Thomas C. Fyfe

Mt. Cook, Nov. 2009 NW
Mt. Cook was first conquered on Christmas Day, 1894. The slopes of Mt. Wakefield, to the right.

Otago Witness, 4 April 1906, Page 47
The history of the ascents of Mount Cook can be told in a few words.
In 1882 the Rev. W. S. Green with two Swiss climbers— Boss and Kaufmann — almost reached- the top of the highest peak of Mount Cook. The point they reached is supposed to be about 200 ft below the actual summit. Subsequently Messrs Dixon and Mannering, of Christchurch, made an ascent to about the same point. Then in 1895 three New Zealanders, Messrs-Malcolm and Kenneth Ross and M. J. Dixon, hearing that an English climber was coming out with the famous guide Zurbriggen, started off with the intention of making the first complete ascent of the mountain. Their attempts were frustrated by bad weather. After a few weeks this party was joined by Messrs Fyfe and Graham, two other New Zealanders; and Messrs Fyre, Graham, Dixon, and Kenneth Ross in one attempt reached a point a little higher than that reached by Green. The weather during several attempts was fearfully tempestuous. The Ross brothers and Dixon had, owing to the expiration of their holiday, to return to town, and eventually Messrs Fyfe. Graham, and Clark, who were able to wait for favourable conditions, succeeded on Christmas Day, 1894, in making the first complete ascent of the highest peak of Mount Cook, which is 12,349 ft above sea level. The credit of the first ascent of New Zealand's highest mountain was therefore secured to New Zealand. Next year the complete ascent of the mountain was made by the guide Zurbriggen, who was accompanied to a height of 10,000 ft by Mr Adamson, then in charge of the Hermitage. No complete ascent has yet been made by Green's route, which is now regarded as a somewhat dangerous one. Zurbriggen ascended from the east side by a new route, and the New Zealanders from the west side, also by a new route. The first ascent of Mount Cook was there first made by New Zealanders, and the second by a famous Swiss guide. photo

Looks like a plumber was the first to climb Mt Cook and a beekeeper the first to climb Everest!

North Otago Times, 9 January 1895, Page 1
THE ASCENT OF MOUNT COOK.
Mr M. J. Dixon writes : Messrs Fyfe, Graham and Clark are indeed to be congratulated on their successful ascent of Mount Cook, and I think trebly more so when the following circumstances are taken into account. It will be remembered that Messrs Fyfe, Graham, Ross Brothers, and myself made no less than five different attempts to climb by Green a route to the top, and through broken weather failed to reach closer than 200 feet. But our many trips served to show that Green's route was very long and dangerous through being too much exposed to avalanches, and on that account before returning again to the last attempt from that side it was only with the utmost difficulty that Fyfe and Graham were induced to come at all. And even then, though in apparent joke Fyfe said to me, " Don't give me any excuse to turn back else I'll take it," and when the reasonable excuse of the weather came he did, likewise Graham. On several occasions he expressed his dissatisfaction with Green's route, and both of them were determined to climb the mountain by a new route. Altogether it is very greatly to their credit that, without guide, and with a completely new man, Jack Clarke, in the party, they have explored and won a completely new route from the Hooker side. This route was first pointed out by Mr A. Harper, and afterwards by Jack Adamson ; and it is no surprise to me that Messrs Fyfe and Graham have been successful, but it only goes to prove that in alpine climbing one must not be limited for time, as they were in at Mount Cook from November 9th till December 27th.— Christchurch Press.

An announcement had been made that an Englishman and an Italian mountain guide were about to attempt the climb but the trio, Tom Fyfe, James (Jack) Clarke, and George Graham, three Waimate men, for the sake of national pride resolved to beat them and they succeeded 25 December 1894 on Christmas Day. Fyfe was a guide at the Hermitage. His father Thomas Webster Fyfe came to Timaru on the 'Echunga.'

