Mueller Hut and Mt Annette

1st – 3rd October 2021

Grade I, 1

Sealy Range,

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

 

Mueller Hut (1800m), partially buried in the snow, with Aoraki/Mt Cook behind.

 

My housemate and I decided to make the most of a good weather forecast and spend the weekend at Mueller Hut in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Although one of the most popular huts in the country, neither of us had been there before, and thought that a winter trip would be the best way to avoid the crowds.

The track starts at White Horse Hill campground, at the end of the road up the Hooker Valley from Aoraki Mount Cook Village, and first takes you to Sealy Tarns. These small lakes are about 600m above the valley floor, and the track to them is almost entirely stairs. So many stairs. We had a break at the tarns to give our calves a rest, and were greeted by an inquisitive kea who came to see what was going on.

The snowline was at the elevation of Sealy Tarns, and we’d brought snowshoes as well as crampons in order to try them out. It was my first time using snowshoes, and I didn’t last long in them. While I’m sure they’re great on snowy plateaus, ascending the steeper slopes above the tarns I wanted to be able to kick my toes and edges in for stability, which snowshoes don’t allow. I switched to crampons and the rest of the climb to the ridge was a breeze. From the crest of the ridge of the Sealy Range, it’s a short easy-angled walk to Mueller Hut.

The hut normally stands on stilts a couple of metres above the ground, but upon arrival we descended down some snow steps to the door. Luckily a couple of people had arrived the previous day and dug the hut (and toilet) out. Snow (and ski tracks) covered most of the roof on the southern side. There were just the four of us in the hut that first night, which was lovely and quiet, but pretty chilly. I was glad to have brought my new thin summer sleeping bag to use as a liner inside my thick winter bag!

On Saturday we set out to traverse the Sealy Range south to the Annette Plateau and the summit of Mt Annette. The route crosses the west flanks of Mt Ollivier and Kitchener, on snow slopes of about 35°. There was evidence of loose wet avalanches from the previous day, but the snow was firm and safe at the time we crossed. The entrance to the Annette Plateau is hidden from view for most of the traverse, but after climbing up a final slope the ground flattened off and opened out into a large white bowl. An excellent spot for lunch. After another kilometre or so of low-angle snow, we zig-zagged up the final face to the summit. To the southwest was Mt Sealy, while off to the east Sawyer Stream led down to the Tasman Valley. Looking back the way we came, Aoraki Mt Cook was framed perfectly in the valley of the Hooker Glacier. After soaking in the views, we largely retraced our steps back to Mueller Hut, at times taking a slightly lower line to avoid the softening snow on Mt Ollivier. That night the hut was full of skiers and climbers, and the wet floors and noise that comes with them. At least it was warmer at night!

Before heading back down to civilisation, on Sunday morning we followed the ridge directly behind the hut to the summit of Mt Ollivier, only 600m away horizontally. We looked at the possibility of continuing along the ridge to Kitchener, but decided to save that for another trip. Passing by the hut to collect our overnight gear, we continued down the rapidly melting snow to Sealy Tarns, and back down the stairs.

So many stairs.

The route to Mueller Hut, and beyond to Mt Ollivier, the Annette Plateau, and Mt Annette

Kakīroa/Mt Sefton left, Aoraki/Mt Cook right, from Mt Annette

Traversing the slopes below Mt Ollivier

Aoraki/Mt Cook from the summit of Mt Ollivier

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