MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Lochnagar

About an hour and a half drive to the west of the ‘Granite City’ that is Aberdeen, down a long and winding road with no exit, lies an unassuming car park near a small copse. The drive there on a beautiful day is an adventure in itself. The River Dee snakes its way from its origin in Cairngorm National Park towards the North Sea at Aberdeen, and heading upstream, the A93 on the northern side, and the lower grade B976 on the southern side brings you to Ballater. Crossing the river from the northern side, there is little further to travel to the signposted turn-off for Loch Muick. This long road follows the route of River Muick, a feeder river for the larger River Dee, up stream to its source from Loch Muick. Initially through some woodland, it opens up into an open glen of the same name, flanked by hills either side, and a smattering of trees and low shrubbery. At the right time of year, the heather bloom turns the normally green and brown landscape into a glorious purple.

Heather in bloom in Glen Muick

At the end of this long and windy road is a car park which on busy days can get very full. There is also a parking charge here, so having small change handy is a must. From here, the track heads down across a small river to a copse where picnic benches mark a picnic area, and a toilet block is located. From here there is a choice of walks. For a less challenging walk, or with families, the main destination is the nearest shore of Loch Muick. For a longer, but low grade walk, a path circumnavigates the entire loch, and for something more serious, some day and multi-day hikes can be reached from there too. More often than not, when I have visited Glen Muick, there has been a herd of wild red deer grazing in the area, and on one occasion, they were wandering amongst the picnic tables and very close up.

Red deer in Glen Muick

Red deer at Spittal of Glen Muick

Red deer in Glen Muick

Lochnagar, a Munro (a Scottish mountain of >3000ft) is an easily accessible and rewarding hike. Standing at 3789ft (1155m), the ascent can be reached from the copse by not following the main route to the loch side, but by taking the path that goes up the side of the copse, crossing the river, and passing by some buildings before carrying on through another copse and coming out the other side. An easy stream crossing is followed by the start of a gravelled cut out path that starts to wind its way up the neighbouring hillside. A bit of altitude is gained before the path splits: the right fork continuing on towards Balmoral, and the left fork crossing over shrubbery before the slog up the mountain begins.

Looking back towards Glen Muick after the path splits

The start of the Lochnagar track

The path is clearly marked, and in good weather, it is very busy. The first section takes you up to a col between Meikle Pap (980m) and Lochnagar ridge itself. Some of this section involves stone steps, and this col overlooks the water of Lochnagar, sitting below the ridge of the same name. Lochnagar burn can be seen disappearing off into the distance. Even in the height of summer, there can be patches of snow from this point onwards, and it is a fabulous spot to park up for some lunch before the final ascent. The summit and ridgeline takes the brunt of the weather and is often windy and cold, so this relatively sheltered spot is a far better spot to spend some time.

Approaching the col with Lochnagar in the background

Lochan Lochnagar below the ridge of Lochnagar

Lochnagar burn disappears into the distance

The steepest section is the second part, known as the Ladder, which picks its way up through the increasingly rocky terrain, at which point the path becomes a little less obvious, and it is best to focus on a spot to reach and just pick a way there. Eventually a plateau is reached, which is barren and rocky, and the path again becomes slightly vague across the central buttress until an obvious path appears again. A path that hugs the edge can be followed across Eagle Ridge, but as it goes quite close to a very long drop, it is certainly one to be very careful following, and the main route is somewhat further back. Some large rocks mark the west buttress, and finally the last lot of rocks to climb over marks the true summit, marked with a plinth. In all directions, mountains and hills roll off into the distance, with Ballochbuie forest in the far north-west, and Loch nan Eun to the south-west. There are plenty of rocks to hunker down next to if it’s windy, but even on a warm day, it quickly feels cold up here.

The Ladder

Reaching the plateau

Crossing the plateau

Looking through the buttress

Western Buttress

At the summit of Lochnagar

From the summit, you can retrace your steps the way you came, but I always chose to make the circuit, and follow the path down the backside of Cuidhe Crom and Little Pap, which follows the route of Glas-Allt. It is a well-maintained pathway, with an easy descent through low shrubbery, and lots of little waterfalls to ogle at. Eventually, Loch Muick comes back into view at the top of a large waterfall, Glas-Allt Falls. This is the steepest section of the descent which arcs down the side of the waterfall, and offers a viewing point of the falls at the bottom. From here, it is an easy walk along the side of Craig Moseen, and a final, easy descent to Glas-Allt-Shiel, in full view of the western edge of Loch Muick.

