Trip8 MtCook Mueller


1/11/05 - 6/11/05



  • developing patience for fickle spring weather
  • seriously high tramping, serious NW weather
  • snow caving



Start at Mt Cook Village

Mueller Hut

Camp back at White Hill x 2

Plateau snow cave

Sealy tarns camp



Trip log:

Day 1    4km    +950m

Day 2    4km    +50m

Day 3    3km    +150m

Day 4    6km    +1450m

Day 5    8km    +150m

walked= 25km   +2800m=total climb


Southern Canterbury high country is so gorgeous that I couldn`t resist a few `on the way` photos here.


If you ever happen to be in the Tekapo area, the climb up the Mt Johns Observatory hill rewards you with excellent views. Make sure you`ve got plenty of memory card space! Youll need it.


And it also pays to poke your nose down a few innocent looking back roads. In this case I stumbled upon the magnificent little gem called Lake Alexandrina.


Again, ive got probably almost a hundred photos of this one lake. BTW I invested in a tripod when in Chch, and with digitals it makes a surprising amount of difference when you can be bothered to use it.


The stuff of postcards, and me and a friendly American cycle tourist doing a spot of trout fishing had the whole lake to ourselves.


Heading further south you get to Lake Pukaki, and into the really big mountains. Cook at centre right.


Given the amount of normally quick to wing Paradise ducks in the mountain rivers, and the fact that I don`t have even one half way decent photo of one, I was surprised to see the Mt Cook camp seems to have been adopted by a pair and its chicks.


high resolution

What is special about the Mt Cook Village area is how accessible the alpine area is. You basically hop out of your car to this. Well you do have to climb up a wee bit of a hill for this particular view. Looking about 1000m straight down, on the left is the White Hill camp, and on the right the Village itself.


That`s looking north from the Mueller range. Mt Cook (southern peak) in the distance,, below that Hooker glacier terminis, and in the bottom right is the Mueller glacier terminis and lateral moraine.


That`s the upper part of the climb onto the Meuller ridge. This is the parks one overnight tramp that is achievable by most people without too much gear. Around 20 people a day were goingg up there, with not much more than walking poles.


The final slope before the achieving the ridge top. Snow conditions were softish, but could be worse.


Certainly a much easier proposition down hill.


Shortly after to arrive at the brand new 30 something bunk Mueller hut. Its not more that a mile from the village as the crow flys.


This shot gives you an idea of the industrial construction used to keep the hut on the mountain though wind and snow conditions. There`s gas for cooking, but no heating, although it seems to be well insulated and double glazed etc. Hut fees are an ongoing source of debate. Mt Cook doesn`t honour annual hut passes, and has its own charging scheme. This hut is $35 per night.


Dusk view from the deck.


Unfortunately the weather packed up and NW winds rose up to 100km/hr. I couldn`t afford to wait this storm out, so retreated to the village to camp for a couple of days. This is a shot lloking down the Tasman valley, on a day outing to the terminal, while im hanging around waiting for Mt Cook weather to right itself. Apparently you only get a couple of nice days in a row this time of year.


That`s the outlet of the Tasman glacier terminal lake. Cool ice bergs here, if you can be bothered with an extra bit of walk.


Well this is attempt number two to climb Mt Annette, which was the first challenge set me by one of the rangers, when I asked for achievable solo climbs in spring conditions. The wind is still blowing and when it picks up snow and blasts it at you it hurts and unless you want to end up a long long way below, you crouch down fast, cover your face and hang onto something until the blast passes.


The sun is shining again (bear in mind, this is the fourth or fifth day of my attention to this small mountain!) Im on my way up the plateau to build a snow cave for a day or two.


About 2 hours with a billy lid.


When I chose   the site I was mostly trying to face away from the Norwester.   The view of Mt Cook low peak was a bonus. (High and middle peaks are hidden behind from this vantage.)


Its about 2.5 meters long and 1.5 wide and 1.5 high. The walls are about 20cm thick, but its surprisingly light inside, and sort of womby feeling.


Next day, in misty, near whiteout conditions I traverse along the range beneath Mts Olivia, Kitchener etc, and reach the Annette Plateau, a permanent snow field just beneath Mt Annette. Snow conditions are soft, and get softer upon reaching the plateau. Visibility is not good, but the wind has dropped.


This is the best and only glimpse of Mt Annette I managed to get. Its up there in the mist some where. If I couldn`t see it climbing it was going to be a bit dodgy.


So instead I returned via a high ridge traverse of most of the rocky peaks on the range. This was interesting but snow conditions were unstable to say the least.


This is one of the bigger `wet snow slide` avalanches I set off--several hundred vertical meters worth. The eastern lee slopes were extremely soft and constantly in motion with every step. I resolved to stay off those in future.


Occasionally the cloud would lift and this view is looking up into the head of the Mueller Glacier to Baron Saddle. Beyond is the Dodson and Landsborough rivers.


The joy of spring condtions. A massive loose snow avalanche on the glacier opposite. These could be heard several times an hour daily while I was there, and it took a few days for the sound of these to become part of normal life here.


Beaten, despite two attempts, Im again heading back to the village.


Just as I am about to descend, ironically the skys clear for this view of Mts Annette and Sealy. Sigh. It rapidly becomes clear that climbers round here live with one ear constantly to the weather forecast, and travel only in weather windows. That`s not really my thing, as I tend to be an all weather tramper -- I prefer to just take what is given. Around here that`s suicidal. I guess this whole high mountains business is just not my thing. The other thing you learn is that to go just about anywhere here you need a rope and someone to hold the end of it. Glaciers are riddled with crevasses and no place for the solo traveler, experienced or in-experienced.


It`s a clear still night so I camp at the Sealy Tarns.


Where I am visited by a lone Kea. Like me he or she has come   just to see what`s here.


The sunset is glorious.


I am humbled by my experiences this trip. And yet sort of happy to know that there are places and things that remain greater and unreachable.

Being here yields many useful life lessons. The Mountains teach you to make decisions, apply yourself in adverse and unforeseen conditions, and basically to step out of the mould of the societal comfort zone we call history.


And the new dawn is really something else. I feel up in the clouds.