Marriages Solemnized at St Johns Presbyterian Church, Willis Street, Wellington
Transcribed from the original registers
Date: 3 May 1896
Place: SJC
Groom: Thomas Fyfe, 25yrs, plumber, from Timaru
Bride: Mary Anne Peake 24yrs, single, from Hokitika
Both living in Wellington
Groom's father: Thomas Webster Fyfe, a painter
Bride's father: John Peake, a Town Clerk
Groom's mother: Jane Fyfe (nee) Craigie
Bride's mother: Louisa Ada Peake (nee) Whitehouse

Tom's wife was born on Christmas Day and he climbed Mt Cook on Christmas Day.
West Coast Times, 13 January 1872, Page 2
On the 25th December, at her residence, Gibson's Quay, the wife of Mr John Peake, of a daughter.

THE SEASON'S WORK IN THE SOUTHERN ALPS.  
By Malcolm Ross, vice-president. New Zealand Alpine Club.
Otago Witness, 20 December 1894, Page 17

A few years have worked wonders in mountain craft in New Zealand. In the early days of the settlement the high alps of New Zealand, in so far as the denizens of the plains and valleys were concerned, were shrouded in mystery and regarded with awe. In 1882 the spell was broken, for the Rev. W.S. Green, A.C., with those splendid Swiss climbers Boss and Kaufannm, appeared on the scene and laid siege to Aorangi. In the face of many difficulties and almost insuperable obstacles they eventually succeeded in attaining the topmost crest, and but for stress of weather would no doubt have gained the actual summit.
    Mr Green was the pioneer of alpine climbing in New Zealand; but immediately following in his footsteps came a few hardy enthusiastic New Zealanders, who, without guides or porters such as the British climber is able to procure, have learnt the art of mountain craft, and done work — exploratory, scientific, and gymnastic — that has attracted attention in the mother country, and even on the Continent.
    It is of the work done by this contingent of Maoriland alpinists during the past season that I would now, with due modesty, wish to write.
    The ball was opened on November 24 by Messrs Mannering and Dixon with another attempt to reach the summit of Mount Cook. They were joined at the Hermitage by Mr T. C. Fyfe. Mannering was not in the best of form, so it was decided that Fyfe and Dixon should proceed from the hut at the Ball Glacier to the "bivouac," at an elevation of some 7000 ft, on what is known as the Haast Ridge. The greater part of the journey to the bivouac lies up almost vertical rocks or slopes of loose stones with couloirs, or steep, narrow gullies of soft snow, in between. Down these couloirs on a warm day avalanches may be easily started, and care has to be taken in crossing or ascending them. On this occasion the climbers took with them '"ski," or Norwegian snow shoes (pronounced shee). These were some 6' in length and designed for crossing the soft snows of the great plateau which feeds the Hochstetter Icefall. They were all right when they got them on to the plateau, but there was some difficulty in getting them there. To quote Dixon, "It is not easy work getting up to the bivouac, especially if the climber happens to be embarrassed with a 451b swag and four awkward six-feet " ski " lashed on to it in a manner most convenient to catch every overhanging and protruding rock. Swags, and especially " ski," have a nasty habit of getting in the way of things, and it is not reassuring to a nervous amateur to find that just as he is wriggling up over the brink of a 60ft precipice those infernal " ski " have jambed themselves against a rock with sufficient force to almost throw him off his balance." But then Mannering, Dixon, and Fyfe are not nervous amateurs.
    Arrived at the bivouac, the party found the tinned provisions and a piece of cheese that had been exposed to the weather with the rest of the cache since December 1890 quite good. On a former occasion they had to dig their provisions up from underneath several feet of solid ice, but now they were able to get at them without difficulty.
    A few words in description of this bivouac. Under a great stone that overhangs some 3ft 6in is a little flat place 6ft square at its base, around which has been erected a rampart of stones some 15in high. Sitting under this rock you can throw the proverbial biscuit into the couloir on one side and it would slide right down into the Hochstetter Glacier thousands of feet below ; while if you threw it a few yards on your other side it would slide away down a large couloir on the opposite side of the mountain altogether. The position is as exposed as a bivouac could well be. The view is as magnificent as the position is exposed.
    Under this rock, their day's work done, the climbers laid them down. It had been fog and rain alternately all day, and as night settled over their lonely storm exposed bivouac they fully expected to find themselves covered with 6in or 8in of snow in the morning, for the flakes were gently falling as darkness set in. From the bivouac to the plateau there is some very difficult work. You can take your choice of steep rocks or steep snow-slopes. If the snow is in good condition the climber will take to it. If it is soft and unsafe there is nothing for it but a slow and careful climb over the rocks, with considerable difficulty in getting on and off. Fyfe and Dixon, having climbed to the plateau to try the gentle art of " skilobning," returned to the bivouac and thence to the hut. Next day they again ascended to the bivouac — this time in company with Mannering. Half-past 6' found the three climbers making snug for the night, with great clouds rolling up the Tasman Valley at their feet, anon shrouding them in cold and desolate gloom.
