One of the great expeditions that Dr, Ebenezer Teichelmann led was in 1906 when he went up the Cook River Valley and over Harpers Saddle to the Hooker Valley and Mount Cook. En route they did the first ascent of Mount La Perouse. Here is the chapter from my book describing this magnificent journey.
1906 Cook River and Mount La Perouse
Flushed with the success of their 1905 expedition, the West Coast trio decided on the Cook River again, and the unclimbed Mount La Perouse as their main objective. They were joined this time by their companion from the Mount Cook climb: the Scottish climber, Mr R. S. Low. Greatly liked by the Doctor and the Reverend for his good natured humour and quiet, unassuming manner, Low was regarded as a skilled climber on both rock and snow. Another prospector, Charles Anderson, helped Alec Graham set up a base camp, a little higher than last year's one. Anderson had been working a gold claim in the Cook River, opposite the Digger’s Huts. He was a true bushman, sleeping in one blanket and a cocoon of ferns. Alec Graham was amused at the sight of smoke seeping out of a pile of ferns as he settled down for the night with his final pipe, rather like a talking haangi (a Maori cooking pit).
Ebenezer Teichelmann in the Cook Valley, 1906
When Newton arrived at Waiho on 17 January, he was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with an ice axe he had lost four years earlier on his first trip to the glacier. It had been discovered just a few days previous to his arrival, with its shaft sticking out of the ice of the glacier terminus. Apart from rust on the pick, it was in good order. Teichelmann, Low and Newton joined up with Alec Graham about a week later, and they swagged up the Cook River to La Perouse Glacier. A high camp was made on the spur which separates Gulch Creek and La Perouse Glacier. They had good views of the head of the valley, plenty of firewood, and a stream nearby. They even had sugar and biscuits from the year before.
It dawned fine on 1 February, 1906, but with fog in the valley below. The party of four left the high camp just before 4:00am and soon crested the main ridge. They had to traverse around two steep dips on the ridge before reaching the col and ridge leading up to the summit of La Perouse. It took a whole hour to negotiate the first gendarme. They had attacked it head on, only to discover that there was no way down off the other side. So back they went. Newton was last to descend, and his camera once again caused him grief. Determined to avoid the problems of 1905, he tied it to his rope and lowered it off. It kept snagging on rock projections, and it suffered damage with the crashing about. Later he was dismayed to find the shutter damaged. A rest day with the equivalent of a Swiss army knife and he had manufactured new parts sufficient for its continued use during that expedition.
The climb was straightforward, although a fair number of steps were required. They were pleased to find that the arête that had looked so sharp and steep from the Cook River flats was not too bad in reality. It was in excellent condition with a good firm coating of snow. It was a thrill for Alec Graham, who recalled his feelings of that moment. ‘It was my first real mountain, and a 10,000 foot virgin peak.’
It was only 10.50am when they stepped the final rise. There was plenty of time to linger on the top and take in the stunning view, especially of neighbouring Mount Cook, and to relive the excitement of the previous year. Newton carefully studied an unclimbed route on Mount Cook, known today as Earle's route. He expressed his desire to return one day to climb it. And as they sat on the summit, one wonders if they thought themselves a weird bunch. A Scot, an Englishman, a German/Scot born in Australia, and a New Zealander sitting on a peak named after a French navigator. Teichelmann, Newton and Alec Graham had forged not only friendships, but had become a formidable climbing combination that was on the brink of greatness.
They descended by a different route, using a snow slope on the La Perouse Glacier side. This was the route later used in 1948 by the famous Ruth Adams rescue party, which included Sir Edmund Hillary. Using judicious glissading, they returned to camp in just one hour 27 minutes, compared with over six hours for the ascent.
