"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you" - Isaiah 55:12

16 May 2015

Mt Thomas - 14 May 2015

With the nor'west gales that had been battering the Canterbury high country for a week or so still raging, I had to make a last minute change to my plans, as to venture up Mt Oxford in such conditions could only be described as foolhardy and irresponsible.

So instead I headed for Mt Thomas, a more easterly summit along the line of foothills running close to where I live. The four commonly known ones are Oxford, Richardson, Thomas, and Grey, with Karetu sandwiched in next to Grey although it certainly doesn't receive the attention the others do, due to the fact that the main four are all well tracked by DOC.

Mt Thomas stands at 1023m, not a lofty height by any stretch, but to reach the summit still requires over 700m of altitude gain so is not to be completely trifled at.
There are numerous routes to the summit, all well tracked and marked. I decided on the steep, direct Summit Track, which climbs directly up to the summit from the carpark. With the wind slowly abating, I hoped avoid the worst of it while ascending, and then enjoy travelling the pleasant tops along to the Wooded Gully track in better conditions, and then descend that track back down to the carpark.

The Summit Track climbs in a series of steep steps, with sections at an easier gradient mixed in to ease the burden on the legs. Steepness is a relative term, as what I find steep others may not, or vice versa. In relation to other similar tracks in the area, this one is reasonably steep but for me, with my last trip being up Mt Torlesse, it paled in comparison and I found it to be rather easy going.
The track heads up through the extensive pine plantation on Mt Thomas, climbing steadily until breaking out of the bush at around the 900m contour. Here are the first decent views of the tramp, as the track sidles round the side of the ridge to join a forestry road shortly before the summit.
Leaving the protection of the bush, I was struck by the full force of the wind. While it had appeared to be easing down on the flat, that certainly wasn't the case at 1000m altitude. It wasn't dangerous, simply unpleasant, and made for bitterly cold conditions on the summit.

The views from such a modest summit are, on a nice, fine day, quite impressive. The Canterbury Plains stretch out before you, across to Christchurch, with Pegasus Bay clearly visible. Even here on an average day as I was there was much to see. The freshly snow dusted peaks of Mt Hutt, and the Torlesse and Puketeraki Ranges were all on show, albeit slightly shrouded in cloud, as well as the line of foothills all the way along to Mt Grey, and deeper into the hinterland of the upper Okuku River.

With the wind curtailing my time on the summit, I quickly set off across the open tops, planning to stop for a snack below bushline at the track junction. These tops are superb, snaking through typical alpine scrub, and offering an ever changing outlook on the surrounding area.
It's not far along the tops, and I reached the track junction in 25 minutes, pleased to have left the biting wind behind.

From the junction there are a couple of options on offer to return to the carpark. The most expedient route is the Wooded Gully track, which descends immediately down into the head of the valley, while a longer option if you're looking to extend your outing a little is to continue on the Ridge Track, climbing from the junction towards Pt 1043m before turning off and heading along the ridge top on the true right of Wooded Gully. This adds at least an hour onto your trip. A further extension, one perhaps best done as an overnight trip, is to carry on past the Ridge Track turnoff and on to Bob's Biv, a little 2 bunk bivvy nestled in the bush a couple of hours or so along the ridge. I haven't visited yet, but it looks to be a cosy wee spot - maybe next summer.

With things to do at home in the afternoon, I opted for the shorter Wooded Gully track. Initially it descended quite easily, zig-zagging down the steep head of the valley, before a bit lower down the track got rougher, eroded by water running down the face. In places the force of the water has actually washed out some steps built by DOC, the boards left strewn at the track edge.
As the track dropped down to the stream, the going became markedly easier, and this continued the closer I got to the carpark - probably due to the fact that several shorter loop tracks are found in the lower valley and the tracks are maintained to a higher standard to suit family groups. It makes sense, as most capable trampers considering going up to the summit should be able to handle a rougher track, while families (like ourselves!) will appreciate the well maintained track system in the lower valley - I know we have in the past bringing our young kids in here.

Before long I was back at the car, a nice half days exercise behind me.

