Mueller Ridge

Mt Cook Nat'l Park, New Zealand

December 22 - 23, 2008

Dave and Jill

 

 

Top: Jill and Dave posing on top of "Mt Ollivier."  This little bump on the ridge provides a great vantage point and is also credited as Edmund Hillary's - the first person to climb Everest - first peak.

Below: Alpenglow on Mt Cook at sunset from Mueller Ridge.  These are the biggest peaks I've seen since I was in Nepal, and for some reason they all seem to glow after the sun sets.  It's magnificent!

This trip should be titled "Mueller Hut" but with our economic condition - speaking for the Svilars only - the fees for the hut were too high.  Much better we thought to hump a tent to the ridge and sleep by ourselves on the snow and save our NZ$70 for something more necessary, like ice cream.

From the start this track reminded me of Zion's Angels Landing or Yosemite's Half Dome - an awesome place that attracts droves of people that shouldn't be there.  Something about pulling up Half Dome's cables or in this case, the incredible alpine views that will inspire those who haven't left the couch in years to shoulder enormous packs and hike thousands of feet uphill.  If staring at icy, avalanching walls gets old the people watching won't.  The American lady with brand new zip off pants lurching and heaving under a pack sized for an Antarctic crossing.  Or, an entire family equipped with compasses - all dangling from their necks - even though the sky is clear and the trail is four feet wide.  A personal favorite was the Asian lady adorned with bear bells (no bears in New Zealand).  All this this while taking a 20 minute snack break.  While I found this all to be pathetic and quite amusing, Jill found their efforts inspirational and told me "Quit making fun."  This got me thinking, could I make fun of myself if I were able to watch me coming up the trail?  It wasn't a matter of if I could make fun of myself, but more of a question of where do I start?

Past the Sealey Tarns the track was muddy and partially snow covered.  We strapped on gaiters - a first for Jill and the first time for me in six years.  Applying these leg coverings instantly reminded me of how dynamic and agile I felt when my lower legs didn't show.  With gaiters it wasn't hard to pretend that my legs were something other than shapeless sticks.  We crested the ridge and stumbled through fresh, sloppy snow and flopped into Mueller Hut.  We spent a couple of hours here rehydrating and taking cover from the intense radiation off the snow.

When the sun wasn't so overhead we made camp beyond eyeshot and earshot of the hut.  A flat tent site was stomped out of the snow in a most idyllic spot: views of Mt Cook, the immense and "alive" wall of Mt Sefton, and a clear shot of Mueller Valley seemingly just outside the tent.  After setting camp we hiked to the top of Mt Ollivier - New Zealand hero Edmund Hillary's first peak - and returned to camp for dinner.

The evening was enjoyed like no other on the trip to this point.  We had just endured 14 consecutive days of clouds/rain/snow.  Two days prior it had snowed over three feet in the mountains canceling our planned trip across Ball Pass.  Worse yet had been the insects.  A colony of the infamous blood-sucking sandfly had been living in our camper wagon.  So, as we'd duck out of the rain and into the Scepter we'd be greeted by the hungry pests.  At one point I watched Jill stir a wayward sandfly into the rice while preparing dinner.  "Protein," she said.  So, while eating dehydrated lamb fettuccine at our snow camp - without rain or insects to distract - we realized that our trip was finally starting to work out the way we envisioned.  Carefree December sunshine surrounded by top-notch scenery.

I woke at 4:20 am and retraced our tracks to the top of Ollivier to watch and photograph sunrise.  To my pleasant surprise the valley was filled with fog.  Spinning in circles the 5D and I found worthy photographic subjects in every direction.

We left slowly, still admiring the views and the rate at which the new snow was melting.  Within a few hours we dropped back into the valley and pitched the tent in the trailhead campground - no driving required.  I spent the afternoon on a stupendously gorgeous trail run through the Hooker Valley searching off-trail for photo spots for the next morning, Christmas eve.  The three days spent in sunny, settled weather at Mt Cook Nat'l Park will certainly stand out as a highlight in an otherwise long stretch of gloomy weather.

- written December 2008

 

It snowed on our first day at Mt Cook, one day before the solstice.  Jill couldn't get the idea of summer out of her head, so continued to wear her flip-flops (blisters from trip to the Huxley Valley).  Not feeling like camping we drove an hour back down the road where there was cheap accomadation and...

 

... ate ice cream!  We rarely stayed in a motel on back to back nights so we were "forced" to down the creamy goodness in one shot.  There is truly nothing better than binging on New Zealand ice cream when it's raining outside.

 

The peaks came out the next morning.  The drive along Lake Pukaki (yes, Pukaki) is one of the best stretches of road in NZ.

 

Jill takes a breather and enjoys a view into the valley and Mt Cook Village.  The campground is shown below Jill's right hand.  From the campground an entire network of tourist trails can be accessed for an easy walk, trail run, or taking photos.

 

 

Above: Mt Sefton reflected in the windows of Mueller Hut.  Below, Jill dries her feet and enjoys watching avalanches coming off of Sefton.  The hut was phenomenal but expensive and annoyingly busy.  So, ...

 

... I set Jill to work on a campsite farther along on the ridge while I took photos.  Here she's flattening and stomping down a site for the tent. 

 

 

Scenes from around camp.  If one didn't know better they might think this looks extreme.  Actually, it was one of the most comfortable nights we had on the entire trip - no allergies, bugs, or rain.  We were kings.

 

Jill standing up on the cooking rock taking in big views of Mt Cook, New Zealand's highest and most well-known mountain.

 

I caught sunrise on top of "Mt" Ollivier.  Fog filled the valley making the pictures a bit more interesting.  Notice Mueller Hut in both images.

 

I couldn't resist a silhouette photo of Jill.  That's the highly entertaining and beautiful Mt Sefton and Footstool in the background.

 

On the way out - Jill passing the Mueller Hut.

 

On Christmas Eve we left Mt Cook because of a poor forecast, and on our way to Wanaka found some free lodging in the Ahurriri Valley.  We spent the afternoon lounging in the car reading and waiting for the rain to start.  Notice the curtains in the back of the Scepter - a fully converted camper wagon.

 

The rain started in the evening.  Santa never found us out in this lonely valley.  We had no family, presents, or even an x-mas tree.  I wanted to give something special to Jill, so I dressed up like a Christmas tree and posed on the morning of December 25.  Merry x-mas Jill.

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