Thursday, 23 April 2015

Mt Fyffe: 13 April 2015

Kathryn, the kids and  I were in Kaikoura for a couple of days in the last week of the school holidays. Kaikoura is a small tourist  town about 2 hours north of Christchurch and is famous for whale/seal/albatross watching. It has some of the best diving in New Zealand along its wild,  rocky coastline, there is a lot to see and do there. 

I planned a day tramp up Mt Fyffe to coincide with our visit. Mt Fyffe  is one of the mountains which overlook the Kaikoura plains, the summit sits at 1600 meters with a DOC hut on a ridge at 1200 meters. Unfortunately a spell of bad weather meant I never made it to the hut, more about that later...

Panorama view of Fire-pool flat and Homestead Spur
The Mt Fyffe track is in fact a 4 W/D access road leading from near the Kowhai River to the summit of the peak. You follow this track for the duration of the trip, it is steep but easy walking and takes 2-3 hours walking to reach Fyffe Hut, it is another hour from there to the summit.

Mt Fyffe Topomap
We had rain overnight but when I set off the conditions were good; calm, blue skies etc. There was new fresh snow (the first snow of 2015, unseasonably early) on most of the higher peaks in the area. I heard over the radio that there was heavy rain, snow and wind  in Christchurch that same morning so i knew I had a couple of hours before it reached Kaikoura. 

I set off for Mt Fyffe Hut as I believed I could reach it before the storm arrived, with the understanding that i would turn back if the conditions deteriorated.

Mt Fyffe carpark
The Mt Fyffe car-park has a toilet, picnic tables and some areas where you could set up a tent to camp overnight, no water however so you would need to bring it with you. 

DOC track sign for Mt Fyffe area
Mt Fyffe map, red cross marks highest point reached
The track starts climbing right from the start and never lets up until you reach the flat the hut sits on about 5 kilometers away. There are a number of other tracks starting at the same point including the Hinau Track, Kowhai Hut and the Kowhai-Hapuku route via the Kowhai River gorge.

Here is more information about the Mt Fyffe track network.

Loacked gate at start of 4 W/D track
The turn off for the hour long Hinau track starts 5 minutes up the Mt Fyffe access road.

Turn off for Hinau Track

The views are spectacular and just get better as you climb up the long spur the road sits on.

First view of Kaikoura plains
The condition of the track basically stays the same the whole way up the track, steep gravel. I understand this is a popular trip for the MTB folks but it would be a brutal climb: its hard enough walking let alone riding. Awesome on the way down though!

Mt Fyffe access road/track
You can just see the weather approaching from the South West in this photo, it is still more than an hour away.

View S East towards Waiau-Kaikoura Valley

View of Kaikoura Peninsula

Storm approaching from South West

Northern end of Kaikoura Plain

The storm making its way up the coast

View from a rest area about 40 minutes up the track
About 40 minutes up the track there is a nice wee rest spot with some good views out to the Kaikoura plains. A good place to stop for a drink and a snack in the sun. 

Another view from the same spot

Close up of Kaikoura Peninsula
After an hour you reach a flat where there is a fire pond (not visible until you are higher up the track) with excellent views over most of Kaikoura. Don't try to drink the water, it is almost certainly polluted!

Fire pool flat
I had a chat with a passing German tramper who was on his way down from the hut, he told me that there was no snow there but that the top of Mt Fyffe was well covered. 
He had spent a wild and windy night in the hut alone, not even mice for company.

View from the flat near the fire pool

View to the South from fire pond flat
After a stop for a drink i continued on up the track, it is less steep as you climb but still hard work. 

Kaikoura Peninsula
After another half hour I reached an exposed part of the track, where I stopped for a rest. Care would be needed here in strong wind as there is little cover and drops on both sides of the track. On the way back I got hit by a wind gust here that would have been at least 100 kph- yikes- not good!

Kowhai River Gorge, Homestead Spur
I continued on for another half hour before I decided to stop for a snack break, I could see a storm rolling up the valley from the South West. This was basically the "no return" point, above this place it  makes more sense to continue on to the hut then to turn back. 

Storm approaching from West
Me at my rest spot

The photos above and below show the deterioration in the weather conditions, by the end of my 10 minute snack break I had strong wind gusts, rain and sleet assailing me from the approaching storm. As I was still at least an hour from the hut I would effectively be 3 hours away from the car if I continued. 

 I reluctantly decided that I had to start for home. 

Homestead  Spur- storms clouds gather!

You cant see it in this photo but the hut is just past the second highest peak in the right centre of this photo. 

View towards summit

Kaikoura in the distance

View towards Amuri Range

Kowhai River and Kaikoura Plain
As usually happens the rain held off as I descended back down to the car-park, in fact the sun came out again. Did i make the right descsion, of course, because i have learnt to listen to what my instincts are telling me.

 When you tramp solo you have to err on the side of caution. The possibility of being stuck somewhere in dangerous conditions does not bear contemplation! 

Rain falling at sea off  Kaikoura

View West towards Inland Kaikouras
Here is an example of the seats which have been installed at regular spots along the track, generally in places with fine views of the surrounding area. 

One of the benches scattered along the track
It took me about an hour to make it back to the car, being chased there for the last 10 minutes by light rain. By the time I drove back to the house we were staying at it was blowing a gale, high wind, torrential rain- the whole works. I was well pleased that i had turned back. 

