TIME: Three to five hours to the hut
DISTANCE: 9.5km return
When you think of hiking in Mount Cook, I bet your mind immediately goes to Mueller Hut. Even though it is the holy grail of hikes in the Mount Cook National Park, I do think that it has a serious contender.
Ever wonder what that tiny orange dot is, peaking across the valley from Mueller Hut? Hint: It’s actually a bivvy, the oldest hut in the Mount Cook National Park, and has served generations of climbers. The famous or not-so-famous Sefton Bivvy!
If you haven’t heard of it, don’t beat yourself up because neither had I until a fellow photographer had mentioned the tales of an extravagant adventure with steep cliffs, exposed rock faces, no path and a gruelling ascent. You would probably think this would be enough to deter me or anyone else from wanting to attempt this, but I like a challenge.
The thought of a lesser-known hut with chances of fewer people, clear skies, sleeping under a glacier and views to make birds jealous was too good to let this opportunity pass me by.
So, with bags packed, camera charged and car snacks within reach, I made the journey from Queenstown to Mount Cook. Think of the most beautiful drive you’ve done and times that by three because for the three hours you spend in the car the time compresses to feel like about thirty minutes. I was treated to distracting views out every window, lakes bluer than the sky (and if you go at the right time) fields of lupins enticing you to run through them and get your Instagram hat on. It's a drive I’ve done many times and a drive I’ll do any time.
On arrival, we checked into the DOC centre to let them know our intentions for our overnight hike (safety first). It’s always safe to check in when you can because DOC also has weather reports on hikes and you want to be prepared for any adventure you plan on taking. No question is too silly when it comes to keeping safe and being smart in the mountains.
Checking in for me was also an advantage because it’s only a 4-person bivvy (more like 3) and, as I was hoping to stay in the hut, I was tad disappointed when the ranger informed me there was a group in front of me. So I decided to take my tent just in case (again safety first).
The path you take is the one along the Hooker Valley track and, if you haven’t done that one either, it’s like a two-for-one deal because Hooker Valley Track IS A MUST! I could tell you why but that’s a story for another time, and if you do Sefton there will be no explanation needed.
I would allow 3-5 hours to reach the summit of Sefton Bivvy, depending on your fitness level and how many times you stop for photos, which I am very guilty of. It can vary but leaving yourself an ample amount of time means you get to enjoy the journey, an uphill journey at that.
So down the road we go along one of the most rewarding hikes already, and just as you reach the new set of toilets near the Hooker Hut you head left off the path and through the bushes. Make sure you check the path to follow before you go, and have screenshots in case you don’t get service. The DOC has a great map that shows the exact route.
There are cairns along the way to help guide you but be vigilant because those little suckers blend in and you really do need to stay on track for this mission. We got lucky enough that the cairns were still there and hadn’t washed away. With a few breaks in between, we managed to get high enough up the rock scramble before you head left into the mountain again and start to see a track in the grass. Stick to this! It will be your new best friend for the next couple of hours.
So I’m going to be blatantly honest with you, this is a grind and it is steep. In fact, one of the steepest hikes I’ve done, and I hike a lot! So don’t let your ego get bruised when you have to stop every 10m because the incline is vertical. You aren’t the only one, this one will challenge the body and the mind.
Through the steep, strenuous, slow ride to the summit, you’ll be welcomed with the best views in Mt Cook National Park. Looking over the glacial rivers leading into the lakes and a valley of mountains that seem to go for days. Make sure you take something that can take pictures on or make sure you stop to take in those mental images impressed on the brain forever.
There are a few areas of exposed sections so I suggest only attempting this if you are an experienced hiker and or climber that is used to this kind of climbing on all fours. The first time you see this bright orange bivvy peaking over the side of the cliff is the most welcoming view when your legs have turned to jelly. It gives you that second wind of energy which is enough to get you the rest of the way to the bivvy. From this point it does get easier, but don’t relax too much because you’ll need all the willpower you can muster to make that final stretch.
At last, the bright orange tiny dot has turned into a life-size cabin. This is your moment to let it sink in that you have just made it to the oldest hut in Mount Cook and you can finally drop that bulky bag and take a breath of fresh air. YOU DID IT! A hike to Sefton Bivvy is well worth the reward.
Also, it shouldn’t need to be said but please pack out what you pack in. This means take all rubbish with you, leave only footprints, and leave the area better than you found it if you can!
Still to this day, Sefton Bivvy is one of my favourite hikes. Mount Cook is a place that just keeps on giving. As long as you leave the mountains better than you found them, they will treat you with welcoming arms.
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