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Archive for the tag “Mt Oxford”

Return to the Mountains

After a poor night’s sleep camping through strong winds, I left Mt Thomas scenic reserve behind and continued past Glentui and Ashley Gorge to reach Oxford. I didn’t have enough supplies for the day, but thankfully the supermarket was open and I could stock up before continuing to the Coopers Creek car park to start the day’s hike. I’d hiked Mt Oxford many years ago and knew it was an arduous hike. In my head I figured I’d just hike the summit track and return the same way, so I left my car behind to start the long hike through the valley to reach the start of the climb.

The lower section is among forest and here I was overtaken by a man running the trail. Like the day before, I felt a little unfit as the track became steep, trying to tell myself it was just the heat. I’d set off before 9am but the sun felt hot above me. At the first break in the trees however, I looked behind me and realised a blanket of fog was creeping across the Canterbury Plains. The higher I got, the closer the cloud bank got, such that as I reached the more open upper ridges, the Plains were completely obliterated from view. It was pretty cool, a phenomenon I’ve seen only a handful of times from above the cloud line. Like the day before, it got windier the higher I got and the edge of the blanket seemed to wisp around itself, fingers creeping and retreating into the gullies between the lower ridges.

 

Mt Oxford is a series of false summits until at last the track rolls onto the true summit at 1364m (4475ft). I had to hunker down to shield myself from the wind while I ate some food, watching the cloud roll in and out and the wisps puff up and then retreat. I’d summited a little after 11.30am and with so many hours ahead of me, I knew I should do the longer route back across the far ridge, even though I remembered how much I hated its monotony last time. Despite this, I was in training, and needed to keep the momentum going, so despite knowing I’d get frustrated, I took off across the summit, bracing against the wind.

It’s an easy but exposed track to follow across the bare ridge before it eventually cuts back into the forest. I recalled from last time that the time on the sign underestimated this section so this time I was prepared for that. As I reached the forest once more, I could see how much the cloud had piled in and how much it was desperately trying to push up the mountain side. It was mesmerising to watch though, and I paused for a bit to do so before losing sight of it as the trees closed around me. As the track cut down the mountainside it became eerie as soon I was within the cloud. It was cooler suddenly and any gaps in the trees offered no views other than the wisps of cloud that swirled around. It made the descent through the forest much more enjoyable as I simply breathed the mist in, merely guessing where I was with my sense of altitude dimmed.

 

When at last I reached the Korimako track that I’d taken to Ryde Falls the last time I’d been here, I continued straight this time, taking an alternate route towards a different car park then cutting away to trudge the long route back to Coopers Creek. This alternate route was muddy and undulating, but it was busy because it formed a loop track to Ryde Falls, which seemed popular. The low cloud continued the whole arduous slog back, and I finally returned to my car about 7hrs after setting off.

 

The following week, I joined two local walks together, parking at the Christchurch Gondola car park to hike the Bridle Path over the Port Hills to Lyttelton Harbour. The Bridle Path is a popular local walk, but it is rough and steep underfoot, making it a good slog that isn’t to everyone’s tastes. It zig-zags its way up to summit road and from there it zig-zags its way down the other side, reaching the road by Lyttelton tunnel. I’ve walked this track from end-to-end as well as just up to Summit Road and back, and on several occasions have combined it with trips to the gondola station. This time, I was heading to the harbour, grabbing food at a local cafe before heading down to the port to catch the ferry across to Diamond Harbour.

 

Once on Banks Peninsula, a track leads from near the wharf deep into the lower forests and up a gradual slope to reach farmland where the most popular route up to Mt Herbert leads from. I’ve hiked Mt Herbert multiple times, using 3 different routes up, but this one I’ve done the most. The ferry ride over is an added bonus to this hike that I like to tack on, but it does mean the hike has to be to a timetable in order to catch the ferry back over at the end of the day. Once again there was a recurring theme of feeling slow. I’ve definitely noticed that hiking with poles takes me longer than hiking without them. But with my knees starting to show wear and tear, I feel that using them is a necessary evil. But it is hard to accept at times that I’m not making records when I return to hike mountains I’ve previously summited. Despite the amount of walking I was doing lately, I couldn’t help feel that it was my fitness that was the problem.

