Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Under the stern face of Aoraki

My husband and I were very spoilt to be shouted a weekend away at the Hermitage at Mt Cook this weekend. And boy was it a great weekend to be up there. We awoke on Saturday morning to snowflakes floating against the window. It looked gorgeous. Luckily after a stupidly large buffet breakfast and some lazing around our nice room the weather cleared completely and it turned into a glorious sunny day.

Not a bad view from the room
Hubby and I were going a separate ways as my dodgy knee and hip isn’t up to the sort of strenuous walk that he, and the rest of our group were planning on doing. For those who know Mt Cook they headed up to Sealy Tarns. I cunningly took my bike with me and after rugging up against the biting southerly breeze I headed off to the Tasman Valley.

The ride into the valley is ok, on a gravel road that wide enough to avoid the various tourist buses, camper vans and cars. I had the wind behind me and was enjoying the stunning scenery so it was a leisurely ride. Not long into it I had to stop and remove my coat and leg warmers as I was broiling alive.
A glorious day in the high country
Once I got to the car park where the walks start I veered off to the left and followed the unmaintained 4WD track the heads up the valley. This was a fun and challenging ride with lots of loose rocks between fist and head sized to negotiate on the ups and downs. I didn’t notice it on the way in, but you’re constantly climbing as you get deeper into the valley. It was so silent in the valley. I didn’t see anyone else the whole time I was in there and the only sounds were the occasional bee and the battle cries of the Skylarks. It was bliss.

As I got further up the valley the track merged with the river bed and I was in an avalanche zone, evidenced by the streak of thick snow and pointy boulders I had to push my bike over. It was a bit freaky looking up at the steep slopes on my left and wondering if something was going to come sliding down. Finally I couldn’t really follow the 4WD track anymore, it was just loose rocks and boulders everywhere with no clear path. I decided it was time to take a look at the glacier after coming all this way. I hoped I was close to the toe.
Icebergs a plenty

After a quick scramble up the little ridge that separated the valley from the glacier I was sitting on a huge boulder looking down on the glacier and listening to amazing sounds of it breaking up. It was pretty dodgy on the ridge, having been undercut by the glacier. I took some photos and as much as I wanted to stay and see ice break off I didn’t feel safe. The last thing I wanted when I was alone was to slide 100ms down into icy melt water. After a careful descent down the ridge I pushed on up the valley a little longer before giving up. I didn’t want to sprain an ankle or something equally silly while I was alone.
Slightly dodgy ridge
Heading back down the valley was an outstanding ride. Plenty of bunny hopping off rocks, loose turns and general rocky fun. It has taken me an hour and a bit to get up the valley from the car park, but it only took 10 minutes to get back and I was grinning like a mad woman. Unfortunately the ride back out to the Hermitage was horrible, with a cutting head wind and lots of dusty traffic. My legs were pretty grumpy about the whole thing too.
The ride back down the valley was fun

Mt Sefton at night

Then next day hubby and just did a little walk up to Kea Point to watch a few little avalanches and take photos of the freaky face I’d seen in Mt Cook when the snow cleared on Saturday morning. It was a little disconcerting having this stern visage watching over us the whole weekend. It was a scorcher on Sunday and I managed to get sunburnt before we piled in the car and headed home to more horrible earthquakes. I would definitely recommend a little ride up the Tasman Valley if you’re in Mt Cook. It’s not super technical, but the scenery is awe inspiring and the rocks make it challenging enough that you have to pay attention the whole time.
Can you see the face just below the front peak?

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