Thursday 26th November
Mount Cook and Tasman Glacier.
We continued our journey up to Mount Cook from our river side camp, and, having browsed the DOC information centre and picked up some maps and leaflets, we sat down to breakfast and planned our day. The weather forecast featured heavily in our discussion. Severe gale force winds expected this afternoon, currently 80km/hr rising to 153km/hr later. There was also mention of thunderstorms, heavy rains and even snow.
We could over hear rugged bearded young men asking for advice regarding mountain huts...'Yes you can stay there but you probably won't be able to leave until Sunday'...there was also much talk of ice- axes and crampons...
There were several lower level routes that looked easy and safe, but we fancied the climb to Sealy Tarns at 1250metres with its views of the peaks and glaciers. We approached the ranger trying to look like experienced mountain folk and asked advice - yes that's safe - but go sooner rather than later! We went!
Packing our rucksacks in the warm sunshine without a breath of wind, it felt strange to be stuffing in all our winter walking gear, but we know enough about walking to know that conditions can and do change rapidly.
We set off up the steep path that includes 2200 steps. No, we didn't count them... It was a hard climb, but worth it for the amazing views of Mount Cook, surrounding peaks, glaciers and blue/green lakes. The glaciers were bright white with shades of bright blue ice interspersed.
At the top there were a few small tarns which provided a good picnic spot although by then the wind was getting up and we had to hang on to our rucksacks to stop them from blowing away!
The weather was a marked contrast to our last walk on the Kepler track, which was cool, green and damp, whereas today was hot, dry and dusty. The route down was easier although the irregular steps were a challenge at times. The views if anything were better as we were facing out towards Mount Cook as we descended, rather than facing the steps to climb.
The summit of Mount Cook was intermittently hidden behind a puff of white cloud which did move conveniently for photographs!
Our second walk of the day was to the Tasman glacier and lake. This glacier is retreating at such a pace that it now has a lake in the 2km area between the end of the glacier and the terminal moraine. The lake is full of glacial 'flour', ultra-fine particles of rock, suspended in the water, giving it a pale blue opaque appearance. There were several and all icebergs floating on its surface.
We treated ourselves to afternoon tea at the 'Old Mountaineers' Cafe.
We sat outside in the sun but the gusts of wind were so strong they were lifting grit and small stones and almost blew over a bench, so we had to retreat inside!
Next stop was the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine centre at The Hermitage. This was a great display of all matters pertaining to mountaineering ancient and modern, with particular emphasis on the achievements of Sir Ed.
Here are some facts about him:-
- Lived 1919 to 2008
- Born in Auckland
- First experienced mountains on a school ski trip to Tongariro in 1935
- First climbed to the summit of Mount Cook in 1948
- First to summit Mt Everest with Tensing in 1953
- First overland crossing of Antartica in 1958
- On completing Everest his comment to his team was 'Well, we knocked the b****** off!'
As well as the display there was a cinema and planetarium. Rather against our better judgement we watched the '3D Mount Cook Magic' movie, which to our surprise was very good, with close up footage of snow, summits and crevasses in 3D.
We emerged blinking into the sunshine and drove south along the shores of the bright blue Lake Pukaki.
This was spectacular as Mount Cook and the other peaks were still in sunshine and there were white waves cresting in the lake.
Our destination was a freedom camping area on the south east coast of the 30km long lake.
Our initial investigation of the lakeside 'Pines' camping area revealed a large exposed area already occupied by several camper vans, rocking in a swirling dust storm. We followed a gravel track through the site looking for somewhere more sheltered, and then bumped our way along to rejoin the main road. Unfortunately, at the end of a very long, rough and bumpy track we found our way barred by two boulders, just five metres from the highway. There was nowhere to turn as we were on a narrow winding ledge next to the lake shore. Reversing was the only option, so with Bill at the wheel and me peering out of the back window yelling directions we made it back to a level-ish area where we could turn round... Turned out to be the wrong camp site after all!
We pressed on along a little side road and past a power station, and under dime enormous hydro-tubes, before finding another winding track to a great spot on a small level promontory, sheltered by a bank of pine trees and overlooking the sunset.
We poured two glasses of wine and opened some crisps, lay on our tummies overlooking the lake and the mountains, to recover!
We watched the clouds change colour with the sunset and observed the grey storm clouds approaching, as predicted, from the north west. We had a good, safe vantage point from where we could watch the coming storm.