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Saturday 15 February 2003
Mueller Hut Hike (Day 2), Mt Cook Scenic Flight - Queenstown
|Silouette Mountains in Pre-Dawn|
Virtually everyone in the Mueller hut got up before dawn to see the sunrise – the sky was completely clear. The air was freezing – I had my fleece, down parka gloves and beanie on and my face was freezing. The views of Mount Cook and Sefton as the sun touched their peaks was awesome. The snow from the night before had not settled on the ground but there were old snow fields right outside the hut. Again Mount Sefton totally dominated the view. I hiked up to the peak above the hut over icy rocks. The views to the north and west were better from there. I could hear many avalanches occurring, and every so often, I could see the snow pouring down the mountain, just like a river, only more powerful. The snow would run down gutters, then spray out over the valley floor where the glacier was.
I hiked back down from the hut fast, taking just under two hours, including getting slightly off track, After signing out at DOC, I went to the activities desk at the hotel as I hoped to do a scenic flight before I left at 2:30. I was able to get one which was leaving in 20 minutes, so I had to get a special ‘taxi’ down to the airport. The aircraft was a tiny Cessna 182 skiplane. I got in the back – we took off and climbed up toward Mount cook, up the Tasman glacier valley. I could see the terminal lake, then the pile of gravel at the terminus, with sink holes showing ice through the rubble, and stretching away into the distance, it turned into a white ribbon of ice.
We then flew up and around Mount Cook. The glaciers hanging from its sides were incredible, many becoming jagged icefalls. Going around Mount cook, we passed over the Hooker, the Fox, then the Franz Joseph glaciers. Up near Mount Cook, they were a sheet of snow - unbroken, then as they descended, cracks (crevasses) appeared, then they joined to become a jagged jumble of ice blocks in the icefall.
|Tasman Glacier Head and Surrounding Mountains|
We then landed on the Tasman glacier (the largest in New Zealand). We obviously landed where there were no crevasses, but a few did whiz by when we were very low. There was a climbing party roping up near where we landed, who had just been brought in. The glacier had a fresh coat of snow on it – powder that crunched under your feet. About 20cm down, the ice was packed hard. Sab (Sebastian) from the Mueller Hut had said that when he did some climbing on Franz Joseph, he smashed his glasses and was snow blind within half a day – he said it was very painful for days. Standing on the glacier and briefly taking off my glasses, I could see why – it was incredibly bright.
Going back from the glacier, I was in the front, next to the pilot. We went along the Tasman, up close to Mount Cook. We descended quite steeply on final and landed gently. The flight was amazing – expensive, but worth it. I returned to the village and had some lunch before the bus to Queenstown came at 2:30.
The bus trip was long – 4 hours through very ‘east coast’ country – dry fairly barren sheep farms. Toward Queenstown, the hills got steeper, we passed the Karwarau suspension bridge where bungy began. We pulled into Queenstown and I could see the charcoal jagged range of the remarkables. I immediately sought out the information offices, but on the way bumped into Bob, the proprietor at the ‘Moutain House’ hostel and briefly talked to him. I also noticed that all the shops were still open. After organising a bus to the Rees-Dart track head for the next morning, I wandered around town for a while. I had called a few hostels to see if they had space but all were full. I settled on camping. I wandered around looking for takeaway places so I could sit on the shore of Lake Wakatipu eating dinner. After walking around town twice, I gave up looking when I was next to Pizza Hut, and so went there. It was pretty average. There seem to be heaps of restaraunts, but not any take aways. I packed my pack for the hike and went to bed.