Mount Cook - near ascent 1882

The party got to within twenty feet of the summit before being forced to turn back

Mount Cook 1986
Mt Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain at 3724m (GPS 2014) (12,217.8ft). The discrepancy between the old height of 3754m (estimated from aerial photography immediately following a massive rock-ice collapse on December 14, 1991) and the new height of 3724m can be explained by a two-decades long reshaping process affecting the remnant of the originally thick ice cap.  The mountain lost 30 metres in 1991.   Mt Tasman, which, at 3497m (11,473.1ft) high, remains New Zealand's second highest mountain. 25 peaks over 3000m. Photo above taken in 1986 by me.

"The three stood stern and silent and looked upon their foes" the giant peaks and frozen glistening slopes from sunset to sunrise 2000ft. below the summit.

The newspapers of the day reported the venture by Rev. Green (1847-1919) as a success but later history books record the party was nearly the first to climb to the summit of Mt. Cook being 50 metres short. Green was an artist.

The Star Monday March 13 1882 page 3
Reference: Papers Past Images online.

The Alpine Tourists Successful Ascent of Mount Cook

Timaru, March 12,
The Alpine Tourists, comprising the Rev. W.H. Green and two Swiss guides, returned to Timaru on Saturday night, after successfully ascending Mount Cook. Two unsuccessful attempts were made. For the third attempt a bivouac was made at an altitude of 7000 ft., nearly under the peak, and the party started at 6 a.m., on March 2, travelling on ice the whole distance. The ascent was made longer by numerous detours that were required to avoid the tracks of almost incessant avalanches. The party reached the summit at 6.20 p.m.  It was impossible to return to their bivouac that night, and they stood on a narrow ledge 2000ft below the summit all night, wet through, and without food. They descended safely the next morning, and reached their camp at 7 p.m., having been on their feet 37 hours, and the last 22 hours without food. They set out for Timaru, and arrives safely. The ascent is not very difficult as far as climbing is concerned, but it is extremely dangerous on account of the almost incessant avalanches which roll down the side of the mountain.  The weather was unfortunately cloudy, so that no view as obtained from the summit. Mr Green's time is limited, or he would have ascended some other peaks, which he considers could be easily done. Mr Green proceeds to Christchurch tomorrow, and Home by the next Orient steamer.

The Star Friday March 3 1882 
The Alpine Tourists start out from Timaru by train to Albury.

A correspondent writing to us from the Lake Tekapo district says that nothing has been heard of the Alpine Tourists since Mr Barclay left them. The party appear to have had a narrow escape in crossing the Tasman river, in the bed of which their waggonette yet remains. [Green had to purchase the waggoneete at Albury instead of hiring one from John Hinkley, the hotel-keeper, as Hinkley wouldn't hire it out, as he realised that a buggy had already been driven to the vicinity of the Tasman Glacier but it never came back'.] The tourists, it will be remembered, were sanguine that they would succeed in scaling Mount Cook. Old and experienced McKenzie country shepherds laugh at the idea as widely absurd; but they, it must be remembered, can scarcely be acquainted with the methods adopted in surmounting alpine obstacles. Upon the whole, the weather has been favourable; though on Saturday after the tourists commenced their ascent there was a severe snowstorm; and it was bitterly cold. 

The Star Tuesday March 7 1882
The Alpine Tourists and the Country they are exploring. 