    The party arranged to start for the peak at midnight, and at 11.30, to quote Dixon's account, " Mannering, with a banker's preciseness, sounded a reveille on a pannikin, and then turned into his sleeping-bag again, leaving me, a shivering chef, in charge. What was to be done? One man cried aloud for tea, another for Liebig, and the third for desiccated soup, while all three grunted at the vicissitudes of existence under the circumstances. However, by combining Liebig and desiccated soup in a full billy, I have the high compliment paid me of satisfying all three and getting badly smoked into the bargain. At 12.30 we found the snow crisp and hard, and with a bright moon to aid us, thought our prospects of success pretty good. They reached the dome at 4 a.m. The views were glorious. Mount Tasman, in the early morning sun, shone in dazzling splendour. It was a fine sight, hung with hundreds of glaciers, which, from the Linda Glacier and plateau, seemed right overhead. The crevasses,  were much more formidable than on the occasion on which Mannering and Dixon reached their highest point some years ago. There were great, gaping gulches of unknown depth in the ice, I extending right across the glacier from the foot of Mount Tasman to Mount Cook. A very circuitous route had to be taken in consequence, and a lot of time was wasted in hunting for snowbridges over which the crevasses might be crossed. At the corner of the Linda Glacier the ice was broken into enormous séracs, the masses being in places 250 ft high. Lately-fallen snow had covered many of the crevasses, and, as it got softer with the heat of the sun as the day wore on, the members of the party were continually breaking through into the hidden crevasses. The labour of breaking new steps also became excessive, and as Mannering was not feeling very well it was decided to beat a retreat. This was just round the turn of the Linda Glacier, at an elevation of about 9500 ft; but it is doubtful if success could have been attained even if all the party were fit and well, seeing that the mountain was in anything but good condition for climbing. Mannering, in a private letter to me afterwards, mentioned that the mountain was "alive with avalanches," and one, splendid one was seen coming down Mount Tasman. "For a moment," says Dixon in the Alpine Journal, " we did not knew whether to run or not, but on second thoughts we saw that the avalanche had too much level snowfield to cross. On it came under a great square canopy of ice-dust that completely hid everything else from view, till it brought up among the intervening seracs. Sunburnt and disgusted we retraced our steps to the bivouac, and in turn to the Fifth Camp once more, to hide our faces in shame at having been beaten back ignominiously from the face of the monarch of the Southern Alps. So ended another unsuccessful attempt to tread the summit snows of Aorangi, but, if I mistake not, before long — perhaps before these lines are in print — the conquest of Aorangi will be chronicled.
    Some few years ago, during one of my visits to the Mount Cook district, having a day to spare, I started off alone on an expedition on the Sealy Range. I had climbed about 6000 ft when I was surprised to see on the rocks above me another solitary climber. Aloud jodel quickly arrested his attention, and in a few minutes I was with him. He proved to be a young fellow who was then engaged in the construction of the additions to the Hermitage— Mr T. C. Fyfe, of Timaru — and that he loved the mountains for their own sake was proved by the fact that, while his companions were spending an idle day in the valley below, he had gone a-mountain scrambling by himself. I invited him to share my company and my lunch, and together we started off' in the direction of Mount Sealy. He knew nothing of alpine climbing, and I remember I was rather amused at his hesitation in making a traverse of one or two easy snow slopes that we had to cross, and later on at his joy on my introducing him to the mysteries of a standing glissade. Two or three seasons later I had the pleasure of his companionship on two unsuccessful expeditions on Mont De la Bęche, and there and then singled him out as likely with a little practice to develop into a first-class alpine climber. As a rock climber even at that date he could hold his own with most men. Since that date Fyfe has done a good deal of climbing, and his last season's work is a record of which many a crack Swiss climber might well be proud. His first adventure was the ascent of the Footstool, which he successfully accomplished in company with Mr