Having caught the 11am ferry, I was relatively late to head up through the farmland, and I watched sadly as several people sped ahead of me and several people passed me heading down. The route however was familiar and I knew what to expect ahead. When at last I reached the summit (919m/3015ft), there was hardly anyone around and I might as well have had it to myself. Mindful of the ferry times I didn’t stay up long before heading back down. Going down was straightforward, but as is often the case, the clouds had piled in over Christchurch and it looked a little dull. What I hadn’t realised was that there was a music festival on at Diamond Harbour so when I reached the pier there was a massive queue for the ferry. Normally only once an hour at this time of the day, the ferry company thankfully agreed to do multiple runs to lighten the load. I wasn’t successful at making it on the first sailing, but was able to get on the second one. I still had the return hike over the Bridle Path to do, so I was eager to get back and get going. When at last I reached my car once more I’d been on my feet for 8hrs and was eager to be done.

 

Just 2 weeks later, I found myself on my final training hike ahead of the toughest hike of my life. I was to leave the country in just 2 days and the anticipation was starting to get real. I took the familiar drive into the Canterbury foothills and found myself on the edge of a cloud blanket that was slowly creeping in from the east. This last hike was a return to Mt Somers, a hike that I’d found challenging the first time round, and one that was a decent length and steepness to make me feel like I was getting a good last workout. Again I felt my poles slowing me down and I took longer to hike the lower slopes through the forest and across the rising ridges to reach the summit route junction. I focused on the task at hand, aware of people overtaking me regularly. Wisps of cloud had initially hugged the side of the mountain and as I climbed I saw the cloud holding off a little distance away.

 

It was another scorching day, and the 30 degree heat got the better of me. I was struggling, wheezing for breath and having to stop often. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong those last few hikes. It had been hot, but it wasn’t the first time I’d hiked in the heat. I was using poles, but they shouldn’t have made me tired and breathless. I’d had a vaccine ahead of my travels but that had been weeks before. Something just wasn’t right, I felt super unfit now despite the regular hikes and it was starting to concern me. Up and up I went, struggling but stubborn. I reached scree and then boulders and the marked route became a matter of picking a way up and across between distant orange poles. When at last I reached the final push towards the summit, I saw that the clouds had moved in, and like the few weeks prior at Mt Oxford, they tried desperately to sneak up the side of the mountain. I needed a break and rested at the summit, but as the clouds crept higher up the slopes, I was conscious of the fact that I needed good visibility to follow the markers in a few of the lower sections. I was caught between catching a break and wanting to rush back down before I risked losing my way.

 

It had taken me so long to get up there, that I was one of only 3 people left at the summit. The other 2 started to head down as I finished my food, and wary of getting into trouble if the clouds became a problem, I didn’t waste much time following suit. It was a needless worry in the end. As much as the clouds tried to wisp upwards, they never really made much progress, and I made better time on the descent, watching the blanket gradually dissipate as I neared its altitude. By the time I was back down at the track junction to follow the Mount Somers Route back to the car park, I had a clear view across the Plains. It took me 8hrs from start to finish, a lot longer than I’d taken the first time I’d gotten up. I was disappointed, but I headed as usual to grab my favourite post-hike treat: nachos and ice-coffee at C1 Espresso in Christchurch. Hiking is a good excuse for me to have a bit of a pig-out afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if I eat more calories after a hike than I actually lose on the hike. Maybe that was my problem. Maybe that was why I was struggling on these last few hikes. But there was no time left to wonder. Because 2 days later, I was off on a great adventure.

Mount Oxford

I can be a glutton for punishment sometimes. I am currently in training for two major hikes, one later this year and the other next year. When the weather has allowed, I’ve done my best to get out and about amongst Canterbury’s many mountains in an effort to put in some quality hiking hours. After getting a little disheartened towards the end of the previous week’s hike round Lake Clearwater, I felt reenergised to tackle something else the following weekend.

Around an hour of pleasant driving north-west of Christchurch lies Oxford forest, from which Mt Oxford pushes skyward. Down the gravel track of Mountain Rd lies one of two car parks from where several walks are reached. Mt Oxford summit track is a popular walking route, and the car park was full when I arrived. I’ve hiked some lesser known peaks where I’ve had the whole mountain to myself so to hear the voices of other hikers blowing in the wind was an unusual experience for me.

Starting at the Coopers Creek car park, the options are to follow the Ryde Falls track up stream to the waterfalls or to cross the west branch of Coopers Creek to summit Mt Oxford. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign at the start gave a 3 hr estimation to summit, and I set off on the relatively flat route at a good pace. Early on I was overtaken by a man out with his dog who were running up the summit.