There is something bold and attractive about an expedition such as that undertaken by the Rev. W.S. Green and party. Mount Cook is the highest peak in Australasian, and hitherto untrodden by the foot of man. The difficulty of climbing a mountain cannot be judged by its mere altitude. Mount Cook, great as is its height, is almost a pigmy in comparison with some other peaks which have been ascended by members of the Alpine Club, but only those who have stood at the base of its ghastly precipices can form any idea of the immense difficulties which must be overcome before the summit can be reached. 
    Some time has elapsed since Mr Green left Christchurch. Whoever attempts to reach the summit of Mount Cook, must, for a considerable period, go outside the reach of all communication with the civilised world. 
    Mr Green and party arrived at Birch Hill station on Feb. 13. The following day they forded the dangerous Hooker river, under the guidance of Mr George Sutherland, manager of Birch Hill, and pitched their camp on the Tasman glacier. The next day was spent in taking a sort of preliminary view of the difficulties to be overcome, and in deciding upon a plan of operations. To ascend the mountain from the nearest point of access, that is the spur which divides the Hooker and the Tasman, was impossible, on account of a perpendicular wall of rock, and it was decided to fellow up the Tasman glacier and approach the peak from what is called the saddle.  The second day after pitching camp, cloudy weather set in, and nothing could be done for three successive days. The weather then clearing, a start was made, the party taking with them all the appliances necessary, and a stock of provisions at the head camp. After that nothing was heard from them for over a week, when Mr Sutherland visiting the head camp, found a written note by Mr Boss stating that they were encamped five days' journey from there, and had been compelled to return for provisions. Their intention was to get their camp within such a distance of the summit as to enable them to complete the ascent in one day and return to the camp. They calculated upon having to cut many hundreds of steps in the ice, so that it need hardly be said that the work is tedious and dangerous in the extreme. They carry tools fashioned at one end somewhat in the form of a small adze, and at the back of the adze, crosswise with the shaft terminates in a spike used principally in descending. The moraines of the Tasman glacier are described by the tourists as far exceeding in roughness anything which they have experienced. An infinite amount of toil has to be undergone before the ascent  proper can begun. In the note left by Mr Boss it stated that they expected to attempt the peak on the Wednesday following. This is all that is known till Mr Green himself returns.

The Star Monday March 13 1882
A week later.

The party camped at the foot of the Tasman glacier.  The camp arranged, and the stores secured from the weather, a day or two was spent in reconnoitering, and it became apparent that the camp was too far away from Mount Cook proper, and the intervening ground was so terribly rough that this camp could not be successfully used as a base of operations.  It was decided to move the camp as far as possible up the glacier and the carrying into effect of this decision involved some of the hardest work of the whole trip.  The route lay along the lateral moraine of the Tasman glacier, alternating through scrub on the side of the upper spur so dense that a person unencumbered with a load should scarcely make headway through it, and over boulders and angular fragments of rocks, varying in size from that of a sheep to that of a cottage.  The traveller needs to be sure footed as a chamois and to have the grip of a vice to save himself from slips and falls.  The distance through which the camp was shifted was short reckoned in miles, but owing to roughness of the ground, four days were consumed in doing it.  The plan adopted was to shift the whole of the material taken as far as possible in one day, and there camp for the night.  The guides practically made two trips each day between camping places.  The stores and camp equipages were made up in five packs, of which Mr Green took one, and the guides two each; the latter carried one of their pair of packs some distance, and there set it down, and went back for the other, and so on throughout the day.  Three wet days were experienced while making the transfer thus a week was spent shifting camp.  This was finally pitched in the angle formed by the junction of a large glacier from the left with the Tasman glacier. 

On 25 February an attempt was made to the southern ridge - the one which the traveller approaching the mountain from the Tasman Valley - but inaccessible precipices were met with, and the attempt by this spur had to be given up.  On the 27th the party, heavily laden as on the previous day with necessaries for a bivouac, made there way to a height of 8000 feet, by the eastern spur, and then met obstacles that could neither be surmounted not turned, and after a hard day's climbing they returned to camp, which they reached by moonlight after an absence of seventeen hours.  A rest was required after this day's toil, and the next day was spent in preparing for an attempt to reach the northern ridge. 