Tops near Mt Thomas. Wooded Gully Track climbs to the saddle, while Mt Thomas summit is away to the right out of frame, Pt 1043m left of the saddle

On the summit of Mt Thomas (1023m), looking along the foothills towards Mt Grey (far right)

Trig on Mt Thomas

Photo doesn't capture it well, but there was lovely sunlight hitting the snow on Mt Hutt (through the gap in trees centre image), Mt Oxford is through the gap on the right

Looking across the plains to Christchurch and the Port Hills

Tripod wouldn't stand in the wind, so had to just put the camera on the ground

Pleasant tops running NW from the summit of Mt Thomas

View to the west, Mt Oxford just right of centre, with the snow capped Torlesse Range immediately behind. The Ridge Track takes the bush spur running through the middle of image

Looking back to Mt Thomas

Further along the tops, Mt Thomas at left, with the Canterbury plains stretching out beyond

The flat expanse that is the Canterbury plains, a pattern of squares when seen from above

Last wide views of the trip, before dropping down to the bush saddle, Summit Track climbs up from the right

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: From Oxford, drive out through Ashley Gorge, past Glentui, and turn left onto Hayland Rd. Alternatively, from Rangiora drive out to Loburn, turn left onto Hodgsons Rd and continue up towards Ashley Gorge, turning right onto Hayland Rd. There are large DOC signposts shortly before Hayland Rd on both sides of the approach. The carpark is at the end of the road, all other roads branching off Hayland are private.

Time: Carpark to Mt Thomas via Summit Track 1hr 20mins, summit to track junction 25mins, track junction to carpark via Wooded Gully Track 1hr 20mins

(Note: the electronic map I downloaded a couple of years ago from LINZ, used above, still uses the old track names Track 1 and Track 2, for the Summit & Ridge Tracks respectively. However the paper map uses the current track names as they appear on DOC signage. Also, the electronic version misnames Hayland Rd as Smiths Rd, again, the paper version is correct. These errors may have been corrected on subsequent updates to the electronic version)

Map: BW23 Cust

Hut: None

10 May 2015

Mt Torlesse, Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park - 2 May 2015

I've had many a long gaze up at Mt Torlesse as I bike to work each day, its' summit clearly visible from my home town, and with a perfect forecast the time had come to make a bid for the summit.

Mt Torlesse stands at 1961m, but is only the 4th highest peak on its' namesake range, with Castle Hill, Back, and Otarama Peaks all higher than Torlesse. Nonetheless, to climb Mt Torlesse still represents a significant challenge, not in terms of technical climbing, but in the 1340m altitude gain required to reach the summit.
Mt Torlesse and its' associated range are named after early Canterbury surveyor and landowner C.O. (Charles) Torlesse. Torlesse was a surveyor with the New Zealand Company, coming to New Zealand in 1841 for a short time, before leaving and then returning in 1848. He carried out much exploration of the Canterbury area, and owned Fernside and Birch Hill runs during his pastoral days. He was the first person (besides perhaps local Maori) to climb Mt Torlesse, and thus it bears his name today.

Initially I had planned to make a direct summit of Torlesse, using the standard ascent route up the SW spur, then travel along the ridge over Junction Peak and round to Red Peak, before dropping back down to the valley floor off of Red Peak. However, with a decent snow fall earlier in the week and the fact that this was a solo trip, I had alternative plans if that route didn't look viable when I got up there.

Expecting a long day, partly due to my constant stopping to take photos!, I left home early, and was parked up at the entrance to the valley shortly after 6am. A quick tightening of my boots and I was off, setting off up the Kowai in darkness but, having been up this valley before on our trip to The Gap (see here), I knew it to be easy going to the hut about an hour up the valley.
A good frost gripped the valley floor, the way ahead sparkling as the light from my headlamp hit the frozen grass. Initially I followed an easy vehicle track up the true right of the Kowai, across grassy flats until it reaches a collection of beehives on a bank above the river. Here the track dropped down to the riverbed, becoming indistinct, and it was here that I lost the trail. As I discovered on my return, it really wasn't that hard to find - I should have just followed round a large rock and picked up the track in the grass beyond.
Losing the trail however wasn't a big deal, as the riverbed offers good travel anyway, and so I quickly decided to forget the track and just carry on up the river, crossing at will to cut bends and the like.

I reached Kowai Hut in just over an hour, and popped inside to record my various intentions, having still not decided on a final route, although that decision would be made soon enough.
Kowai Hut (also known as John Heyward Memorial Hut) was built in 1983 by Lincoln University to house scientists working in the upper Kowai studying hydrology and erosion. It has 4 bunks and a logburning fire.