Glas-Allt

Small waterfall on Glas-Allt

Loch Muick viewed from the top of Glas-Allt Falls

Upper section of Glas-Allt Falls

Glas-Allt Falls

Loch Muick

The head of Loch Muick

Near a royal lodge (used by Queen Victoria, and later Prince Charles) hidden amongst a copse, the path joins the circuit path of Loch Muick, and the car park can be reached by either taking the left, northern (quicker) circuit back, or turning right, and following the path round the head of the loch, to return on the southern aspect. At the foot of the lake on the more northern route, a little boat house marks the end of a small pebbly beach where you can stroll along the side of the lapping tannin-tainted water, and cross the bridge to join the more southern track back to the car park.

Loch Muick

Boathouse on Loch Muick

Loch Muick beach

River Muick leaving Loch Muick

Realistically, this is a full day hike, averaging 6-7 hours dependent on fitness, and time spent ogling the views at the various viewpoints. With many exposed sections, and potential for year-round snow, this is not a hike to take lightly, and warrants being well prepared. Hiking this route in winter is best left to those with winter skills experience, but in summer it is a fantastic walk well worth making the drive for.

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Mount Sunday

Deep in the heart of Canterbury, and down a long winding unsealed road, lies a beautiful river valley surrounded by mountains. Part way along the valley, lies a mound of rock that looks like it comes straight out of Middle Earth. Probably because it does. Astute people, or fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will recognise this mound, Mt Sunday, as the location of Edoras, the home of Rohan, the horse-riding warriors, and in fact, if you go at the right time (or wrong time, depending on your feelings towards the franchise), you could be mistaken for thinking it is Edoras, as a tour company brings tourists up regularly where they pose with their swords and the flag of Rohan to flutter in the wind, and pretend to act out a scene from the movie.

To the south-west of Christchurch, the village of Mt Somers which nestles in the shadow of the mountain of the same name, can be reached from various directions depending on how much of a scenic drive you want to take. Roads from here, lead back to Methven & Mt Hutt, Ashburton, Rakaia, and Geraldine. Upon reaching Mt Somers, signs direct further inland into Hakatere Conservation Park along Ashburton Gorge Road and it is a beautiful drive.

Upon reaching the settlement of Hakatere, where the road splits in two, the Hakatere Potts Road very quickly becomes unsealed and remains so the rest of the way (with the exception of the steepest section). On a sunny March day, it was a reasonable road to drive, although it was quite rutted in places in the earlier section. In good weather, it is suitable for all vehicles, and there were a few camper vans about, but out of season, especially in wet or snowy weather, this would be best in 4x4s only. There are a lot of places to stop on route if desired with Lakes Emma, Roundabout, Camp and Clearwater all accessed from the same road. But definitely worth a stop is a small patch to pull over at the top of the hill before the descent into the Rangitata river valley, just before crossing Potts River, where there is a beautiful view of the valley opening up ahead of you.

Hakatere Conservation Park

Rangitata River Valley with Mt Sunday to the right

The route down the hill is the only section which is sealed, and upon crossing the bridge over the Potts River it returns to gravel again and winds its way to a well-marked car park that denotes the start of the walk to Mt Sunday. Depending on route, stops and confidence with driving on unsealed roads, the time from Christchurch to here can take around 2-2.5hrs, and if you want to take any of the side roads to explore more of the Conservation Park, I suggest you head off with a full tank of fuel.

From the car park, a DOC sign denotes to follow the orange markers, and although in some places where there are several options of which exact way to get to each orange marker, it is impossible to get lost when Mt Sunday (611m) is visible the whole way. The initial section is very flat, crossing a couple of streams via bridges including a short suspension bridge, and with mountains in all directions it is a beautiful vista the whole way.

