MistyNites

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Archive for the tag “Mt Hutt”

Trig M

Sometimes you have to take a gamble and choose to ignore the weather report. In my experience, even the most reliable of weather forecasts can struggle at times to give an accurate description of what is going on in the mountains. Especially the Southern Alps where there are so many forces working together to affect the wind direction and the rainfall. With a day off work, I got up with a plan in mind, looked out the window and was disappointed. The thick clouds above Christchurch was not what I had been hoping for. But as I sat eating breakfast, wondering what I could do instead, I noticed the clouds change, and whilst the forecast for the mountains was still rather questionable, I decided to take a chance and stick to my original plan.

About 1.5hrs to the west of Christchurch is Porter’s Pass, the gateway to the Southern Alps and the west coast beyond that. As I left the Garden City behind, I realised to my dismay that the mountains weren’t even visible. Mentally set up for a hike, I pushed on passing country town after country town until there was just about 20kms to go. The sun was trying to push through the thick cloud, and as the kms ticked by, I considered turning around until suddenly the cloud bank broke and I was greeted by glorious sunshine and blue skies over the mountains. I had made a good call.

As the west coast road delves into the mountains and starts to gain a bit of altitude, on the east of the Porters Range is a hairpin bend at which a low-key pull-in denotes the start of the Coach Stream track in the Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park. Following the small stream through a valley and marked by orange poles, it crosses the stream twice before starting a steep climb up, first through private land then conservation land, as it winds its way up to a ridge line. Every now and again a glimpse of traffic heading up to Porter’s Pass is seen and behind me in the distance, I could see the enormous cloud bank still hanging gravely over the east coast.

Start of the hike

Map of the two tracks

Following the coach stream through the valley

Crossing onto the private Benmore station

View on the way up to the ridge

There are some interesting rock formations in the area but a lot of the surrounding mountains appear barren or have brown or green shrubbery covering their slopes. The easy to follow track through tussock was dotted with the occasional alpine plant but the low shrubs meant it was fully exposed. After following a ridge for a while, the path curved onto a neighbouring ridge and then sneaked up the side of a copse where the quiet was temporarily breached by birdsong. Not much further up the track I was surprised to reach a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marking the junction with the Starvation Gully track, a shorter route from another starting point along the west coast road. The information that I had read on this track had stated 3hrs from the pull-in to the summit of Trig M, and yet here I was just a little over 1hr, at a sign saying I was only an hour away.

Rocky outcrops

Porters Range

Near the copse

View from the track junction

Track junction

Now, the view got more interesting and it wasn’t long before I could see the trig on a nearby peak. Not only that, but I could now see up the neighbouring valley that contains the west coast road heading towards Arthur’s Pass National Park, as well as peer down on Lake Lyndon which nestled in the valley below. There was some cloud starting to build up overhead but it was still pleasant and I covered the rest of the easy, though occasionally slippery, track up to Trig M (1251m) in just half an hour. Wandering around the peak I realised I could see Mt Hutt towering over the Rakaia river valley and realised how relatively close I was to Peak Hill which I had hiked a few weeks earlier.

Looking towards the summit

Lake Lyndon

Trig M summit

Summit panorama

Looking towards the Rakaia river valley in the distance

It was a good enough day to keep hiking but going any further meant going off piste so I decided on this occasion to stick to the marked route. Following lunch at the summit, I retraced my steps soaking up the view of the valley and the lake below. As I came down from the peak and headed back towards the route junction, a cloud band blocked the sun and the temperature dropped a little. It was still a very pleasant walk and as my altitude dropped, eventually the sun reappeared. I was not far away from dropping back into the valley when I passed two German tourists coming the other way. I was astonished to see one of them wearing jandals (flip-flops/thongs), especially knowing there was a few slippery stony sections up ahead for them. I am regularly astounded to see people ill-equipped for hiking in the mountains, and these two girls had nothing but water with them, although at least they had that!

Porters Pass panorama

Return hike

Dropping altitude

Beautiful views in every direction

I soaked up the view the rest of the way back and I reached my car just 1.5hrs after having left the summit behind. Having expected a 5-6hr hike, I had completed it in just 3hrs 40mins including time spent at the summit. It was a relatively short walk compared to what I have been used to of late, but it did mean that I was home in time to enjoy a nice coffee and treat at one of my favourite coffee shops before closing.

