this and I need this activity, life simply would be bland without the experience of climbing mountains. Walking into the night, under a blanket of stars and surrounded by the highest mountains in the country is an experience that every person should have at least once. Although a place not to be taken lightly, it is a fascination that I’ve had for a while now.

Starting early, walking through the night and beginning to feel comfortable in a harsh world. A world that in itself is not malicious; but a world that is raw and follows a set of simple rules. Being a penguin isn’t a simple life all the time. I used to live in an ocean of wool then I came to life woven into the shape I am now, and lived in a shop until someone bought me as a gift. I had no understanding of what was happening to me, but I enjoyed the fact my life was going to give meaning in some way or another. Little did I know I was about to move to Mt Cook, and start climbing, but being the penguin I am, I was intrigued. I lived on the dashboard of the car and slid around, I was warm in the sun and cold in the evening which I liked. I enjoy living here, but I miss eating fish from the ocean, but I’m sure there is a fact of life tied up in that, that sometimes we need to leave things of ourselves behind in order to become a better or a replenished version of ourselves.

I’ve been here for three weeks now and am starting to feel pretty fit, I have managed to flap all my way out to the carpark of the accommodation where I live, I’ve free soloed the stairs and clambered over a few rocks, but all this was just preparation for the real peaks I was about to experience for the first time. I am ushered into a small pack and the world was plunged into darkness but told this was normal and the apprehension I was feeling wasn’t something to be afraid of. The darkness does weird things to your mind and it really forces you to assess your life.

As I thought of these deep things, I slowly moved up the Hooker track to what is called the Stocking Stream, where I was able to bathe in the cool refreshing river for a bit before I was back in the pack. After the short break, I was able to relax into the journey and 2hrs later we neared the Sefton Biv. The door was open and as I gazed out at the stars, I could faintly make out the Milky Way, which was amazing and as the sun began to come up. I lusted for the opportunity to see that sight again!

Wow, the next day was fast! Crampons and ice axe and I was off. I was flapping like crazy to keep up. Roped to this guy was relentless but mainly because I am only about 6inches tall. I found hopping to be quite efficient. After a few minutes I stumbled back into the pack for rest and the time slowly moved out. Every so often I’d peer out the top of the pack and see the glorious vistas. Mt Wakefield over to the East looked really cool and I could see that a full traverse of the Cook Range was possible, if not very long and involved in the crux sections. After a couple of hours we were up the main divide looking at the West Coast. I couldn’t see the sea, as it was blanketed in a layer of cloud. As I scanned around and down into the Copland Valley, my eyes lifted to the lofty heights of the Sibyl Peak, The Unicorn and Dilemma. I tried to imagine all the different stories that I could conjure around how and why they were named but soon the time for day dreaming was over and preparations were made for the final summit push.

When you’ve been pushing hard for a few hours, the last slope can be hard going. After about 30mins I was on top and exhausted. I staggered onto the summit and looked all the way down to the Hermitage. For the first time, I could climb a mountain and see my house. Actually it was the first alpine trip I had been on, justifying that I call myself a penguinist and fast becoming a multi-potentionalist. I was Penguinisting at a high level.

After a short while we were making our way down and to the relative safety of Sefton Biv again. The snow was soft and wet on the Eugenie Glacier which made for a horrendous time trying to safely walk down. However it makes for really good skiing at this time of year. The crevasses were filled in really well and it makes for safe travel. As we neared the corner to come onto the Tewaewae Glacier tiredness was starting to set in and I was beginning to feel safer about moving on this terrain. I made sure to be careful on the decent before the lower angled terrain where I was able to just walk down and then it was good going to the hut. All the remained was the walk back down to the car from the Biv to finish a long day.

The day comprised of a:

0030 start

0300 at the hut 2.5hrs 360m/hr

0530 – 0830 hut to summit 3hrs 370m/hr

0835 – 1105 summit to hut 2.5hrs 440m/hr

1115 – 1315 hut to car 2hrs 450m/hr

Posted: 23/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland