Friday, June 15, 2012

June 13 - Mt. Cook

June 13 - Mt. Cook

 For once we woke up early. We got up around 7:30 with the hopes of being able to see Mt. Cook and the surrounding mountains and valley as the sun came up. The previous day it was pretty clear when we drove into the National Park, but today was a little different. It was a little cloudy, but we were hoping that was just something that happened on most mornings because that’s how it is in a lot of places with mountains. It can be cloudy in the morning than clear up as the sun comes up.

We drove to the little town nearby, which consisted of a hotel, a few hostels, a visitor center, a school, a gas station, and a few other random buildings that I didn’t look at closely enough to know what they were. We had a map which showed the trail starting right near the gas station. We drove just behind it and parked and started making our way up the trail pretty quickly because we saw the sky become more clear and the mountain coming into view.

The hike was supposed to be 20 minutes one way, which we figured would be about 10 minutes for us if we didn’t stop. We started going up a trail, but it seemed to dead end near some small water tanks. We turned towards a dry river bed and crossed it, but it didn’t seem like it was a real trail either. After a few minutes we decided that we were in the wrong spot. Luckily it was still a little cloudy so we weren’t missing anything.

We drove to the visitor center and decided we would look there for the hike, but still no sign of it. We did find a nice grassy open area that had pretty good views of the mountain. We set up one of my cameras and my gopro to do a time lapse. I have two cameras so this allowed us to each take pictures, but still get the time lapse we were wanting. I used Andy’s tripod to support one camera and used my Fiber One bar to support the gopro on top of a bench.

The weather wasn’t great and the visitor center was opening at 8:30 so we took pictures until then and then went inside. Andy wanted to charge his camera battery so he kept looking for plugs while we looked at the exhibits. There were outlets everywhere.

The exhibits mostly talked about the history of the mountains to the Maori people, the people who climbed it and how it has changed over time, as well as the ecological and geological impact of the area. Much of the landscapes were changed by human interference and shaped by glaciers which you can still see today.

We took a few pictures in and around the visitor center and then Andy asked one of the workers if he could charge his battery for a few hours. They said it was ok, but he had to leave a donation. He left a couple of coins. I purchased a map in the hopes of being able to find Glencoe Hike and the other hikes we wanted to do. It was also a good souvenir and had useful information about each hike.

We left the visitor center and returned to our car to have breakfast. I ate my Fiber One bar while we were in the visitor center museum. I had a banana and a few bites of limbus bread with a cup of milk. This is what most of my breakfasts have been like.

We fnished breakfast and then we drove around a little, but couldn’t find anything that looked like the Glencoe Trail. We followed the only road in the town a little further and finally found a sign that said Glencoe Trail. It was behind the Hermitage Hotel, which is a huge hotel with great views of Mt. Cook and very expensive. It had buffet breakfast for $18 a person. Dinner was even more expensive.

We decided that it wasn’t worth doing the hike since it wasn’t clear and that we could do it later in the afternoon, the evening, or the next morning before we left. We had a lot of other trails planned for the day. We decided to go back to the gas station we were at before where another hike began, the Bowen Trail.

The Bowen Trail was only a 10 minute walk through some old forests. Most of the area is rocky with open fields with few trees. Most of the trees had been cut down to allow sheep to graze. The hike was a short loop with occasional views of the mountains. We drug the hike out to 30 minutes in order to do some filming and take lots of pictures.

We went back to the car and headed to our next destination, the Tasman Glacier Hike. It was about a 2 minute drive up the road and then onto a second road that would take about 20 minutes to get to the parking area. Along the way I noticed that there was another hike at the same place, the Blue Lakes Trail.

The Tasman Glacier hike was supposed to take about 40 minutes total and the Blue Lakes hike another 25 minutes or so. As we were driving down the road we came upon a hitch-hiker. I had seen someone walking down the road with a large backpack while we were doing the Bowen Trail, and thought he has a long walk where ever he was headed. It turned out he was headed to the same place we were, the Tasman Glacier.

We decided since New Zealand is a safe country and hitch-hiking is common here that we would stop and pick him up. We probably saved him about 3 hours because the road was 8 kilometers one way. His name was Chimly or Chumly or something. I don’t know what he said. He was from Spain and had quit his job and was traveling around New Zealand. He was staying in hostels along the way and traveling by bus.

Based on the places he said he had been it sounded like we had similar itineraries, just he went the opposite direction we did from the start and he wasn’t going to as many places. Part of that was due to money and some time, but also because New Zealand is hard to travel around without your own transportation.

We arrived at the parking area and told him he could join us if he wanted, but that we tended to stop a lot to take pictures. He said he didn’t mind, but I don’t think he realized how long we take when it comes to taking pictures.

The Tasman Glacier Hike and Blue Lake Hike follow the same trail at first and then branch out in different directions. The first hike we did was the Tasman Glacier Hike. It was relatively easy with a few steep rocky portions. I thought it was going to be much longer than it was. We only stopped a few times to get pictures and film ourselves hiking, mostly because we probably didn’t want the other guy to think we were crazy.

At one point you can see the Blue Lakes from above. On the way up you can only see the first lake, which isn’t blue at all, but more of a dirty greenish color. As you continue up the trail for a few minutes you come to a lookout of the glacier. All you can see is a large lake with a few icebergs on one end, and way off in the distance the remains of the glacier.

The Tasman Glacier is an ugly glacier according to most people because it is receding, rather than advancing. Most glaciers are moving down a mountain through a valley they carve out due to gravity and other forces of nature, but this particular glacier is melting from the front. Therefore, all you see is a big jumble of rocks.

I thought it looked kind of cool. It made for some interesting pictures as I could scramble around on the rocks and take a lot of self portraits and gopro action. We stayed at this lookout area for about 30 minutes. I could tell that our Spanish friend was done taking pictures and most likely ready to move on. I had more pictures to take though.

We finally finished and then headed back down. After the hike Andy told me he thought that the Spanish guy was like Gollum, so I’ll refer to him as that from now on since it makes sense. Two guys traveling through New Zealand on an adventure, and then find some random guy.

Andy and Gollum were a little bit ahead of me because I was stopping to do some gopro shots and take pictures. This must be the point when Sam and Frodo get split up and Gollum tries to convince Frodo that Sam is trying to steal his ring.

Up ahead Andy stopped to wait for me at the fork in the road to turn to the Blue Lakes. I got down to meet them and we continued on. Most of the time Gollum was in front with Andy right behind and me back in the distance. I called Andy back a few times and we did a few shots at each lake. There were four in total I think. From above we could only see three, but the trail kept going so we kept walking.

Eventually I got in the front of the pack and Gollum was in the back following. As we passed the fourth lake I started wondering how long the trail was going to be and if it was a loop. The map didn’t show it being a loop, but I left it in the car so I wasn’t able to look.

The trail was very flat so it was an easy stroll. It also didn’t seem like a heavily traveled trail at this time of year, nobody else was on it. The lakes were mostly very small, only 20 or 30 yards in length, one was even dried up. The last lake was much larger though, maybe 70 yards long. We passed the final lake and I was wondering if over the hill ahead would be another lake. Instead the trail started going down and ran into a gravel road.

Gollum had gotten ahead again at this point and asked what we planned for the rest of the day. We told him we wanted to do the Glencoe hike if possible and Kea Point hike and each lunch at some point. Gollum thought if we walked down the gravel road a little ways that we would possibly have good views of the glacier and get a little closer. This must be the part where we are lead down a random trail so he can steal the ring.

I didn’t really want to hike down the road, but we didn’t really have anything else to do so I thought it would be fine. Had I been thinking he was Gollum all of this time than I may have had second thoughts. I knew the road was about 6 or 8 kilometers long and at the end was a trail. I didn’t really want to walk that far.

As we walked down the road to our right was a steep ridge which could possibly have views of the lake and glacier, but based on previous experiences of going off the trail it could just have more ridges blocking anything we hoped to see.

We walked for about 25 minutes, mostly at a gradual climb. As we walked further I was thinking it may be time to just go off the road and try to climb the ridge. It seemed like there was a little trail up ahead. We decided we would take a few more turns on the road and then see what we could see. The road offered no views, as it just kept climbing and each turn had another higher climb.

So we left the road and hiked up the short, but very steep trail up to the ridge. It was very rocky and had small trees around in some areas. Back down the road it warned of this being an avalanche area and it wasn’t hard to see why. The rocks were small and very loose and they were easily moved. One wrong step and the hill could slide out from under our feet.