A few days of bad weather followed and the group explored the La Perouse Glacier. From it they climbed up to a col on the Balfour Range, which lies opposite Katies Col on the Fox Range. They had a good view of the upper Balfour Glacier and its spectacular display of avalanches from the hanging section down onto the lower glacier. Clarke Saddle was identified further east: another objective. To the south they traced their route over Harper Saddle. Just to the east of that sat the imposing bulk of Mount Hicks, then known by the more lyrical name of St David’s Dome. As it was also an objective, they carefully scoped out routes from the north, and even a potential bivvy site. That done, they got up and traversed east to climb a small rock peak. It is unclear whether this was Vanguard or a closer rock pinnacle.
Dr Teichelmann’s much traveled full plate camera was carried to this spot. Alec Graham, who spent much of his early guiding years carrying the Doctor’s camera best describes his passion.
‘The Doctor was very thorough in everything he undertook and it took a long time, sometimes, to get just the right composition he wanted. He never failed to ask me to look through the viewfinder to see if I could suggest any improvement, for he always liked me to help him. When on any sharp peak I put the rope on him as he was so interested in getting what he wanted that he was liable to forget where he was standing when he had his head under the focusing cloth. Then, when he was satisfied with the composition of the picture he was taking, there was the right aperture and time for the exposure to be carefully adjusted and checked.
Mr Newton would sometimes get a little impatient with the Doctor for taking so long. The Doctor would reply, “I'm not going to let Alec carry the camera all the way up here and then make a mess of it. The difference between you and me, Newton, is that is that you are a photographic climber and I am a climbing photographer!” ’
Next morning they set off for Clarke Saddle, but heavy snow and deteriorating weather at the second icefall repulsed them. The next day the elements kept them at bay, enforcing time for repairs and ablutions, philosophizing and observing.
The four explorers had waged some competition with the wekas and keas over ownership of certain items. For some unknown reason, their soap was in particular demand from the wekas (New Zealand native bird). When the Doctor decided to wash a shirt the following wet day, there was only one small piece remaining. The other three sat and watched as one particular weka stalked through the scrub towards where the Doctor sat washing by the stream. Bemused, they kept silent. Every time he put the soap down on a rock, the weka would line up an attack, to be foiled at the last minute by the unsuspecting Doctor picking it up again. Finally, the weka struck in a lightning raid, and raced off into the scrub with the enraged Doctor in pursuit. The soap was lost, but the audience deemed the entertainment well worth the price.
When the weather cleared at their base camp on the La Perouse Glacier, they readied themselves for the next objective: St. David's Dome, now called Mount Hicks. Unfortunately the Doctor had bruised his heel and elected not to join. It was late in the afternoon when Newton, Low and Alec Graham left for a higher bivouac below the first ice fall on the La Perouse Glacier. That night as they ate their meal, Newton remarked how he missed the Doctor's company, but said it was rather nice having a meal without the Doctor’s eye on you. Graham and Newton had wolf-like appetites, while the Doctor, a small eater, would jokingly remark that it was no wonder they had to carry such heavy swags.
On 9 February the party got away at 2:30am on a very warm morning. Following their previous route through the first icefall, they turned right on to a long snow ridge running down from Mount. Hicks (referred to in Anderson's Jubilee History of South Canterbury as the north-west arête), joined the main west ridge higher up. They struck soft snow on the lower part of the ridge, but step cutting became necessary higher up where conditions were colder. At the top of the north-west ridge, they struck a rock face which provided excellent climbing onto the main west ridge. The final section of ridge to the summit was climbed in gusty conditions. The force of the wind necessitated a straddle shuffle along one section of the icy ridge. They reached the top at 11:00am. It was so windy there that Newton had to lie down to take his photographs. Sheltering from the wind on the eastern lee of the summit, they had time to admire the neighbouring flanks of Cook and Dampier.
The descent was by the same route. It had been a long time since they had last quenched their thirst, so a stop was made on the rocks just before the glacier. The billy packed ready with snow, Newton got out the bottle of meths. In a second, it had slipped from his hand and shattered on the rocks. The meths quickly evaporated. Without a word, but with parched mouths worsened by anticipation, they packed up and continued on.
