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Archive for the tag “Little Mt Peel”

New Year Adventures

With the toughest hike of my life just a few weeks away, every day off work was an opportunity to do some hiking. The good thing about the festive period being in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, is that the public holidays mean long hours of daylight and a reasonable chance of warm and/or dry weather. I haven’t done anything special for Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve for a long time. In fact, I haven’t even made it to midnight for a few years either, and the end of 2018 was no exception. I rose early on the first day of 2019, packed up my car and headed deep into Canterbury. With Christchurch on the coastal border of the Canterbury Plains, it takes over an hour to reach the mountains to the west and I was making a very familiar drive to the foot of Mt Somers, where a road leads into Hakatere Conservation Park. I’ve done a few hikes within its boundaries, including Mt Guy and Mt Sunday, and I’d sussed out a long walk to a couple of Department of Conservation (DoC) huts nestled among the mountains. Where the tarmac ended, I turned north, taking a long drive down a gravel road to reach Lake Heron.

I’d left sunshine behind and as I arrived at the lake, a wall of cloud lingered over the nearby peaks. I wasn’t sure how far the road went, so initially drove past the start of my hike, skirting round the edge of the lake and finding myself at a rather grungy campsite. It was busy, but it didn’t seem all that appealing to me. But it was the only place in the area with a toilet block and it allowed me to turn my car around and return to the stony car park where my hike started. Following a 4×4 track, I took a brief detour on the Kettle Hole walk which cut up a small hill to overlook a kettle, or depression in the ground formed by a historic glacier. I was a bit underwhelmed by it so didn’t hang around long before returning to the track to follow the edge of the lake. The wind danced across the water creating a bit of chop, and despite a sign stating that the area was a nature reserve and wildlife refuge, there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife to spot on or off the lake. Every now and again I got covered in a cloud of dust as a car passed me on the track, heading to a car park a little way around the shore.

 

I was a little disappointed to reach the car park and see the DoC sign which stated the hut I was planning on walking to was 3hrs away. This was a lot further than I’d anticipated when I’d researched my planned walk and I started to realise that I just didn’t have the time. My camping stuff was in the car, not on my person, and I’d already booked a spot at a campsite ahead of the next day’s hike, so it wasn’t an option to break the hike up and stay in the hut. I made the decision to hike based on time, to keep going until it was time to turn back, irregardless of how far I’d reached. Through a gate, the track cut down to a river where there was a ford or a boardwalk to get to the other side. After this brief detour, the track returned to the lakeside.

 

Soon after, there was a side track to Lake Hill, a 762m (2500ft) summit that gave a raised view of the lake and the surrounding conservation park. The actual elevation gain from the lake was barely 100m (328ft) but it was enough to get a broader view of the landscape. Across the lake, the snow-speckled peak of Mt Arrowsmith poked up behind the nearer peaks in front of it. The ground was covered in meadow flowers and an information board gave a brief overview of how the glaciers formed this valley and lake. It was a great spot for lunch, sitting down among the flowers and feeling the wind on my face. After a while, I took the track back down to the lake and continued to follow it round to Mt Sugarloaf.

 

The track starts to turn away from the lake at Harrison’s Bight, an inlet that keeps Mt Sugarloaf out of reach. The 4×4 track leads to here and there were a couple of utes parked up, their occupants nowhere to be seen. Soon I reached a track junction and took the Swin River track which was to take me to join the Te Araroa trail (the long-distance walk that spans the length of New Zealand), and from there would lead to Double Hut. The DoC sign showed the hut was still 2hrs away and as I walked along this flat, rather uninteresting section of the walk, as the sky grew darker around me, I realised that I wasn’t even going to get close to it. I could see it in the far distance nestled at the base of the mountain range in front of me, but after a while of it never getting any bigger in my view, I decided that enough was enough and duly turned round to return to my car. Double Hut and Emily Hut would have to wait for another day and another hike.

