Following Heros’ Footsteps

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Well folks, today has to rank as one of the greatest days of my entire trip so far. That’s saying quite a bit, because I’ve had 3 months of pretty great experiences to measure up against it. However, it was just one of those days when everything seemed to be going my way. I had a good night’s sleep, the weather was fantastic, and I just felt happy all around to be up here in the Mount Cook National Park. The plan for the day was to do some awesome hiking up in the mountains. I had planned just to head up to Mueller Hut and soak up the views there, but I also decided to tack on a summit by climbing up to Mount Olivier since I was already up there. After all, this was the first summit that Sir Edmund Hillary actually summited, so that should make for a pretty cool experience, right? Well it was, read on and check out the map.

As mentioned, the weather as I woke up was top-notch. There were still clouds in the valley and high up on the mountains, but it was clear to me that those would burn off before too long, judging by the early light from the sun and the fact that it was blue skies high above. My only tough moment came when I realized that I had nothing to eat for breakfast, and there was nowhere to get any food before starting my hike. Oh well, the best bet was just to get going, right? I made a stop at the gift shop at the Hermitage as a last chance, and they had cookies and chocolate bars. I picked up one of each for the low price of almost 5NZD! Oh well, better than nothing.

I headed down the trail, with a lightness in my footsteps. I wasn’t sure how long the trek would take, but I was ready to get it done in quick time, to make sure I didn’t miss my return shuttle bus to Tekapo. It was 40 minutes before I made it to the turnoff for my trail, Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. From that point, it was pretty much a straight uphill hike. I had to climb from 760m up to 1940m, and it wasn’t in a super-long distance, so you can imagine the kind of climbing I had to be up against. The climb up to Sealy Tarns was mostly on stairs built into the hill. After a little while, the stairs changed to rocky steps. Eventually I got to the first checkpoint, halfway up to Mueller Hut at Sealy Tarns.

It was still early in the morning, and my timing was impeccable. Sealy Tarns are a few more little pools of water up the mountain, and due to the time of day, the air was very still, and the water as well, which meant some pretty spectacular reflective views of Mount Cook and the other mountains in the region. I snapped a few pictures, and then was back on my way to the main attraction. The trail from here got much more exciting and challenging, and was a lot of fun. There were boulders, scree slopes and plenty of steep inclines. I was in my element up here, and scrambled up like a mountain goat. Before too long, I got to the top-ish of the trail, and saw Mueller Hut off in the distance, in a field of boulders. This is apparently the safest place for the hut, as it is off the avalanche paths, and high enough up to be safe.

I was the first person to get up there for the day. The other people left were leaving the hut, after having spent the night there. I didn’t stop in there long, as I quickly decided that I wanted to keep going up to Mount Olivier, after finding out that it was the first peak that Hillary summited. The climb to get up there was along a rocky ridge with some great exposure on both sides. At one spot, I was crossing a very fine ledge with steep dropoffs all around. When the wind picked up, it was something else. I could see why they recommend this track only for those with some experience. This is where I drew first blood. I made a slight miscalculation in my footing, and started falling down. The only thing to do was break my fall with my hands, which resulted in a nice pointy rock puncturing my palm. Nothing too serious, just a little bit of blood to make me feel alive.

I finished off the climb, and was rewarded with some amazing vistas of the entire valley, the mountains, and the glaciers. I tried to imagine how Hillary must have felt on that being his first summit. I decided to just lounge around up there for a little bit, soaking it all in. It was a moment of pure enjoyment for me. Unfortunately, time was ticking, and I decided to head back down to Mueller Hut for a quick snack before heading all the way back to the hostel. As it turns out, my speed was pretty quick, and I had two and a half hours left after I finished off the hike. I had already checked out of the hostel, but I snuck my way in for a shower, some hot water to make noodles, and then hung out in the lounge working on the pictures and map for the day.

The shuttle bus back was fine and dandy, and upon checking back into the Lakefront Backpackers at Tekapo, I was happy to see there is only two of us in the room so far, and it looks like it’ll stay that way. Sweet! Well, I’m off now, as I’m going to try to get these postings up, along with all the maps up to today. Hope you’re all well. No idea where I’m finishing off tomorrow, but I think it might be a place called Geraldine. It’s all capital letters on the map, so I suspect that it might at least have a few places for me to eat and maybe have a nice nights sleep. It’s only about 90km away, and most of that downhill, so I suspect it might be a nice fun day for me, weather and wind permitting. Till then, take care!

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