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Trail Tales

Enjoying the Journey in New Zealand's Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park

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As a close friend and I wrapped up our month of adventure in New Zealand, one of the last spontaneous things we did was hike up to Mueller Hut in Mount Cook National Park. The two-day experience ended up being the highlight of an entire month in New Zealand.

The hut sits at 1,800 meters on the Sealy Range and delivers a 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks that are delineated by glaciers, cliffs of ice, and sheer rock walls.

It’s a relatively short hike—5.2 kilometers one way—but extremely steep. We climbed 1,657 wooden steps and then scrambled even higher to reach the hut at 1,805 meters above sea-level. The sun beat down on us for 4 hours of nonstop uphill body-aching, mind-exhausting, sweat-soaked effort.

Put simply: it was hard and I focused on the difficulty, unaware that the next 24 hours would transform my outlook on life, friendship, nature, and adventure.

When we reached the hut at the summit, I realized why people do this hike. The hut sits in a quiet, peaceful spot high above the Hooker Valley with a stunning view of Mount Cook in the distance.

I’d never watched the sun set from within the mountains before and I wandered off a bit to experience it completely alone. It was one of the most unique moments of my life, a moment where you can’t believe you’re looking at and experiencing something so beautiful.IMG 1622

All images: Matt Hoffman

We had set up our tent not far from the hut (spaces in the hut must be pre-booked, and it was full), and when it became dark, more stars than I’d ever seen revealed themselves. Little sleep was had that night. We wanted to soak in as much of this experience as possible.IMG 1661

Early the next morning, we set out with new friends met at the hut to watch the sun rise. There’s no more adventurous feeling than wandering through the 4 a.m. darkness of the mountains with only the light from your headlamp to guide you.

Once we found our spot, we warmed up with tea and snacks and watched the most epic sunrise I’ve ever seen. You really gain an appreciation for the sun, watching it rise from a perch high up in the mountains. It lights up the whole world outside us and inside us.IMG 1747

Making friends is easy in circumstances like that. You’re all there for the same reason, sharing the same special experience that no one else could fully appreciate. It was a moment that warmed the soul.

On the way down the mountain, I realized the entire adventure was a metaphor for life: Sometimes you have to struggle and sweat to get to the good in life. Once you’re there, you don’t remember the bad feelings and you realize everything is worthwhile.

The combination and intensity of all the emotions over those 24 hours—the suffering up the mountain, the human bonds, the insane beauty, the being alone on top of the world—made it my most memorable experience of New Zealand.

Matt Hoffman is a Canadian Adventurer and Content Creator. Always eager to take the harder route for the better view, he’s driven by the need to capture impactful moments in unique outdoor experiences. Find him on Instagram @matthffmn or https://www.matthoffmancontent...


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