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We were in safe hands with our professional mountain guides, who taught us how to use crampons and ice-axe and how to self-arrest - all while we climbed Kaitiaki Peak. "Kaitiaki" means guardian, and yes, it's like a smaller peak standing guard in front of the awesome Hillary (South) Ridge of Aoraki Mount Cook.
Caroline Hut - cozy and fun sums up this mountain refuge; no TV and other distractions, so you mix with other hut guests, chat and laugh out loud. Or sit outside, watching the sun set on Mount Tasman and behind Mount Cook, New Zealand's two highest mountains. Now and again an ice avalanche thunders down the Caroline Face, just to add to the drama. It's quite a privilege to be able to stay here at 1800m on the Ball Ridge, right in the middle of the topuni area for Aoraki (protective zone of spiritual significance for Ngai Tahu, the South Island Maori tribe).
In 3 days we cross the Mount Cook Range, starting beside the Tasman Glacier and finishing in the Hooker Valley, back at Mt Cook Village. We cover mountain terrain, rock, snow and possibly ice, untracked for a lot of it, so it requires careful footwork. Groups are small - only 4 per guide - with a maximum of 8 participants and two guides. This reflects the difficulty of the terrain, which, depending on the snow conditions, could require the guide to use a rope to belay you. Alpine Recreation provides all the gear - even boots if you need them - FREE!
This comment from a participant sums it up: "One of the best adventures I have ever had. It was beautiful and tough at the same time and I had a ball!"
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