Winter Wonder Land in MCV

Lee Cook’s last blog from Mt Cook Village- winter is here and that mean’s running in the snow when you live in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest mountain.
For the last month or so I’ve traded the trails and mountains for the road in an attempt to get more speed.  If I’m honest I get very little pleasure these days in running on the tarmac and its never been my friend with regards to injuries. In fact I’m already starting to feel the aches and pains of an old shin splints injury. However, it has been paying dividends and I’ve already seen huge improvements in a short space of time.
This week, along with a lot of the South Island, we had a nice dump of snow in Mt Cook. As soon as it started to fall I NEEDED to get out in the mountains!! Most of the people in the village start to whine this time of the year. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop with excitement. Yes I appreciate its cold, -8 one night this week, but you can always put more clothes on! I finish work at 4.30pm and wasn’t on call so there was no need for me to stay in the village. Too good of an opportunity not to give Sealy tarns a bash. So I raced home, threw some thermals on and packed a bag with worst case scenario in mind. I drove over to the camp ground with time being of the essence due to lack of daylight by 5.30pm. The temperature in my car was already reading -3.
As I worked my way onto the kea point track from the campground it was like a winter wonderland. All the trees were caked in snow and it looked ridiculously pretty. My face had a whopping big grin on it and I felt so lucky to have this right on my door step. Coming from the northern hemisphere, my association of snow is always Christmas and it sure did feel like it! Once onto the kea point track I continued on until I saw the Sealy tarns and Mueller hut signs along with the avalanche warnings. The track then kicks up and meanders through more pretty snow caked bush line.
From the foot of the climb its pretty much all very steep staircases. Usually you can see a sign indicating the 1,800+ steps which guide you up to the tarns. To my delight some soul had walked up that day, so I was able to follow their trail without having to kick steps of my own into the snow. I did notice however that underneath was a thick layer of ice from the previous days rainfall which would prove tricky on the decent. Having run up to Mueller hut many times its important to set off very steady as the middle section can really zap your legs. I managed to get a good rhythm and at this point I could see the frozen mueller lake and most of the hooker valley. It had started to snow again lightly and in exposed places the wind was quite strong. I started to think ‘I bet none of my competitors are out training in this.’ In reality I bet they where, in general mountain runners tend to be crazy idiots needing an endorphin fix!
 snow tarns
On a personal note, I breezed up the middle section which usually has me in a state of oxygen debt. I’m feeling really good and light on my feet at the minute, I’m just hoping that the shin splints doesn’t come back to rear it’s ugly head. Half way up and there was a noticeable temperature drop, more snow and more wind. Visibility was starting to get quite poor so I stuck my head down and continued to follow the worsening trail of foot steps. By the time I was three quarters of the way up the fresh snow had filled in the footsteps. Kicking footsteps whilst trying to maintain a running rhythm is no easy task but I still managing to maintain a whopping big smile on my face!! I was considering stopping at this point to put on a buff to protect my face but decided against it. By the time I reached the tarns the dry powder snow was nearly knee deep. I would have loved to have carried on for a bit up towards Mueller Hut but the worsening conditions and ever reducing daylight made that unsafe.
 I’d managed to get up there in 24 mins which isn’t much slower than I’d been doing it in summer. I took a quick action shot and then I was heading back down with no time to waste. Getting down proved rather tricky. Some of the steps where so small and steep in nature that I was walking down them rather than running. I’d prefer not break my neck than keep my heart rate in a zone! Pathetic athlete eh! But on a serious note, falling and breaking something in those temperatures and altitude would have dire, dire consequences and I was rather keen not to do it. By the time I’d got to the bottom there was very little daylight left and I should really have taken a head torch. Safely down I picked up the speed to the car park. Just as I thought I’d managed a fall free outing, I slipped on a patch of ice whilst opening my car door. Thankfully nobody saw me on my arse.
Then it rained today! Booooo! Can’t wait for my next weekend off running in the snow, hopefully in some blue skies….

About Lee Cook

Lee Cook has written 5 .

Lee Cook is originally from the North West of England and with a back ground in triathlon, is now based in Mt Cook Village and looking to tackle the NZ mountain running scene. In his first outing here he won the Pyramid Run in Twizel in a course record time.

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