On 1st March they moved up the glacier, taking four day's provisions, a waterproof sheet, blankets, &c. and camped that night at the foot of mount Tasman, at an altitude of 7000 feet above the sea. At 6 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd, in beautiful weather, a start was made for the northern ridge, taking some provisions for the day, and the camera being carried with them.  The journey was slow, even over the first portion of the glacier, as it was thickly crevassed.  As the peak was approached, to the danger from crevasses were added that of continual avalanches.  Hanging glaciers presented themselves in nearly every hallow from which masses if ice were almost continually falling. To avoid these avalanche lines was the greatest difficulty of the ascent.  About four in the afternoon they were still a considerable distance from the summit, and it was plain that if they went any further up the mountain they would be unable to regain their bivouac that night.  The question was debated and it was decided to proceed.  Upwards they slowly made their way, Kaufman cutting steps in the ice until his hands were black with blisters.  The weather became dull and moist, and thaw set in.  Though slow, their progress was steady, and at 6.20 pm they stood upon the summit of the main peak, only a small hump  short distance away standing higher than the spot they occupied. The air was now full of clouds, and as nothing could be seen the descent was commenced, not more than ten minutes being spent near the top.
    After descending 2000ft the darkness of the night was coming in, and it was deemed prudent to accept the first shelter that offered itself.  A rock protecting through the ice cap was near, and steps were cut from their upward track to this. The snow collected at the foot of the rock was scraped away, and here, on a ledge only a few inches wide, too narrow to sit upon, with the ice sheet stretching thousands of feet sheer beneath them, the party passed the night, stamping their feet and beating their hands to keep them warm, each watching that his follows did not go to sleep or slip meant destruction to the whole party. The night was a dreary one.  The moon was at full, but heavy clouds obscured it.  Rain fell almost constantly through the night, but from this they were sheltered by the rock, except when the wind, as it frequently did, swirl round their insufficient shelter.  The hours passed slowly.  The party wet, and weary, and hungry, but they patiently counted the hours till midnight, and then congratulated themselves that half the term of their imprisonment was over.  Their hunger they appeased, or fancied they did so, by sucking each three of Brand's meat lozenges, which are about the size of a four-penny piece and a quarter of an inch thick.  The descent resumed at sunrise, and in three hours the bivouac on Mount Tasman was safely reached.  The track made by the party in the snow in ascending was found next morning to have been obliterated by avalanches that fell during the night.

The descent to the bivouac accomplished, the party proceeded at once down the glacier to their camp, which they reached at 7 p.m. They had thus been 37 hours on their feet, from 6 a.m. on the 2nd to 7 p.m. on the 3rd, most of the time wet through, and the last 22 hours without food.  They enjoyed a well-earned day's rest at the camp, and packed up and descended to the foot of the glacier. There they waited two days for the horses, which it had been arranged should take them away on the day they got down.  The horses not appearing and their provisions running short, the party started for Birch Hill station, and had just forded the rough and dangerous Hooker by tying together and using their ice axes as supports when they saw the horses going up the opposite side, having crossed at a lower point.  The mountaineers and the horses must have been in the water at the same time.  The attention of the man in charge of the horses being obtained by lighting a fire, arrangements were soon made for packing the camp equipage to Burnett's station, and thence the party drove to Lake Tekapo on Friday evening, reaching Timaru Saturday evening.

The Star Wednesday 15 March 1882
Welcome at Christchurch

A dinner was given to the Rev. Mr Green and his party at the Coker's Hotel last night. There were some thirty gentlemen present. Mr Green suggested the formation of an Alpine Club. 

     "Vini, vindi, vinci," Hats off, gentlemen, the three conquerors of Mount Cook! Hurrah! for Mr Green; Hoch! for Emil Boss, the guide; and Dreimal Hoch! for his bold comrade, Kaufmann. Their return from successful and perilous adventures upon the ice-clad slope, and giddy precipices of the monarch of our New Zealand mountains, has safely been accomplished. Skill, pluck, and perseverance, marching had in hand with long experiences have helped them to triumph in their task; and the feat of being the first to stand upon the summit of the highest peak in New Zealand, belong to these three travellers from the Old World.
        Listening last night to Mr Green's matter of fact recital of how it was done - if I was alert and vigorous -would do the same- "would take a ticket for Albury tomorrow and fetch back the handkerchief from the lone cairn up among the clouds ere the week had gone about.
    Mr Green's advise was to learn the art by slow degrees, thoroughly and cautiously. So shall there be no bones of young Canterbury men bleaching in the frozen breast of a Tasman or Hooker glacier, and no mothers, waiting for the home-coming of sons that return not.

