According to the latest measurements taken in 2013, Mt Cook is 3724 m (12,218 ft) high – not 3754 m (12,316 ft) as believed for many years. Even today there are tens of thousands of websites mentioning the wrong figure.
Mt Cook Facts
Researchers from the University of Otago made an expedition to the summit in November 2013, and after analysing the GPS data, they calculated the precise height of New Zealand’s highest mountain.
In 1991, a huge chunk of the peak, approx. 12 million cubic metres (420 million cubic ft) of ice and rock, slid down into the deep.
Shortly after the incident, new measurements were made on the basis of aerial photography, but during the 22 years that followed, a severe reshaping process occurred that affected the originally thick ice cap. So that’s how Mt Cook “got shorter” not long ago.
So now that we know the exact height of New Zealand’s “icy crown”, let’s take a look at some other facts:
- Its Maori name is Aoraki or Aorangi, the name of a man who, according to tribal legend, climbed on top of his upturned canoe (the South Island) and then was turned into stone.
- Thanks to tectonic movements, Mt Cook is uplifted by 7 mm on average each year. (However, erosion can be much stronger.)
- The first ascent took place in 1894 by three New Zealand mountaineers.
- The world famous Sir Edmund Hillary was a New Zealander who had climbed Mt Cook and several other peaks over 3000 m before his great Everest expedition.
- The mountain was named in 1851 in honour of Captain Cook.
- Mt Cook is only 34 km (21 mi) away from the sea, so its weather can change extremely quickly.
Mt Cook – Inspiration
If you can play with your travel schedule a little, it’s definitely worth picking a clear day for visiting the Mt Cook National Park.
That’s what we managed to do when we planned our trekking tour there, so this picture above could be made without much hassle.
Of course I had to wait for the sunset to come and tried to catch the moment when the sunlight painted the peak with its most appealing colour. And it also had a cost of driving in the dark back to our accommodation in Central Otago. Well, big deal…
We took the pleasant, easy-to-walk Hooker Valley Track starting from the Visitor Centre in Mt Cook Village. The path follows the Hooker River up to the Hooker Lake, which is a glacier lake formed by the Hooker Glacier.
At this point you are just below the highest peaks of the Southern Alps and can have fantastic views of Alpine scenery unfolding before your eyes with the lake, glacier, river, rugged ridges, and snowcapped peaks.
The track takes about 4 hours to complete, to the lake and back to the village.
It’s funny how close Mt Cook looks from Hooker Glacier, but it’s a rough climb from there, which took Edmund Hillary and his fellow climbers two days to get up to the summit in 1948.
You can read Hillary’s article here describing the climb, which was the first ascent of the south ridge of Mt Cook. (In the picture above, the south ridge can be seen to the right of the peak.)
Although it’s not a very high mountain, climbing it demands an advanced level of expertise and mountaineering experience. It is said that even the standard route, Linda Glacier, is much more challenging than, say, Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier, the 4392 m (14,411 ft) high mountain in the US.
So we, everyday tourists, have to compromise with the “worm’s eye perspective” when paying a visit to Aoraki, the ruler of the Southern Alps. But what a sweet compromise, indeed…
Text and photographs © Daniel Kerek
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