I was finishing a year at Vanda Station in Antarctica in November 1970 when I got the news that Pete Gough and John Glasgow had done the first ascent of the Caroline Face of Mt. Cook Aoraki. This was the hallowed piece de resistance of New Zealand mountaineering and I could not have thought of two better people to take it, than these two. Competition was fierce with Graeme Dingle, George Harris and Murray Jones all eying the unclimbed grueling route, notorious for its spectacular - and deadly- ice avalanches.
The sky turned purple and green when John Glasgow and Peter Gough came down off Mt Cook.It was November 7, 1970, and the pair had become the first to scale the Caroline Face of New Zealand's highest peak, also known as Aoraki
The face had tempted climbers for years. The bodies of John Cousins and Michael Goldsmith, were never recovered after their fatal attempt in 1963.
The mountain had beaten Gough and Glasgow before. The previous year they had aborted a climb, with two others, after a harrowing trip across a crevasse, only to come across a storm.
After that attempt, involving a night-time clamber down a gully, jumping down waterfalls with little idea what was below, they vowed never to climb a mountain again, Glasgow said.
The vow didn't last, and in November 1970 the pair returned.
The crevasse that had hindered their mission the previous year was no longer there.
Gough would say the first day of the two-day climb was the worst, as the face often had avalanches.
The Evening Post would report that the face - "virtually a snow and ice climb" - was one of the greatest climbing challenges in the world.
Its safest route was up a sharp, rocky ridge, but it still had spectacular ice avalanches that could wipe climbers off the mountain, and had done so previously.
They set up a bivouac on a ridge that night, almost 1000 metres from the summit, where Glasgow recalled: "A small avalanche went past 20 to 30 metres below us. You just look at it and hope the big one doesn't come after."
That night was a meal of tins of stew, chocolate, biscuits, and hot drinks.
They survived the night and set out the next morning into the "crux pitch" - a sheer ice climb and reportedly the hardest challenge they would face that day.
But luck and good timing were on their side. A crack they could climb had appeared in the ice face. Ice conditions were ideal, with the sun softening the ice on the surface but leaving firm ice to anchor to beneath.
With people watching through binoculars from below, including some at the Hermitage Hotel, they emerged on to the ice fields, along the ridge of the mountain.
Crossing the field was "like a roof", Glasgow said - ice sheets dropping away on either side with nothing of the mountain visible beneath.
They reached the ridge but never bothered with the nearby summit - that had been done before - then dropped down the west face, an easier descent.
"I remember a degree of relief at getting off it," Glasgow said. "I remember Pete saying, 'You're a bit of an idiot, Glasgow, but it was good to do it with you'."
Approaching the Gardiner Hut - at 1700m on Noeline Rock, above Hooker Glacier - the sun had set and the sky to the south flashed green and purple.
Neither man mentioned the psychedelic sky. "We thought we were just tired," Glasgow said.
What was really playing out as they re-entered civilisation was the natural phenomenon Aurora Australis.
Back at the Hermitage Hotel there was "quite a furore" over their successful climb. The story was splashed across the front pages of newspapers around New Zealand.
An American woman approached the pair at the Hermitage and asked to speak to their manager. They had no manager, so she volunteered for a day.
She bought a stack of copies of The Press and got Glasgow and Gough to sign each one. She sold them for $15 each and gave the two climbers the proceeds.
"That was our one day of having a manager."
In the hype that followed their climb, Glasgow would describe it as a "triumph for hippies".
Both men had beards and long hair, and Glasgow - who would go on to live in a commune near Motueka - was pictured wearing John Lennon-style sunglasses.
"I was using the word in its original sense - someone hip and aware and on to it," Glasgow said.
Both men are still involved in the outdoors. Glasgow is a guide in the Abel Tasman area at the top of the South Island, while Gough was climbing near Las Vegas this week. Thanks to The Dominion Post for permission to use excerpts from their article.
Kia ora Bob,
Good read...cheers! Love the history.
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