Spots of rain began to fall as I headed back and the clouds grew stormier as I worked my way back round the lake edge. I set off back along the gravel road, returning to sunshine as I headed south. I pulled over at Maori Lakes, a wetland area at the side of the road which sparkled under the sunshine here. The sandflies as always threatened to ruin my enjoyment and after taking some photos I pushed onwards. Back at Mount Somers village, I turned south towards Geraldine and Peel Forest. I’d booked a camping spot at the Peel Forest campground and the place was pretty busy when I arrived. I was able to secure a spot under the shade and set up my little hiking tent which looked positively dwarfed by the family-sized camping tents that were all around me. The area is covered in walks, long and short, so before dinner I did the Kahikatea walk which looped through a forest and wetland zone near the campsite.

 

I enjoy camping although rarely sleep well, so I was up and ready early the next morning, packing up and getting on the road with a grand plan. It wasn’t too far away to reach the car park for hiking Little Mt Peel, one of my favourite mountain hikes in Canterbury. It had been a few years since I’d been up, celebrating my 33rd birthday on my first and only trip up there. My plan for the day was to aim for Mount Peel which involves summiting Little Mt Peel, and following an unmarked path across the ridges to Middle Mt Peel and Mt Peel behind that. It was an ambitious plan as it is a full-on hike, and part of the reason I’d been keen to get going early. Little had changed as I followed the Deer Spur track up the slope and despite the early hour, I was surprised at the number of people already on the trail. It is a popular hike, and with good reason: the views are spectacular on the way up and from the summit itself. Now hiking with poles, my hiking style has notably changed as I’ve adapted to their use. I do find they slow my walking down at times and with the lower parts of the hike in the forest, they became a bit of a nuisance as I needed my hands free to aid negotiating tree routes during the initial climb.

The higher I climbed, the windier it got and there was a lot of cloud in the sky above me. When I reached the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311m/4301ft) there was a strong crosswind. I sat by the trig marker eating my lunch and stared across the ridge towards the neighbouring peaks, musing how to proceed. I’d told my partner my plans for the day, but not being a hiker himself, I wasn’t sure if he actually understood where I was planning to go. As I looked at the exposed ridge and the distance, I made time calculations in my head as I watched the clouds move across the neighouring ranges. Hiking alone involves risk. Hiking in groups does also but when I’m responsible for my own safety, sometimes I chicken out and take the safe option instead. As the wind was strong, and I wasn’t 100% sure what the weather planned on doing, I decided to leave the higher Mt Peel peaks for another day. I slightly kicked myself for being too scared to continue, whilst trying to justify with myself that I’d made the right decision.

 

Last time I’d hiked Little Mt Peel, I did the loop, descending down the South Ridge track which was rough and steep. I’d decided at the time that I wouldn’t do this track again, but having already changed my plans, I decided I’d go down this route after all, rather than the more popular Deer Spur track that I’d ascended on. I skirted behind the little shelter and went to use the portaloo behind it, opening the door to be presented by a scene of mayhem where some poor sod had clearly had explosive diarrhoea all over the inside of the portaloo itself. It was utterly gross and I was quick to shut the door again. With my poles again being a hindrance on the upper sections where the track is steepest, this route is actually quite enjoyable going down because you lose altitude exceptionally quickly which looks cool whenever you turn round to check your progress. The view to the neighbouring mountains is also nicer on this track than the Deer Spur track.

 

Eventually, the track turned almost 90 degrees and disappeared into the forest, finally coming out at Emily Falls and joining the Emily Falls track. Last time I’d come this way, I lost the track as it followed the river on the way back from the Falls. I knew what to look out for but as the bank had had a slip, I nearly missed the exit again. This final section in the forest is always a little boring for me. There wasn’t much bird life to spot and I was tired from the hike. Back at my car, it was time to head home. Neither day’s hikes had gone to plan, so I was a little frustrated but I had 4 more weekends to fit in some more mountains before heading abroad, and at least I was feeling positive about my fitness as the year began.

