Imagine waking up to such a view; this isn't a pleasant little alpine village ski resort-type view, it's savage, elemental stuff, and it's pretty invigorating. Wanting to extend our stay for as long as possible, Ben and I climbed up nearby Mt Ollivier, the peak of which is at 6288 ft; all the way we battled against evil winds from hell and sleet being blown in our faces. Luckily the snow had melted quite a lot since our ascent the day before, so we made the summit without incident, and the astounding views of the Mueller Glacier were well worth the frozen hands and feet. Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the hut and made a cup of tea, it was time to head back down to the campsite.
Climbing a mountain is one thing, but getting down is quite another. The whole point of climbing safely is not to fall down, but when you're trying to walk down a slope that's steeper than 45° and it's covered in a good foot of snow (and often more) it's challenging just keeping your balance. After skirting the ridge to avoid the rocks we'd originally followed up, we started to make our descent down a huge snow channel... and that's when we really discovered how to have fun on a mountain. It all began with Ben slipping over and sliding down the slope on his butt, only managing to stop at the bottom by digging in his heels. I tried the same thing, but seeing as I was carrying a big pack with all our possessions in it, I just sank into the snow and didn't manage a slide. Instead I just ran straight down the mountainside, taking huge moon steps through the snow, trying to stay ahead of the mini-avalanche that Ben's slide had started. Before you could say 'sheeeit!' we were halfway down to the snow line, covering the same distance that had taken us a good hour to climb in about 30 seconds.
Still, the best buzz came when I found a huge snow slide that was still hard enough for me to go down with a pack on, and I slid down on my behind, discovering as I went that I could steer by clenching the relevant buttock; flying by the seat of your pants, I suppose you could call it. Sledging down a snowy hill might be fun, but throwing yourself down a mountain with a heavy pack for added momentum gets my vote every time. It certainly cut our descent time down, and we were down in the campsite after about two-and-a-half hours of sliding and tramping, compared to a day's walk to get up.
Not surprisingly we spent the afternoon cleaning up; it was my first shower in five days, which made it practically orgasmic. We then popped into the Hermitage, the rather posh hotel in Mt Cook (at over NZ$200 a night) and soaked up the atmosphere, the firelight and the piano playing1 while our washing dried, and then it was back to the camp for some well-earned rest. It was also pleasant to note that the weather had turned sour again, so we'd made it through the whole experience in the nick of time; my car felt particularly nice and warm that night.
1 The piano man, all suited up and playing the sort of seamless popular-tune piano medleys that you tend to hear in hotels – guaranteed to offend no one and to bring a smile to the lips of any ancient and loaded widows in the room, in other words – had just one book from which he played his pretty little ditties. The name of the book? 101 Great Songs for Buskers...