Editor’s note: In light of recent events, we weren’t sure where to go with our content. Today we decided to share some of the joy we find in the mountains.
(This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.)
After an enjoyable day skiing up on Mt. Temple, iffy weather was forecast for the next few days. We decided to tour out of Porters Ski Area for the morning (where it was supposed to be better weather), and then head down south to take advantage of any good weather near Mt. Cook. We skinned up Porters, but after a while of battling high winds that wasn’t going to let the snow soften, we turned around and headed back to the car. Good exercise, and our first taste of NZ wind.
We packed up our Spaceship Campervan and headed out along the “pie highway”. Our first stop was the famous Sheffield Pie Shop. Delicious! The drive south through rolling sheep covered hills with snowy mountain backdrops was incredibly beautiful. The views just kept getting better as we approached the high peaks near Mt. Cook. I knew the Southern Alps were big. I wasn’t quite prepared for how steep, glaciated, and dramatic the peaks in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park are. Mind blowing, to say the least.
The weather forecast continued to be unsettled; not bad, but not that great either. Still, it seemed worth the gamble to head into one of the high huts and try to score a weather window.
Tuesday was supposed to be unsettled weather, but when we woke early the weather looked clear. We decided to do a day trip to the Mueller Hut, in the Sealy Range, situated just above the little village of Mt. Cook. The trail is essentially a giant wooden staircase, that rockets you up to snow line.
We made it to the Mueller Hut, and took shelter from the high winds for a few minutes. The snow hadn’t really frozen the night before, so we decided to ski down from the summit of Mount Ollivier, just above the hut. We popped over the ridge, and skied down the sun warmed northern slopes of the peak back toward our car. The snow was rather soft; if we had been later it wouldn’t have worked.
We enjoyed the ski down, and even startled a small heard of tahr (mountain goat like things introduced from Central Asia). The snow eventually ran out, and we hiked down scree, before meeting up with the trail to the car.
We got back to the trailhead pretty early, and the weather seemed much better than forecast. So we decided to head over to the Mt. Cook airport to see about a flight into a hut.
We had heard of some incredibly cheap tickets. $75 to fly into a glacier? Sounds good! The various huts, especially in the Tasman Saddle area, are legendary. We walked into the airport, and after talking to a few people, got a price of $480 for a flight in. A pretty standard price for a helicopter, but definitely out of our price range, especially for a marginal weather window.
Eventually, we realized the folks were open to negotiating. Bargaining for glacier plane ticket prices was definitely a new concept for us. The plane company folks were awesome, and great about helping us fly in on a budget. After a bit of back and forth, we managed to talk it down to $100 for a possible seat on a ski plane already heading out to pick up some folks in a few hours. That’s more like it! We had to pack up our stuff and leave in two hours, so we scrambled to get everything together in time.
In about an hour, almost everything was packed, with just a few things left to do. As we were finishing up, one of the air service employees ran out and said, “Your flight probably won’t go out, but we’ve got another one heading up there that’s empty. You have to leave RIGHT NOW!”
We ran around like crazy for a few minutes and managed to get all our stuff over to the plane, where the Kiwi pilot was casually gassing up, lit cigarette hanging from his lips. He was remarkably chill about the sudden change in plans. We threw our stuff in, and in a few moments we were airborne, above the massive Tasman Glacier. A bit of a hectic, uniquely Kiwi experience, but I like their style.
We hadn’t had time to do a few things, including registering for a hut or deciding which hut to stay in. The Tasman Saddle and Kelman huts are about a kilometer from each other, at the head of the glacier.
“You going to that hut?” Asked the pilot, pointing to the precariously perched Tasman Hut.
“Uhhh, sure!” Was our response.
Soon we were crouched on the glacier with a pile of gear, watching the plane take off. We made it.
The cirque where we landed was absolutely insane. Big, glaciated peaks in every direction, with a giant valley glacier winding below. I felt like I’d been transported to Alaska.
We skied down to the hut, and met some nice French guys who had made it in by foot. The overland route involves ascending the rapidly receding Tasman Glacier, which means miles of loose moraine, and broken up, ever changing glacier. Kudos to those guys for doing it. It seemed like it was worth some money to avoid that particular sufferfest.
After settling into the hut, we decided to headed up toward Hochstetter Dome, for a few evening turns. We skied down just as the sun set. What a day!
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.