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.
Tramping by Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand - October 2008
I’ve scored perfect bluebird weather for the last four days, and have been taking full advantage.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
After crossing over Ball Pass, I spent one more night camped at the East Hooker Valley campsite before heading out of the mountains.
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!