Mt Edgar Thomson – Ben Ohau Range – Mt Cook

A solid day trip from Mt Cook, this route ascends the 2379m Mt Edgar Thomson. The lower section of the route ascends up the Hoophorn Valley. There are incipient animal tracks to follow interspersed with some river bashing and tussock slopes. Take a watershed on the true right of the Hoophorn to point 1488. Hopefully skis should be on by here for the skin up to the summit. There are some steeper slopes to ascend and so crampons and an axe might be considered. I would estimate around 7-10 hours return. A good level of fitness and some mountaineering skills would be required.


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Freddie V. wrote “ It’s nice terrain, ‘scenic’ mountain. We went up and down the east ridge. The south face (from birch hill stream) could be good too with the right conditions.”

Here is a post by Joel O’Rourke and Hans Anderson:

On Friday, 21 September, Hans Anderson and I went for a long weekend to ski some mountains in Mount Cook National Park. Friday had a mediocre weather forecast, calling for rain and snow. We chanced that the weather would be better than forecasted and went up and skied Edgar Thompson.

Edgar Thompson is a NZ Grade 2 climb and is easily accessed from the Mount Cook road. A 1.5km 4wd track leads you to a trailhead for continuing up the Birch Hill Stream to climb the south face of the mountain.

Stream-bed walking. Seems to be the start of almost every NZ ski adventure
Stream-bed walking. Seems to be the start of almost every NZ ski adventure

There are several ways of ascending Edgar Thompson with some information online pointing to climbing the north side from the Hoophorn and ascending the ridgeline to the summit. This is possible and I attempted to do this last year but it has a few flaws; it’s a lot of walking up dry-mountain sides; takes a long time; limits the skiing. So, this time, Hans and I ascended the south face directly from Birch Hill Stream.

Edgar Thompson Birch Hill Stream route

Once we made it the bottom of the ‘access couloir’ onto the snow benches, the climbing was quick and we put our skins on as soon as possible and skinned the whole rest of the way to the summit. Snow conditions were moist with up to 50cm settled new snow from the storm several days beforehand. Clouds were in and out with mostly clear skies to our south.

Hans glad to be on skis upon reaching the snow benches
Joel skinning up Edgar Thompson

Once we ascended to the bench under the summit slope the rest of the climb lay before us. A steep skin track veering to the lookers right side and wrapping around got us to the summit pretty quickly.

Hans skinning towards the summit slope

Reaching the summit, the clouds were back sitting on the upper 50m and we had to wait a little for a decent clearing to appear to ski down.

Hans on the summit and in the cloud

The skiing down the summit slope was awesome, with confidence-inspiring snow conditions you could rip down the steep slope.

Hans skiing the summit slope on Mt Edgar Thompson
Hans skiing the summit slope on Mt Edgar Thompson
Edgar Thompson (Joel) (7 of 11)
Edgar Thompson (Joel) (6 of 11)
Edgar Thompson (Joel) (10 of 11)
Hans skiing upper portion of Edgar Thompson

Below the summit slope, the skiing was still great, but getting heavier.

Hans skiing the mid-section of Edgar Thompson

Video – Joel skiing down Edgar Thompson snow benches

As we reached the lower portions of the slope, between elevation bands 1700-1500m, the snow was in the perfect conditions for wet-loose avalanches and you needed to be wary of not skiing fall-line for too long, lest your loose-wet ‘tail’ catch up to you.

Joel skiing with the Loose Wet snow chasing

Below 1500m there was less new snow and the snow had already experienced several melt/freeze cycles and skied well as wet-corn to the end of the snow line. We continued skiing down some large debris tongues and then walked back out the valley to our car. Easy 8hr day, car to car.

Our tracks on the summit slope – easily visible the following day in the sunlight


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