Climbing Mount Cook (ish*) Mount Cook to Mueller Hut

We spent the night camping in the foothills of Mt Cook, famously climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary as training for his Everest expedition. We awoke to the sound of rain hammering on the roof, which is all of 10cm above our heads. But by the time we’d got dressed quickly (still no shower) and had breakfast slowly, the sun was glimpsing through. Enthusiastically, we nipped down to the information centre for advice on local walking routes, and expressed our interest in something challenging with altitude. We were encouraged to take the stepped route halfway up the mountain, which sounded good, until we spotted the route continued further under a new name. “That’s a mountaineering route, it’s a steep rocky climb beyond the snow line” we were told, discouragingly. Now, given our recent hike on the flooded Coast Track, we figured we’re experienced hikers. Joe and I were looking excitedly at each other, as the information lady eyed us sceptically and continued to explain why the route was not appropriate… avalanche routes, unpredictable weather etc.

By the time we set off, the sun had disappeared and the rain was pouring again. With waterproofs zipped up tight, we sped off up the first half of the track. The going was straightforward but surprisingly steep, with endless wooden stairs leading up at jaunty angles like some kind of Escher nightmare. Up, up, up, pace slowing, heart beating, rain stopping, layers stripping, sweat dripping, mist clearing, sun shining… Phew, we reached the top to see beautiful alpine scenery.

That was the easy bit.

From there, we continued up on the ‘advanced’ route. The clearly marked path was gone, replaced with rocks and the occasional stick guiding the way. We clambered up as the path got steeper, using all four limbs to get a decent grip when necessary. Before long, ice crystals were visible on the rocks, quickly followed by snow. We were having far too much fun to stop now, so ploughed on up, crunching through the snow. From the distance, there was the definite sound of a miaow – we like to think it was one of the cute little snow leopard cats we’d seen in Singapore Zoo, but I guess it could have just been a feline-sounding squark from one of the impressive birds of prey that we occasionally spotted flying about. Our pace slowed as we could see the route markers but not the route, and carefully prodded our way. By the time the snow was coming in over our boots, we figured it was probably time to turn back and began the steep descent, retracing our snowy footprints. Over 3.5 hours we covered a massive… 6km, which I think is testament to how tough going the route was!1

After lunch back in trusty Barry, we decided we definitely had time for another walk, and headed into the Hooker Valley.

We power-walked along this much more popular route, overtaking groups of meandering tourists. Having spent much of the morning shrouded in mist or concentrating on the floor, we were bowled over at the unexpectedly beautiful scenery as the sun shone on the snowy peak of Mt Cook. The route took us on suspension bridges over gushing streams (cue the Indiana Jones theme tune, again), via marshland to a glacial lake, complete with ice bergs. We returned with a much more respectable 10km in two hours.

We’re now sitting in chilly Barry, looking like Michelin Men wrapped in seven layers and a blanket, clinging to hot chocolate. Brrr.

  1. Ok, so it wasn’t actually Mt Cook, which I think requires ropes and ice picks (and skill) to climb, but it was one of it’s equally snowy neighbours. So I think that still counts.