The start of the Mt Sunday track

Mt Sunday from the first stream

View upstream

View downstream

Mt Sunday

Crossing the second stream

Standing at the bottom of Mt Sunday

The initial ascent is up the hilly side, before the steeper (but very achievable) section up the more rocky face of Mt Sunday until the summit is reached. When I arrived there, a tour group was there posing for their Lord of the Rings themed photos, but after patiently waiting for them to finish, after they left, I had the summit to myself. Then it was simply 360o of utter beauty and peaceful bliss with just a swarm of flying ants for company.

Summit view North-West

Summit View North-West

Summit view North

Summit View North to North-East

Summit View South

As is usually the case in the mountains here, the afternoon brought cloud and wind. The best of the weather for exploring the mountains and valleys tends to be in the morning, and as it was, I had arrived in the early afternoon. I managed to get about half an hour of sunshine before the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped a few degrees. After 40mins at the summit, I retraced my steps back to my car, and started the long drive home.

Roys Peak

I could live my whole life in New Zealand, and still have explored only a mere sample of it. There’s simply an overwhelming choice of places to go. As an avid hiker (or tramper, depending on where you’re from), I love getting out into the countryside, no matter where I am in the world. I may have only been there once, but Wanaka in New Zealand’s South Island, remains one of my favourite parts of the country. It is a place of paradise for outdoor lovers. On the bank of a large lake, it is near mountains, glaciers and ski fields. Year round, there is plenty of choice for adventure, whilst remaining much more quiet and idyllic than its better known neighbour, Queenstown.

Lake Wanaka from the shore

Lake Wanaka

The town of Wanaka lays subtly sprawled along the shore round Roys Bay and Bremner Bay and the vista from the waterfront is spectacular. The water sparkles, and the mountains rise up from the far side and as you inhale the air around you, the freshness invades your pores and brings a glow of total happiness to your body.

Looking round the western side of Roys Bay, stands Roys Peak at 1578m, my favourite hike to do in the area. By car, heading round the western edge of Lake Wanaka on Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road, a car park will be found on the left from where the hike up begins. But even without a car, it is accessible from the town itself.

Lake Wanaka

Roys Peak

For me, I had arrived by bus, and was keen to explore the area on my own two legs. Following the shoreline promenade, a path takes you through the edge of a resort and along the Te Araroa trail which eventually becomes the Waterfall Creek Track. This track follows the lake side all the way round to Glendhu Bay, but long before this, a sign directs you up another track across private land to the road across from the car park which marks the start of the hike.

The path itself for a large part of it is broad enough for a vehicle to drive up it, and livestock can at times be wandering around the area. It gains height in zig-zag fashion, resulting in a steady gain in altitude without a severe gradient. Behind and to the side of you as you work your way up the mountainside, Wanaka gets smaller and smaller, and more of the lake and its surrounding mountains spread out for miles around. Eventually the town disappears out of view and the long main stretch of the lake is visible in its entirety.

Lower Roys Peak

WanakaPath leading along the lower ridge line

About two thirds of the way up, a path leads across a lower neighbouring ridge line and from here, as well as near the top where the path skirts round the northern aspect of the summit, the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park become visible on the horizon. In every direction the view is unbelievable, and even rounding the summit edge, and reaching the top, it is breathtaking. The lake, the mountains, the town, and pastures spread out around you, and the day I was up there, two peregrine falcons mobbed each other, dipping and diving around those of us at the summit. With a fresh layer of snow on the distant mountains, there was a nip in the air at the summit, but it didn’t deter me from spending a long time up there breathing it all in. It was a popular walk that day, and well worth the effort. On such a clear day, I could see for miles.

Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka

Peregrine Falcon

Summit View of Lake Wanaka

Glendhu Bay from near the summit

Lake Wanaka Panorama

I was exceedingly reluctant to leave, but at least on the way down, I was staring out at the changing vista the whole way, and there was a steady stream of people to smile at and say hello to as they worked their way up. I even followed the spur track along the neighbouring ridge line as well. Down at the car park is the only toilet on the whole walk, but retracing your steps takes you back down to the lake side, and back into town for a well earned drink at the pub of your choice.

Lake Wanaka from the ridge line spur track

Wanaka

The view on the way down

The bottom of Roys Peak

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