While planning my trip to New Zealand, a friend mentioned a place that I had to visit: Mueller Hut.

New Zealand is covered in huts owned and operated by the Department of Conservation. Each hut provides its patrons with basic amenities including bunks, an outhouse, drinkable water and sometimes even stoves. They essentially make multi-night hiking trips more accessible by removing the need to own and lug around tents and all the other items you would need on a backpacking trip.

Now these huts are located all over the country; some are rather easy to get to, while others are only accessible by the most experienced alpinists. While Mueller Hut lies more on the “easy to get to” side of the scale, it was by no means an easy hike. The trail, or track if you prefer, gains 1000 meters of elevation in a matter or a couple miles. Half of this distance is literally stairs, while the other half is a mix of scrambling and route finding from one orange marker to the next. All the way to the ridge. But once at the top, you are treated to incredible views of the valley below and most importantly, an unobstructed view of Mount Cook.

Well, when I heard about this place I knew I had to go.

I reserved the night in the hut about a week in advance and when the morning came, I picked my permit up from the Mount Cook Visitor Center. And it all went uphill from there. Literally. Straight uphill.

Hiking up to that mountain ridge rocked my world a bit more than I was expecting. More than once, I pulled off to the side, pretending to take a photo, but in actuality simply allowing others to pass me as I gave my quads a short break from the burn.

Now I began the hike that morning in hike, but as I approached the ridge it became clear that that might have been a mistake. Just below the ridge, the wind began to howl and snow began to fall. I knew that once at the ridge, the hut was only a short, easy hike away. So rather than taking off my pack and putting on some warmer clothes, I simply pushed on to the hut. By the time I arrived, the wind had the snow going sideways and I was more cold than warm.

 

But in the end, I made it to the hut; a giant red metal box on the top of a mountain ridge. While the hut isn’t warm, it was certainly welcoming. Nearly all 32 beds were filled that night with people from all over the world (Singapore, Israel, Germany, Argentina), wanting to meet everyone and hear their stories.

That night, the wind and snow were howling so loudly at times, I wondered if the tin box I was sleeping in would be able to handle it. It is, after all, the fifth Mueller Hut.

The next morning, I was the first one out of bed and climbed up to Mount Ollivier before a perfectly clear sunrise. While I would have preferred to have at least a few clouds in the sky to add some more complexity to the scene, I was once again struck by Mount Cook’s beauty and also just grateful not to be in a snow storm.