The Cloud Piercer
Rising 8,000 feet from the floor of the glacier-carved Hooker Valley, the tallest peak in New Zealand is truly world class. This is where Sir Edmund Hilary trained before climbing Everest; a mountain that just makes you want to climb it after one look. Though we were under-prepared to even cross above the snowline, we had an excellent two days gazing at the walls of rock and ice surrounding Mount Cook— or, as its known by its appropriately badass Maori name, Aoraki, “The Cloud Piercer.”
In the morning we dropped by the excellent information center, which displayed stunning aerial shots, old photos of early mountaineers, and facts and figures about the surrounding geology. The nearby and equally good Sir Edmund Hillary museum celebrated the climbing titan’s achievements and Antarctic expeditions. Just outside, the south face was lit a cool ice blue.
The receding Tasman Glacier has left one of New Zealand’s newest and coldest lakes in its wake. Lake Tasman is a scene straight out of Antarctica, and seeing a group of kayakers paddle next to some of the smallest icebergs gave it a new sense of scale. The massive Hooker Valley extended out of sight, a perfectly flat plane among towering peaks. We could just picture the Ice Age glaciers making their slow progress south.
The view up the Hooker Valley from the Sealy Tarns.
Though Mount Cook is the region’s draw card, the glaciers clinging to the commanding north face of Mount Sefton were equally impressive.
The highlight of our two days was a short walk out to Kea Point for a last look at mountains in the fading light. Mount Cook stood alone in last evening rays, glowing high over the shaded valley.