The clouded in the valley that I drove into at Aoraki National Park
My journey to Mueller Hut was spawned by a recommendation from Talie over two years ago. I just hadn't been able to make it happen until the very end of my stay in New Zealand. Even then, I had to squeeze it in between practice, visiting with Kish and Deneen, and bad weather. There is never enough time to do everything.
Mueller Hut is an alpine hut in Mt. Aoraki National Park that overlooks Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. The views are supposed to be stunning, but the weather was cloudy and cloudier for the days I was planning to go. I pushed everything back a day, which let me hang out with Ice friends and do a team fundraiser. Unfortunately, when I drove off on Sunday morning at 3am from Christchurch, it was raining. When I pulled into the national park, it wasn't rainy, but it was still cloudy. You couldn't see much of anything, but I was still hopeful something would show up that afternoon. I delayed my hike up into the fog by exploring the Hooker Valley. While the hike was great, the weather didn't clear. I just hoped for the best and headed up the mountain. It didn't. It got worse.
360 degree videos taken through out my visit to Aoraki National Park.
When I arrived at the hut at 3pm, you could not see more than 100 meters from the hut, maybe 50. Not being able to see anything didn't give me much of a reason to explore so I hung out in the hut with my fellow trampers. One was a self employed contractor from Belfast, ME (near where I spent my summers growing up) named Bruce. It is a small world. At bed time, there was no improvement in the weather. The weather forecast had been downgraded from partially cloudy to cloudy for the next day. I wasn't hopeful, but I had planned on two nights at the hut for just that reason.
The golden hour sunlight illuminates the Mt. Sefton.
Mt. Sefton illuminated by the great morning light.
Luckily, when I woke up the higher clouds had mostly cleared. The hut warden recommended that we try and catch sunrise from Mt. Ollivier, the first peak that Sir Edmund Hillary of Antarctic and Mt. Everest fame climbed. That sounded lovely, especially since most of the hut was still sleeping. Off, I went. As I climbed, the golden colors of sunrise poured over the surrounding mountain peaks. It was amazing. I can't believe I was sitting in the middle of so much goodness the day and night before and had no idea. It was such a drastic change.
Mt. Cook at sunrise.
Did I mention I love sunrise?
After a couple hours on the summit, I got cold. The way down, as always, was harder, but still just as nice. The clouds were threatening to come back in but mostly stayed clear. When I got back to the hut, only five of the twenty something were still there. I was the only one booked to stay two nights. Even the hut warden left. Apparently, Easter is the last busy weekend of the year so they stop staffing the hut.
There are people on that ridge below, honest.
Me on Mt. Ollivier
One of the funniest parts about this trip for me is that I would have thought that after my time in Antarctica, I would not be running around to see more glaciers and penguins in New Zealand. However, a couple of my trips did just that. I even saw what might have been a fata morgana from the Mueller Hut, but I suspect it was an inferior mirage instead of superior. Even though, I was visiting some stuff similar to Antarctica, the experience was completely different. For instance, while at the Mueller Hut I heard mini slides, slips, and avalanches through out my entire stay. I was only able to see a few though. By the time the sound reached you, many of the slides had stopped because they were so small.
Mount Sefton towering over the Mueller Hut.
The Mueller Hut.
After a couple hours hanging around and enjoying the views, the weather started to cloud up. I had seven great, mostly clear hours, at the hut so I decided to head down too. I figured there were other treats to explore, especially Lake Tekapo and its observatory that would be better than just looking at thick clouds. The hike down was pretty nice because the lower cloud cover was clearing which yielded some great views I had not seen the day before. Unfortunately, the weather pattern followed me out of the park and over to Lake Tekapo.
The Sealy Downs above the Hooker Valley.
Hooker and Mueller valleys.