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Going guided: Ball Pass Summit Trek

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June 2020 Issue

With glacier crossings, icy summits and circling kea, the Ball Pass Summit Trek is a spectacular first taste of mountaineering in New Zealand’s highest national park.

Using a guide is the best way to take your tramping up a notch – or several in the case of a trip to Caroline Hut in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

For a start, you’d struggle to find a more impressive abode than Caroline Hut. Perched on the slopes of Ball Ridge, it sits beneath the expressive Caroline Face of Aoraki, a dramatic wall that groans and creaks as lumps of ice tumble from its lofty heights.

“I’ve seen kids sitting there for hours counting the ice avalanches,” says Alpine Recreation general manager Axel Reiser.

At 1800m, getting to Caroline Hut is no picnic for the legs, but on a trek which often surpasses 2000m, it’s not even the high point of the Ball Pass Summit Trek.

“A lot of our clients totally underestimate how high it is,” Reiser says. “Americans think 2000m is sub-alpine terrain, but not in New Zealand.”

Experienced tramper and climber Sheena Denmead, who enjoyed the trip earlier this year, says it’s a good transitional trek for trampers looking to break into mountaineering.

“It’s not benign, but in good conditions it’s a great trip for beginner or intermediate level trampers,” she says. “The terrain isn’t so terrifying, so you’re not worried – you can just focus on learning how to crampon and rope up.”

Blessed with clear night skies and a full moon, Denmead got to take in the views day and night during her trip.

“You really feel like you’re high up,  and it’s spectacular being so close to Aoraki/Mt Cook,” she says. “At night, you could still see the Caroline Face   and the icefall – it was quite dramatic.”

Reiner says the most important prerequisite for the trek is fitness and a good understanding of New Zealand’s rough terrain.

“There’s no trail – it’s not something you can just follow like in European or Himalayan destinations where the trails are centuries old,” he says. “It’s also within a very achievable distance, but it feels remote.”

Where Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
Who Alpine Recreation, www.alpinerecreation.com
When November-April
Duration Three days
Price From $1240