Rakaia Gorge Walkway

After an unusually mild winter, there have been some spring dumpings of fresh snow followed by a sudden increase in temperature. This has resulted in the usually gentle-flowing glacier-fed turquoise rivers of the Canterbury Plains turning into milky torrents as the snowy caps on the neighbouring mountains melt in preparation for the coming summer.

On State Highway (SH) 77, also known as Scenic Highway 72, west of Christchurch on route to Mt Hutt and Methven, the Rakaia river is crossed by a historic bridge built in the late 19th century. On the eastern side of this bridge is a car park next to the river bed, and from here, the Rakaia Gorge walkway commences. Heading first up to the bridge where single lane traffic trundles across, look out for an orange arrow on the opposite side of the road which marks out the walkway as it disappears into the bushes. From early on, the view is incredible, and the changing viewpoint of the flowing river is visible for a large percentage of the hike.

 

The quality of the path starts off well: a sandy, well-trodden path that skirts round the first few bends of the river. It varies in minor ascents and descents, occasionally reaching near river level before gaining height to bring the path up to the full height of the gorge. The Mt Hutt range is visible on approach to the first lookout and the view from the lower gorge lookout is incredible. At this point, the gorge is quite steep and all the more dramatic with the milky waters gushing through below.

 

From here, the path and the river snakes round several bends and after a while, the path crosses into private property and at times cuts through woodland. With reduced sun exposure, and some recent rain, these sections of the walk were exceedingly muddy and in places slippery. For short spells, the river is hidden from view before reappearing with an all new perspective on it. Deep within one wooded section is a spur track to some disused coal mines. The path is much less trodden and on this occasion was relatively overgrown. I had to climb over a few fallen trees and part some vegetation to follow it past 2 mine entrances, and down to a small stream and mini-waterfall. Whereas the main track was quite popular with walkers the day I was there, few ventured down the spur track and it was easy to feel like you were a million miles away from civilisation.

 

Back on the main track and a few bends and slight climb later, the path splits into a loop. I opted to go anti-clockwise, and climbed steadily out the woodland and out onto farmland, across which the path climbs steadily up to the upper gorge lookout. Again the Mt Hutt range stands proudly over the river which flows through the deep gorge. This is a fantastic spot to put your feet up, have some lunch and absorb the view.

 

From this vantage point, the path heads down the side of the gorge past the dramatic yellow blooming gorse bushes, and back into the bush which hides the river until a sign denotes a spur track to a boat landing. It is a short walk from here to the shingle bed past which the river loudly flowed downstream. It is easy to feel small and insignificant in such a spot with the walls of the gorge around you and the might of the water gushing past at such speed. Backtracking, the path eventually loops back round to the sign which denotes the split in the track, and from here you retrace your steps back downstream to the road bridge.

 

Including a lunch stop, this 10km walk took me just over 3 hrs return, and I absolutely loved it. With such stunning views at every turn, this walk is definitely a personal favourite.

In Search of Snow

It’s been a relatively mild winter in New Zealand this year with barely any snow where I live and the local ski-fields have had intermittent falls interspersed with strong winds and unusually warm weather, resulting in a poor ski season. I’m a summer-loving person, but back in my native Scotland, the one thing that made the cold, dark winter days and nights bearable was the promise of snow, and lots of it. I love snow, and in Aberdeen where I used to live, we got plenty of it. It wasn’t unusual to get an autumnal blizzard that would dump the first snow of the season in October, and often into November, but the main snow months were January and February. In one epic year, we had snow every month from October through to May, and then it started again in October. The ski centres still had plenty of snow on the longest day of the year in June, and with the most northern ski-field having daylight till around 11pm, it was an epic day to hit the slopes.

Moving to New Zealand was the right thing for me to do for so many reasons, but boy do I miss snow. I never thought I would, but after three winters here with so little reward for the colder temperatures of the season, I’ve found myself staring jealously at the distant Southern Alps with their white tips and yearning to feel snowflakes fluttering down on me, craving the glorious silence that only a snowfall can bring and dreaming of first footprints on a fresh bed of snow. Clearly my desires were becoming more vocal than I realised, because despite not being a skier, my partner insisted on taking me to the mountains to visit one of our nearest ski-fields.

