A tramper’s peak near the Cloud Piercer
Boasting New Zealand’s highest peaks, expansive skies, turquoise lakes, dynamic glaciers and braided rivers, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is a mecca for climbers wishing to scale high mountains. But with many short, easy walking trails, most people, even with very limited outdoor skills, can experience the grandeur and majesty of this national park.
For those who want something more than the popular tourist walks, but lack mountaineering skills, an ascent of Sebastopol provides trampers with the chance to stand atop a mountain in the shadow of Aoraki/Mt Cook – the cloud piercer. At 1468m, Sebastopol is not a huge peak by Aoraki standards but it’s a satisfying climb with the reward of spectacular panoramic views.
The route initially follows the Red Tarns Track, which starts at Mt Cook Village shelter. This well-formed track, with hundreds of steps, climbs steeply to the Red Tarns, a popular destination in its own right. Continue on to the next terrace to the McNulty Tarns by following the rough track up the scrubby ridge to the east or the trail through the scree (which is probably a better descent route). From here, there is further steep climbing up tussock, scrub and scree-covered slopes, following an unmarked but obvious track (when not snow-covered).
Higher up, a more distinct narrow rocky ridge forms with the odd scramble required. The summit is quickly gained after a brief dip to a saddle between two high points.
The views are, quite simply, superb. To the north are the high snow and ice covered peaks, extending from Mt Sefton around to Aoraki, and then further west to the mountains at the head of the Tasman and Murchison glaciers.
To the south, the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki stretch into the distance. Despite having climbed 700m and being rewarded with such outstanding views, the summit of Sebastopol is still dwarfed by the backdrop of the Sealy Range. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that in this park, a summit of nearly 1500m is merely a bump on a ridge.