Sunday, March 31, 2019

An absolute gem in Canterbury

I had been planning for quite a long time to walk the Mt Somers circuit, a quite popular tramp in mid Canterbury, less than 2 hours' drive from Christchurch. For a long time there had only been a path around the rear of the mountain, but in recent years a route had been formed across the southern face, making it into a loop track. Yes, one of those rarely seen occurrences in NZ!!

There is a track that climbs to the summit, but due to its steepness and the slippery scree required to negotiate, it's a long hard day just doing the summit climb. So I decided to find my own route around, then over the mountain and back to my car.

I parked at Sharplin Falls carpark, named after falls you can no longer visit after a landslide removed the track to them. There's a very nice river at the start of the walk, perfect for a quick post walk wash should I be so inclined..

The walk begins in lush beech forest, climbing steadily for a few hours until you gain the treeline. This just so happens to also be where Pinnacles Hut is sited, a popular spot for rock climbers tackling the nearby terrain. I stopped there for lunch, but it's a very cosy spot and well worth lingering at. I still had a few more hours of walking ahead to get to my destination.

Looking up towards the summit on my left, it was obscured by cloud, making the landscape rather gloomy. It's been a while since I looked at NZ scenery and was reminded of LOTR, mainly because I've become so accustomed to it.

Thankfully, by mid afternoon the clouds had burned off, the sun was shining and I am treated to glorious high country scenery.

Not far from Woolshed Creek Hut is a creek with numerous caves in it. Apparently it is possible to follow the creek up for an hour or so. I chose not to, deciding the water was perhaps a bit cold....

Woolshed Creek Hut is an extremely popular destination. There are school groups on outdoor education excursions camping, and lots of locals taking advantage of an easily accessible location. The walk in from the southern carpark only takes 2 hours. There's a few other souls walking the circuit, with one couple planning to take the same route as me the next day.

The next morning is sunny and clear, without a single cloud hanging around the peak. Mt Somers is known for being cloud enshrouded, which can make navigation across its featureless summit rather difficult. But not today, it's a cracker!

I head off early, to take advantage of the spectacular weather, as cloud can sweep in from the east at any time. There's an impressive swing bridge crossing a gorge and a nice waterfall to visit.

I continue along the circuit track until just before some bluffs known as the bus stop. There I leave the track to follow a ridgeline straight up.

The going isn't difficult, despite being trackless. It's open spinifex country, with a few swampy boggy areas that require some skirting around, and the climb is at a fairly gentle incline most of the way. There are a few features to take bearings off, and minimal speargrass to avoid. Best of all the sun is shining and the views across the Canterbury Plains are stupendous.

Following a second ridgeline, I make the summit. There I meet a couple of chaps who took a different route up from further along the southern face, camping overnight up high, and later a bunch of lads who took a third alternate route from near Pinnacles Hut. All of us intend to take the official route back down. Which turns out to be the gnarliest route of all!!

The official route is a slippery, rocky, scree and gravel strewn clamber. I am extremely happy I didn't have to climb up this way, as it is nothing short of diabolical. I am feeling the pain of the numerous day walkers I pass en route.

Back on the main track it is a two hour walk along numerous ridge lines making my way back to Sharplin Falls carpark. It has been a long hot day, with no water on the track from the summit, so I take advantage of that river, and go for a very refreshing, although brief, dip.

Then it's off to Methven to plan the next trip....

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