Symphony on Skis, West to East, Mt Cook N.P.

Symphony on Skis: A West to East crossing in 5 days The team and photo credits are: Ian McIvor, Karl Greasley, Liv Barron & Anna Brooke.
Climbing up to Chancellor Dome
This is one of the trips that should be on every ski-mountaineer’s list. It offers changing mountain and snow conditions, glacier travel, steepness, playful lines, and a smorgasbord of National Park hut food. The alignment of time off work, good weather, workable avalanche conditions & a good logistics plan are all essential to making this trip happen. There are plenty of variations and shortcuts but the essential Symphony of this direction starts at Chancellor and finishes in the Godley. Our team of four are advanced intermediate to expert skiers. Glacial experience is essential, alongside sound navigation skills. It’s certainly a traverse, so some cramponing with 2 tools and the ability to get out of interesting terrain was essential. Our tour started from Fox Glacier township on 27 August (after 2 weather delay days). Our packs weighed an average of 20kgs each, with food and supplies for 5 days. We were lucky to have a good weather window after a few weeks of storm cycles which meant that the snowpack was fat (3.5m deep on Tasman Saddle) and the surface was generally soft. Here is a breakdown of days: Day 1: 8:30am flight up to Chancellor shelf as the hut landing pad was snowed over. We headed up Chancellor Dome to get a peak en route and to get better views.
Descending from Chancellor Dome
Skinning across the Fox neve we crossed over at Newton Pass, then skied with as much momentum as possible across Davis Snowfield. We approached the hut up the NW shoulder, and being the first party there in a while had the privilege of digging out the hut and toilet. Day 2: Skied down from the hut across Chamberlin Snowfield before it was skins on up to Graham Saddle.
Ascending to Graham Saddle in the cloud
We had heard that skiing the whole Rudolf is rarely an option so looked for alternatives on the De La Beche Ridge before returning to the glacier to see how far we might ski it. With good snow cover we managed to ski the entire glacier on the true left with only one tricky crevasse crossing.
Karl sending the Rudolf. We came down in the middle between the seracs and the rock
Plenty of 40-45 degree terrain between 2300-2100m that would be quite sketchy if icy or more crevassed. Lots of convex rollovers require some brave point to point scouting. We skied out the valley holding our height on the true left side before dropping to 1250m on the corner.
Scouting out the route down the Rudolph Glacier
The skin up the Tasman is simple and long. At this point a storm was setting in and we navigated to Tasman Saddle hut in whiteout conditions. We opted to travel to the western side of Canyonlands, gaining height on the mellow terrain, approaching the hut from the North. Be aware of broken sections and steep drop-offs to the immediate West of the hut.
Commencing the log skin up the Tasman Glacier
Day 3: Storm day meant a welcome forced-rest day in the hut. Day 4: Skinned to Tasman Saddle to do some snowpack observations and tests prior to dropping into the Murchison down the headwall.
Some of our favourite lines of the trip, skiing down from the Murchison headwall.
The ski down the Murchison is magic. From here we sidled around to Murchison hut (which is now closed) and scouted for an alternate route down, 400m to the South. Only one of our party managed to ski this treacherous route and was rewarded for his skills with a 2.5km solo skin back up the Murchison. Camping in the Murchison or Aida is a good option for this night.
Surveying the lower Murchison icefall. It was easy to pick a fun line through.
Day 5: A straightforward skin up the Aida Glacier, we crossed over at the obvious saddle SE of Mt Acland.
Transitioning on the Acland ridge. Upper Murchison glacier and Murchison headwall in background
Some beautiful lines down, with a traverse Eastwards to point 2055.
Skiing across to point 2055 before dropping down
This took us to some more micro-navigation to get down the steep gullies in warming snow conditions. We managed to pick a line down that was skiable in the loosest form of the word.
Looking down towards the head of the Godley
Side-slipping and side-stepping when the snow became too sticky to ski were frequently used options, however there were a few nice turns in between small plateaus.
Spring corn on the last day of winter
We took skis off at 1150m, threw them on our packs and walked a comparably easy 7km down the valley to our car-swap vehicle parked at the old Rankin hut site.
The walk out along the Godley
The 4wd out involved a number of ford crossings and dozens of farm gates to keep the co-driver awake. It took over 1.5hrs to drive the 50km to Tekapo.
The last few kms of the walk out to the old Rankin hut site.
Total travel on skis and foot – 79km Total elevation gain – 4635m Potential trip variations If you’re fast and packing light then you could go straight from Tasman Saddle Hut (or Kelman) out the Godley if the conditions were right. It does mean you’d probably want to stay at Red Stag hut (owned by NZDA) or camp in the Godley however, as navigating the riverbed in the dark will be difficult, although not impossible. You need a high clearance 4wd with an experienced driver. Be sure to contact the station owner if you plan to travel or camp up the Godley. If you have the time available then spend an additional day playing in the upper Tasman or Murchison as there is no shortage of fine lines up there (Mt Sydney King, the Mannering glacier, Hochstetter Dome, Mt Elie de Beaumont) that you may not often get the chance to get up to. Another post to view is The Prelude and Ski Rhapsody

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