Introduction

At 1800 metres on the Sealy Range, Mueller Hut provides a 360-degree panorama encompassing glaciers, ice cliffs, vertical rock faces and New Zealand’s highest peaks.

Track overview

5.2 km one way return via same track

Walking and tramping

Advanced: Tramping track

Seasonal restrictions

Mueller Hut must be booked between 17 November 2014 and 30 April 2015.

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

Places to stay

Mueller Hut is the only hut on this route. Bookings are required between 17 November 2014 and 30 April 2015. Book Mueller Hut online. Outside these dates, during the winter period, bookings are not required.

Camping is permitted - for those prepared for cold and wind. Bookings are not required to camp.

Sign in at the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre before you leave

Call into the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre on the day of your stay to sign into our intentions system, and obtain up to date information on weather and mountain conditions. Sign out after your trip to avoid triggering an unnecessary search.

Sealy Tarns. Photo: M Rosen.
Sealy Tarns

Village to Sealy Tarns

Time: 2 hr

Start on the Kea Point Track either outside the Aoraki/ Mount Cook National Park Visitor Centre or at White Horse Hill car park, at the end of the Hooker Valley Road. Follow the Kea Point Track to the Sealy Tarns turnoff.

The Sealy Tarns Track begins gently until you reach the foot of the Mueller Range. The start of the steep section of this track is marked by an orange triangle. Make sure you are on the obvious track – not in the old streambed just adjacent. The track zigzags steeply up to Sealy Tarns.

A climb to this spot will reward the walker with spectacular views of the Hooker Valley and the peaks in the area, including Aoraki/Mt Cook on a good day. A tarn is the name given to a small mountain lake or pond.

Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut

Time: 2 hr

Rocky terrain on the ridge line Photo: M Rosen.
Walkers negotiating the rocky terrain on the ridge line towards Mueller Hut

From Sealy Tarns follow the orange markers (every 200 metres) through the tussock. This is not a maintained track but an alpine route.  Parts of the route are quite rocky. It zig-zags through alpine scrub, herb fields and tussocks to a large rock field.

From here the route ascends a loose gravel slope (scree) of about 50 metres, to the skyline ridge. At certain times of the year this becomes a steep snow slope. Once on the ridge relax and enjoy the magnificent view of the Mueller Glacier sweeping down the valley past smaller hanging glaciers and the stunning ice shelf on Mount Sefton.

The route from here turns south towards the hut. Follow the orange markers through the basin until you see Mueller Hut – about 20 minutes along the ridge.

Side trip: Mueller Hut to Mt Ollivier

Time: 30 min

This is a rock scramble along the obvious ridge from Mueller Hut to the top of the rocky outcrop immediately to the south of the hut. A big cairn marks the top. Don’t be tempted to go further along unless you have experience, as it can get dangerous. It is very steep and exposed beyond the top of Mount Ollivier. This was the first peak Sir Edmund Hillary climbed, beginning a climbing career culminating in the first ascent of Everest.

Mueller Hut.

Mueller Hut

Category: Serviced Alpine
Facilities: 28 bunk beds, cooking, lighting, mattresses
Bookings required

Mueller Hut to village

Time: 3 hr

Descend back to the village the same way as you came up. Do not be tempted to go straight down or veer off the route at any stage. Make sure you turn off the ridge down the scree slope at the orange marker. In bad weather it can be quite difficult finding your way.

Nature and conservation

Vegetation

The route to Mueller Hut is a great place for viewing alpine flowers and herb fields. With a vertical gain of 1000 metres from valley floor to rocky ridge top, there is a diversity of flora to see.

The tikapu, or Mount Cook lily (Ranunculus lyalli), makes an appearance in late November, followed by a variety of other alpine flowers. Clumps of gentian flowers appear from January onwards, and look out for the yellow Graham’s buttercup (Ranunculus grahamii), which flowers even when snow is still about. The red berries of Pratia macrodon, a small creeping herb found in rocky and stony ground, can be seen on the climb to Sealy Tarns.

Further up, the landscape changes to snow tussock and different grass species, including the curled snow tussock (Chionochloa crassiucula) and other Chionochloa species, and the South island edelweiss (Leucogenes grandiceps) can be glimpsed nestled amongst rocky outcrops.

Meet the locals

The nearest thing to a bandit likely to be encountered in the South Island mountains is the kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot.

Relationships between humans and kea have not always been smooth, partly because of the birds’ tendency to borrow things or analyse them to the point of destruction. People who stow vulnerable objects away and take the time to watch the kea will be treated to some first class clowning, then a flash of bright orange underwing when the antics are over.

By contrast, pīwauwau (rock wrens) are content to hop among rocks and plants in their endless quest for spiders, insects and the minute fruit of alpine plants. Despite being weak fliers they have made it to the 1300- 2500-metre zone, where they stay for the exclusive delight of people who climb that high. Not even the harshest winter forces these little birds down, as they manage to shelter and find foodbetween rocks, beneath alpine shrubs or even under a layer of snow.