The Star Thursday 16 March 1882. 
Photo

A photographic group of the Rev W. S. Green and his guides has been taken by Messrs E. Wheeler and Son, of Cathedral square, Christchurch. The adventures are attired as when they performed their perilous ascent, with ice axes in their hands, and coils of rope round their shoulders. Mr Green is represented in a sitting posture, with the Oberland guide Herr Ulrich Kaufmann standing on his right and Herr Emil Boss on his left. The picture is remarkably well taken, and the likenesses are said to be very good.

The Star Thursday 16 March.
Home

The Rev W. S. Green and his Swiss guides, Messrs Boss and Kaufman, leave Christchurch by the 8.15 train to-morrow (Friday Morning), on their way to Europe. [Green headed to Dunedin and then to Queenstown hoping to climbed Mt. Earnslaw but heavy rain and westerly winds prevented any climbing and on March 21 he sailed home.  In 1888 Green conquered peaks in the Selkirks Range in the Canadian Rockies. From 1889 to 1914 he was an Irish Government Inspector of Fisheries. He died 22 April 1919.]

Otago Daily Times 25 March 1882
Queenstown, March 21.
Mr Green and his Swiss guides, accompanied by Mr Hodgkins, made a special trip to the head of the lake on Sunday, and yesterday ascended Mount Earnslaw about 4000 feet, and where unable to do or see much on account of the weather. Mr Green being unable to stay left this afternoon for Kingston.

S.S. Mountaineer is at the Kinloch wharf. On the other side of the lake, just on the water's edge, the few houses are seen which constitute Glenorchy, Birley's Hotel appearing on the left. The mountains rising behind Glenorchy are part of the Richardson Range, the highest point being known as Stone Peak. This craft has had a long and honourable career on Lake Wakatipu (1879 -1911), carrying passengers between Kingston, Queenstown, Kinloch, and Glenorchy. (There is another photo of the "Mountaineer"  in the Otago Witness Dec. 5 1900 page 99.)

The Evening Post Monday 1st Dec. 1902 pg4
The Wakatipu Steam Service.
Sir Joseph Ward at Queenstown on Saturday made a long public statement in vindication of the act of the Government in making a conditional purchase of the ships and business of the Lake Wakatipu Steamship Company. The Wakatipu Lake steamers may be slow, but the tourists whom the Minister professes a desire to cater for do not want to go at express speed across the lake - rather would they desire to go leisurely, that they might have time to appreciate the manifold beauties of the scene.

Rev. William Spotswood Green, a member of the English Alpine Club, recorded his adventure in his book The High Alps of New Zealand or, a Trip to the Glaciers of the Antipodes with an Ascent of Mount Cook. London: Macmillan, 1883. 350 pp, + 32 pages advertisements (publisher's booklist), 4 maps (1 folding). 2 maps, original red cloth, "Green's uncompleted ascent of Mount Cook, by a route which was not finished until many years later, marks the start of high alpine climbing in New Zealand."  The first NZ mountaineering book.  A facsimile of the 1883 edition was published by Capper Press, Christchurch 1976.

Green named the Linda Glacier between Cook and Tasman after his wife. Their daughter is Belinda. She donated some of his paintings to the Alexander Turnbull Library. The Ball Glacier was named by Green after the John Ball second president of the English Alpine Club.

The giant's head is some 12,350 feet above the sea level. The observations were taken from some eighteen different points by, I believe, Mr Mueller, the Government Geologist of Westland, and may be safely be relied on as being as near as possible absolutely correct. 

