Thursday, June 14, 2012
June 12 - Mt. Cook
June 12 - Mt. Cook
We spent yesterday in Twizel and looked at Lake Pukaki and Lake Ohau. Last night I fell asleep pretty quickly after completing my journals, it was probably around 10:30.
We woke up around 8:30 in order to get an early start to go to Mt. Cook. We were hoping we would have good views along Lake Pukaki like we did the day before as we came in. This time we would be driving north instead of south and the sun would be facing towards us instead of away from us like it was before.
We set up Andy’s camera to do a time lapse video of us taking the tent down. We had already packed up the inside when we started it, but it will at least show us taking the tent down. It took about 10 minutes to complete that process.
I had limbus bread, a banana, and a fiber one bar for breakfast. We went into town for a quick stop at the grocery store since the night before it was closed so early. We bought hot dogs, milk, apples, bananas, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and a few more ramen noodle bowls - chicken noodle and satay. The satay looks like a Chinese flavor.
We finished our shopping and drove to the visitor center to see if we could watch the sun come up over the mountains the way we had watched it go down from the same spot the night before. The views weren’t very good since the lighting wasn’t great.
We left pretty quickly and started north towards Mt. Cook. Along the way we stopped a few times to take pictures, but not for very long. As we got closer to the Mt. Cook National Park we stopped a lot more. The lighting was pretty good and the mountains looked really pretty. We took pictures of ourselves in front of the car with the mountains in the back and I took a few shots with just the car. The pictures should come out well.
We thought the whole time we were seeing Mt. Cook in the distance, but later we found out it was a different mountain, Mt. Shelton. In front of the mountains is a large meadow. At one time it was used to raise sheep, and it might still be, but I didn’t see very many sheep.
We drove for about 1 ½ hours total from the time we left in the morning from Twizel until we made it to the campground in Mt. Cook. The camping area was right near two hikes we planned to do - Hooker Valley and Kea Point.
The campground area was very basic. There was nobody there when we showed up. It was just an empty field with picnic tables. There were a few bathrooms and a community kitchen nearby as well, but the kitchen had no stoves or microwaves like the last place, and the bathrooms were all closed for winter. The kitchen ran on solar power, so it was freezing inside and there was no running water. There was one porta-potty outside though. It was small, but clean.
The campground was self check-in and you paid by putting money in an envelope and dropping it in a little stand. It was only $6 NZD per night per person, so it was very cheap. We paid our money and chose out a spot to camp, but decided to wait and set up our tent later so we could start hiking.
The main hike to do is the Hooker Valley Hike and since it was right next to the campground we decided to do it first. The description we read said it included two swing bridges and views of a lake with ice bergs in front of Mt. Cook.
There seemed to be a lot of Japanese people in New Zealand, and Mt. Cook has a lot of them. They come in on large tour buses, hike for about 15 minutes, and then get back on the bus. It doesn’t seem like much of a vacation, but that’s what they do all over the world.
We started the hike at about 11:30 AM. Signs posted said it was a 3 hour hike total. It would take 30 minutes to the first bridge, 30 minutes to the second bridge, and then 30 minutes to the lake. Along the way there was a pyramid stone monument to the people that had died in the park and a monument to the first woman to climb Mt. Cook. We stopped at each and took pictures of the surrounding mountains and valley.
We did a ton of gopro videos. It took about 45 minutes to get to the first bridge. Most of the trail was flat except a little downhill portion right before the bridge, it took so long because we just stopped a lot. We took some pictures of the bridge, filmed ourselves crossing it, and then moved on. The second bridge probably took an hour to get to. The trail was about the same except a lot more rocky. Along the way we went off the trail to see views of Mueller Lake just over a steep ridge. It was a nice divergence for a few minutes. Again I took some self portraits. The area reminded us of the Salkantay Trek we did in Peru on our way to Machu Picchu. The scenery and trail were very similar.
The second bridge wasn’t as big, but leading up to it there was a cliff wall you had to walk along. Luckily there was a railing, otherwise it was a straight drop off into the river below. The scenery here was really cool. We again filmed ourselves with the gopros and took lots of pictures.
It was now about 1:15 as we crossed the bridge. In my head I wanted to have the trail done by 2 or 3 PM when we first started, but now it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen. At a normal walking pace it’s probably a two hour hike, but we were dragging it out as long as possible.
We eventually made it to the lake and saw the ice bergs with Mt. Cook in the background. The skies were really clear so it made for some great views. We stopped for a little while and took pictures of the ice bergs and had lunch. We had made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and brought chips to eat. We only ate our sandwiches.
It was a pretty big lake, and looked a lot like Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana, although the water wasn’t the same color. This water was frozen solid in most parts, but the ice wasn’t very thick. It was about a centimeter thick it seemed, at least near the shore line it was.