Frequently seen flitting over rocky screes and ridges above the 1200-metre contour is the black mountain ringlet (Percnodaimon pluto), New Zealand’s hardiest native butterfly. Its colour is part of a sophisticated solar energy system, vital for living at such an altitude. Survival techniques include laying eggs on the underside of relatively warm stones. Most of the ringlet’s three-year lifecycle is spent as a caterpillar, which could explain the often joyful style exhibited when it finally and briefly, gets airborne.

Beautifully camouflaged grey, green or yellow wingless alpine grasshoppers are so abundant on the route up that when disturbed they can sound like the patter of rain on the grass. Species of large black spiders are common on the boulder and scree slope, but they move so fast you have to be quick to see them.

History and culture

Mueller Glacier was named by Julius Haast in 1862, after Ferdinand von Mueller. Mueller was a Danish-born scientist and explorer, who came to Australia in 1848. Mueller became a great botanical collector and writer.

Originally built in 1914, the present Mueller Hut is the fifth hut to be built with that name. The first hut was just 300 feet above the Mueller Glacier, but by 1947 it was 500 feet above the glacier and was deteriorating.

A second hut lasted just four months until it was swept away by a wet-snow avalanche. Hut debris was hauled back up from the glacier and used to build temporary quarters erected at the same spot.

The fourth Mueller Hut was built not far below the present site in 1953 and lasted until it was pulled down in 2003.

The current Mueller Hut was opened in July 2003 by Sir Edmund Hillary, and is situated just below Mt Ollivier – the first mountain Sir Edmund climbed.

Know before you go

Sign in at the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre before you start your trip

Call into the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Centre on the day of your stay to sign into our intentions system, and obtain up to date information on weather and mountain conditions.

It is very important (even with a booking) to sign in before departure, and to sign out after your trip, to avoid triggering an unnecessary search.

Every evening at 7:00 pm in summer (1 October to 30 April ) or 4:45 pm in winter (1 May to 30 September) there is a radio call to the hut. The park duty officer gives the weather forecast and checks who is at the hut/campsite. The hut radio is available for emergency use if required.

Day trips

It's not necessary to sign in at the visitor centre for summer day trips, although it is advisable to let someone know.

Signing in at the visitor centre for day trips during winter is advisable.

Experience and equipment

Even in the best conditions a climb to Mueller Hut demands a fair degree of fitness and experience, plus good equipment.

Much of the 1000-metre climb is not via a track, but up a route marked by rock cairns and orange markers. These can be hard to find if the weather deteriorates, as it can, rapidly, at any time of year. The track is unformed, ranging from a rough dirt surface to unstable scree and rocky terrian. Both track and route sections are steep, demanding 3-4 hours of almost continuous climbing from Aoraki/Mt Cook village to the hut.

Normal tramping equipment is adequate, with strong footwear, spare warm clothing, and a good windproof jacket essential. A sleeping bag, food, torch/lantern, matches and toilet paper also need to be carried.

No special equipment is needed for the easy rock scramble up 1933-metre Mt Olliver behind the hut, but anything more ambitious is strictly for properly equipped and suitably experienced climbers.

Reaching the hut in winter requires a good level of mountaineering experience, including walking on ice and snow with ice axe and crampons, route finding and using an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. Call in to the visitor centre for advice on conditions.

Seasons

The normal season for climbing to the Mueller Hut is from mid-November to late March. However, that can vary according to snow conditions. There is considerable avalanche danger on the route during winter and spring (April to mid November).

Winter at Mueller Hut. Photo: M Langford.
Mueller Hut in winter

In winter, the hut is a base for ski touring on the Sealy Range. A thorough knowledge of avalanche dangers and ability to navigate in alpine terrain is essential for ski tourers.

Be avalanche aware

There is considerable avalanche danger on the Mueller Hut route during winter and spring (April to mid November). However, avalanches can occur at any time of the year, as snow falls year round in the park.

If you are going out during these times make sure you can;

  • Recognise avalanche conditions and avalanche prone areas.
  • Know the safest areas to travel in.
  • Assess your skills and knowledge of avalanche awareness – your life depends on it!
  • Take with each of you an avalanche transceiver, a snow shovel and a probe. Know how to use them.
Poo pots

In winter, the toilet at Mueller may be buried in snow. Carry a personal poo pot (available from the visitor centre) and carry all your faecal waste out. Faeces do not break down in the alpine environment, and if buried in the snow, will reappear next summer when the snow melts.

Pack it out - Poo pots

Before you go

  • Check the avalanche and weather forecasts
  • Take advice from professionals
  • Sign in your intentions
  • Never travel alone

Contacts

Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 435 1186
Address:   1 Larch Grove
Aoraki/Mt Cook
Email:   mtcookvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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