Timaru Herald Monday 14 October 1889 pg3
Survey of the Glaciers

Timaru Herald Tuesday 15 October 1889 pg
Mr Brodrick, surveyor, on his survey of the Mueller and Hooker Glaciers. Error corrected. The movement of the Hooker glacier, near the foot, was from 12 am on April 4 to 8 am on the 7th, at a line of stakes from west to east:-
No. 1       3.3 inches
No. 2       8.2 inches
No. 3     12 0 inches
No. 4     15.4 inches
No. 5     12.8 inches

"Not everybody wants to hang off ropes at night climbing Mt Cook." 
Miss Clark, PM 10 Sept. 2003.

Otago Witness 22nd April 1876 pg12
Lake Wakatipu
The Antrim, p.s., leaves Queenstown every Tuesday for Kingston, returning the same day. Every Wednesday and Friday for head of the Lake, and intermediate stations, returning following days.
The Jane Williams, s.s., leaves Queenstown every Friday for Kingston, returning the same day and leaves same place every Saturday for head of Lake, and returns on Monday.
The screw-yacht Venus leaves Queenstown every Monday and Thursday for Kingston and returns the same evening with the railway and coach passengers from Invercargill, should they arrive in time.

Evening Post, 19 March 1897, Page 2
Particulars of another of the adventurous exploring trips for which those two well known mountaineers Messrs. Malcolm Boss and Fyfe are so famous, are furnished to the Christchurch Press by Mr. Ross, who, with Mrs. Ross, returned to Timaru from Mount Cook on Friday last. After a preliminary canter consisting of the climbing of four of the principal peaks in the Southern Alps, each over 10,000 ft high, Messrs. Ross and Fyfe decided to cross from Mount Cook Hermitage to the West Coast over one of the high Alpine passes to the Coast. The chosen route was via the great Tasman Glacier and the left-hand branch of the Wataroa River. Leaving the Hermitage on a Thursday afternoon, the explorers spent the first night at the Bell Glacier hut [sic]. Next day they proceeded some miles up the Tasman and bivouacked in their sleeping bags at an altitude of 5000 ft. Starting on Saturday at 2 a.m., they climbed for three hours by moonlight, and reached the Lendenfeld saddle at sunrise. Here the explorers found in front of them a most serious difficulty. The Whymper Glacier fell away in a series of steep crags and ice-falls for some 4000ft; this face had to be descended ; the rocks were very rotten, and there was a very broken ice-fall through which the explorers had to thread their way, and an avalanche shoot 1000 ft in height which also had to be tackled. To the accompaniment of avalanches from one of the rock glaciers on the right, and rock avalanches from the-summit of the Hochstetter Dome, 5000 ft to the glacier below, the climbers descended the great ice-fall, but on a route being taken down the Whymper Glacier progress was, found to be barred by great crevasses, stretching the full width of the glacier. Turning back the explorers took to a rock ridge, which the found starred with yellow ranunculi in full blossom. The lower portion of the hitherto unexplored "Whymper Glacier was found to be most interesting, the river issuing from a fine cave at the foot of a high cliff of ice. After 16 hours, of work the explorers camped a few miles down the river. Next day numerous hot springs, emitting strong smells, were discovered in the upper reaches of the Wataroa River. That night an old wound in Mr. Fyfe's leg re-opened owing to the rough, travelling, and after various other trying experiences, such as fording a swollen river and being reduced to the last of their provisions, Messrs. Boss and Fyfe reached the township of Rohutu. Here Mr. Fyfe's leg required medical assistance, and after a few days' rest he rode to Hokitika, where some pieces of bone had to be removed from the injured member. Mr. Ross then proceeded southward some forty miles to the Karangarua river, and returned to the Hermitage via Fitzgerald's Pass. He crossed the Pass alone, this being the first crossing from the West Coast.
    Of the beauty and grandeur of the scenery of the Upper Wataroa Mr. Ross speaks in glowing terms. The western slope of the Alps he found generally finer and of more variety than the better known eastern slope. That the West Coast portion of country explored by Mr. Fyfe and himself is not more opened up for tourists he thinks a great pity. If proper roads and tracks were made and facilities for travel generally increased, he feels sure that in a very few years thousands of Australians and others would be attracted to it. The pass over which he and Mr. Fyfe went is, he admits, of no use for tourists' traffic. There is no reason, however, why the very fine scenery of the Upper Wataroa should not be opened up by tracks from the other tide to the foot of the Whymper Glacier. Fitzgerald's Pass, on the other hand, he regards us decidedly the best pass in all the Alps for tourists visiting Mount Cook. It can be crossed in two places without touching either snow or ice. But even were the track to go across one of the small snowfields near the summit this would not prove a serious obstacle, but rather a pleasant variation of route. Indeed, on the western side mules could be taken right to the summit, and a track could be made on the eastern side that would take the tourist very near the top of the pass, if not quite on to it. An interesting memento of the trip is a fine specimen of quartz, showing coarse gold, found in the high Alps.