A few minutes later and we were at the top. The place we ended up actually was a real trail. The top was a lookout named Murray’s Lookout. It did provide decent views of the glacier and lake. We weren’t much closer than we were before, but it was a cool hike. At the top of the ridge was a trail that seemed to lead closer to the glacier.

On the right side it was almost straight down, on the left side it was nearly straight down. It seemed like a good idea to hike along this one to two foot space to see what we could see. Gollum seemed reluctant to follow at first. Andy was out front and came to a large rock surrounded by the short thorny bushes that were all around this area. At this point the trail ended abruptly.

It was taking Andy a few minutes to navigate his way to the top of the large boulder. Rather than wait to see if the views were good I decided to hike around it by going below to the right. The left side was impossible to pass due to the trees, so I had to try and walk very carefully on the steep side of the mountain. Every step I took it seemed like more rocks were let loose. At one point a few rocks started to slide. This side of the mountain was mostly soft dirt and very small rocks. I was thinking that the soft dirt could let loose and start sliding down and eventually take the bigger rocks below with me along for the ride as well.

I eventually made it around and could continue hiking on the top comfortably. The views weren’t getting much better so I stopped. Andy was following slowly, and Gollum showed up as well. Andy made it all the way over to where I was and took some pictures. I asked if Gollum wanted to go over as well, but he said no.

We started going back. The route back seemed much easier for some reason. As we got back to the point where we came up I decided to continue on the ridge. I thought it would be more fun and more scenic. In order to see if the trail would go through I went ahead. Andy and Gollum stayed behind. The ridge at this point was a very steep incline. It wasn’t tough though.

At the top I waved for them to come on, but Gollum decided he didn’t want to. Andy came alone. At the top it was pretty easy hiking. There were parts where you had to watch where you stepped as there were rocks hidden in the grassy parts, sharp thorn bushes, and boulders to navigate around. As we walked further the trail became much more rocky, and these rocks weren’t very secure at all. I would describe it as hundreds of rocks about a foot long and six inches side stacked side by side and on top of each other.

These were the kind of rocks that one misstep and they could all go tumbling. To make it worse, mixed in were large boulders. It seemed like they were more secure and you could step on them, but even some of these were lose. Besides, the small rocks were holding them in place, so I was envisioning stepping on a small rock, it tumbling down, and the bigger rocks above losing their hold and coming down after. This is how most rock slides occur I’m sure.

I was extra careful where I stepped, but a few times I could feel rocks move under my feet. This portion was obviously dangerous and a bad idea. I didn’t want to have to turn back though because I didn’t want to have to hike through that mess again. We came upon an area where everything around us was blocked by thorny bushes. I tried to find a way down, but nothing seemed possible. You would need a machete to chop through these areas.

I did find one small opening that required us to step on a thorn bush while holding on to rocks for leverage, and then climbing over little green plants with sharp ends. The same kind I had fallen on before when I did my roll. These plants hurt very badly to be poked by. Even the thorn bushes weren’t that bad. Of course as I navigated this part of the hike I was stabbed, but I learned to just deal with it and keep moving. It was the type of pain that hurts for a few seconds and then goes away. Rather than try to do something stupid to avoid it, it was better to just take it.

We got by the death thorns and then continued onto another rocky area. This time there was a huge boulder blocking the trail. The only way through was more medium sized rocks holding precariously onto the side of the hill. We walked a little ways through, but soon found that there was no hope. We were trapped. There were thorn bushes all around. If we could go down the other side of the hill it would be ok, but the other side was a cliff.

It looked like we had no choice. We had to go back. We had only been walking for about 15 minutes, but it felt like 45 at least. I was able to see Gollum down below on the road and was thinking how he was going to be waiting a long time for us to catch up.

We turned around and started back tracking. Around the large boulder, through the death thorns, over the loose rocks, down the grassy trail, and back to the steep decent to the road. We made it. Nobody died. We started walking back to the parking lot on the gravel road not really knowing how far it would be.

It was all down hill which was nice. We passed the avalanche area we had just tried to traverse from above and saw the trees blocking our route. Just 20 yards or so beyond was more rocky areas with a route down to the road. We passed the Blue Lakes Hike opening that we had come out on earlier.

