I can’t quiet describe what it felt like peeking round that never-ending ridge line after a four and a half hour climb uphill and catching our first sight of that famous little red hut. We were lagging behind, mainly because we were taking photos and secondly because we were too busy soaking in the views surrounding us to hurry ourselves along. After climbing for what felt like forever, we hit the home stretch, the red hut sitting pretty surrounded by snow. One last jaunt uphill through the ice and we settled down with a brew and the best view my eyes have ever seen.
I had been packing and un packing for weeks. Worrying about what to take, what bag to take and most importantly what food to take. This would be my first overnight hike with a group of people who had never seen me at my worst while hiking. Robbie is the only one who has had the pleasure of my over dramatic wails halfway up mountain peaks. Luckily I was sent a backpack the week before from Kosan travel which made my life a whole lot less dramatic. Sleeping bag, clothes, cameras & enough snacks to make sure everyone in the hut was catered for.
The girls had planned a golden hour Lupin session and a campground stay in Omarama. After being collected from work Friday afternoon, I sat back in the car and watched the beauty of NZ roll by on route to our first destination. The campground was cute, our hut was placed away from the rest and conveniently equal distance from the kids play area and the kitchen.
I had to pinch myself as the sun was setting over the mountains and the fields came alive with colour. We had found the perfect Lupin spot and danced around in those brightly coloured wonders for hours. Turns out I can now add Lupins to the allergy list, however I wasn’t going to let anything ruin this sunset. We hopped across the road and found a river reflecting the pink sky. Mother nature was making four girls very happy!
I spent the night packing and re packing again knowing tomorrow before we started the hike I would re-pack again. Maybe it was the nerves kicking in or the excitement, or the fact im a huge control freak and have to know at all times what order my belongings are in. After shooting some iconic Mt Cook road shots that I was secretly itching to get we had some time to kill before the others made it to the village. We drove round to Tasman Glacier and walked the short 20 mins to the lookout. This was my first time seeing the glacier and my eyes were not fully prepared for how blue it was going to be. Excitement levels for the rest of the trip set at an all time high and I must have looked like some creepy joker wandering around with a grin bigger than my face. The words WOW, Oh My God and Krista’s Woo-Woo’s had all been truly exhausted within the first few hours.
Something happens when I see Mt Cook, some kind of weird happiness washes over me. Maybe its the beauty, maybe its the sheer size of it or maybe its the connection it holds to Mt Everest which is my absolute dream destination. Whatever it is, something makes me go all warm and fuzzy inside. Although my nerves had started to kick in I was still excited. We ate what was left of from our campground dinner the night previous and packed our bags. Eagerly waiting for the other two to join our party I packed, unpacked, re packed and tied my boot laces one million times over.
Everyone was pumped, we had just embarked on the route to Sealy Tarns. 2000 steps later we would be patting each other on our sweaty backs and admiring the views below. It was hard, I’m not going to lie and carrying half of your personal belongings on your back made it that little bit harder. Everyone became a moral support system, we all had each others backs for rest stops, photo stops and please don’t carry on without me I need to catch my breath stops.
Reaching Sealy Tarns is an achievement in itself, the steps are hard and somewhat never-ending. It felt amazing to drop my pack for twenty mins and explore. Mt Cook was hiding behind a little cloud but the sun was shining as high as everyone’s spirits. The next stretch goes down in my books as the hardest bit of hiking I’ve ever had to do. It started with rocks, winding up the mountain, it then turned into snow. I used a rock and my bottle to haul my ass up that face. With Kate two steps in front of me we kept pushing. Luckily she was on hand to pull me out of a hole I fell through. My whole left leg had disappeared, eaten by a snow hole that I later found out Zemira had created on the way up! When we reached the top of the snow and the path flattened out a little we looked back down on what we had just climbed… I don’t know about Kate but all that was running through my head was how we were getting back down in the morning!
So this is where I started to dream. Dream about that big hot cup of tea waiting for me in the hut kitchen. Just around the corner we kept telling ourselves. Trust me, there was quite a few corners left before we hit that steaming kettle. After clambering up and down rocks using the markers as support, stopping for one last impromptu photo shoot as Mt Cook had decided to show his beautiful face we hit the official home stretch. Just twenty mins of digging our boots into the snow and the red hut was in sight.
Walking through that hut door, throwing our packs onto the bunks and sinking into a lemon tea was one of the best moments of my entire existence. Not only had we hiked in snow for the first time, vertically for what seemed like forever but we did this together, as a team and I was feeling very happy and content. We quickly ate some snacks and did what all photographers do, wrap up warm, brace the elements and get out exploring the surrounds. Like kids in an icy playground we were, frolicking around in the snow, finding new perspectives and taking in the sheer magnitude of nature surrounding us. I literally felt like we were in a dream world. The mountains were so epic and beautiful I had to keep pinching myself.
Upon arriving at the hut we met four other photographers who were taking adventuring to the extreme by camping out in little man-made stone forts. The four guys up there happened to be four of the biggest Instagrammers in the game and high on all of our inspiration lists. Sharing that sunset with a bunch of like-minded people was pretty mind-blowing and a moment I will never forget.
After tucking into my veggie backcountry meal and braving the outdoor toilet one last time, which came complete with an ice slide to and from the steps we hit the hay ready for sunrise. I laid in bed watching the light slowly disappear and listening to the sound of the not so distance avalanches fall. I felt like I had been asleep for a second before getting a head ruffling wake up call. Deliriously putting clothes on back to front in the dark and grabbing my camera gear together it was time to brave the cold morning wind.
Being awake before the sun rises gives you a real sense of life. It helps ground you at least for a moment to enjoy the start of a new day in all its glory. We hopped around on the rocks a little longer and retreated when the kettle was calling, thankfully Benny was on ice collecting duty as the water tank had frozen. Packing up and saying goodbye to Mueller hut is something I didn’t want to do. Slowly realising the adventure was nearly over we soaked in the last of Cook as we descended through the snow.
The snow wall was approaching, after successful mastering the rocks I knew it was just around the corner. I was terrified of falling down & took some time assessing the situation before being moved out the way by Kate who gladly got down on her ass and slid right down to the bottom, whooping the whole way. She set a president for the rest of us and also knocked about half an hour off our descent time.
The stairs came quicker than we had all hoped and tackling them together is the best way. No body likes coming up and I don’t think anyone in their right mind likes going down. A collective of knocking knees and very questionable joints made it to the bottom in one piece. Then a whole second wave of emotion flooded through me. The achievement, the adventure and most of all the cemented friendships that came hand on hand with this epic trip took me back for a moment.
I thank my lucky stars daily for the people who surround me and push me to my physical and creative limits. New Zealand sure does provide some world-class views and adventures that I am grateful to share with these wonderful people in my life. Until Next time Mt Cook.
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