Little Mount Peel

It didn’t take long for me to realise that this walk was something special. Nearly two hours south-west from Christchurch, nestled within Peel Forest, is Blandswood Road, where a small car park denotes the start of a myriad of walks. It just so happened to be my birthday and I was excited to be spending it summiting a new mountain.

I took the last spot in the car park, and set off up the steep Lookout Road where a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign denotes the start of the Fern walk. A gently graded stroll through the forest brings you to a junction where the Deer Spur track begins. It is possible to continue on the Fern walk which disappears into the forest for a low altitude walk, but my target for the day was Huatekerekere or Little Mount Peel, the lower of three Peel peaks. Once on the Deer Spur track, the path started to work its way up the hillside, initially still within the forest. It was a broad and obvious track for the most part, with a few high steps to negotiate, but after about 40mins, the forest opened up and the path was noticeably narrower.

Start of the Fern walk

Start of the Deer Spur Track

A brief break in the trees in Peel Forest

Peel Forest track

 

From the beginning it was a busy track. I had read that it was one of Canterbury’s most popular walks and this was well evidenced on that day with the regular stream of people either coming down or visible going up in the distance. After a small tarn, it wasn’t long until the view appeared, and what a view it was. As with most of the hikes that I’ve done, a haze clung over the Canterbury Plains behind me, but inland and either side were mountains, and it was stunning. From that first sighting, the peak of Little Mt Peel looked unachievable and distant. There were so many lower ridges to negotiate but I put those thoughts aside and ploughed on. The first ridge gave some welcome relief from the previous climb and I paused briefly to soak up the view.

Little Tarn

Little Mt Peel summit in the far distance

Panorama from the Deer Spur track

 

From then onward, despite the constant climbing, I really enjoyed this hike because there was just a stunning view all around. I came across a family with two young children, the youngest being just 5 years old, and was impressed to see them negotiating this mountain on their own two feet. They stopped regularly meaning I eventually overtook them and about the same time it became possible to make out the summit trig and the nearby shelter in the distance. Shortly after passing them, the wind picked up and a bank of low cloud formed and whipped up and over the ridge I was heading towards, hiding the summit from view. I had previously experienced this a few months prior when hiking up Mt Thomas and I had learned that with patience, this kind of cloud is usually dispersed in a short space of time.

Cloud riding the ridge

View north

 

Sure enough, by the time I reached the altitude of the cloud bank, it was already lifting, and ahead of me I saw a hiker who was close to giving up. The summit was still 2 ridges away, but was tantalisingly close, and he sat off the track trying desperately to catch his breath whilst his friend continued. A descending hiker encouraged him to keep going, letting him know how close he was, and with the two children not far behind me, he seemed to get a second wind, and pushed on shortly after I passed him. The second last ridge involved a bit of hauling up a boulder face, and I reflected on how good a work-out I was getting. The last ridge was a walk in the park, and sweaty yet satisfied, I found myself crossing that last section with the hut and summit right in front of me.

Summit hut & trig just about visible

The path already travelled with the Plains below

Nearly there!

Approaching the summit

 

The Tristram Harper Memorial Hut appears to perch on the side of the mountain a short distance below the summit. I bypassed the track to it and made the final ascent to the trig marker that stood proud on the summit (1311m/4301ft). Despite the cloud building up inland, it was a fantastic view. Mt Peel and Middle Mt Peel were clearly visible, looking deceptively close and achievable, and both to the north and the south, other mountain ranges rolled off into the distance. The haze persisted over the Canterbury Plains, and above them, the hut and the lateral saddles of Little Mt Peel rolled down to meet them.

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut

Looking inland towards Mt Peel

Summit panorama looking south

 

Being such a popular walk, I didn’t have the summit to myself for long. There were plenty of people milling between the hut and the summit, so after enjoying some lunch, I left it behind for the next lot of people. I had previously made the decision to descend via the South Ridge Track, making the whole walk a loop. Everyone else was heading down the same way they’d come up (Deer Spur Track), and having read a warning on the DOC website that the South Ridge track was only suitable for experienced hikers with back country navigational skills, I had spent a lot of the hike up, trying to pick out the track on the opposing ridge for the descent. From the summit, I could see it disappearing in the distance, and felt it looked perfectly achievable so decided to stick to my guns.