We hiked for about 40 minutes before getting back to the parking lot. Gollum was waiting in the shelter for us. We joined back together at the car and were on our way back to town for lunch. As we drove he offered us some dried mango he had purchased. It was interesting. It didn’t taste like mango, but it was pretty good.

We dropped him off just across the street from his hostel where he wanted to return. He said he was staying in a dorm, but was the only one there. That sounded nice. If I was him I would have gone to take a nap. It was around 2:30 at this point and I was ready to eat.

We drove back to the campsite and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and cookies. Since I was tired I went to the tent to have a rest. We spent about an hour in the tent.

We planned to do the Kea Point Hike late enough in the day to see the sunset. It was pretty cloudy all day so I didn’t know what kind of views of the mountains there would be. Also, the sun went down around 5:30 and the hike was only 1 hour long. For that reason I didn’t feel the need to start too early because I didn’t want to be waiting out in the cold for the sun to go down.

We walked down to the start of the trail around 3:30. Nobody else started the trail this late, but a few people passed us on their way back. The majority of the trail was very flat and very easy. As we got near the look out point it became a little steeper and more rocky, but nothing like we had done earlier.

We got to the look out point for Mt. Cook and the Mueller Lake and the other mountains around 4:30. I set up my gopro and one of my cameras to do a time lapse. For the first time all day Mt. Cook was kind of visible. We couldn’t see the top really, but it was still cool views. As we sat there taking pictures you could hear ice cracking and sometimes hear or even see an avalanche. We weren’t in any danger since they were so high up and we were in an area with no snow and a flatter area.

It was really cool to see the ice falling from an avalanche, and if we couldn’t see it we could still hear it. The clouds weren’t changing a whole lot and the settings on my time lapse camera were making the sky look very dark so I eventually turned it off. It looked ok when we watched it, but it wasn’t the proper lighting. Maybe the gopro will look better.

It was getting a little dark so we decided we were ready to go. As we packed our things to leave We set up the gopro to do a few videos as we hiked back. Andy looked up and there it was, Mt. Cook! The whole thing! The clouds had dissipated. The sky was clearing up completely. The neat sunset we came to see was happening.

The clouds in the area had been neat all evening, but we still couldn’t see the mountain completely, but now we were able to. It was awesome. We took a ton of pictures. Andy did a few long exposures because it was getting so dark and they turned out good.

Had we just kept walking and not turned back we would have missed it. By the time we started hiking down it was completely dark. We had to use our headlamps for the hike back. We didn’t stop at all. The guide said it would be a 30 minute hike one way, it was actually less than 15 at our walking pace.

Back at the parking lot we crossed through the fields on a rabbit trail to the campground. It was faster than going around on the road. We got to the car and decided to drive to the town to a community kitchen. The kitchen at our campsite had no water, but the community kitchen did. We had bought a few things of ramen noodle cups and we each had one left. This time it was Satay, some kind of Chinese dish. It looked good.

We poured the boiling water into the cup and waited. We also each ate a carrot with ranch dressing. The ramen noodles were kind of spicy, but I liked it. We drank a little milk and had our two cookies. It wasn’t a big meal, but at least today we actually ate three meals, even if they were small.

Back at the camp Andy did a time lapse of the campsite with the mountains and stars in the background. He only did one picture per minute, but he left his camera on for two hours until the battery died. While he was doing that my computer was messing up. It kept saying something was wrong with the hard drive or programs and needed to be fixed. I tried to run a few tests, but it wasn’t working. I think it may have gotten too cold from the night before.

I wrapped it in my jacket before, but I tried putting it in my sleeping bag this time. That lasted about two minutes. I roll around too much and the computer was making it too hard to do that because of the weight. Instead I just wrapped it in my jacket, but did a better job this time.

Obviously my computer started working again eventually that same night. I typed in my journal a little and then went to bed around 9 or so. Tomorrow we are off to Dunedin, but will try to do the Glencoe Hike in the morning if it is clear. We aren’t in a hurry to get to Dunedin, so we will take our time in the morning and on the drive.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! Sounds like you guys are having a fabulous time. My advice - drink more water, and stay on the actual trail. You should know better than to wonder off...always a bad idea.
    So stay warm, stay safe and have fun, but don't do anything foolhardy. We can't wait to see some pictures.
    love you guys