Old Mate on the Ridge – Mt Sebastopol(1468m)

“On a Mish” #54 Old Mate on the Ridge. Mt Sebastopol(1468m). Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. 17.11.2014. A true gem in the land of the long white cloud’s crown is the mighty cloud piercer Aoraki / Mt Cook(3724m) and his massive mountain mates. So many people drive past looking across Lake Pukaki, but not everyone is lucky enough to see the classic view of Aoraki / Mt Cook from State Highway 8. It is a 55km drive to the tiny village near New Zealand’s biggest peaks. For a very special couple of months I called the place home and as I began to explore my new backyard I quickly learnt that outside of the main trails is a land of excitement and danger…

The amazing area is scattered with epic hikes of all sorts of different lengths. From day trips on well graded tracks to multi day epics over heavily glaciated terrain, the variety is incredible.

When I lived in the village I often went up the Red Tarns Track as a training run, due to its perfect distance from my flat. Everytime I headed up and down the track I was blown away by the place, even in rainy weather.

From the loop track around the tarns I would sometimes push on into the rocky alpine environment above by scrambling up through the bluffs above the Red Tarns Track to the summit of Mt Sebastopol(1468m). The small peak is one of the most accessible in the area and the view from the top is spectacular x100.

On one particular occasion the forecast was for drizzle, but I wasn’t bothered as I just wanted some exercise.

I grabbed my day pack and headed up the track and above, on the way I passed a noisy fella rattling his way up the track. He was wearing an entire mountaineering shop, with every piece of equipment possible attached to the outside of his massive bag. The strain of the pack was evident on his face and I at this point assumed he was doing some training, and maybe selling equipment on the way?

After a quick ‘hello’ I continued on, getting to the rocky summit of Sebastopol in reasonably good time. The grey of the clouds faded into the white of the glaciers and then beneath both was the yellow and brown of the valley floor. This was a pretty good way to maintain my fitness!

I still had some spare time so I continued west along the rocky ridge towards Mt Annette(2235m). The ridge is awesome to hike along but does start to change from easy scramble to climbing the closer you get to the snow and ice of Mt Annette.

I got about two thirds of the way along the ridge and decided I had had enough and stopped and enjoyed a snack and a brief break in the weather. With deep drops either side of me and the plains of the valley floor far below I soaked in the epicness, just like my jacket had been doing up until that moment.

The view began to disappear so I began my journey back to my flat. On my way back I first heard then saw Old Mate on the ridge. By the time I got to where he was, he was sitting down sucking in oxygen like the supply was going to be cut off! I stopped for a yarn with Old Mate and almost as soon as we started talking it started to snow. He told me this was his first time in New Zealand / at Aoraki / Mt Cook Village, and he was heading to Mueller Hut via the alpine route over the Sealy Range.

The trek to Mueller Hut following the ridge and then up over Mt Annette is a journey with many alpine challenges. I was stunned and taken off guard a bit when he asked me “how exactly do I get there?” This wasn’t really the place for a navigation lesson, let alone an entire route description!

I explained as best I could and couldn’t believe he had got to this point with no real idea of how to get to the destination he was heading for. What would he have done if he hadn’t bumped into me?

To add excitement to a situation that really didn’t need any more, the weather was taking a turn for the worse and light snow had become thick frosty flakes. This wasn’t ideal conditions for attempting that route, or any route in the mountains above Aoraki / Mt Cook Village.

I did my best to make the route to Mueller sound as difficult and dangerous as possible (in the hope he would turn back) before I continued down and he continued up.

As I headed back along the ridge I occasionally stopped to see what Old Mate was up to, and now as the snow turned up a level I fought the thoughts of guilt in my mind. I had to keep telling myself that I did my best to highlight the risks of attempting the route to Mueller, but as we are both grown adults I couldn’t physically stop him.

About 30 minutes after our interaction I once again peered back up at the ridge and, through the breaks in the blizzard, I was very relieved to see that Old Mate had turned back and was starting his struggle back to the village.

I got back down no problem and as the way back to the accommodation in the village went near my flat, I kept checking out the window until I heard / saw the walking alpine shop head past.

Later that evening when I was working as the bar manager at the Old Mountaineer Cafe Old Mate came strolling in for a meal. After his dinner he came up to the bar and we had a proper chat about the many ways of getting to Mueller Hut. It would seem that the short mountain travel course he had done before coming to Aotearoa hadn’t quite set him up for a rather bold first adventure in Aoraki / Mt Cook.

I didn’t want the fella to leave the place without an epic experience so I convinced him to head up to the hut the normal way once the weather cleared, and maybe consider leaving some of his unneeded stuff back down in the village. A couple of days later I saw him again and the smile he was wearing told me he had got to the hut and seen the incredible view that it had on offer! Train then do, don’t do as training…

Tasman Glacier Lake from the summit of Mt Sebastopol(1468m)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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