From the hut I dropped back down to cross a small side stream before heading up onto a small terrace which would enable to me scout out my route options. Things looked straight forward on Torlesse, with the prospect of snow on the final approach to the summit, and the ridge round to Red Peak appeared to be easy going also. The difficulty was going to lie in the descent off Red Peak, down the steep south spur that was still carrying a reasonable amount of snow. But it wasn't the snow I was concerned about - about halfway down the terrain changes from rock to snowgrass, and there's a very steep 200-300m band of it on the spur. Anyone who has traveled on steep, wet snowgrass will know how treacherous it can be so I erred on the side of caution (being alone and all) and settled on an alternative route.
My alternative was to head on up the side stream that comes down past the hut, then find as scrub-free route as I could up a spur to gain the ridge at a saddle just north of Pt 1152m. From there I would climb the south ridge of Mt Torlesse, passing over Pt 1723m and on to the summit. From the summit I would descend the SW spur that is the usual ascent route, making for a quick return to the valley floor.

I set off up the side stream, using whichever side made for the easiest travel, reaching the point where I turned up out of the valley easily after a series of grassy sections alongside the stream. Looking up at the spur, the scrub appeared to be extremely thick, so I started up the bed of another, smaller feeder stream, looking for more open ground on the spur as I went. Unfortunately the opportunity didn't present itself, the scrub dense and impenetrable, so I continued up the small stream, following strong deer trails. Deer, however, can traverse this sort of terrain considerably easier than I can, and the trails had me following several false leads as they shot off up into the scrub.
I eventually reached a fork in the stream. Neither option looked amazing, with the true left branch appearing to get quickly closed in and possibly impassable, while the other looked more open but had the look and feel that it would become difficult sooner rather than later! I went with the more open option, which worked out exactly as I envisaged it, and within 10 minutes I was surrounded by bluffs. A promising line up out of the stream showed me just why the scientists had chosen this area to study erosion, as the rock was completely rotten. Every handhold I tried just pulled away in a soft, rotten, crumbling mess, and it quickly became obvious that to try and climb out was futile.
As I backtracked down the stream I was able to find a small dirt slope that appeared more solid, and this proved to be the case and I was able to climb out and up into the scrub above, which had now reduced to the more typical alpine scrub. As I climbed up I saw that had I taken the other fork, I would have come out into the scrub zone easily, so that would have been a much better option.

My route ahead was obvious now that I was in open ground, and I was able to take a rising sidle up through the scrub aiming for a rock outcrop partway up the slope above the saddle that I had intended to aim for. Above the saddle the ridge climbs very steeply, so by angling upwards I gained height but without the steep gradient...yet!
As I reached the outcrop, it became apparent that the next section was probably going to be the hardest of the day - a steep climb of only 200m, but on some of the loosest rock and scree I've come across in a while. It was truly a case of 2 steps while sliding back 1, and made for a brutal ascent. Brutal it was, but thankfully relatively short, and I crested the top of the steepest section with screaming thighs that were cramping severely from the struggle up the loose slope.

With that behind me the way ahead was much easier, with a gentler gradient to the ridge ahead, and if I wasn't cramping so badly I could have made better time than I did. However, I was happy to keep plodding along, enjoying the views opening up around me as I climbed.
A short, steeper climb up over Pt 1723m had me looking along the final summit ridge, within reach now. Snow lay along the ridge from here but I didn't need my crampons, easily plugging steps along the ridge, until finally I reached the top of one final snow slope and found myself on the summit. It had been 6 and a half hours since I left the car, but all worth it as I stood there on top of Mt Torlesse, with the world seemingly at my feet.

That amazing feeling of reaching the top of a mountain came over me, stunned by the beauty of the view that surrounded me. I'll let the photos do the talking, hopefully they do it justice!

The descent was straight forward, dropping down the steep SW spur. Standing at the top looking down the spur seems to run on forever, as it drops about 1160m to the valley floor. It was a hot, exposed descent in the afternoon sun, but I was able to make good time, reaching the terrace near the hut after 2 and a half hours descending. By now my feet were sore, the constant travel on rock taking its' toll, so I flopped down in the grass for 5 minutes, lying there gazing up at the day's accomplishment, resting and soaking up a few final moments of mountain grandeur before making the trek back down the valley to my car.

A long, hard day, but one that will be remembered fondly every time I look up at the mountain.