Meanwhile, back at base camp, Dr Teichelmann was having an enjoyable day with his camera. His heel injury was rapidly improving. He was obviously pleased with the first ascent of Mount Hicks by his team mates and congratulated them warmly and enthusiastically on their return. They were more interested in the contents of the boiling billy than his congratulatory speech.
Mr Newton and Dr Teichelmann were running out of holiday time, so they returned to their respective employments in Ross and Hokitika. Their companion Mr Low, whom they had come to respect and like, travelled back with them as far as Waiho. Alec Graham and Charlie Stoner transported out the remainder of their gear.
When Alec Graham returned to his home in Waiho, Mr Low was there and somewhat anxious to return to The Hermitage via Graham Saddle. He asked Graham to accompany him part of the way. The next day they camped under a rock on the Baird Range, below Goat Path.
‘We started early next morning and I went with him well out over the Franz Josef snowfields. Here we parted and I returned to the base of Mildred Peak and watched him cross the saddle. I did not feel anxious about him going alone, for he was a very careful and safe climber and should have reached Ball Hut before I got back home.’
It was 10:00am, Wednesday 21 February, when Alex Graham headed home to Waiho from near the Mackay Rocks. An hour later Mr Low was ready to descend into the Rudolf Glacier, having safely crossed Graham Saddle. He stopped for a short rest at the top of a couloir that led down onto the glacier. Conditions were good, and progress swift, so he resolved to travel right through to the Hermitage that day, rather than spend a night at Ball Hut. He bent and picked up his swag. It was bulky, but not heavy. He had only brought provisions for one day in order to travel light and fast. Shouldering his swag, and picking up his ice axe, he stepped carefully down into the couloir.
Not bothering to cut steps, he slipped into the repetitive rhythm of placing the axe firmly, then stepping down. Thoughts elsewhere, he was caught unawares
when his feet slipped on a small patch of ice. Quickly he rolled into a self-arrest position to brake his accelerating fall. Panicking, he drove the axe in hard. His momentum was too great, and the axe was wrenched from his hands. By now he had gathered considerable speed, and a hungry schrund below opened wide in expectation. It was not to be. Slamming into some protruding rocks, he heard and felt his ankle crunch and twist. The pain was excruciating, and he knew it was unusable. If not broken, it was at least badly dislocated.
Low dragged himself to safety behind some big rocks and collapsed. Wisely, he rested there. His racing thoughts gradually slowed, and he formulated a plan. He was a long way from anyone, and would not be missed for some time. He may be crippled, but one look at the gaping schrund below at the base of the couloir, and he realized that those rocks had undoubtedly saved his life. He had lost his ice axe and all his food, except for a tin of milk and some chocolate. At least he had plenty of tobacco, he thought, lighting his pipe. The options were grim. To descend meant a crawl with no ice axe down a hard frozen slope. Waiting for the sun, he needed the softened surface to gain some friction on the slope. Carefully, with two hands and one boot, he inched down to a snowbridge over the crevasse. An icy breath from the depths of the blue/black maw sent a shiver down his spine as he crawled across to the safety of the glacier. Now seated, he propelled himself out onto the centre of the glacier. There he spent the night, thankful for the insulation of his sleeping bag.
It took three painful days in snow and cold to crawl down the glacier, dragging himself along the last day in two feet of fresh hail and snow. Waiting for the assistance and comfort of the sun, he leashed his pack to one end of his rope, and himself to the other. Dragging himself a rope length, he would then wind in his pack. In this manner he passed his second day. That night was spent sheltered behind a large rock on the ice. His fierce thirst could be slaked with small pools of meltwater, or dribbles on rocks. Once he had gained the moraine, he had to crawl with his pack on. Its bulk exaggerated his movements, and balance was awkward. It snowed heavily that night. The de la Bêche rock bivouac was only three kilometres away, but it took all day, crawling over rough moraine and through sixty centimetres of snow to get there.
