New Zealand: Mount Cook, Just Keep Hiking
Mount Cook Rain Plan
If you are willing to stick it out, stay in the park. It is incredible to see how massive and powerful the landscape is and how much the rain changes the rivers.
Hooker Valley Track: Easy gravel path along the river, several swinging bridges, view of waterfalls and glaciers.
Cory and I had originally planned on hiking the Mueller Hut trek (a one night out and back)...but as it turns out, the weather didn't agree. Although we saw rain and severe thunderstorms in the forecast, we decided to just go to Mount Cook for the day and postpone the decision of where to camp that night. Planning a backpacking/adventure trip requires constant flexibility!
As we were driving towards the park along Lake Pukaki, we hit a wall of rain, unable to see any of the mountains that were supposedly all around us. We layered up in our rain jackets and rain pants and trudged on. We checked in at the ranger station to cancel our Mueller Hut reservation and asked for the ranger's suggestions on hikes to do in the rain. He said "Go back, and leave Mount Cook." I was a little taken aback by this, the ranger morphed in my mind to Gollum saying "Leave now and never come back." How could a ranger be scared by a little rain? We half-heartedly took his advice and went to a cafe to warm up with some tea and deliberate about the next move. The lady at the cafe counter said that normally you can see Mount Cook right out the window, but we couldn't even see the road about 500 feet away...maybe the ranger was right.
We decided that while we were there, might as well get some nice forest hiking in and maybe see some birds. And thank goodness we did. After our 30 minute hike, we came out of the forest and could finally see some of the glaciers that, combined with the rain, were gorgeously creating waterfalls into the rushing river. With this new view, we drove down Hooker Valley to see more, dead-ending at a campsite that we didn't know existed. This was it, this was our new plan, we were going to brave the rain and camp the night.
As the thick under-layer of clouds opened up we hiked along the Hooker Valley Track. Large suspended bridges crossed over roaring rivers, causing them to sway even more than normal. We only had about two hours of light left for our hike and a short window before the thunderstorms started that night. I rushed from river crossing to river crossing attempting to capture some long exposures, most of which got huge rain drops on the lens by the 1st out of 10 second exposures. But no matter how the photos were coming out, the landscape was epic! To top it all off, Cory was able to add a New Zealand Falcon to his bird list! After about an hour of hiking we reached a point where we finally had the right angle and clearance to see (part of) the grand Mount Cook. It was truly magnificent, especially with the dramatic rain and thunder that was heading our way!
With the rain getting heavier we began to run back to our campsite...which luckily we had planned ahead and put up the tent before our hike. We got into dry clothes and curled up in our warm tent. The thunder and lightning got louder and brighter making us a little more nervous being in our tent (the amplification from the surrounding mountains didn't help). We decided to sleep in the car and wait out the storm, which ended up being a good call as there was a lightning strike that shook the car.
After a long night of tent/car camping we had a delicious and WARM breakfast at the cafe, carbo-loading for our next adventure in Edoras/Mount Sunday.
Take Away: Just because a ranger says to go back, just keep hiking...you never know what you will see.