Otago Witness, 24 January 1906, Page 32
THE RECENT ASCENT OF MOUNT COOK. TWO OTHER CLIMBS.
Wellington, January 19. Mr Malcolm Ross, who formed one of the party that made the ascent of Mount Cook last week, returned to Wellington this morning. Mr Turner, another member of the party, has gone on to Dunedin. Mr Fyfe is in Timaru, and Mr Graham remains at the Hermitage. Mr Ross says that in addition to "colling" the monarch of New Zealand mountains � i.e., crossing over its peak from, one side to the other, � the party did two other climbs � one a first ascent of a peak of over 8000 ft on the Liebig Range, and the other an ascent to within 300 ft or 400 ft of the summit of Elie de Beaumont, which is 10,200 ft high. In the latter case all the difficulties had been surmounted, and the peak was practically climbed when bad weather made a retreat necessary. Mr Ross states that the party had no difficulty in reaching the summit of Mount Cook in the record time of 13 hours, but the feature of this climb was the descent on the Hooker aide. As to his own share in the work he has nothing to say, but he pays a very high tribute of praise to the other New Zealanders � Messrs T. C. Fyfe and Peter Graham, � to whose many excellent qualities the complete success of such a big undertaking was due. Mr Graham's snowcraft on the ascent, and also on the descent, of the long, steep 2000 ft "couloir," partly in the moonlight, was, he says, a splendid performance, and one that the best Swiss guides might well be proud of. While on the difficult and dangerous rocks on the descent leading from near the Summit to Green's Saddle Mr Fyfe was absolutely brilliant. Mr Ross says he has been in some difficult corners on previous climbs in the Alps with Fyfe, notably on Haidinger (over 10,000ft), and the first and only crossing of the very difficult pass at the head of the great Tasman Glacier, but on this occasion Fyfe excelled himself. Mr Ross generally expresses himself in terms of admiration at the fine performance of these two young New Zealanders.

Mountains all over the world are being eroded by frost, ice and snow.

Gear a pilot always took hunting and when he was mountain flying "Behind his seat was his personal survival kit some good tape in it, a webbing belt containing first-aid gear, a compass, firelighters, personal locator beacon and a water bottle and a warm jacket"

Grey skies and chilling breeze
The drip of falling rain,
A stony path; a lonely hut �
And memories.


The Tasman glacier is the country's largest, at just under 30km long, 600 metres deep in the middle and 1.6km wide.

Mr Gaskin [Search and Rescue] said he always remembered the rescues where people were never found. "Two alpine climbers disappeared on Mt Cook and [one of the men's] uncles flew out from America because he couldn't believe his nephew had disappeared on a 12,000-foot mountain. His face was ashen when he came out of the helicopter. After seeing the terrain he understood."  2010

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