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Alpine Village marks 100 years at Freda’s Rock

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village marks 100 years at Freda’s Rock

Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village is celebrating one hundred years since Emmaline Freda Du Faur (1882- 1935) made history as the first woman to conquer Mount Cook.

The self-taught Australian mountaineer climbed to the 12,316 ft (3754 m) summit on December 3rd 1910 with local guides Alec and Peter Graham and was famously photographed afterwards at ‘Freda’s Rock.’ Their venture was the second successful ascent of the west ridge of Mt Cook and was completed in a record time of 14 hours return – making Freda not only the first female but also the first Australian to reach the peak of New Zealand’s tallest mountain.

Not only an exceptional mountaineer, counting several ‘firsts’ in her climbing career, Freda Du Faur was a fascinating figure who climbed in long Victorian dresses that were standard clothing for women at that time with her leggings and hob-nailed boots underneath.

Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Village Ltd General Manager Tourism Denis Callesen has researched Freda’s life and has sourced a book she wrote in 1915. (The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs)

Freda found it difficult to fit with the social mores of the times and her relationship with another woman was not accepted by her family or society. Following her suicide in 1935, Freda’s final wishes to be cremated were ignored and she was buried in an unmarked grave in Manly. (source: abc.net.au/hindsight)

“Freda is known as Australia’s first great mountaineer – male or female, but during her life she was better known in New Zealand because of her regular and inspirational voyages to the Hermitage where the snow clad mountains captivated her,” said Mr Callesen. She was determined to reach the summits of the high peaks although this was a very unusual pastime for women of that time.

“Freda was in the parties that climbed the second ascent of Mt Tasman, the first ascent of Mt Dampier and the first traverse of Mt Sefton, among other 10,000-foot peaks. Probably her greatest climb was the first grand traverse of all three peaks of Mt Cook on 3 January 1913 with Peter Graham and David Thomson.”

To mark the 100 year anniversary of her historic climb, the New Zealand Alpine Club is to host a Freda Du Faur Centenary Celebration at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre on Saturday 4th December (2pm to 5pm) where a forum will feature guest speakers Sally Irwin and Margaret Clark, afternoon tea and short discussion topics.

Also in preparation for the occasion, Mr Callesen has carried out a reenactment of the historic photos captured at ‘Freda’s Rock’. With the help of Department of Conservation (DoC) Programme Manager Community Relations Shirley Slatter and Alpine Guides Trekking Guide Ryosuke Iijima, the 2010 image clearly illustrates the landscape changes over the past century.

Mr Callesen said he and various DoC people had searched for Freda’s Rock as shown in the original photograph for the past 18 years.

“Several changes had “grown” in the landscape and we’d made a few mistakes interpreting the land forms in the original image. Some of the rock is now obscured by an Alpine Totara, the shrubbery has matured significantly and the ground height is about 30cm higher than 100 years ago, possibly as a result of the 1913 flood,” he said.

“This has made it quite difficult to exactly replicate the photos, but we’ve had a go. It will be fascinating in another 100 years for later generations to again find the place and take their own image.

“Freda Du Faur was an exceptional woman and we are honoured to help celebrate a fascinating part of New Zealand history at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre,” he said.

Freda’s Rock is located 20 metres off the Hooker Valley Track, and just a three minute walk from the first Hermitage site at the Aoraki Mount Cook Camp Ground at Whitehorse Hill, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park.

Following the Freda Du Faur Centenary Celebrations at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre there will be drinks and a buffet dinner at The Old Mountaineers Café Bar and Restaurant where guest speaker Lydia Bradey, the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen, will continue a discussion forum for the Freda Du Faur Centenary Celebrations.

Footnote: The grave of Freda Du Faur now has a headstone. It was installed in 2004 when, Ashley Gualter of Sydney (originally from South Canterbury) tracked down Freda’s unmarked grave after reading her biography, ‘Between Heaven and Earth’ by Sally Irwin. With the help of Stu Piddington of the Timaru Herald, funds were raised and a piece of Greywacke from the Mackenzie country donated by Timaru Bluestone owner Rene Kempf to create a headstone and correctly recognize Freda’s grave and place in history.


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