First rays of sun hitting Castle Hill Peak, with The Gap further along the ridge

Mt Torlesse (1961m), from the terrace near Kowai Hut

Head of the Kowai River, Castle Hill Peak, The Gap, and Red Peak visible

Looking across to Castle Hill Peak and The Gap

Golden rays lighting up the hills, as I head up the side stream past the hut

The main side stream I followed up past the hut

Heading up the small feeder stream, bluffs ahead

About to be bluffed in the small feeder stream

Climbing out of the stream, looking back onto the eroded, rotten rock I tried to climb previously

Gaining height, nice view of Castle Hill Peak (1998m), and The Gap (~1700m)

Looking back down the Kowai as I reach the loose rock slope

Foggy Peak (1741m, far left), and the ridge along to Castle Hill Peak

Snack stop at the rock outcrop, and the start of the steep, loose grind. Kowai River below, Foggy Peak  skyline just right of centre

Looking down one of the many branches of the upper Rubicon River, with the Russell Range in the background

Kowai River - the hut sits just out of sight on the left of the terrace lower right corner

Vegetable sheep (Raoulia sp.)

Looking down the steep, loose rock slope as I slowly inch my way up - a photo was a good excuse to stop!

First view of the summit of Mt Torlesse as I reach easier ground, Red Peak on the left

Looking up towards Pt 1723m, with Mt Torlesse to the left

The rugged headwaters of the Kowai River

Lake Rubicon and the Canterbury Plains, with the Waimakariri River slicing through the landscape, and the Port Hills of Christchurch in the background

South ridge of Mt Torlesse, my route to the summit, viewed from Pt 1723m

On the south ridge of Mt Torlesse

Snow patterns just off the south ridge of Mt Torlesse

Castle Hill Peak and Pt 1941m, from high on the south ridge of Mt Torlesse

Junction Peak (1882m, left), and Back Peak (1979m), from the summit of Mt Torlesse

Looking across Paterson Hill to Mt Oxford (bush covered slopes, left of image)

Oxford, my home town - centre image

Waimakariri River, from the summit of Mt Torlesse

Otarama Peak (1963m), viewed from Mt Torlesse

Back Peak (left), and Otarama Peak, from Mt Torlesse

Junction, Back, and Otarama Peaks, from Mt Torlesse

My initial plan, the ridge from Junction Peak (right) to Red Peak

Castle Hill Peak (left), and Red Peak, with profile view of the descent spur off Red Peak

Looking along the western half of the Torlesse Range, from Red Peak to Foggy Peak

On the summit of Mt Torlesse, with the Canterbury Plains in behind

On the summit of Mt Torlesse, with Castle Hill Peak behind, Craigieburn Range in background

Summit cairn on Mt Torlesse

Looking back down my line of ascent, Pt 1723m far left, south ridge out of frame to the left, and the saddle near Pt 1152m is the obvious dip in the ridgeline

Looking down the long SW spur of Mt Torlesse, my descent route

Glider (centre image) - it flew right over my head as i descended the spur but instead of grabbing my camera I waved to him! - so not the best shot

The lower (and easier) part of the long SW spur, Kowai Hut near trees just past the toe of the spur

Looking back across to part of the route I climbed earlier in the day

The lower section of ridge I climbed, with the side stream used to access the tops lower right (see below)

Route up and out of the side stream. Where my route first bends left, it would have been easier to continue straight and out onto easier scrub

Route up to the ridge from the valley floor. Kowai Hut is some distance away to the right

Looking up the long SW spur I used to descend from Mt Torlesse. The south ridge I climbed on the way up runs off to the right from the summit
The route down (or up) the SW spur of Mt Torlesse
Looking across to the complete line of my ascent, from low down on the descent spur

Route taken on my ascent of Mt Torlesse

Relaxing on the grass back down in the valley, looking up at the day's achievement

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ

Access: Drive on SH73 from Christchurch towards Arthur's Pass. Before starting the climb proper up Porters Pass, park at the layby under a large tree opposite the old roadman's hut. NOTE: to climb Mt Torlesse you're on private land, contact Brooksdale Station for permission to cross their land (phone 03 318 4748)

Time: Carpark to Kowai Hut 1hr, hut to summit via Pt 1723m 5hrs 30mins, descent to hut via SW spur 2hrs 30mins, hut to carpark 1hr

Map: BW21 Springfield

Hut: Kowai Hut (4 bunks)