"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

1 July 2016

Mt Catley, St James Conservation Area - 25 June 2016

Always on the lookout for easily accessible winter tramps, I had plotted a nice looking route in fairly benign terrain, meaning if there was snow about (and we hoped there would be!) the route would still be viable for us non-technical mountaineers!
The plan was to follow the well graded pack track up onto Fowlers Pass, and from there follow the ridge up to Mt Pickett and then on to Mt Catley before dropping down an open spur back to the car.

A warm week leading up to the trip had stripped almost all the snow from the mountains, leaving them as bare as in summer, with only a few isolated pockets of snow lingering in the sheltered basins. A hard frost gripped the Clarence Valley as we made our way up the road, the outside temperature a rather fresh 2degC in the sun, so we were quick to don an extra layer as we got out of the cosy confines of the car at Fowlers Hut, the starting point of the trip.
Fowlers Hut is an historic rabbiters hut, located roadside on Tophouse Rd on the way up to Lake Tennyson. The hut was built sometime around 1890 and is in very tidy shape given its' proximity to the road.

We set off shortly before 10am to tackle to easy track to Fowlers Pass. It's one both Rodney and I are familiar with, having crossed over the pass to Lake Guyon in 2014. There was no shortage of snow on that occasion but even that experience was enough for us to know the track up to the pass is an easy one.
There's little to say about it, other than it's a well formed pack track that climbs at a comfortable gradient up to Fowlers Pass, which stands at 1296m.
It took an hour to gain the pass and we took a moment to survey the route ahead. It looked reasonably straight forward, the crux we both felt lay in the final section of ridge leading up to Mt Pickett, which looked steep and soft underfoot.

Route confirmed, we made our way across fairly open scrub to gain the ridge up to Pt 1453m. It was easy travel along to Pt 1453m, following the arcing ridge as it angled up to the high point. The easiest travel was just off the ridge crest on the NW side. The ground there was scrub free and made for easy travel, and also gave us good views down into Anniversary Point, a curiously named feature in the Smyths Stream catchment.
From Pt 1453m, the summit of Mt Pickett suddenly seemed very close, so we continued on, initially across a bed of cushion grass and then onto the bare scree slope that rose a little over 300m up onto the summit.
We made slow but steady progress up the slope, which started well with good firm scree but, as we had suspected, this gave way to much softer ground on the steeper, upper slopes. This did slow us somewhat, but the remaining climb was short and we shortly found ourselves on the summit of Mt Pickett.

A chilling wind met us on the summit, which shortened our stay, lingering long enough to take a few quick photos before we moved on looking for a sheltered lunch spot. The summit views were impressive, with those to the north and west across Lake Guyon to the distant Spenser Mountains being quite spectacular.
We eyed up the ridge that leads along to Mt Clara and, while it appeared easy enough, neither of us felt we had it in us on the day so it was flagged as a future trip and we set off towards Mt Catley, having spied a cluster of rocks just off the ridge ahead.
We hunkered down for lunch behind the rock outcrops, thankful for their presence as there was no escaping the wind otherwise, gazing across the attractive basins at the head of Muddy Stream to Mt Clara. Half an hour of inactivity was enough to require moving again, so we set about the final climb to Mt Catley.

From the saddle, the route onto Catley climbed steeply on extremely soft scree. It had us both muttering that this was going to be the hardest 90m height gain of the day, however after 60m or so the gradient eased and the scree firmed, giving us an easy amble up onto the summit.
Again, the views were superb as Mt Catley stands high at the head of a couple of streams with little to impede the views. There was plenty to try and take in but with the wind cutting through us on the exposed summit we hastily took our summit photos and started our descent.
We retraced our steps for a couple of hundred metres, then veered right onto a broad spur running east. A short distance along the spur we dropped onto a plummeting scree that took us all the way down to the flat area near Pt 1428m. Once on the scree Rodney was away, leaving me in his wake, especially when I stopped to take a photo of him. By the time I was done, he was long gone!
Despite it not being a perfect scree, it still enabled us to drop 450m in about 20 minutes and we were quickly down onto the scrub covered spur that would take us back down to the lower part of the Fowlers Pass track.

The spur made for good travel, dropping in a series of steps. Lower down there was a couple of rocky areas to skirt around, which caused no issue, and while it seemed to be one of those spurs that goes on forever, we reached the stream at the toe of the spur in quite reasonable time.
We were then faced with the choice of following the stream out to the car, or climbing up onto the terrace above us and rejoining the pack track. The ease of the track was appealing, so we dragged ourselves up onto the terrace, the legs groaning at the short climb, and onto the track, upon which we cruised the last few minutes downhill to the car.

Fowlers Hut (built c.1890), with Mt Catley on the left


Nearing Fowlers Pass (1296m)

Mt Stanley (1860m), viewed from Fowlers Pass

Our route followed the ridge crest on the right all the way to Mt Catley (top left but not in frame)

Looking down into the eroded bowl known as Anniversary Point

View down Pass Stream from the ridge leading to Pt 1453m

Climbing to Pt 1453m

Looking down Smyths Stream

Spenser Mountains, with Mt Una (2300m) on the right

Stanley Vale - the historic hut sits near the small clump of trees in the centre

Peaks at the head of Smyths Stream, Mt Seymour (1793m) on the right

Heading up the ridge to Mt Pickett

Vegetable sheep on the upper slopes of Mt Pickett

The steep, soft upper slope leading to Mt Pickett

Summit view from Mt Pickett (1776m), taking in Lake Guyon and over to the distant Spenser Mountains

Lake Guyon, viewed from the summit of Mt Pickett

Looking back down the ridge we climbed onto Mt Pickett, Fowlers Pass is the farthest dip on the ridge just right of centre.

Looking along the ridge to Mt Clara

Attractive basins in the head of Muddy Stream

On the saddle between Mts Pickett and Catley (ahead), our rock shelter in front of us

Mt Clara (1945m), seen from our lunch spot by the rocks

The easy summit ridge of Mt Catley (1865m)

On the summit of Mt Catley, if you know me then you know the fact I'm in a fleece means it's cold!

Mt Clara from the summit of Catley

Spenser Mountains from the summit of Catley. Pickett is the minor bump right foreground

Mt Una (2300m) on the skyline

Rodney on the summit of Mt Catley

Starting the descent off Mt Catley, the car is on the river flats in the distance 

Down the scree we go

Looking back up the scree towards Catley

The rugged head of Catley Stream, Mt Catley on the right

Descending the spur between Pass and Catley Streams

One more steep drop to go

Looking back up the spur as we're almost off

Crown Copyright - Land Information NZ


Access: Drive to Hanmer Springs, then over Jacks Pass and onto Tophouse Rd. The start of the track is marked, and Fowlers Hut is an obvious landmark to look for at the roadside.

Time: Fowlers Hut to Fowlers Pass 1hr, pass to Mt Pickett 1hr 30mins, Mt Pickett to Mt Catley 30mins, Mt Catley to Fwolers Hut via spur 1hr 30mins

Map: BT24 Ada Flat

Hut: Fowlers Hut (historic, day visits only)

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