Thursday, 23 April 2015

Mt Fyffe: 13 April 2015

Tramping to a mountain eyrie- Mt Fyffe, Kaikoura

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 and albatross watching. It also has some of the best diving in New Zealand along its wild, rocky coastline... there is a lot to see and do there.

While we were there I planned a day tramp up Mt Fyffe, a nearby peak. It seemed like a good opportunity to go tramping in an area I seldom visit. Unfortunately a spell of bad weather meant I never made it to the summit, more about that later...

Kaikoura Peninsula from high on Mt Fyffe Track

Heading up Mt Fyffe...into "Storm-ageddon '15"

The Seaward Kaikoura's are big mountains...many are above 1600 metres with a few as high as 2600. In places the flat coastal strip is less than a kilometre wide so the juxtaposition of the two is stark.

These mountains literally fall straight into the sea...

Mt Fyffe is clearly visible from Kaikoura Township, the summit sits at 1600 meters with a 8 bunk DOC hut on a ridge slightly lower down.

Panorama view of Fire-pool Flat and Homestead Spur

The Mt Fyffe Track is actually a 4 W/D access road leading from near the Kowhai River to the summit. You follow this track for the duration of the trip, it is steep but easy walking. It takes 2-3 hours walking to reach Fyffe Hut, another hour from there to the summit.

 I've been to the hut before but not right to the summit of Mt Fyffe.

The Seaward Kaikoura's in mid 2016 as seen from Kaikoura Township

We had rain overnight but when I set off the conditions were ok; calm, blue skies, no wind, warm 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 at least a couple of hours before it reached Kaikoura. 

Mt Fyffe car one is home!

I set off for Mt Fyffe Hut anyway as I believed I could reach it before the storm arrived, with the plan to turn back if the conditions deteriorated.

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 doesn't let up until you reach the hut about 4 kilometres away after climbing 1100 metres. There are a number of other tracks starting at the same point including the short Hinau Track, Kowhai Hut and the Kowhai-Hapuku route via the Kowhai River gorge.

Here is more information about the Mt Fyffe track network.

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

Mt Fyffe: 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 from Mt Fyffe
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 from Mt Fyffe

First view of Kaikoura Peninsula from Mt Fyffe

Storm approaching Mt Fyffe from south-west

Northern end of Kaikoura Plain from Mt Fyffe

Another storm making its way up the Kaikoura Coast

About 40 minutes up the track there is a nice resting spot with some good views out to the Kaikoura Plains. A good place to stop for a drink and a snack in the sun. 

View rest area 40 minutes up the Mt Fyffe Track

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 on the Mt Fyffe Track
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 at the hut 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.

Mt Fyffe: View to the south-east 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 from 800 meters up Mt Fyffe
After another half hour I reached an exposed part of the track, where I stopped for a rest. Care would be needed here in very strong wind as there is little cover and big drops on both sides of the track. On the way back down 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 to consider my options. I could see a storm rolling up the valley from the south west. This was basically the point of "no return", above here it makes more sense to continue on to the hut than to turn back. 

Storm approaching Kaikoura from the west
Jon on the Mt Fyffe Track

The photos above and below show the deterioration in the weather conditions, by the end of my 10 minute 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 3-4 hours away from the car if I continued. 

 I reluctantly decided that I had to start for home. 

Homestead  Spur- storms clouds gathering!

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 of Mt Fyffe from the track

Kaikoura in the distance from Mt Fyffe

View towards Amuri Range from Mt Fyffe

Kowhai River and Kaikoura Plain from Mt Fyffe
As usually happens the rain stopped as I descended back down to the car-park, in fact the sun came out again. Did I make the right decision? Of course, because I have learnt to listen to what my instincts are telling me.They said "...go back Jon, its going to rain....go get some fish and chips instead...". So I did!

 When you tramp solo you have to err on the side of caution. The possibility of being stuck high on a mountain in a snow storm does not bear consideration.

Rain falling at sea off  Kaikoura

View west towards the Inland Kaikoura's
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 positioned along the Mt Fyffe 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, sleet then snow- the whole works.

I was well pleased that I had decided to turn back. 

Last view of Kaikoura Peninsula from Mt Fyffe

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.

NB: rained or was really windy for all of our subsequent tramping!

This is still on my too do list!