For another six days Low waited, living on a hundred grams of cocoa found in the bivvy, half a loaf of bread he had recently found in the bottom of his swag, and water collected from drips on the rock. As the days passed and his meagre supplies diminished, so did his hopes of ever being rescued. He wrote his last requests on the mica sheets of a headlamp, and with his own blood he wrote his thanks to his climbing friends on a map that Alec Graham had lent him.
Four days after Alec Graham had seen Mr Low go over Graham Saddle, he and Dr Teichelmann were worried by the non-arrival of telegrams which Low promised he would send when he arrived safely at the Hermitage. Both Alec and the Doctor wired the telephonist at Tekapo, who sent a message by pigeon to the Hermitage. Foolishly, the telegrapher tied the whole telegram to the pigeon's leg who, after having pecked it off, flew to The Hermitage without it.
Nine days after his accident, two friends of Low arrived in Waiho, having crossed the Copland from the Hermitage. One was Professor Marshall, and the other Doctor Bell. Low was engaged to be married to Dr Bell’s sister. They had been waiting at the Hermitage for Low to join them, so when they heard that he had left nine days before, they were justifiably concerned. The nearest telephone was 15 kilometres north at the Forks, but eventually a message was passed to Lake Pukaki, the closest telephone to the Hermitage. Realizing the importance of the eaten telegram, someone rode at speed through to the Hermitage. Jack Clarke and Peter Graham set off at once, even though it was 8:00pm. Fearing the worst, they traveled through the night, knowing that it would be at least de la Bêche corner before they would find any sign of him. At 4:00am they were relieved to hear Low’s answers to their calls as they climbed up from the Tasman Glacier.
‘Though terribly thin, Mr Low was able to sit up and tell us what happened. His first request was for tobacco, which Jack was able to supply. He was very hungry so I made some soup and gave him small but frequent helpings while Jack examined his injuries. There were abrasions on his face and hands and a fractured ankle, but he was suffering most pain from his knees. They were severely lacerated after crawling two miles over broken moraine.’
The best Peter Graham could do in the way of a mountain radio was to carry on his back the carrier pigeon, Dick Seddon, named after another famous West Coaster. Battered and ruffled, he was entrusted with requesting a doctor and others to come and help. Twenty minutes after repairs in the sun on a rock, Dick was back at the Hermitage. Later that day, with great relief, Dr Teichelmann received word in Hokitika that his friend was alive.
Peter and Jack then raced over Graham Saddle to the Waterhole below Goatpath, where they met Newton and reported the good news of the discovery. Later the following day they were back with Low, to assist the nine men who had arrived to transport Low. The doctor who had joined them was Dr Truby King of Plunket fame.
It took ten hours to carry Low to Ball Hut. There they strapped him to a mattress on Hanmer Jack, an old grey horse, renown for his sure footing. He was met by a coach that took him through to Timaru for x-rays. Transferred to Christchurch, Low then suffered further complications which nearly cost him his life. Eventually he recovered, and went on to do some more climbing, but it was never the same again due to the chronic ankle injury.
Low's dramatic rescue brought mountaineering to the front pages of all New Zealand newspapers. Up to this time, it was Malcolm Ross who brought mountaineering to the attention of the public using a style that John Pascoe regarded derisively: ‘He was too wedded to his easy-come-easy-go journalism and his uncritical gusto got the better of him.’ But regardless of style, Ross popularised mountaineering. Teichelmann also contributed greatly to popular literature of New Zealand mountaineering before the First World War with entertaining articles superbly illustrated with photographs in various magazine and newspaper supplements.
Not long after Mr. Low's miraculous rescue, the Doctor received word from Australia that his mother, Margaret Teichelmann, had died on 30 March 1906 at the age of 82.