Trip Reports: Tramping By Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand - October 2008

The last several days I’ve been based out of Mt. Cook Village, a little tourist outpost based mainly around the Hermitage Hotel, situated in a remote valley at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki/Mt. Cook. This region, on the eastern rain shadow of the range, reminds me a bit of the Fitz Roy area of Patagonia, with broad barren basins surrounded by rocketing, glacier-clad peaks. Huge glaciers fill the upper valleys, pouring out into terminal lakes and moraine fields. The mountains are relentlessly steep and rugged here, rising around 8,000 vertical feet above the valley floors.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Aoraki, Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki, photo

Aoraki/Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki

I’ve scored perfect bluebird weather for the last four days, and have been taking full advantage.

Mueller Hut, Mount Sefton, New Zealand, Southern Alps, photo

Mount Sefton

Mount Sefton (3151m) towers above the Mueller Hut on a bluebird day in October. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting out in the sun on the porch, watching and listening to the booming crashes of glacier chunks avalanching down Mount Sefton across the valley.

I stayed one night up at the Mueller Hut, which is situated on a high ridge with panoramic views of of the surrounding peaks and glaciers. Nothing like basking in the sun on the hut’s deck, watching glacial avalanches across the valley!

New Zealand, Aoraki, Mount Cook, bw, Southern Alps, photo

Mount Cook BW

Aoraki / Mount Cook

New Zealand, Southern Alps, photo

Aoraki Sunset

Sunset light on Aoraki/Mount Cook. In the valley below is Mueller Lake (right), Hooker Lake, and the receding rock-covered Hooker Glacier.

Mount Cook, New Zealand, Aoraki, Southern Alps, photo

Mount Cook Mist

Misty clouds stream in from the west side of the divide, as Aoraki / Mt. Cook overlooks. This mountain is the tallest in New Zealand, at a height of 3754m, or 12,316 ft.

Mount Cook Village, New Zealand, Southern Alps, photo

Mount Cook Village

The tiny Mount Cook Village sits 1200m (4000 ft) below, barely visible at this resolution. The town is little more than a hotel with a few rental houses, employee houses, and a couple restaurants, but it is the gateway to the highest peaks and longest glacier in New Zealand.

The enormous spine of the Southern Alps blocks much of the rainfall, which usually comes from the west, and this photo shows how dry and barren the landscape is here on the eastern side in the rain shadow.

Upon return from the Mueller Hut, with a good weather forecast I immediately headed back out after a quick stop to restock my food. I did a three day trip over Ball Pass, a high pass on the south side of Mt. Cook going from the Tasman Glacier valley over to the Hooker Glacier valley. It was so incredible to trek safely through such rugged and glaciated terrain, and I’ve put my crampons and ice axe to good use.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier, Ball Shelter, photo

The Ball Shelter sits above the rock-covered Tasman Glacier.

If you look closely in the above photo you can see the Ball Shelter. This is the site of the original Ball Hut (1891-1926) which was the first purely recreational hut built in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier, photo

The path on a ridgeline above the Tasman Glacier towards Ball Pass.

A long rocky ridge led from the rock-covered Tasman Glacier up to the Caroline Hut. The hut was surrounded by full snowpack, and I opted to sleep inside the emergency shelter room.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Tasman Glacier, panorama, photo

Dusk panorama from the Caroline Hut overlooking the Tasman Glacier.

Perched on the edge of the steep mountainside, the Caroline Hut has a gigantic panoramic view over the Tasman Glacier and surrounding mountains, not to mention Mount Cook towering overhead.

Aoraki, Mt Cook, Caroline Glacier, New Zealand, Southern Alps, photo

Aoraki Dawn

Dawn glow on the Aoraki / Mt. Cook and the Caroline Glacier - October. Mt. Cook rises an impressive 2700m, or 9000 feet, directly from the Tasman Glacier at its base. From this perspective on this ridgeline, you're looking at over 6,000 vertical feet of mountain towering above you... a bit difficult to fathom even when you're standing there in real life.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Aoraki, Mt Cook,  panorama, photo

Mount Cook Sunrise Panorama

Sunrise light on Aoraki / Mount Cook

New Zealand, Aoraki, Mt. Cook, Caroline Glacier, Southern Alps, photo

Morning light on the Aoraki / Mount Cook and the Caroline Glacier.

Aoraki, Mt. Cook, New Zealand, Ball Pass, panorama, Southern Alps, photo

Ball Pass Panorama

Aoraki / Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand, as seen from Ball Pass.

After crossing over Ball Pass, I spent one more night camped at the East Hooker Valley campsite before heading out of the mountains.

New Zealand, Southern Alps, Ball Pass, Hooker Lake, photo

From near Ball Pass, looking down towards Hooker Lake and the Hooker Glacier.

In the above photo you can see at the far end of the valley above Mueller Lake in the distance is the mountain where the Mueller Hut is located - where I was two days earlier!

This was a challenging route, for me at least, and I feel like I’ve started my New Zealand trip in grand style!