Last view of Kaikoura

It was a good trip, even with the weather and to be recommended. I will have another bash at the track as we are already planning a trip to Kaikoura later in the year when the weather is better. Hopefully, next time I will be able to walk right up to the summit.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Mt Thomas: 6 April 2015

Another day trip this time to the summit of Mt Thomas in north Canterbury, a circuit following the Wooded Gully-Ridge-and Summit tracks.
Mt Thomas area topo map
I parked the car at the Wooded Gully car-park, there is also a DOC campground in the area on a river terrace next to the track entrance. It was fairly busy on the day as it was a long weekend.
Wooded Gully Car-park
DOC track board
Main DOC track sign at Wooded Gully
The track's start from the far side of the clearing shown below, you can just see the DOC track signs from the edge of the clearing.

Picnic area at start of Wooded Gully track

DOC Canterbury Foothills brochure

DOC track sign at start of track

The track is nicely maintained for about the first kilometer or so it then deteriorates into your typical rough as guts back country track.

Groomed early section of Mt Thomas Track

Steps along the Mt Thomas Track

Bridge over the Wooded Gully Stream

The first track junction gives you a track to Mt Thomas (left) or the Waterfall Track (right).

First track Junction on the track

DOC track sign

As you can see the track has started to deteriorate and assume the usual character we know and love...

Mt Thomas Track

Mt Thomas Track/Waterfall junction

The target for this climbing is the saddle at the head of Wooded Gully, the track crosses from side to side of the valley following the line of least resistance.

Saddle target at head of the gully

You are mostly in the forest so this is one of the few views of the plains until you reach the Ridge Track at the head of the valley.

View back towards Canterbury Plains from Mt Thomas Track

Mt Thomas track/Red Pine junction

Mt Thomas track/Red Pine junction

Regrowth near windfall trees

The track is steep in places and there is a degree of mild rock scrambling involved, it is a far cry from the well manicured lower reaches of the track.

Steep section of Mt Thomas Track

View of spur that Summit Track descends
The upper reaches of the Gully are quite dense and thick: almost reminds me of West Coast tiger country...
Upper reaches of Wooded Gully Stream

Ascending towards Ridge Track

The top end of the Mt Thomas track switches between steep, root covered track and stream bed acting as a track. This section was muddy and quite windy as there were strong gusts being channeled up the valley and over the saddle.

Large Totora tree

Approaching the saddle and Ridge Track

Eventually you reach the saddle and Ridge Track: turn right for the summit of Mt Thomas and left to follow the old No. 2 track back down to the car-park (3-4 hours).

Ridge Track sign

Moving East along the Ridge Track

Climbing towards Mt Thomas

Start of the ridge top plateau, end of the bush

Once you reach the open terrain along the top of the ridge there are excellent views of the Canterbury Plains out to the South East. The track is fast and well maintained, it took only 20 minutes to walk from the edge of the forest to the summit of Mt Thomas.

Mt Richardson from the Ridge Track

Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula

View South towards Oxford

View towards Mt Richardson area

Mt Grey in the distance

View along Ridge Track to Mt Thomas

Approaching storms from the West

Ridge Track, towards Mt Thomas

Nearing the summit of Mt Thomas

View down Ridge Track
Ridge/Summit Track sign
Finally you reach the summit, it is a broad flat plateau with a trig and radio repeater on the top. I had planned to stop here for lunch but the strong cold wind gusts put paid to that idea.

Summit of Mt Thomas

Mt Thomas sign
The access road up the rear slope of Mt Thomas is a well used route for out MTB brethren, it could also be walked but would be a long dusty and fairly un-inspiring tramp.
4 W/D access road to summit of Mt Thomas

Mt Grey from summit of Mt Thomas
Spectacular views of the Canterbury Plains from the summit as well as into the Lees Valley and the ranges further to the West.

Pegasus Bay from Mt Thomas

Canterbury Plains with Banks Peninsula in distance

View South from Mt Thomas

Mt Thomas trig
I was mildly worried about the dark cloud on the horizon but luckily the rain did not start until I was on my home down the access road so no need for the wet weather gears.
View of incoming North Westerly storm

It is difficult to see in the photos but it was really windy with strong, cold wind gusts blowing across the summit: I did not dally for long as it started to get cold.
Me resting on the Mt Thomas summit

Jon on MT Thomas
The descent back to the car-park starts with a 10 minute walk down the 4 W/D track before the track branches off and heads down a spur covered in exotic pines.

Start of 4 W/D track to Summit Track

Turn off to summit track
The Summit Track is an old bull dozer track which descends one of the spurs leading down from Mt Thomas. It is steep but easy travel...

Start of Summit Track

View back towards saddle on ridge
The view below is of the ridge I had climbed up earlier in the day, the Wooded Gully track gradual climbs along the ridge before crossing to the other side of the gully and rising steeply to the saddle.

Wooded Gully ridge

The lunch of champions: tuna, crackers and there anything finer!
My lunch: Crackers, tuna, snacks and water

Forest near my lunch spot

The track down through the exotic plantation is very nice, although steep. I passed 12 people making their way up the slope, this is obviously the preferred way to the summit.

descending the Summit Track

I had a particularly fat Keruru following me along the track for some distance, there was a lot more birdlife in the exotic forest than in the  native area's.

Keruru or wood pidgeon I passed

Forestry road near end of track
The final section of the track follows alongside the forestry road, before dropping down to the car-park and camping area.

Last section of the Summit Track

Another excellent day trip and another mountain off my list of peaks to tramp up.
I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the native and exotic forest, it is almost 2 tramps in 1 to all intents.