Spectrum 813 and Spectrum 814. In the shadow of the mountain
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A two-part documentary in which Spectrum producer Jerome Cvitanovich visits Mt Cook Village and takes in the flavour and history of life in the shadow of New Zealand's highest peak.
Part 1 of 2.
Descriptions of Mt Cook / Aoraki from local inhabitants and a quote from the writings of Julius Von Haast, 1862. Mt Cook Aoraki draws 250,000 visitors each year. Operations manager for the Alpine Guides Bob Munroe describes the weather and terrain and explains why the riverbed remains dry for most of the year. He also explains that because the area is a National Park, employees living in the village are not allowed pets or able to create their own gardens. There are no elderly people living in the village so once over 40 years of age Munroe says, you can feel “a bit past your used by date”.
Human remains have been found at the base of Mt Cook as the snow retreats leaving the analysis of boot types to predict from which era their deaths may have occurred. The village is located 3,000m above the valley floor. Cvitanovich flies up the Tasman Valley in a ski plane with pilot, [Sherry] who happily claims to have the best aviation job in New Zealand. They head towards Mount Cook who’s peak which reaches 3,753m above sea level. Cvitanovich tells of Harry Wigley, a pilot with the Mt Cook Line during the 1940-50s who pioneered the ski plane operation. Former Alpine Guide, Hap Ashhurst recalls what happened in September 1955 when Wigley attempted the first landing in a ski plane on the snow.
Nowadays if one doesn’t want to make the four-hour drive by car it is possible to fly directly from Christchurch to the village. Anne Stephenson has worked at The Hermitage since 1968. She describes what it was like to work there twenty-five years ago and how the village has developed. Stephenson explains how she met her husband and talks about local speculation of a ghost called Darby.
Alpine Guide Wayne Marshall arrived in 1975 and fell in love with the mountains. He explains the purpose of the man-made mounds and rules laid out by Lands and Survey in an attempt to minimise human impact on the place. He observes the village’s sense of community has decreased with the increase in tourist numbers and a higher turn-over over extended seasonal periods. Marshall talks about those who’ve perished on the mountain and the irony of his colleague, Chief Guide Dave McNulty’s death a few years ago [1989.]
The principal of the local school, Bu Windsor describes what it is about the landscape that made her want to stay after moving down from Auckland. Although the children enjoy the arrival of helicopters in the village, she explains rescue operations are just an accepted part of life for everyone here. Windsor mentions recent visits by Sir Edmund Hilary and the New Zealand Airforce.
Cvitanovich stops in at a private airstrip on Glentanner Station to ask one of the bus load of tourists where they are visiting from before ascending the helicopter for a scenic view of the valley.
Part 2 of 2.
Cvitanovich attends the National HQ at Mt Cook whilst a reporter from the Oamaru Mail is briefed on a recent accident. Alpine guide, “Dean” is interviewed as he prepares and packs his group of three climbers for a ten day mountaineering course. One of the group, a Welsh rock climber explains what drew him to New Zealand to specifically learn how to climb ice. He acknowledges it is an appreciation for the great outdoors, a sense of adventure, the solitude and to do something new that inspires him to climb.
A quote from the first woman to climb Mt Cook, Freda du Faur. Former Alpine guide, Hap Ashurst describes the satisfaction of guiding but says he decided to quit after realising he needed to do it full-time or not at all due to the constant level of fitness required.
At 7pm the Mt Cook office checks in with all the mountain’s huts as a safety measure for climber presence and local weather conditions. Hap Ashurst recalls his first rescue mission in 1948 as a junior guide two weeks after he began at Mt Cook. He explains the rescue team took a week to reach their destination whereas today, with a helicopter on call, it can all be over within a few hours.
The Park’s manager, Alan Wilson tells of an incident where a climber has fallen into a crevasse. He also talks about one Labour weekend which involved multiple rescues taking its toll physically but especially mentally and emotionally. He explains the National Park Act gives the public freedom of access to the mountains however the crew at Mt Cook can only provide advice but not actually have the authority to stop anyone they perceive, for example not to be fit enough.
The climber from Auckland that fell down the crevasse describes how he came to be there after being on the mountain for seven days in good weather. His rescuer, the leader of the Search and Rescue Team, Peter Axford tells of a hair-raising rescue experience a few years ago. He explains that it’s because of his love and respect for the mountains he chooses not to guide but climb for himself.
Cvitanovich catches a helicopter ride up to the mountains to Barron Saddle Hut with a novice Australian climber pursuing some training. A guide for twelve years, “Paul” gives cvitanovich a tour around the hut. The Australian climber explains how the crew at the village strongly advised him against the ice climb of Mt Cook and suggested this year he trained on this less advanced climb first.
As Cvitanovich departs the mountain there is the thud of an avalanche somewhere which reminds him of the all the rescues and over 160 lives lost in the area. Park’s manger, Alan Wilson ends the programme with, “… it’s Aoraki, it’s a god to the Māori people and it is, it’s there all the time, even when there is bad weather, and you can’t see it…”.
Reference number 15083
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Cvitanovich, Jerome, Producer
Stephenson, Anne, Interviewee
MUNRO, Bob, Interviewee
Ashurst, Henry Donoghue (Hap), 1924-2007, Interviewee
Marshall, Wayne, Interviewee
Windsor, Bu, Interviewee
Wilson, Alan, Interviewee
Axford, Peter, Interviewee
Radio New Zealand (estab. 1989), Broadcaster
Date 23 Jan 1994