Day 8: Mt. Cook

July 15, 2016

“Hooker Valley is the last place I would want to be tomorrow!” These encouraging words were spoken to us by Tom the bartender last night as he contemplated the weather forecast for our day’s plan to hike the Hooker Valley track. When we woke up, it was still raining/snowing, so we suited up and prepared for the worst.

At 9AM, we met our fantastic guide Mariko. The weather improved as soon as we stepped outside and hit the trail. There was still some icy/slushy/snowy patches on the path, so Mariko gave us YakTrax to use, and they were amazing. How do I not own a pair of these?!? Walking with ease on the slippery path, we made our way through they valley.

Mariko is the best!

Mariko is the best!


Snow chains for your feet

Snow chains for your feet


Onward past Mueller Lake

Onward past Mueller Lake

With the Southern Alps on our left, and the Mt. Cook Range on our right, we saw plenty of glaciers. Mariko pointed out the Stocking Glacier (which looks like a stocking) and some hanging glaciers. We passed over the Hooker River three times on suspension bridges that reminded me why I am not going bungee jumping.

Glacier in the sky

Glacier in the sky


Joanna loved these suspension bridges

Joanna loved these suspension bridges


Southern Alps

Southern Alps


Stocking Glacier

Stocking Glacier

The river water originates from the glacier, and is milky-looking because all the schist rock in the valley creates a fine grey powder via mechanical erosion. As the river flows further, it feeds into lake Pukaki, where these same sediments create the brilliant turquoise color we saw yesterday.

Mt. Cook dialed in

Mt. Cook dialed in


Snow blowing off peaks in the Mt. Cook Range

Snow blowing off peaks in the Mt. Cook Range

Soon, Mt. Cook came into full view. As the highest mountain peak in New Zealand, it is easy to spot. Following the glacial moraines on each side of the valley, we made it to Hooker Lake, with Hooker Glacier on the opposite shore.

Clear view!

Clear view!

With today’s warm northerly wind (yeah, this is the Southern Hemisphere!) the icebergs from the glacier had congregated at the southern end of the lake.

Ice on Hooker Lake from Hooker Glacier

Ice on Hooker Lake from Hooker Glacier

We stopped for lunch, and Mariko even busted out a portable stove to boil water for coffee and tea. She told us the Maori legend of Aoraki, which is their name for Mt. Cook. Two brothers took a canoe across the lake to visit their father, the Sun God, and his new wife, the Land Goddess. During their assent to the sky, they messed up their frequent flyer chant, and didn’t get into the priority club access lounge. Instead, they froze in the mountains, and you can now see the face of one of the brothers in the peak of Mt. Cook.

After eating and marveling in our surroundings, we scrambled over some larger rocks to see the headwaters of the Hooker River, which was rushing strongly thanks to the precipitation in the previous 24 hours.

On the return trip, we learned about the flora. Even though there are 200 days of precipitation a year, the valley is very dry. Many of the plants look like they belong in a desert. Some have fun names including the Face Slasher, the Wild Spaniard, and the Bloody Irishman. The British liked to name prickly plants after groups of people they didn’t like. Subtle.

First algae, then moss, then tiny plants

First algae, then moss, then tiny plants


Old Man's Beard, aka. Lichen

Old Man’s Beard, aka. lichen


The Wild Spaniard, with leaves sharp as knives

The Wild Spaniard, with leaves sharp as knives

Another cool phenomenon were the hidden cascades. Waterfalls flowing in and out of the mountain — disappearing and reappearing all the way down to the river.

Holy schist!

Holy schist!


Given the location of this LOTR scene, Hermitage Hotel is the White City of Gondor

Given the location of this LOTR scene, Hermitage Hotel is the White City of Gondor

With Mt. Cook behind us, and the Hermitage in front of us, we completed our hike. Next up was to head over to our favorite bar for dinner, drink more Monteith Black beer, and gloat to Tom.

There were pockets of clear sky, so we checked with the stargazing group to see if they were heading out to the telescopes. The clouds were moving too fast, the moon was a bit too bright, and the wind was too strong, all making telescope viewing pretty mediocre. Alas.

However, we held our own stargazing tour by walking around the hotel in the moonlight. No telescope, but I think we did alright.

Won't see the Southern Cross in Chicago

Won’t see the Southern Cross in Chicago

Thanks, Mt. Cook. You did good.

2 Responses to “Day 8: Mt. Cook”

  1. Looks like stunning scenery! So glad you guys had a great day. And even with the clouds the sky looked amazing! PS. See – if you lived in Minnesota you would know about YakTraks – got 2 pairs of them in the closet LOL! Here’s to the next days adventures. Oh, did I thank you for taking the time to share all this with us? THANK YOU!

  2. You two have had some amazing experiences and seen some pretty spectacular scenery! Thank you for sharing the pictures and the narrative. I can see why my sister said it was her favorite country to visit!

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