Sunday, March 6, 2022

Mountains and glaciers and alpine huts

I had a bit of a disastrous weekend. First, I headed down to Alexandra to paddle the Clutha through the Roxburgh Gorge. It was forecast to be a day of no wind or a gentle tailwind, so perfect conditions. I inflated Lola and got on the water, took two strokes and POP! The attachment of my seat back ripped off, meaning no back support for a 25 km paddle. I couldn't repair it easily, so the trip was aborted and I drove to Queenstown to drop Lola off with Huw to repair.

Just before the seat back broke

The next day I headed south again, this time to explore the Old Man Range west of Roxburgh. I drove up Symes Road, but at the third gate noticed my radiator fluid was boiling over! I stopped the car, rolled off the road onto a verge and waited for it to cool down. Then I rang my mechanic, refilled the cooling system with water and drove back to Wanaka.

View up the range from half way up Symes Road

As it turned out, when I had had the car serviced and new timing belt and water pump installed, someone had forgotten to replace one of the fan belts. That gate probably saved my car's engine, time will tell, but you can imagine the mechanic was a little red faced, and of course didn't charge me.

Car sorted, I rechecked the weather forecast and discovered that there was an excellent few days coming up for visiting Mt Cook National Park. Often the west coast rain spills over so it's rare to get a good few days in a row. So over the Lindis Pass and up past Lake Pukaki I drove, to camp a few nights at White Horse Hill campsite, taking advantage of my annual campsite pass to just set up camp for a few days to keep as a base.


The next morning was overcast and foggy, so I didn't get away until 11, waiting for the weather to clear. I headed off along the Hooker Valley track before stepping off the boardwalk at Stocking Stream to follow a poled route along the true right bank. This poled route is actually to the newly restored and re-sited Hooker Hut, which was not my intended destination. I was heading to Sefton Biv.

Huddleston and Tewaewae Glaciers from campsite

Crossing the Hooker River. Mueller Lake and Mt Sefton in background

The nicely manicured Hooker Valley Track. Mt Cook/Aoraki in background

Up Stocking Stream at base of climb to Sefton Biv. Hooker Hut on grassy area middle left

I left the poled route, continuing upstream on the true right to find a cairned route up the scree which later follows a ridge line up to the hut. The route isn't marked aside from the cairns, but it's a well used track that's easy to follow.

The start of the ridge climb to Sefton Biv

View back down to Mueller Lake and Hooker Hut middle left

Further up the ridge, better view of Mueller Lake and towards Lake Pukaki

The route follows this ridge up before making its way through those rocks to the higher ridge

You can see the campground and even a tiny corner of Lake Pukaki as I get higher

Looking up the Mueller Glacier, where's the ice??

It is, however, very steep, and there are a few sections that are exposed with significant drops below. But when it's dry and sunny, nothing that patience and care can't conquer.

Looking up to Tewaewae Glacier with Sefton Biv just peaking out above rocks mid left

Tewaewae Glacier

See the Biv now?

Huddleston Glacier


It took me about 4 hours to Sefton Biv. There was a young Lithuanian couple already set up in the hut, so I decided not to get cramped in with them but set up my tent in one of the sheltered spots nearby. The view to the glaciers was stupendous. Camping on a clear night with views like this sure beats staying in a hut!

Sefton Biv

Five star campsite

Zoomed view across the valley to Mueller Hut, middle of picture

the Biv doesn't have my view from my tent

Sun shining through ice on Tewaewae Glacier

All evening and night I was serenaded by the roar or ice and rock falls, which reverberated like thunder. The hut is sited well out of danger from the glaciers.

Now THAT is a five star view




The next morning the young couple left early, planning to head up Ball Pass next. I had a leisurely cuppa savouring the view and then made my way back down the ridge and scree to the bottom. 


Thunderbox toilet with a view





Mountain gentians



I headed across to check out Hooker Hut, which is hidden behind a moraine hill from the main track in the valley below. I took my time over lunch, making a cup of tea and chatting with some of the day's hut occupants, it being a hut that requires prior booking. Then I moseyed back to my campsite.


Got removed from it's original site as Hooker Glacier receded, and spent many years neglected in Twizel DOC HQ before being restored and placed back in the Hooker Valley. It's a bookable hut, especially aimed at families

Aoraki not having to pierce any cloud today

Mueller Glacier, Mt Sefton, the glaciers and Sefton Biv if you have sharp eyes

The next morning I was up bright and early because I planned to walk up to Mueller Hut just for the day. After staying a night up high at Sefton Biv I couldn't see the added value in another night across the valley. Besides, Mueller Hut costs $40 a night and is usually fully booked. I prefer smaller huts with just a few others.

The walk up to Sealy Tarns is of similar steepness to that up to Sefton, but it's a well maintained track consisting of 2200 steps. I actually quite like steps as it's stable footing. Just your fitness, or lack of it, will be highlighted pretty quickly.

Another spectacular day



Aoraki in all her glory

2200 steps I'm told (I didn't count them)

Tewaewae and Huddleston Glaciers and Sefton Biv from Sealy Tarns


The Kea on the track are used to humans, so you can get quite close to them. Good for getting a little video footage.




From Sealy Tarns the track gets more technical, continuing to climb, but less steep. There is quite a bit of crumbly scree and a few bouldery moraine fields to cross, but it's steady up to a saddle with views down to the Mueller Glacier, which has melted significantly in recent years. 





Once on the saddle the final approach is along the ridge line, just gentle climbing up to the large hut perched amongst big boulders and commanding some pretty spectacular views. Whilst covered in snow, even buried, in winter, this late in summer there is just bare rock.





The views at Mueller are more expansive, but they're more intimate at Sefton, where you are much closer to the foot of glaciers, and can actually walk up to the edge of them if you want. Whilst at the hut a big hunk of ice fell off one of the glaciers across the valley. 


Way up to the head of the Mueller Glacier


I had lunch at the hut and chatted to Mary who was the resident volunteer hut warden. When Mary said she was based at Lake Ohau I immediately realised I knew of her. She's a friend of my flatmate Karen, who had mentioned her before. Mary has been volunteering so long at Mueller Hut she remembers when there were no lakes, just ice. It would be quite rude to even intimate how old she is!!


The walk back down was uneventful, though I never enjoy descents on crumbly scree. The steps however, were a joy, all 2200 of them!



I'd made the right choice on which hut to stay at. Sefton was definitely the more intimate experience, but Mueller was well worth the trip too.

Now back to Wanaka, for take two on the Old Man Range. 

That's next...