Our main reason for coming to Mount Cook Village is to spend a week or so climbing at Twin Streams, on the road between Mount Cook and Twizel. Extensive studying of the weather at the Mount Cook DOC center revealed our perfect weather window is an unattainable dream – the forecast was a mix of showers, wind, and cloud for the next ten days. We decided to bide our time for a few days hoping the often changing long term forecast would turn in our favour.
We explained to the extremely helpful fellow at the DOC info center that we’re rock climbers, and looking for a worthwhile walk that didn’t involve ice or mountaineering. The info center guy was great – he gave us a bunch of off the beaten track walks, some with excellent views of Mount Cook. We opted to walk to the Ball Hut, and possibly venture up a ridge towards the pass for an apparently tremendous view of the 2000m Caroline Face of Mount Cook.
He’d said the walk was 3-4 hours, so we planned to walk to the hut and continue up the ridge if we made it in time before dark. We set off at 4.20pm in overcast weather, with rediculously light packs compared to what we are used to for climbing trips. The first few hours of the walk was along a slightly uphill four wheel drive track, making for pretty unexciting but high speed walking. The track is in a dip, with mountains to the left and a low ridge on the right. Over this ridge is an amazing view of a glacial lake with massive icebergs in it, so we made sure to make a few scrambles up the ridge and check out the view.
After a good chunk of the walk the four wheel drive track deteriorated, before eventually disappearing. At this stage there were grassy meadows and remnants of destroyed four wheel drive track, before eventually turning into some pretty gnarly scree and boulder hopping. We both really regretted not having hiking boots through here, as it took a lot of care not to destroy ankles. The scree then mellowed out as the hut neared, and the last section of the walk was over nice soft alpine moss before the twee little Ball Hut appeared. The hut was great; a tiny red room with 3 beds, a mountain radio, and a small stainless bench. The bare essentials.
We made it to the hut at 7pm, so were undecided whether to continue or not. The DOC center guy had talked up the views of Caroline Face so much that we eventually decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity. We continued on our way, beginning the STEEP climb up the ridge before the darkness crept up. This bit was pretty sketchy, the classic two steps forward and one (or five) steps back on loose scree. We were starting plenty of little avalanches, and had to take extreme care to not be under each other. The track was no longer obvious, with plenty of hunting for cairns to find our way. We were exhausted, but charged on through so we could reach the only flat point on the topo map before dark and set up camp.
As dark was very near (we debated headlamps) we finally reached a false peak, which had just enough of a (not very) flat for us to camp and provided the promised spectacular view of the Caroline Face. It was 8.30, and we had timed it perfectly as the last traces of the sun immediately disappeared. We set up the tent, cooked up a meal, and I spent the next few hours experimenting with the camera to get some night photos.
Camping on the ridge was surreal – the huge collection of surrounding glaciers were constantly dropping chunks of ice, so there was a thunderous boom occurring every few minutes. Occasionally the noise was slightly different, indicating a rock fall rather than ice fall. We managed to see one massive rockfall, with a huge debris cloud rolling most of the way down Caroline Face and the noise rumbling for minutes. The tumbling boulders threw up a giant dust cloud, which hovered above the line of collapse for about 15 minutes. This was plenty to re-affirm my disinterest in mountaineering, and strengthen my love of (hopefully more solid) rock climbing.
We set an alarm for 5.30am to catch the promised amazing sunrise on Caroline Face, but awoke not only an hour too early, but unfortunately to yet another cloudy day. Despite the lack of sunrise, the view was astounding. After a relaxed breakfast and plenty more photos we began our wander down the hill, knowing we had plenty of time and were in no great rush to get back. The walk back was pretty uneventful, the four wheel drive track seemed even less exciting on the walk back, but the icebergs in the lake were a nice view for the first half of the walk.
It’s a great feeling every time we are reunited with the Mighty Bongo after a trip away, knowing he hasn’t been disturbed by any undesirables. We rounded the last bend and saw him sleeping peacefully in the car park, then headed to the Alpine Club Unwin Hut. Having worn ourselves out we had earnt the excellent hot shower and relaxation time. It was now time to twiddle our thumbs, bide our time, and pray for weather that will let us into Twin Streams, or at least be good enough to spend some more time at Sebastopol Bluffs.