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Surprising Extremes- The Mueller Hut Hike

One of the coolest things about New Zealand- other than the absolutely fantastic geography and wonderful people, is their hut system in the national parks. Huts enable hikers to travel longer distances without carrying tents and cooking gear and make great places to get to know other hikers from around the world.

Tony and I decided to hike to the Mueller Hut in Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park. This park is epic. I loved the feeling of standing in the plains of the valley surrounded by towering alpine peaks. 
In New Zealand, you don't have to climb as high as you do in the states to reach "alpine" conditions. The Mueller Hut sits at just 6,000 feet / 1,800 meters, shorter than the tallest mountain in the Appalachians. Don't let the elevation fool you, the hut is definitely in an alpine environment and you should pack in preparation for that. We did, and we were glad for it. 

Preparing for Conditions
We booked our spots ahead to make sure there was room for us. These huts fill up fast in the high season. By the time the day came, we knew that our hike out the next day would be miserable in cold, pouring rain, but the following nights were fully booked so we couldn't change plans for better weather. We decided that the beautiful hike up would be worth the cold, wet hike down. Because the hut is in an alpine setting, and weather in the area is notoriously unpredictable, we packed both rain and snow gear.
On the way up, with a view down the valley
Tony taking a break on the steep stair section
The trail from the valley floor to the treeline consists of a series of incredibly steep steps that zig-zag in switchbacks. Beyond the treeline, the trail traverses a scree-field and a stroll on sturdy rock.The trail itself gains roughly 3,000 ft in 3.23 miles.

The steepness of the route and the stairs themselves were more challenging than I anticipated.

Past the steep scree field, into the big solid rocky section connecting pole to pole. 

As we gained elevation and headed into late afternoon, the weather started to roll in. Once we actually reached the hut, the wind had significantly picked up and the clouds were dense with incredibly low visibility. After sunset, the rain began.