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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 3 (July 24, 1926)

High Places in the Southern Alps

page 34

High Places in the Southern Alps


In these enchanting Southern Alps Nature is seen on a grand and mighty scale. She was never more prodigal of her scenic gifts to man. Standing on the north-west flank of the Liebig Range, four miles south-east of the Hermitage, at a height of 3,000 feet, an unrivalled panorama greets the eye. From the beautiful white domed peak of Maunga Ma in the south to de la Beche in the north a distance of eighteen miles, one beholds mountain loveliness in all its purity and majesty. In the beautiful language of Wordsworth:-

…….A step—

A single step, that freed me from the skirts
Of the blind vapour, open'd to my view,
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense, or by the dreaming soul.
Oh, 'twas an unimaginable sight!
Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge
Fantastic pomp of structure without name.

Mount Cook, which reaches an altitude of 12,349 feet, dominates this scene of surpassing wonder and loveliness. The great mountain rises from a spur of the Southern Alps that diverges at Mount Dampier. This spur runs south for some ten miles and divides the valleys of the famous Tasman and Hooker Glaciers. The Tasman Glacier is the greatest outside the polar regions. It is eighteen miles long and in places more than two miles wide.

Mount Cook, 12,349 Feet

[gap — reason: illegible]Mount Cook, 12,349 Feet

The Murchison Glacier is also an ice-serpent of great proportions, being more than ten miles long. The glaciation of the Southern Alps is indeed a most striking phenomenon. The great glaciers are fed by tributary glaciers of which fifty or more can be counted from commanding heights.

One of the very finest sights in all these wonderful Alps is without doubt the famous Hockstetter ice-fall. It is a frozen cataract which comes down from a great snow plateau 9,000 feet high on the east side of Mount Cook. In the appropriate words of Byron: -

Its brilliant hues with all their beams unshorn,. Resembling, 'mid the torture of the scene, Love watching Madness with unalterable mien. The fall descends about 4,000 feet to the Tasman Glacier, and is more than a mile wide. Writes the Hon. William Pember Reeves:-

It has the appearance of tumbling water storm-beaten, broken, confused, surging round rocks. It has something more than the appearance of wild unrest, for water pours through its clefts and cubes, and toppling pinnacles of ice break away and crash as they fall from hour to hour.

Another spectacle of striking beauty is the Douglas Glacier which comes down over a great cliff 3,000 feet high. From this height thirty-five waterfalls flow down to the ice below.

page 35
Scene in the Southern Alps

Scene in the Southern Alps

page 36

The penetrating detonations of the avalanches which are heard here at almost measured intervals would seem to have been deliberately provided by Nature to herald the culmination of her artistry and majesty in the scene before our eyes.

Mount Cook itself which as we have said reaches an altitude of 12,349 feet is a spectacle of immense impressiveness. To quote Mr. Reeves again:-

From the south-west with its ridge, it resembles the roof of a Gothic church with a broad massive spire standing up from the northern end. When under strong sunlight the ice glitters on the steep crags, and the snow-fields, unearthly in their purity, contrast with the green tint of the crawling glaciers, the great mountain is a spectacle worthy of its name.

There have been a few privileged alpinists who have stood on the very summit of Mount Cook and gazed with wonder and admiration on the scene which greets the eye on every side. One party of climbers has accomplished the difficult feat of climbing up one side of the mountain and down the other. This was one of the finest achievements in the history of mountaineering in New Zealand or any other country. This party of three New Zealanders and a Scotsman commenced their great climb from a camp 6,000 feet up on the eastern side of the mountain. They started away in the moonlight and attained the summit after 14 hours of strenuous climbing. In all, it took them 36 hours to accomplish the ascent and descent of Mount Cook, during which time they were almost continuously on the move. The descent involved the
On the Tasman Glacier, Southern Alps

On the Tasman Glacier, Southern Alps

very greatest difficulty and danger. A miscalculation meant almost certain destruction. They had to creep down frosted rocks, and in places lower themselves by rope one at a time. But glorious spectacles rewarded them. Mr. Malcolm Ross who was one of the party, described a panorama from the rocks high above the Hooker Glacier:-

The sun dipped to the rim of the sea and the western heavens were glorious with colour, heightened by the distant gloom. Almost on a level with us away beyond Sefton, a bank of flame coloured cloud stretched seaward from the lesser mountains towards the ocean, and beyond that again was a far-away continent of cloud, sombre and mysterious as if it were part of another world. The rugged mountains and the forests and valleys of southern Westland were being gripped in the shades of night. A long headland still thousands of feet below on the south-west stretched itself out into the darkened sea, a thin line of white at its base indicating the tumbling breakers of the Pacific Ocean.

Every lover of the sublime in Nature will find in these Southern Alps scenes to stir his imagination to empyreans of wonder and delight. There is nothing just like it on earth. Serious students of Nature will find material for a life-time of research; the alpinist will find here opportunities for the greatest adventure; the artist will find here a paradise indeed; those who find the burden of life weighing heavily upon them will find here a haven of rest. The body and the mind is rejuvenated in this land of enchantment which modern transport now places within the reach of all.