New Zealand – Hooker Valley and Mt. Cook

Continuing on our tour around New Zealand’s South Island–yesterday we stood on the moraine above the Tasman Glacier’s lake and felt the vastness of its surroundings. Today we explored Hooker Valley above Cook Village and climbed a mountainside with views of Mount Cook, the Main Divide and their two glaciers.

Stepping out of our motel room at Glentanner next to Lake Pukaki, the air was fresh and clear. The first thing I saw looking up the valley was the towering bulk of Mt. Cook shining in the sunlight. From this direction it is shaped like a huge A-frame tent rising above the already high ridge between the two valleys. An immense triangular buttress of rock and ice rises to the long summit ridge. My eyes followed that rising ridge toward the summit. A billowing cloud with its filmy underbelley seemed glued to the long smooth ice-sheathed east face, hiding the ultimate pinnacle. The rest of the sky was the purest fresh blue you could imagine, with only a few other scraps of cloud floating around.

By the time we had eaten breakfast and driven to the campground at the end of the road, the cloud had disappeared. The day was warm and still.

We were confronted by the vast wall of the Main Divide. Mount Sefton with its vertical cliffs and its companion The Footstool dominated. Everything was so big–I didn’t have a scale to measure them by. However, the zoomable topo map http://gis.doc.govt.nz/docgis/ shows that Sefton’s summit at 3,151 m. was fully eight thousand feet (c. 2,450 m.) above us. Eight thousand continuous feet of cliffs, icefalls and more cliffs in a single sweep to the valley below. Out of scale.

After lunch I hit the trail up the side of the ridge to our south, toward the Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. The trail is wide and well-maintained, speaking to the popularity of the scenic Tarns on a high bench overlooking the valley. The steep trail alternates between gravel and real stairs made of heavy timbers to help speed trampers to the heights.

A thousand feet above the valley I found a viewpoint with  a broad vista from Mt. Sefton around to Mt. Cook and down the valley to the Tasman River. The floor of this valley and of the Tasman are flat and smooth below the abrupt slopes of their surrounding ridges, speaking to the vast amounts of outwash from the glaciers since they have melted back.

From here I looked directly up Hooker Valley as it turns northeast between the Main Divide and Mt. Cook. And in the middle rose Mt. Cook. Savage fins, cliffs and hanging glaciers rose into the sky and kept on rising. Finally a steep slope of snow and ice led to the narrow summit ridge and the final hump of snow against a blue sky. Standing tall and sharp, the mountain dwarfed the towering ridges around it. As I wrote in my journal: “Mt. Cook doesn’t just go up. I goes up, and up, and up, and doesn’t want to stop.”

When I was planning my trip I had told myself that I wanted to put my feet on the ground and climb above the valley to get a feeling for the scale of the mountains. Now, a thousand feet up, I saw how small this distance is in these surroundings. I sat and marveled. This scale was huge. And I was in the middle of it all. It was humbling and, at the same time empowering to know that, as a part of this amazing world, I have been given great value that I can use for the benefit of others.

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About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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One Response to New Zealand – Hooker Valley and Mt. Cook

  1. Pingback: What’s Happening to Glaciers | Mountain and Spirit

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