DOC Track Map at Cooper's Creek carp park

 

After a wander along a 4×4 track past bee country and a lodge near the creek, the path veers off into the forest, within which it remains for the first hour of the hike. The altitude gain is there but as constant as it is it’s not too taxing and through brief breaks through the tree line you can appreciate that you are rising above the Canterbury Plains. There was plenty of bird song filling the air and I was regularly accompanied by little fantails flitting through the trees. I was feeling good and felt like the summit must be getting close. I stepped out of the treeline and into the beautiful sunshine around me, to discover that there was still a long way to go.

Mt Oxford viewed from near the car park

The lower reaches of Oxford forest

 

After that initial hour, the rest of the hike is exposed to the elements, and aside from a few small plateaus, the altitude gain continued for nearly another 2 hours. I passed lots of people coming down, giving the occasional sound disturbance to the birds and the crickets. That aside, it was a very peaceful hike with next to no wind. The higher I got, the further the Canterbury Plains disappeared behind me, and eventually, and by this point gratefully, I found myself at the summit (1364m/4475ft), and was secretly pleased to have it to myself. To one side the Plains spread out towards the horizon, Banks Peninsula just about visible through the haze. On the other side of the mountain, mountains rolled away into the distance, and I settled down on a makeshift bench on the summit to enjoy some well deserved lunch with that awesome view.

Neighbouring mountains from half-way up Mt Oxford

Looking up towards Mt Oxford summit

Canterbury Plains from Mt Oxford summit

Mountain view from Mt Oxford summit

Mountain view from Mt Oxford summit

 

From the summit, the quickest option would be to return to the car park by the same route. There is also the option to hike to Wharfedale Hut deeper in the mountains, or to take the loop track back to Coopers Creek along the summit. Having soaked up the view for over half an hour, and feeling refreshed, I set off across the summit with the neighbouring mountain range in full view. The summit marker gave a 45min time estimate to the junction for the Hut, and I headed off at a reasonable pace. For the second week in a row, I was surprised to discover that the marker had underestimated the time for this section which is highly unusual for the DOC signs. Following the ridge line but descending slightly, the vegetation was quite sparse until eventually the tree line was reached again. I passed some hikers who were tired and sweaty, and finally, an hour after leaving the summit, I hit the first junction.

Following the ridgeline

Alpine flowers on the ridge

Ridgeline view

View from ridge track

Neighbouring mountains

 

Persisting on the Mt Oxford track, the next junction was listed as an hour away. There was little to see but for the forest which enveloped the path, and it was an hour of ups and downs which felt like forever until eventually the path broke out at another track. Looking left there was a marker a few steps away, and I was gutted to discover the car park was still another 2.5hrs away according to the sign. It was difficult to gauge my location within the forest because there was no view, but I knew I was still quite high up. I can get quite bored with forest walks sometimes as it quickly descends into one tree after another, and by now 5.5hrs after leaving my car, I was a little bit fed up with walking. But there wasn’t exactly any other choice but to push on.

The upper reaches of Oxford forest on the descent

One of many track junctions

 

Taking the Korimako trail to Ryde Falls junction, I had previously made the decision to take the detour to visit the waterfalls, even although I was tired. At the Ryde Falls junction, it is signposted as a 15min walk to the waterfalls, but I power walked the distance, dropping down the bank, crossing the stream and pushing up the other side. There are 5 tiers to the waterfall, but I could only really see 3. The falls were in shadow with the sun starting to drop, and I looked at them for long enough to make me feel like the side trip had been worth it, before retracing my steps. With more time, there is a campsite here and the option of climbing up or down the side of the falls to get a differing view. As the waterfalls can be reached from 2 separate car parks, it is possible to hike there without having to tackle Mt Oxford first.

Ryde Falls track

Ryde Falls

 

Like the hike round Lake Clearwater the week prior, that final portion of the hike was quite draining. With nothing but trees for well over an hour, I could only focus on getting back to my car and taking off my boots. I was so pleased when the path finally broke out of the trees again and I could finally appreciate just how far I’d walked. Still up a hillside, the sun continued to illuminate the countryside and the final stretch was a pleasant evening walk round a headland and along the river bank. Finally reaching the Cooper’s Creek car park, mine was the only car left, and I happily kicked off my boots, ate the rest of my food and set off on the hour long drive home.

Emerging out of the forest

 

It is unusual for DOC signs to give too short a time frame for a hike, but regardless of the route chosen and despite its popularity, these are some full-on hikes not to be taken lightly. The full loop took me nearly 8hrs including about half an hour at the summit and the half hour detour to Ryde’s Falls. It is possible to summit Mt Oxford and take the same route back in about 5hrs, but for the full loop track, you’d better love forests!

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