We hiked along the water in order to get closer to Mt. Cook. There were some parts where you could see the mountains reflecting off of the water. The trail at this point is just lots of rocks. It didn’t even seem like an actual trail anymore, and most the people around were just walking where ever they wanted.
We stayed at the lake for about an hour. A lot of the people just walked up to the lake, turned around, and left. They didn’t even take pictures or if they did they took very few. Before we left we stopped to skip rocks along the water. We heard a weird screeching sound and didn’t know what it was at first, but when we looked over we saw a man skipping rocks on the ice. It seemed fun so we did the same.
We must have skipped rocks for about 25 minutes. We made a game out of it. At first the goal was to get your rock to stay on the ice without breaking through or falling through on one of the areas where the ice had completely melted away. I was able to get a few rocks to stay. Andy wasn’t very good at it, but I think he eventually got a few to stay up. I then changed the game to trying to hit one of the icebergs and the rock had to stay on it. I was able to get two on, I think Andy may have eventually got on to stay, but I’m not sure. I was ready to go after about 10 minutes, but he wanted to keep trying until he hit the iceberg.
As we started walking back a few more groups of people arrived at the lake. One of the groups had a guide and had started the hike when we did, but they went a different way. They must have walked off the trail at some point because I never saw an alternative route.
We started walking back to the trail head around 2:30 or so. I told myself I wouldn’t stop along the way on the way back unless there were some cool pictures, but we ended up stopping a lot. All of the groups that were still at the lake when we left eventually caught up to us and passed us. It seemed like we were the last ones on the trail.
As we got closer to the second bridge a few people passed us going towards the lake. One guy passed us going to the lake, and then passed us again coming back. He was carrying a sack of something on his shoulder, and I don’t know if he made it all the way to the lake. He may have been someone that was working there.
Once we were almost back to the starting point it was about 5 PM. We had been on the trail for 5 ½ hours and still weren’t done. We again went off the trail and tried to climb a ridge to see if we could see Mt. Cook as the sun was going down. The trail up was pretty steep, but it was mostly grassy. There were a few spots that were hard to navigate because there were lots of small thorny bushes and little trees. There were little yucca type plants with really pointy ends that hurt if you touch them.
We eventually got to the top of the ridge and had very minimal views. It wasn’t as high as we thought and there were more trees at the top blocking clear views of the mountain. We were only able to see the very top point and had to zoom in all the way with our cameras to get anything. It was still neat to hike up there though. We took pictures for about 10 minutes and then went down again back to the trail.
On the way down Andy was filming me with the gopro. At the steepest point I was walking down side ways with one foot in front of the other. I was doing short little hops to make it easier. I took one hop and stepped on a rock and felt my ankle start to twist. I jumped up real quick and fell forward. I did a Bear Grylls roll on my side and over my back and hoped up. I had landed on one of the thorny yucca plants. I wasn’t hurt very badly, but I did feel a sharp pain in my right near where the thorn stabbed me. I did have a slight pain in my ankle as well, but it was ok. I kept walking and within a few seconds it was fine.
We made it back to the original trail and about 3 minutes later we were back at the parking lot. We finally finished the trail around 5:15. The three hour trail was turned into a 6 hour trail. We decided that however long the trails said they were, we would add twice as much time.
At this point it was pretty freezing outside. There was even frost already forming on the ground. We made it back to the campsite and noticed that a handful of small RV type cars had shown up for the night. We still hadn’t set up our tent so I walked over to the picnic table area we had picked out. Andy drove the car around and we chose a relatively flat surface to set up the tent. We tried moving the picnic table since it was on the flattest spot, but it was frozen to the ground.
We sat up the tent and all the things inside pretty quickly. We then walked over to the kitchen area to have dinner. There was no water so we had to settle for sandwiches. We had tuna, ate the remaining crumbs of our first bag of chips, had two cookies, and a carrot each with ranch dressing on it. Andy cut the carrots up into smaller bites since he complained it was hard to eat when it was bigger.
We finished dinner around 6:45 and headed back to the tent. I was ready to freeze my butt off for the night. Along the way it was dark and I didn’t have a head lamp. Andy had his on, but he wasn’t lighting the path for me very well. I just had to follow him as close as I could and see where he stepped. The trail we walked along was a rabbit trail. It was only about a 2 minute walk, but there were lumpy parts with rocks.
We got back to the tent, I got in my sleeping bag and wrote for the night. I wrote for about an hour I think. I eventually fell asleep around 8 PM. Our goal is to get up early and watch the sunrise over Mt. Cook from a viewpoint along the Glencoe Hike. We read that it was best at sunrise and sunset to do that particular hike.