I looked up at the steep vegetated slopes. Rocky bluffs jutted out here and there providing welcome breaks from hauling myself up this mess. Water trickled down some slopes making the accent even more precarious. Where was this damn trail?!
I had started out an hour earlier at brisk pace along the Hooker Valley track at Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand. I was on my way to Sefton Bivvy, a small hut situated with stunning views of Hooker and Mueller valleys.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU DOWNLOAD
With me I had a GPS route I had downloaded from a popular outdoor website. We’ll just go ahead and call this website ‘Site X’ from now on…
Site X had a short written description of the route up to Sefton Bivvy along with a GPS file that could be downloaded. It's a well known website and often has GPS files and custom track notes available for download.
As it was well after midday already and getting late for my hike, which usually takes a full day, I had figured that using the GPS track would save some time in finding the route. I needed to hurry after all. The impression from the Site X description was that it wasn't easy to find the start of, or continue up on either for that matter.
I will add that I’m no stranger to off track navigation, and I was confident I would find a well worn track soon, given the popularity of the Sefton Bivvy hike. It’s often used as access to mountaineering trips and an alternative to the Mueller hut hike nearby.
A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
Starting up the steep slopes next to Stocking Stream after wading through the grassy tussock, I noticed the cairns placed high on boulders near the stream. So far, so good.
I continued on.
Checking again with the GPS, I noticed the track from Site X veering off left up one of the ridges. Wanting to make sure I had the correct trail and save unnecessary adventures up unmarked terrain, I decided to follow the GPS track closely. It was strange that it left the comfort of the cairns that stretched into the distance but I quested on, determined to try the GPS route as it was the best information I had on me. And the time of the day was in my mind as well. It had to be correct I figured.
Half an hour later, still bashing through the steep, thick alpine scrub, I checked again to see where I was. I was right on top of the trail according to the GPS track from Site X. Hmmmm. I looked around.
Not a well worn track to be found! Holding onto the steep slope I had little doubt of a stitch up. There was plenty of loose scree and alpine bushes around though!
Committed now and knowing this was certainly not the right path, I eventually spotted a poled marker way up high above me and knew I was nearing something resembling a human track. Bashing on, up slopes that just wanted to throw me off, I had my goal in sight.
Pulling myself up on the rock at last, a well worn trail greeted me, running like a highway left and right. There WAS an obvious trail, completely missed by following this GPS track I had downloaded! I should have trusted my instincts.
A little annoyed but at the same time somewhat amused at my situation, a ran on and soon made it to Sefton Bivvy. That last section on the proper track was a breeze compared to the stuff I was wading through vertically earlier!
SEFTON BIVVY- WHAT A SPOT!
The hut was indeed in an epic location! Seeing all the way back to Mount Cook village, and nestled near the base of the huge Tewaewae glacier, you could almost touch the ice you were that close!
Finding a huge, flat topped boulder which I clambered on, I settled down for some afternoon tea while watching for any ice fall collapse or avalanches in the afternoon sun.
I'll admit it, I find tumbling rocks and ice to be pretty awesome- as long as you aren't in their path! It makes you feel so vulnerable watching these things, and a potent reminder of mountainous terrain.
Thankfully the spot is well protected, as are all huts in New Zealand, from the vast changes that occur day to day in the alpine environment. It deserves respect. The mountains can be beautiful one moment, violent the next.
Tip: Click the photos below to view them in larger size!
Finishing up the last of my snacks, I now made my way down the well worn track. It was much easier than the way I had come up and I was thankful not to have to deal with 50-70° slopes of death!
Nearing the tussock flats I decided to try a slightly different route but never ended up finding a decent well worn track around there. As the area is nice and open, it’s easy to navigate anyway, you just pick the path of least resistance.
I was back at the car 5 hours and 12 minutes after starting, including a half hour stop up top. Not too bad I figured, considering the misadventure on the way in following the GPS trail from Site X!
It just goes to show, you never know what you’ll get from the internet!
THE IMPORTANT STUFF!
The route has some very steep bits that can be scary to inexperienced hikers. If it’s wet, I would not enjoy coming down this steep track either. As with all hikes that leave the valley floor, be prepared for changing weather which can go from blazing sun to blizzard in minutes. Alpine terrain has its own challenges.
TIMES/LENGTH: 3-4 hours up, 2-3 hours down, 5-7 hours total.
START LOCATION: Hooker Valley track HERE.
EQUIPMENT: Hiking gear checklist which you can find by downloading my PDF book HERE.
► If you intend on staying the night, the hut only sleeps 4 and fills fast in peak seasons! Bring a tent as most periods are busy and head up in the morning. There are multiple flat spots you can pitch a tent. Under the big rock is a prime spot and there is also a little one man crack to sleep in! Be warned that winds can get very high there. Oh, and staying in the hut is FREE.
► The start of the route is indeed hard to find. Make your way across the flat tussock and to Stocking creek, then keep on it’s true right and keep following ALL the cairns until the well worn trail forms in the dirt after all the loose rock next to the creek. If you do not find a well worn track after the rock cairns, turn back and try again.
The above map is indicative only and only shows part of the track. Use your own judgement and skills.
► The hut does have water from a tank, but this could run low in hot summers.
► There is an open toilet near the hut. Expect no privacy if its busy!
► Always check with DOC in Mount Cook village before setting out! Winter conditions are not suitable for you unless you are familiar with avalanche terrain and mountaineering equipment use. Deaths have occurred in winter.
Would I recommend a trip to Sefton Bivvy? Hell yes! Sefton Bivvy truly is a little gem and will be a spot I visit again for mountaineering trips in the future, a weekend away or a challenging day hike!