Hiking New Zealand: Mueller Hut

Only 36 hours after our arrival in New Zealand and my mouth was already agape; could the hike to Mueller Hut be *any* more beautiful?

Let me back up.

Long before we left the United States, we did a little research and stumbled on Mueller Hut. Located at 5,900 feet in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, the current structure is the fifth iteration in a series of Mueller Huts that began back in 1914. The modern-day Mueller Hut opened in July, 2003 by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary. As legend has it, Hillary completed the hike up to Mueller {and subsequently, the looming  Mount Olivier} and it was this hike that inspired his lifelong passion for the high alpine.

Mueller Hut

All Photos by Will Rochfort 

Not a bad hike to kickoff our trip, right?!

We spent the night in our campervan in the campground near the trailhead, eager for an early start in the morning. But, as luck would have it, the weather wasn’t looking too hot. Our van shook with wind gusts and sheets of rain all night; what kind of weather would we have the next day?

Fortunately, we awoke to slightly better weather. Dark patches of clouds covered the sky but occasional bursts of sunlight would break through the misty veil. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do: it was time to check out Mueller Hut!

Hiking to Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

For the record, my calves hurt for a solid 24 hours after this trek!

Almost immediately, I realized that hiking in New Zealand is a far cry from hiking in the United States. They do not mess around with elevation gain! We had taken less than 200 steps on the trail when we encountered a staircase. As it turned out, this hike is so steep that these steps continued for for almost two hours. Stair after stair; quad-busting-climb after quad-busting climb. The staircase continued to climb into the sky, sucking air from my lungs and blood from my legs. At first, I gasped in pain but eventually, I settled into a nice rhythm. If there was a silver lining in this ass kicker of a hike, it was the elevation. Sure, it was a lot of climbing but the altitude was much lower than I’m used to back in Colorado; I could hang!

Mueller Hut

The four of us climbed and climbed, eventually reaching Sealy Tarns. At this point, the weather had rolled back in and a thick cloud hovered above us, lightly sprinkling a cold rain. The wind was vicious too; I needed to batten down the hatches {or my hood} to keep the howling gusts from stinging my face.

The climb continued upwards towards the ridge, swapping out the steep staircase for equally steep single track. Eventually, the dirt and talus turned to snow as we enter the high alpine. At this point, Will and I ran into a couple hiking back down the mountain. They had originally booked Mueller Hut for the night previously, but thanks to the storm, weren’t able to make the trek. Apparently, no one had been allowed at the hut that night thanks to 90 mph winds on the ridgeline!

Mueller Hut

Am I going the right way?

Eventually through the snow, Will and I obtained the ridge and caught a view of the backside of the mountain. More clouds had blown in so we could only see glimpses of avalanche debris and snowfields. But from what we could see, we both got that excited feeling in our stomach. We knew the scenery would be epic if only the weather would clear.

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Trying to kick out some huge steps to make it easier on everyone else

The last push up the snowfield wasn’t anything difficult, but the temps were continually dropping and my hands were definitely cold. Plus, I was battling that internal monologue: I knew the hut was close, but where the heck was it?! Thankfully, we rounded a bank of boulders and saw a structure in the distance. Mueller Hut!

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Home!

Arriving at backcountry huts is one of the best feelings in the outdoor world. After a long day on trail, there is nothing quite like arriving at “home,” complete with warm food and a soft bed. Surprisingly, Mueller isn’t heated with a wood-burning stove, but the interior temperature still surpassed the exterior chill. Plus, there were stoves and tables and beds!

We passed the night reading magazines and scampering up the hill behind the hut to watch the sunset. The winds were still whipping but we all started to see signs of clearing.

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

And by nightfall, that’s exactly what happened. The high winds blew the clouds away, leaving us with a crystal clear sky full of shooting stars and glistening planets.

Mueller Hut

Dawn came ridiculously early! After spending a late night shooting the stars, neither of us wanted to rudely disrupt everyone sleeping in the bedrooms. Instead, we slept on the benches in the kitchen. This was a great plan until all the pre-sunrise people got up to take photos. I couldn’t sleep on the benches any longer, so I climbed out of my sleeping bag….only to realize Will was long gone. Of course my husband was the first person outside to shoot the sunrise!

Mueller Hut

‘Will, can I go inside now? It’s really freaking cold!’

As we hoped, it was a bluebird day and the scenery was indescribable. Quite literally, I’ve never seen such a fantastic alpine environment in my life. Blue icebergs clung to the sides of snowcapped peaks and avalanche drifts slid down steep hillsides right before our eyes.

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

We gleefully began our return hike, and I could’t contain my excitement. Was this real life? How did I get so lucky to see such majestic beauty?

Mueller Hut

Mueller Hut

Above: Del and me, beyond happy to be there

Below: I couldn’t contain my excitement!

If You Go:

Mileage: 3.2 miles {one way}

Elevation gain: 3,280 feet {Yes, it’s that steep!}

Difficulty Level: Advanced

What To Pack: Warm clothes, sleeping bag, food, a cook pot, utensils and a headlamp. The hut has stoves for cooking but no dishes. There is water as well. I’d also recommend trekking poles because it is steep!

Restrooms: Yes. They had TP but I’d always bring some, just in case!

Reservations: Yes. We booked ours two months in advance due to the holiday season.

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14 Comments

  • Reply Sandy Simons January 19, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I loved this ! It’s so amazing to see all the beauty when you just get moving and explore!

    • Reply Heather January 22, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      The world is a beautiful place if you just get up and out there 🙂

  • Reply Meg January 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    I was there 2 years ago. Ahhh the photos bring me back! It’s so crazy hearing the nearby glacier move. I spent hours watching it move. Eerie, yet magical. Nothing can quite describe the beauty of NZ.

    • Reply Heather January 22, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Seriously. I’m already trying to figure out how to get back 🙂

  • Reply Setzer Hipolito January 20, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Hiking! I love hiking. Picture and information are really attention-grabbing. I am also interested to go hiking and I will go for hiking some day. This is actually excellent post. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  • Reply The Padre January 20, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Totally Epic!!

    • Reply Heather January 22, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog January 20, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    Whoa, those views! I really want to try taking night sky pictures, but I think I’ll wait until June, when it’s not quite so cold.

    • Reply Heather January 22, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Hahah it can definitely get chilly out there. Hand warmers, for the win!

  • Reply Jessie @ Chasing Belle January 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    This looks absolutely stunning, so much raw and wild landscape, which is just what I would expect from a hike in New Zealand. What a great adventure!

    • Reply Heather January 22, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Raw is the perfect world for it. Everything was ridiculously pristine!

  • Reply Anne Rusk January 23, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Looks absolutely amazing! We’re heading to NZ in November/December 2018 so I’ll be looking for your advice posts like this one!! This hut is on the short list!

  • Reply Hiking New Zealand: Isthmus Peak - Just a Colorado GalJust a Colorado Gal February 2, 2017 at 10:01 am

    […] our trek to Mueller Hut, our foursome pointed our campervan towards Wanaka, one of the most spectacularly awesome towns […]

  • Reply Camping New Zealand: Why You Should Rent a Campervan -Just a Colorado Gal March 13, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    […] We knew we would be doing a ton of hiking, especially since we’d already booked both the Mueller Hut and the Kepler Track. Both of those famous hikes required overnight stays in huts {although Kepler […]

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