Access: Drive north out of Kaikoura on Ludstone Road; turn right onto Mt Fyffe Road and follow it to its end. The Hapuku road end is 3 km along Parson's Road which leaves State Highway 1, 10 km north of town.
Track Times: From the Kowhai River car park it is 2-3 hours to Mt Fyffe Hut. Another hour will see you on the summit of Mt Fyffe. 2-3 hours return to the car park.
Hut details: Mt Fyffe Hut: standard, 8 bunks, fire box, water tanks, toilet, wood shed (wood provided)
Miscellaneous: Mt Fyffe Hut is located at 1200 metres while the summit is at 1600 metres. The Seaward Kaikoura's are wildly exposed to wind and any weather and get regular and heavy amounts of snow. Be prepared for adverse conditions.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Mt Thomas: 6 April 2015

Another Canterbury foothill trip: Mt Thomas

Another day trip this time to the summit of Mt Thomas in North Canterbury.  I just need to climb Mt Oxford and I have tramped on all of the major Canterbury foothills.

Banks Peninsula from the top of Mt Thomas

From Wooded Gully to Mt Thomas

There are several tracks to the summit of Mt Thomas, you can do this circuit in either direction. I walked in a clockwise direction but you may suit yourself. The Summit Track is steeper than the Wooded Gully Track which informed my decision.
Mt Thomas area topo map
I parked the car at the Wooded Gully car-park, there is also a DOC camp ground 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 and the Red Beast
DOC track board for Thomas Forest
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

Mt Thomas track network

DOC track sign at Wooded Gully

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). This is also the way to the Summit Track if walking in a anti clock wise direction.

First track junction on the Wooded Gully Track

DOC track sign, Wooded Gully Track

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

Wooded Gully Track, Mt Thomas

Wooded Gully 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.

Wooded Gully: target saddle is at head of the gully

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

View back towards Canterbury Plains from Wooded Gully Track

Wooded Gully Track/Red Pine junction

Regrowth near windfall trees on Wooded Gully Track

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 Wooded Gully Track, Mt Thomas

View of spur that Summit Track descends
The upper reaches of the Wooded 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 windy as there were strong gusts being channelled up the valley and over the saddle.

Large Totora tree on Wooded Gully Track

Wooded Gully Track : 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 near Mt Thomas

Moving East along the Ridge Track

Ridge Track: Climbing towards Mt Thomas

Start of the ridge top plateau, end of the bush on Ridge Track

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 well maintained easy walking, it only took 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 from near Mt Thomas

Ridge Track: view south towards Oxford Township

View towards Mt Richardson area from Ridge Track

Mt Grey in the distance from Ridge Track

View along Ridge Track to Mt Thomas

Ridge Track: Approaching storms from the West

Ridge Track, towards Mt Thomas

Nearing the summit of Mt Thomas

View down Ridge Track from Mt Thomas
Ridge Track:: Ridge/Summit Track sign
You eventually 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

DOC 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 uninspiring tramp.
4 W/D access road to summit of Mt Thomas

Mt Grey from Mt Thomas summit
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 and Banks Peninsula from Mt Thomas summit

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 Nor'Westerly storm from Mt Thomas

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.

Jon resting on the Mt Thomas summit

Jon on Mt Thomas

Mt Thomas summit to Wooded Gully

The descent back to the car-park starts with a 10 minute walk down a 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 on Mt Thomas

Mt Thomas: 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, Mt Thomas

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

Wooded Gully ridge from Summit Track

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

Forest near my lunch spot on Mt Thomas

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.

Mt Thomas: descending the Summit Track

I had a particularly fat Keruru following me along the track for some distance, I also saw some Fantails, Quail and some other exotic birds. There was a lot more bird life in the exotic forest than in the native area's.

Keruru or wood pigeon I passed on the Summit Track

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

Mt Thomas: last section of the Summit Track

Another excellent day trip and another mountain off my list of peaks to tramp on. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the native and exotic forest, it is almost two tramps in one. 

Access:Wooded Gully picnic area is about 65 km north-west of Christchurch and is reached either from Oxford or Loburn. From Oxford continue on the road past Ashley Gorge and the Glentui Bush Road turn-off to Hayland Road, a further 5 km on. From Loburn, take the signposted road to Oxford for about 16 km to the Hayland Road turn-off. Wooded Gully picnic area is about 4 km away at the end of Hayland Road.
Track Times: From Wooded Gully car park, 1.5-2 hours to Ridge Track, 1 hour along Ridge Track to Mt Thomas, 1.5 hours to car park on Summit Track: 4-5 hours total
Miscellaneous:Moderately steep tracks in places, no potable water source along any of these tracks, Ridge Track exposed to weather.