Caroline Face

Mount Cook

The largest and most mythical alpine face in New Zealand, it was first descended on skis in October 2017.

Ski Touring Extreme

Distance
12 km
Ascent
2.1 km
Descent
2.1 km
Duration
1 day +
Low Point
1.9 km
High Point
3.6 km
Gradient
66˚
VIEW ON MAP
Caroline Face  Map

Description

An alpine face of truly colossal scale, the first descent was made by Ben Briggs, Enrico Mosetti and Tom Grant in October 2017. Previously considered one of the world’s great unskied lines, the face had seen attempts from several strong teams. Weighing in at nearly 2,000 meters of vertical relief it is one of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest skiable faces.

Highly visible from the road into Cook Village, the Caroline Face of Aoraki/Cook is of national significance to Kiwis, featuring on their five-dollar bill. On first inspection the Caroline Face appears to be an unlikely looking mess of steep broken glaciers and formidable ice cliffs. Due to climate change the nature of the face has altered significantly in recent years; the seracs can change dramatically on an almost annual basis. The Caroline Face had not even been climbed until 1970 when it was ascended by Kiwis Peter Gough and John Glasgow over two days. These two renegade long haired hippies called their line the ‘Clit Route’. The first ascent was major news and it had been rumored Walter Bonatti had had his eye on the face. Although the Caroline Face has been climbed many times since, ascents of it are still fairly rare and it is a very serious undertaking.

Due to the high level of objective hazard on the face and it’s extreme size, the most logical way to ski the face is onsight via an ascent of the East Ridge. This was the route of ascent chosen by several teams who attempted the line and also by the successful team in 2017. Starting from the Plateau Hut skin across and under the East Face to where the East Ridge comes is at its lowest point above the glacier. Climb this and continue along an exposed snowy ridgeline. The East Ridge gets progressively steeper with normally exposed ice near the top. From close to the summit of Middle Peak, either ski or downclimb to Porter Col. A minimum of two long abseils are then needed to reach the beautiful 45-50 degree face which is bigger than it looks. This provides the best skiing on the line and 2017 team found stable compact powder. Trend left to the prominent ridgeline defining the middle of the face and continue down the fall line until the huge serac band is reached at half height. The key to the 2017 team’s success was locating a couloir that had opened up between the serac band. This allowed them to make one 40 meter abseil without exposing themselves to the overhanging and menacing looking seracs. Ski left and quickly across and under the seracs. The slope angle here lessens to 35 degrees. It is critical to locate the right exit which can change on an annual basis. Skin back to Cinerama Col and slog back across to the Plateau Hut to celebrate your success.

Difficulty

Extreme

Extreme skiing terrain above 45 degrees. These routes are reserved for experienced experts.

Extreme Exposure (E4)

4 out of 4

In case of a fall, the skier faces certain death.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

October, November

Features

  • Face
  • Alpine
  • Cliffs
  • Ski Mountaineering

Equipment required

  • Rope
  • Skins
  • Ice axe
  • Crampons
  • Glacier kit

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area