The Footstool & Sefton Bivouac, Aroarokaehe Range, Mt Cook National Park

Saturday, 9th – Sunday, 10th September 2018 – Joel O’Rourke and Hans Anderson

A fine weather window finally occurred that aligned with both Hans Anderson and my days off and so last minute plans were assembled to ski the Footstool near Mount Cook Village. We drove up the night before and stayed in NZAC Unwin lodge and awoke early the next morning to start our day from White Horse Hill carpark.

Mt Sefton (left) and the Footstool (centre-right) from the Mount Cook Village Road

We walked along the well-maintained Hooker Valley walking track with pre-dawn headlights before veering off and following stocking stream towards Mount Sefton to gain access to Sefton Bivouac. We stashed our shoes at some bushes near the bottom of the slope, put on our ski boots and started ascending up Stocking Stream far below the Seracs above. As quickly as possible we gained the grassy solar slopes and started up the steep unmarked spur that leads to the hut.

Footstool routes as seen from the Mount Cook Airport
Frozen pond in Stocking stream and the Footstool above
Frozen pond in Stocking stream and the Footstool above
Hans hiking up to Sefton Bivouac

We finally gained the ridge and started walking towards the GPS co-ordinates of the hut and just managed to spot the tip of the red-roof and the radio antenna poking out of the snow. Some digging later revealed the door and we stashed our camping and excess gear before having some lunch, melting some snow for water and heading off for some afternoon skiing around the hut.

Joel gaining the Sefton Bivouac ridge. Hooker lake on the left, Mueller Lake on the right.
Sefton Bivouac and Footstool
Hans on the Sefton Bivouac ridge (hut just behind)
Joel digging out Sefton Bivouac

The southern aspects around the hut offered about 30cm of recrystallised ‘powder’ snow which made for great skiing.

Hans skiing great recrystallised pow under Sefton Bivouac. Mount Sefton in the background.
Hans skiing great recrystallised pow under Sefton Bivouac. Mount Sefton in the background.

Video – Joel skiing the mellow pow under Sefton Bivouac

Hans skinning up the Tewaewae Glacier with Mount Sefton in the background
Joel skiing the Tewaewae Glacier, Mueller Lake in the background
Hans skiing the Tewaewae Glacier above Sefton Bivouac

Towards the afternoon, we spotted a group of four heading towards Sefton Bivouac. Sefton Bivouac is a four-person shelter which is free to use and the a common stopping over point on the way to the Footstool or other climbs in the area. In winter, it’s seldomly visited. The group of four were mountaineering friends from the Canterbury Mountaineering Club also intent on climbing the Footstool (but not skiing it). The hut was re-arranged and we managed to fit all six (just) in the hut for a warm and humid night with little personal space. The four-climbers, intent on climbing the footstool and down climbing back to the village in one day, woke up at 3:30am and quickly set off plodding up the mountain. Hans and I had a bit more rest and a long breakfast and set off about 5am skinning up in the general direction of the climbers track.

Joel skinning up pre-dawn from Sefton Bivouac
Joel skinning pre-dawn from Sefton Bivouac

We also carried all our gear, making for a heavy start to the day, to the col between the Euginie and Tewaewae Glaciers so that we could have a straight descent down from the summit of the Footstool into the ‘Fransson’ line that leads to the bottom of the mountain. Dumping our gear at the Col, we spot the climbers already quite a fair way up the Eugenie glacier and we follow at first skinning and then gratefully in the footprints of the climbers on the steeper bootpack towards the base of the final pitch of the Footstool.

Morning Alpenglow on the Footstool and Euginie Glacier
Footstool and Euginie Rate
Hans hiking up the summit pitch of Footstool

 

Ascending up the upper slope of the footstool we reach a small col below the true-summit, where some rock scrambling and a bit of rope work gets you to the top (and safely back down). 30m was long enough rope to get up and back down again and a snow-bollard at the top meant no gear left behind.

Joel on the summit of Footstool
Hans climbing to the summit of Footstool

We descended down the footstool in nice spring conditions along the path we had ascended, past the climbers, and down to our stashed gear at the col between the two glaciers.

Hans skiing spring pow on the upper slope of Footstool
Hans skiing the Euginie Glacier
Hans skiing the upper pitch of the Footstool

We melted some more snow for much needed water, repacked our bags, and descended with a rough idea of where the ‘Fransson’ line is, being, the unnamed creek north Stocking stream. We found some surprisingly good skiing on the upper pitch amongst wind created powder-waves and easily found the correct entry into the creek line. A good mix of powder skiing and slush skiing were found on the way down.

Hans skiing nice pow in the ‘Fransson line’
Joel skiing nice pow on the ‘Fransson’ line

Video – Joel skiing powder in the ‘Fransson’ line off the Footstool

Footstool and Route info looking up

We quickly found ourselves at the base of the snow line with a relatively easy walk downhill through some tussock and bushes to our shoes, onto the Hooker Valley Track, past the hoards of tourists with many questions about why we had skis on our backpacks and finally to the carpark for a quick drive for a burger and ‘no alcohol because the manager isn’t around’ late lunch at the Old Mountaineer’s Cafe.

Hans back safely in the Hooker Valley

A super successful mission without any hiccups to a cool  mountain above one of the busiest tourist attractions  in the South Island.