George Graham. The Footstool — a peak of 9,073ft — is generally regarded as a part of Mount Sefton, though it is really a distinct peak, there being a well-marked gap intervening between it and the peak proper of Sefton. A recent fall of snow had left the mountain in rather difficult trim for climbing, but on the evening of January 30, their time being limited, the two mountaineers decided to make an attempt, and everything was got in readiness for an early start on the following morning. They left the Hermitage at 3 a.m., and crossed the Mueller Glacier just as the first streak of dawn appeared. Striking up the bed of a mountain torrent that issues from the Tewaewae Glacier, good foothold was found on the water- worn rocks as far as the "snout" of the Tewaewae Glacier. From that point to the first snow-slope they proceeded up very steep rock slopes, and at 7 a.m. the dome that caps the spur was reached. At this point the full glare of the morning sun was met. The climbers halted for a few minutes silent admiration of Aorangi, which, bathed in the rosy light of morn, must have been a splendid sight.
    The rope was now put on and an advance made up a fairly steep snow slope. The snow at first was in good order, but soon got patchy, soft snow alternating every few yards with glazed ice where the wind had been at work. However, good progress was made for half an hour, and then the way was barred by several wide schrunds, which in December Fyfe had crossed without difficulty. Now it was only with much zigzagging and consequent loss of time that they got over. Their plan was to follow up the eastern arete to the height of the saddle immediately below the peak, then cross over to the saddle and skirt along to the northern arete, up which they were to make the final assault. A reconnaisance made from Mount Wakefield, on the opposite range, led to the conclusion that the eastern arete (or ridge) was quite practicable, the rocks jutting out at irregular intervals with stretches of snow between. On tackling this rock, however, it was found to be very rotten. It crumbled away at the slightest touch, and as progress was impossible without dislodging splinters of rock the climbers had to keep as close together as possible. The higher they got the worse the rock became, until at last they had to move with the utmost caution.    
    A few hundred feet farther they were suddenly brought to a full stop by the ridge, which became so sharp and rotten that it would have been rash to have attempted proceeding farther in that direction. At this point there was an almost vertical drop of 300 ft on either side, so that a direct descent to the glaciers was impracticable. A council of war was held, with the result that the climbers decided to retrace their steps, descend to the Eugenic Glacier, and endeavour to reach a steep snow slope that would take them on to the arete again, above the worst of the rock. Accordingly they descended some 700 ft, experiencing a nasty bit of rock-work in a "chimney," and then they again started to ascend, keeping well away from the arete, as the melting of the fresh snow was bringing the stones down in volleys. The glacier was much broken, and some rather risky jumps had to be made over sérac ice.
    Here a slight mishap, which might have seriously affected the results of the expedition, occurred. Owing to the jolting caused by jumping from one ice block to another, the straps of the rucksack became detached, and the provisions started off on a headlong career down the slope — some into and some just on the verge oŁ a crevasse. At last the end of the snow slope was reached, but what appeared from above to be a small gap in the rock proved to be really an overhanging face 15ft high. To make matters worse, the snow from above began to avalanche. Crouching underneath the face, it poured right over their heads with a roar, completely filling a schrund a few feet lower. Once more baffled, they beat a hasty retreat to a place of safety.
    The only possible chance now, and that a remote one, was to scale the almost perpendicular side of the arete, and regain its ridge. To get up looked possible, but the coming down would be far more difficult. For a few minutes they wavered, then without a word started to climb upwards. Owing to the steepness of the face they were now perfectly safe from falling stones. The face was fully 200 ft high, and it was a good hour's careful climb before they again stood on the ridge. The arete from here was just climbable — soft powdery snow filling up the hollows between the rocks— and into this they sometimes sank up to the waist. Keeping on the ridge of the arete, the worst of the rocks were at last left behind, the tops widening out and being covered with fine scree. They now pushed up to a height equal to that of the saddle, and then decided to traverse. The most serious obstacle to this was a couloir, down which the snow threatened to avalanche. It was covered to a depth of 2ft by a coating of snow, through which they had to cut right into the clear ice below. Graham anchoring, Fyfe started cutting steps across. The couloir was so steep that the back of the steps had to be cut fully 18in into the clear ice. When they were almost across, the whole of the snow lying below went avalanching off with a hiss, completely baring the slope. The snow above luckily held.
