Access to the upper Hooker Glacier involves technical difficulty and some objective danger and the climbs are generally serious and demanding. Routes in the lower valley are easier, with peaks on the Mt Cook Range especially providing enjoyable climbing.
Follow the Hooker Valley Track and turn off just before Stocking Stream. Follow the stream until you are forced out onto slabby rocks on the true right that lead onto a worn ground trail. Weave up through tussock and rock gullies to the prow of the spur on the left. Above here a small bluff must be negotiated (crux). It is unforgiving terrain, especially in wet or snowy conditions. Above the bluff it is relatively straightforward travel to the bivvy.
Lower Hooker Glacier shoreline routes
The quickest option is the western shoreline of the lake. Take the Hooker Valley Track until just before the third swingbridge, then follow the old track on the true right of the river to the lake outlet. Continue around the western shore below the moraine wall. Beware of rockfall, especially in wet weather or during thaw after a frost.
Once on the glacier moraine, pick a route towards the white ice.
The eastern shoreline can also be used but is generally more difficult, especially at the head of the lake.
Lower Hooker Glacier to Pudding Rock
The Hooker Icefall flows past a 150m high, rounded rock protrusion on the eastern side of the valley, known as Pudding Rock. Conditions around Pudding Rock are variable due to it low altitude and access changes significantly from winter through spring into summer and from year to year.
Via the icefall
Before about mid-December the hut can usually be gained via the icefall directly. Continue up the centre of the glacier past the hut until the glacier flattens out and then loop back to approach the hut from up-valley. Once the glacier becomes too broken alternative options need to be considered.
Pudding Rock Cable Route
This is the most regularly used option during summer. Keep towards the middle of the glacier until roughly opposite a waterfall coming down a gully (with an avalanche cone at its base) to the right of Pudding Rock. From near the centre of the glacier there is usually an obvious shallow trough (approximately 150m long) running diagonally towards Pudding Rock, and this provides a good path across. The presence of a deep melt hole near the base of the waterfall indicates that access on to Pudding Rock will need to be gained to the left via seracs and ice boulders. Thirty metres of easy rock (possibly snow covered) needs to be negotiated before the obvious rock ledges and then slabs can be gained. Fixed cables, in three sections (installed in 2001), are attached to the rock via steel rods and bolts, and start from the base of the slabs. This Kiwi-style ‘via ferrata’ continues up through gullies and ledges. Use the wires for safety and assistance. At the top of the wires move up ~25m and traverse ~80m up-valley to the hut. When descending (abseil using the anchors) follow the wires to an abseil station positioned on the edge. The abseil to the glacier usually requires 2 x 50m ropes.
Waterfall Gully Route
In winter or spring the wires on pudding rock may be covered by ice/snow (some snow on the slabs is okay) and the climb will be very difficult or impassable. An alternative is to climb the waterfall gully if it is banked up with snow (beware of a schrund at the top of the snow cone).
Right Rockface Route
In summer, if the icefall is too broken to reach the base of Pudding Rock, the rock face right of the waterfall can be climbed (three pitches on good rock up to grade 15).
Times: 6–8hrs from White Horse Hill
Upper Hooker Glacier
From the top of Pudding Rock, head up the main glacier from Gardiner to beneath Harper Saddle before swinging around to Empress Hut.
Alternatively, ascend towards the West Ridge of Aoraki Mt Cook and cross the Empress Glacier to pass under the toe of Earle Ridge.
Time: 9–11hrs from White Horse Hill
Sefton Bivvy: This bivvy was lovingly rebuilt by DoC staff in 1999 retaining its original character. There are no amenities, except a radio. It will sleep about four people on its wooden floor. The bivvy may be buried by snow in winter or spring. A large rock just beyond the hut can accommodate three people and also provides some good bouldering and top-roping (take a piton or two). Water: if the puddle behind the bivvy is dry, try the basin to the south (~1617m, cell coverage (025), grid ref: 743-203).
Copland Shelter: A small barrel-shaped shelter with water (at the rear), a radio and mattresses for four. The shelter may be covered by snow in winter (~1960m, cell coverage (025), grid ref: 760-240).
Empress Hut: A state-of-the-art DoC hut built in 1994 on the original site with significant help and funds from the CMC. Also managed by the AMCNP. It can accommodate 10-12 people, has a radio and a superb deck for viewing and g & ts after climbs (~2516m, cell coverage (027), grid ref: 776-307).