The south island of New Zealand is perhaps best known for its spectacular geography & scenery – snow capped mountains, glaciers, rugged fjords etc. As Yvonne mentioned in the last entry, we tried to access this part of the island experience from the west coast, but got rained out … either directly or because the risk of mud and rock slides was too great. So we made a point of trying again from the other side of the coast range – this time in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. I’d had my eye on a hike to a high alpine club (Mueller) hut for several weeks, and we had just enough time left in the country to pull it off.
Mt Cook is NZ’s highest point, at 3700m. It towers over everything else. The approach to the mountain/park along lake Pukaki is breathtaking … especially since in our case it was the first time the clouds lifted in about 3 days.
The park has many beautiful hikes, but we wanted to get up high, so the Mueller hut route seemed perfect … at least for getting up high. The downside was that it was essentially straight up for 1 vertical km. The park has a long history of mountaineering, and there are about a dozen alpine huts tucked into various nooks and crannies below the towering peaks. They are built as approach bases from where very early morning departure ascents can be attempted on the most difficult routes. Many people climb here, and it is dangerous climbing. On average, 4 climbers die each year just on Mt Cook. We were quite happy to think of Mueller Hut as a destination – not as a starting point!
We were cold that night in the tent, but awoke to a clear sky and warmed during our breakfast on the picnic table outside the visitors center. A late morning start had us feeling relaxed and excited about climbing into what we’d heard was some significant amount of fresh snow up near the hut.
I hadn’t been getting as much exercise as I like to, so actually quite enjoyed slugging the pack up. Really!
We were about 20 folks at the hut that night – many Europeans, some Kiwis and us. Kaia and Jake were the only kids. I thought there might have been some local kids, as they hadn’t gone back to school after their Christmas holidays yet. We slept well and after breakfast retraced Hillary’s steps up the mount behind the hut. I guess that means we’ve taken our first steps towards our Everest attempt when we’re in Nepal this April 😉
We packed up and started down the mountain through the clouds. We passed many people puffing and sweating coming up … and were glad to have that behind us.
About half way down the mountain we finally broke out of the clouds to a perfect day and snapped a family photo.
I had been looking at another trail across the valley that goes 5k into Hooker Lake. It was pretty flat and followed a gushing river and over 3 suspension bridges. So I went ahead for the 2nd half of the descent and then ran into Hooker Lake. It was pretty hot down at that elevation so a dip in the glacier lake was refreshing. What a perfect trail to run on.
I met up with the rest of the family for lunch back at visitors center. This had been our last outing in NZ, and it really felt like we were going out on a high.
3 days later …. the fast descent with a full pack and then quickish 10k run, after not doing much for weeks, meant I could barely walk for about 3 days. Yvonne did not fare much better. Must be getting older or something …