    Plying the axe steadily, the other side was reached in safety, and they were soon making good progress over a basin that lay between them and the saddle. The sight as they topped the crest was one to be long remembered. To the right towered Aorangi, with its hanging glaciers gloriously shining in the noonday sun. Below lay the Copland, a tributary of the Karangarua river, at the mouth of which could be distinguished the white line of breakers rolling shoreward.
    Descending a few hundred feet on the western side, they skirted along until the northern arete was reached, and, when within 500 ft of the summit, the rock became very bad again, falling in masses at their touch. One piece came whizzing down and struck Graham on the head, inflicting a nasty wound. The blow was a severe one, and Fyfe was doubtful if he could proceed any farther ; but, pulling himself together, Graham said that he was quite capable of doing the remainder ; so upward they climbed.
    The rock was now terribly bad, and had they not been so near the top they would most certainly have turned back. The final pinch was very steep, but at last their efforts were rewarded, and after 11 hours' steady climbing they stood on the top. So sharp was the ridge that had there been any wind it would have been impossible for them to have stood upright. The view was one that baffled description ; but the view of the peak of Sefton — a sheer rock face of over 2000ft — was startling in its majesty.
    " Clustering around," writes Mr Fyfe, " and sunk into comparative insignificance by the majestic Aorangi, were Mount Stokes, Mount Darnpier, St. David's Dome, and the beautiful Silberhorn of Tasman just peeping out from behind. Over the Mount Cook Range could be seen the whole of the Malte Brun, and part of the Liebig Range, the Hochstetter Dome, and peaks innumerable at the head of the Murchison Glacier. Looking east were Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, with the Grampians away in the far background. Southward the view was unbounded, maze of crevasses intervened. Fyfe was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that he had failed, when ho conceived the idea of scaling the peak right up the vertical-looking fare in front of him.
    Accordingly he prepared to put his plan into execution. Descending a snow slope for a few hundred feet he reached a small schrund, but with a heavy stone in either hand to assist him, he made a standing spring and landed safely on the soft snow on the other side. Crossing the snow basin below, some crevasses were met with, but these were first tested, the climber making use of his axe, stuck in the snow, and the rope, which was passed round the head of the axe twice. A narrow snow gully promised easy access to the rocks, but, as it was raked with falling stones, it was deemed wise to keep to the rocks to the north of this couloir. A gap between the snow and the rocks, however, prevented this, so there was nothing for it but to chance the couloir and leave it as soon as possible. At the first schrund this was done, a safe place being found under an overhanging face of rock. The summit was still over 1000 ft above. At this stage Fyfe removed his boots and put on rubber-soled shoes, which gave him a good hold, and but for which he states the peak would still be unclimbed.
    It was now real hand and foot climbing, and a mistake would have been fatal. The rock-work afforded great variety, and in one place a stratum of very rotten slate running ward route, he kept more to the left, but found himself in difficulties. Twice he had to pass the rope over projecting rocks and lower himself over faces where a slip would have landed him on the Darwin Glacier, 1000 ft below.
    When the slaty rock was reached he kept still more to the left, and struck the couloir just where the snow commenced. Seven hundred feet from the foot lie heard an ominous sound, like the report of firearms, and knew he was in danger. Casting one glance behind, he saw some rocks starting to come right down from the summit of the couloir. His only chance lay in reaching the foot sooner than the rocks. At the foot the soft snow would stop them. The couloir was steep, the snow hard, and by lying flat on his back he went down as if falling through air. The small schrunds he does not remember crossing at all, as it was impossible to keep his eyes open. At the bottom he got quickly to his feet, turning round just in time to see a whole shower of small stones bury themselves in the snow, and one or two larger pieces roll right to his feet.
    The rest of the descent was easy, and some fine glissading was got by keeping more to the right. The Tasman Glacier was reached at 8.50 p.m., only two hours and twenty-five minutes from the top. The rest of the way was simply a toil down the glacier, the bivouac being reached at 5.5 p.m.... 