Just below the summit was the hut which I discovered contained the family with the two young boys and the hiker who had nearly given up. They were all chatting away, and after signing in to the guest book, I left them to it. A DOC sign on the side of the hut pointed towards the South Ridge track and I picked my way through some undergrowth towards the drop toilet, from where the track split off. I peered over the edge, decided it was doable, and made the commitment to follow through. I had read in a blog that this would be a steep descent, so I knew there would be no backtracking once I’d started. Straight away, I found myself having to lower myself gingerly over boulders but it was such a beautiful day, it was easy to follow the orange poles disappearing into the distance.

Canterbury Plains

Summit trig from the shelter

Tristram Harper Memorial Hut from the start of the South Ridge track

South Ridge track disappearing into the distance

 

The South Ridge Track involved a rapid descent, and the track was so overgrown, that I spent a lot of the time staring at my feet to watch my footing, that I hadn’t realised how quick the descent had been until I stopped on a lower ridge to admire the butterflies that were everywhere. The mountains to the south were beautiful, a viewpoint that hadn’t been afforded from the Deer Spur track, and looking back towards the summit, the hut and trig point were like little dots on the horizon. As the altitude dropped away, the track became more and more overgrown in places, and at times I found myself chest deep in bushes barging my way through the under growth. I focused on the orange poles to guide me through, but I stopped regularly because there were butterflies everywhere and the view all around was again exceedingly stunning.

The track through the vegetation

Panorama from the South Ridge track

Hiking the South Ridge track

 

Eventually though, I hit a basic little post with an orange arrow to guide me off the ridge, and I started the final descent back into the forest. The view remained briefly before I was encompassed by trees again. This final section was quite steep and I negotiated several sections in a crouched position to prevent me slipping, but even then, I found myself on my butt twice. This is not a track I would have wanted to take in the opposite direction. Within the forest, with nothing but trees to look at, I sped up a little, eager to reach the waterfall. Finally the path broke out at Emily stream, crossed the stream and headed up the embankment on the other side. Just a few minutes later, I reached the end point of the track where it met the Emily Falls track.

Little Mt Peel summit

Leaving the ridge behind

 

It was only a couple of minutes walk to Emily Falls which were pretty, but not easy to see without crossing the stream to the other side. There were few flying insects to annoy me, so I enjoyed watching the water for a while before retracing my steps. Back at the track junction, the DOC sign detailed 45mins back to Blandswood road, and I pushed on, still with a slight skip in my step. I was a little confused when the path came out at a stream and seemed to just disappear. An orange arrow pointed to the left but all I could see was the stream. Picking my way up the stream, I found another orange arrow letting me know I was heading in the right direction. After a while though, the stream got harder to negotiate and I found it strange that I was supposed to be following it so far. I decided to back track towards the last arrow, and in doing so had a differing viewpoint which allowed me to realise I’d walked past the path leading out of the water.

Emily Falls

Emily Falls

Walking up stream

 

Finally back on track, after climbing up the bank, it was an easy walk through the lower forest, past the turnoff for Rata falls, emerging back onto the lower section of Lookout Road just above its junction with Blandswood Road where my car lay waiting. The DOC sign detailed a 3hr ascent on Deer Spur Track (versus a 3.5hr ascent on South Ridge Track), with half an hour less for the descent on each path. I surprised myself by reaching the summit in just over 2 hours, and after spending about 45mins at the top, I made it back down again in about 2.5hrs. I’m glad I did the loop, but having done it once, I’ll stick to the Deer Spur track both ways next time. On a clear and non-blustery day, the South Ridge track is definitely achievable by anyone of reasonable fitness, but with exposed sections, and parts that are quite overgrown, it is not a track to be done on a windy or low visibility day. But with such views, and an enjoyable climb up, this hike quickly jumped to the top of my list of favourite hikes to do in Canterbury.

Track junction

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