Gemma (foreground) and Vanessa during a traverse of several peaks from Sefton bivvy to Copland Pass

Gemma (foreground) and Vanessa during a traverse of several peaks from Sefton bivvy to Copland Pass

In December 2010, we headed to New Zealand with Vanessa Wills, to climb in the Mt Cook region and also to participate in celebrations organised by the New Zealand Alpine Club, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the ascent of Mt Cook/Aoraki by Freda du Faur. Not only was Freda the first women to climb Mt Cook, she was the first Australian to climb it, and later, with her companions and guides Peter and Alex Graham, also made the first traverse of the three summits of Mt Cook.

Freda made many other first ascents in New Zealand, and although convention at the time dictated that she climb with guides, she was a climber in her own right, sharing the leading and decision making. She had a great affinity with the mountains, and she truly is Australia's first mountaineer.

With Vanessa and Marty Beare, we planned to repeat Earle's Route which Freda and her guides climbed Mt Cook by, but conditions were quite different from 100 years ago, and the melting glacier meant we couldn't even get to the start of the route. We still did some great climbing, including the Footstool and a traverse from Sefton Biv over Cadogan Peak, Du Faur Peak (both first ascents by Freda), and Madonna Peak to Copland Pass. 

While we were in Mt Cook village enjoying the NZAC centenary celebrations, Carla Braun-Elwert was shooting a short film about Freda and we got to feature in it, talking about Freda as an inspiration to us and our climbing. The film, called 'Sparks Fly Upwards', was shown at the NZ Mountain Film Festival for 2011.