Reference: Papers Past Images online.


Jack Adamson, 1866-1951
Pioneer alpine photographer at Mt Cook in the early 20th century - 2007.
His photos are at the South Canterbury Museum in Timaru. Adamson was the manager at the Hermitage in the early 1890s was to become the first born New Zealand guide, taking people on one day or overnight expeditions and glacier walks in the Mount Cook area. Swiss guide, Matthias Zurbriggen, made the second ascent on 14 March 1895 from the Tasman Glacier side, via the ridge that now bears his name. This is credited as the first solo ascent, although Zurbriggen was accompanied part of the way up the ridge by J. Adamson. 
Timeframes - Ball Hut, ready to climb, mountaineers
George Graham with photographer Moodie and Adamson Muir probably took the photo. A.C. Graham collection

THE SPIRIT OF MOUNTAINEERING — JACK ADAMSON By Mary Hobbs — photographs by Jack Adamson. Mary  Mary Married Charlie Hobbs who has been a mountain guide at Aoraki-Mt Cook for 25 years, they live at Aoraki-Mt Cook. Jack's rare collection of photographs mainly in the Mount Cook National Park and Westland region in the latter half of the 19th Century are presented in this 150-page publication. This book is the first in a series of four classic volumes on mountain guides in the Aoraki-Mt Cook region published by Mary Hobbs.

The History of New Zealand Mountaineering has photos from the collection of mountain guide Jack Adamson.

Evening Post, 6 December 1910, Page 3 ASCENT OF MOUNT COOK BY A LADY.
Timaru, 5th December. Miss De Faur, an Australian lady. accompanied by two guides, returned yesterday to the Hermitage, after achieving the ascent of Mount Cook. Miss De Faur is the first lady to conquer this mountain. She made the ascent in 6 hours 20 minutes the bivouac.

Poverty Bay Herald, 5 February 1918, Page 4
The ascent of Mount Cook, from the Hooker side, has just been made by Miss Lorimer, lady principal of the Girls' College. Nelson, and Mr. H. A. Hall, of Auckland, with Chief Guide Graham and Guide Young.


ZURBRIGGEN RIDGE
The Zurbriggen Ridge is infamous as one of the hardest parts of the Mt Cook ascent. The ridge is named after Mattias Zurbriggen (1856-1917), an acclaimed pioneer mountain guide who, in 1895, was the first to climb it as part of the first successful solo ascent of Mt Cook. As of Dec. 2012 it is reported to have claimed nine lives. The most recent was in 2008 when Perth doctor Mark Vinar, 43, fell from high on the ridge as he and his brother Miles tried to retreat from the mountain in the face of bad weather. Vinar fell 500m down the same ice cliff that yesterday's climbers tumbled down and landed in an area scarred by crevasses. Miles Vinar, 42, then spent another two nights waiting for rescue and said later he thought he, too, would die, having to dig himself out of snow drifts threatening to entomb him. His brother's body has never been found. In 2003, Japanese climber Hiroshi Kai, 53, died after he fell in an attempt up the Zurbriggen Ridge. Later that year the bones, boots and an ice axe, the only remains of another climber, were found. They were believed to have lain at the base of Mt Cook for up to 20 years. In 1998, Ivo Kuban, 20, from the Czech Republic, fell 700m to his death from the ridge. Five others are also recorded as dying on the ridge.

9 January 1906  - The first traverse of Mt Cook was made by a party led by guide Peter GRAHAM who, with his brother Alex, were New Zealand’s most famous early mountain guides. Coincidentally, among the party that first scaled Mt Cook on Christmas Day 1894 was another GRAHAM – George, a chemist from Waimate.

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project