Monday, January 23, 2012

Aoraki Mount Cook

Mt. Cook peak (R)
Well, I've gotten a bit behind on the posting and I am now in the North Island looking for adventure, so I'll just do a quick photo post about Mt Cook.

Quick background: we'd been hearing all trip long that Mt Cook national park is not to be missed, but that it's fogged in and cloudy quite a lot of the time.  Still great in the fog, said one guy, but really something in good weather.  Mt Cook is New Zealand's highest peak (12000 feet, by memory).

We drove off from Queenstown and after a stop at the Kawarai Bridge to view bungy jumpers (pretty awesome spot- old bridge over a deep beautiful gorge. I'll post a picture later), headed out to Mt Cook through Lindis pass.  It was a gorgeous clear day and we (again) marveled at how the south island landscapes seem to change with every turn of the road. Today we drove from Queenstown's huge lake with pointy mountain ranges (long drive over windy road cut into the edge of cliffs by the lake), through a pass cut along a gorge, by old gold mining settlements, through south island's farming and wine region (Cromwell area), then through Lindis Pass and up into the MacKenzie region of New Zealand- tough ranching type landscapes with sweeping vistas and lots of wind.  Lindis Pass was especially cool- no pictures because I was driving- but the area is covered with this tussock grass, which is kind of mustard yellow and sprouts in tufts, and lots of wildflowers. The mountains were quite stark and the area had the quality of a lunar landscape for me- stark and otherworldy. 

For a photo post, this has gotten kind of wordy.  Anyhow, after Lindis Pass, we started to see Mt Cook and the alps even though they were about 50 miles away.  They looked huge and very snow capped.  as we got nearer, we had about 60 k of driving with views like this:

The enormous lake is glacial and has the most surreal blue color, not captured in this photo.  We rolled into the national park campground around dinner time, and found a spot in the crowded campground, the only camping facility in the entire park aside from alpine huts. It was basically a large parking lot, but set under a huge glacier-covered peak:

The campers were an interesting mix of backpackers, climbers, middle-aged tourists like ourselves, and groups of younger travelers. We fell asleep listening to the singing/drumming of one group, far enough away in the site that it was pleasant to hear rather than annoying.  The night was pretty cold- a ranger told me it had been below freezing. We were snugly warm under several quilts in the van.

I woke up to a very sore left foot.  I'd noticed a strain after the Kepler track hike, where I'd perhaps overdone the distance a bit. The downhilling- where one stands up on the pedals while ride a bucking 35 pound bike down a mountain over bumps and drops and turns- had seriously aggravated the strain.  My big toe was really sore.  I was super bummed about this, but we decided to try a shortish hike up a neighboring peak to the Sally Tarns (small lakes).  

I got up about half-way, but the foot was really hurting so I turned around and went out to a gentle view point with views up to Mt Cook's summit and the adjacent mountains. Dan continued to the top and got some spectacular photos.

The dark wall is a glacial moraine. The milky blue water is glacial run-off, similar in color to the giant lake in the picture above. Mt Cook is the angular peak in the center. We were camping at around 2000 feet of altitude, so just 10,000 more feet to the top of Mt Cook.
 Sally Tarn

I really need to adjust the angle of this shot! It was not on a hill!
I tried to salvage the day by doing a little ride, but that also hurt my foot. I got in around 18 miles including some gravel road riding, and called it a day. 

I sulked a bit at my lameness (in both senses: literal lameness but also at how lame it was to be in a beautiful hiking paradise with gimpy fitness and a sore foot), but couldn't stay upset for long because it was still an exceedingly pleasant place to be.  As I sat by the viewpoint stretching, there were several small avalanches up on the glacier and it was really cool to hear the booming sound and watch the snow roar down the mountain.

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