Not quite an hour and a half from Christchurch is Mt Hutt (2086m/6843ft). The nearest settlement is Methven which has a scattering of cheap digs, bars and ski-hire shops – all you could ever need for the perfect weekend trip. From the base of the mountain, it is a long and winding drive up a gravel road that overlooks the vast flatness of the Canterbury Plains. The tall mountains are a stark contrast to the flat barrenness below and they stand tall against the horizon from some distance away. On that particular day, the snowline was roughly half-way up, although it was patchy and stale. Even at the level of the ski centre, there was plenty of rock face peering through the thicker banks of snow. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot at the top car park and we got out to soak up the view. My partner looked at me as if to say ‘Ta da!‘ and then couldn’t understand my disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, the view was stunning: with patches of sunshine making the snow on the surrounding range glisten, and with the snow-topped range flanking the nearby plains, it was a stunning vista. But the snow was not powdery under foot, it was stale and crusty. There was no fresh flurry of snowflakes falling on my skin, and apart from the buzz of the skiers and snowboarders enveloping me, I wasn’t feeling the vibe that fresh snow brings. It was better than nothing but I struggled to hide my disappointment.

 

We stayed for a while, and watched the people whizzing down the mountainside, enjoyed some warm drinks in the cafe and then wandered around the car park watching 6 cheeky keas (the world’s only alpine parrot, and one of my most favourite birds in New Zealand) taunt each other and hop from vehicle to vehicle looking for trouble. Like all parrots, keas are highly intelligent and probably the most mischievous of all the parrots that I have seen. They thrive round people, and are notorious in parts of the country for removing the seal round car windows, and bending aerials and puncturing bike tyres. Needless to say I love them. I could have watched them all day, especially the two that were playing (or fighting, or mating, or whatever they were doing) with each other, one lying submissive on its back for the other who mobbed it open-winged, displaying its bright orange under-plummage. A couple of hours after we arrived, we set off back down the mountain and home.

 

The following weekend, my partner’s friend came to visit from Auckland. He hadn’t skied for some years, and my partner was wanting to get a bit of snowboarding in this winter, so we set off back to Methven only to hit gale force winds, sandstorms, and then torrential rain. The road to the ski-field had been closed for nearly a week due to high winds, and arriving in Methven at lunchtime, there was nothing to do and nowhere to go but to camp out in the pub or our lodge. There were hopes of fresh snow being dumped in the night so we clung to the hope of the road being open in the morning. I had originally planned on taking a skiing lesson whilst the boys hit the slopes but having obtained a horrendous cough, I was slightly spaced out on the prescription-strength cough suppressants and it was easy for me to sleep the afternoon away. I didn’t miss much – the torrential rain continued all through the night.

 

On the Sunday morning, we awoke to the news that the road to Mt Hutt ski-field was open to 4-wheel drives and 2-wheel drives with chains fitted. We gathered the hired gear and set off in our 4-wheel drive early. It was clear from the start that this would be a totally different experience than the weekend before: it was still overcast and raining in Methven and as we started the long wind up the mountain road, the rain became sleet and then snow. The snow became heavier the higher we climbed, and the visibility grew poorer and poorer. The surrounding mountains that had glistened last week were nowhere to be seen through the clouds, and the snow on the road grew denser as we travelled. Like many mountain roads to ski-fields, there is often a long drop down so they are definitely not the kind of road you want to lose control of your vehicle on. But as our altitude increased, so did the snow on the road, and eventually even our 4-wheel drive decided to lose traction after coming round a bend. The procession of cars grew slower and slower until we rolled into the top car park in by now quite thick snow, and parked up one by one. I got out as quickly as possible to see and smell and feel the snow flakes falling down on us. Shortly after our arrival, they closed the road to all traffic except chained 4-wheel drives, and we faced a possible reality of being stranded up the mountain as conditions worsened. After an hour of waiting for news on the likelihood of us getting back home that day, we could finally go off and enjoy ourselves. The boys bought their passes and headed off and I hung around the base, taking photos of them through the incessant snow fall and just generally breathing in the snowy scene.

 

There is nothing like the silence of snow. Anybody who has stood outside during a heavy snow fall should know what I mean. Birds are silent, and most other sounds grow distant or still (not to mention the scientific reasons that snow covered ground absorbs sound waves and falling snow causes sound waves to curve upwards towards the sky – but that’s not quite as poetic and romantic, is it?). I love that silence and stood happily enveloped by it, watching nearby kids throwing snowballs whilst I looked for an untouched patch to place those first footprints. A 360 degree wonderland of fresh powder snow and I breathed in memories of Scotland. For those hours that we were up there, I couldn’t have felt happier. My toes and fingers grew uncomfortably cold but I didn’t want to go anywhere. For that brief moment in time, I was home.

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