Hiking Mt. Somers: A short little holiday

September 10, 2013

Last week we noticed that Scott & I both had the weekend off. We had no plans. No bike races. No snow trips (he has declared post-nutcracker experience that this winter is over regardless of what the weather does). No obligations. And no rain forecasted. Yet, it is a bit too snowy to go ride mountain bikes in most of the places we wanted to go- and we only had one night, so it had to be close. With all this in mind, we decided to do some hiking and road biking, and general taking-it-easy a couple of hours away in Southern Canterbury. Turns out the taking-it-easy part wasn’t really in the cards.

Yes, that deceptive centimeter or so on your screen between Christchurch and “A” is about a 2 hour drive!

Before heading off for the weekend, we stopped at the Lyttelton Farmer’s Market. Lyttleton is an awesome little port town (possibly a suburb of Christchurch? The jury is out on this) that is on the other side of the Port Hills from our house. You take a long tunnel to get there (not scary at all when thinking about earthquakes…) and frequent readers may remember Lyttleton from the insane urban downhill race that Scott was part of last March.

Anyways, there is a fantastic farmer’s market in Lyttelton that has great produce and meat, as well as tons of yummy baked goods. Scott was lamenting the fact that we even had breakfast before we went, and decided he was downright pissed that he didn’t have the stomach space for more treats.

Upon first arriving, we were called to a booth by a couple selling their homebrew. Is 10am too early to sample beers? We decided no, and had a few swigs. Its the little things like this that make me enjoy being an adult. So our first purchase at farmer’s market? 2 beers to enjoy after our hike later on. Important adult decisions. Then we loaded up on food and hit the road.

We decided to hike Mt. Somers with basically no research put in whatsoever. The night before leaving town, a buddy told us that it was neat. That was it. So upon arriving (and finding out there were 2 very different places to park and start hiking) we took a peek at the map and just kind of went for it. There were two routes to choose from which started at opposite ends of the carpark. They connected at a hut out on the mountain, but the whole route was marked at 6.5 hours, so we decided not to commit to the loop as it was already 1pm. So which way to go out and back? Since we didn’t have a coin to flip, we chose the hard way up.

Before leaving we did what any savvy hiker/biker does: we stashed our beers in the creek so that they would be cold upon our return.

So we were off. Actually… we were up. And up. And up. One thing can be said for vertical trails: there is always a good view from the top, and it usually appears quickly. Within about 15 minutes we reached a rocky outcropping with stunning views.

Although it was sunny, the temperature was probably only about 7 (see handy dandy conversion chart on the side bar if this sounds arctic to you) and the wind was seriously blowing. As we continued to hike (up), we reached patchy snow. And where there is patchy snow and sun, there is melting snow and mud. About 1/3 of the hike was really, really muddy.

As we continued up, the terrain also went from scrub brush to rocky, and then we dipped down a bit into some high desert-like grasses. Oh yeah, and some more decent views.

Unexpected waterfall just hanging out in the scrubs

Because of the snowmelt, the streams were getting pretty full as well, which lead to a lot of meticulous creek crossing and some leaps of faith.

Thats my determination face. Hoping to not become one with the creek below.

Shortly after this point, the trail continued up some more (surprise, surprise) and we met another couple. They had started from the other trail in the carpark and were biting off the whole loop. They had only left an hour earlier than us, and had approx. 1.5 hours to go. Upon doing some quick and possibly oxygen-deprived mental math, we decided we could do the whole loop too.

About 20 minutes later we ran into four Americans who were very friendly, but not so optimistic. I believe their words were, Well- you’ll probably make it, like, just as the sun is setting. Probably. Words of confidence if I’ve ever heard them. Scott and I noted that they looked like a slow going bunch though, and likened ourselves to the fit couple we’d met earlier. We decided, we’ve got this, again without much reason to believe so- and we continued on.

The highest point on the track is called the Bus Stop, for fairly obvious reasons.

Ok, kind of hard to see. But that rock overhang looks kind of like a Bus Stop. Ya feel me?
Scott’s view from inside the Bus Stop

As always, the top usually has a pretty sweet view:

…whiiiiiiiich never feels like it can be properly captured on film. See Scott in the middle? He blends in like a snow drift.
It was at this point that I realized although we were at the highest point, we hadn’t even reached the hut which was theoretically the half-way point. Except the second half of the hike would be flatter, slightly shorter, and easier trail according to the map. But I was beginning to get a tad worried. Which explains the severe lack of photos over what would be the next 60-90 minutes of the hike. As we descended, I kind of developed a half-run shuffle, which a) was totally unnecessary as it turns out and b) gave me a blister on my left ring-toe.
Moving on. We did take the 5-minute detour to a waterfall, because I figured the happiness of seeing a great waterfall would be worth reflecting on if I was stuck sleeping in a snow cave and 5 minutes wouldn’t make or break that possible outcome.
So the waterfall was sweet, but in our my rush to get on with it all, the picture is less sweet.
We descended for what seemed like an eternity, and realized we were faced with yet another gorge between us and the elusive hut (aka: halfwayish point). Me and my 4th toe nearly fainted at the thought of hiking all the way down another canyon and out again before even beginning the trip back.
And then this happened:
Cue “heaven” music
A suspension bridge! A totally awesome if not a bit narrow and totally scary but still absolutely fantastic suspension bridge! My toe and I were saved! (Well in the end my toe was not, but never mind).

This bridge is not California National Park approved!

Just a few zig-zags up the hill and… (cue “heaven” music again):

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The elusive hut.

You can stay in the hut for a small fee. There are 3 huts on Mt. Somers, so you can make a backpacking trip out of it. New Zealand is known for its “tramps”, or multi-day hikes, which always have some sort of hut accommodation, as weather is very unpredictable here. There’s a fireplace, dorm rooms, and common room tables inside. Port-a-loo out behind.

Again, not many photos were taken after this point because I was on the mad-tramp back to the car. Although we had a couple hours of daylight, I didn’t trust the map, and if it actually took the 3 hours that it said it would, we weren’t gonna make it. Plus, it was slow-going in the slushy shadowy snow-mud for much of this part.
That is me, less than stoked about the trail conditions. Shortly after I took a good slide and twisted my knee (it was totally fine but made me grumpy). Conveniently though, when I picked myself up, I got a view of what was behind us. I had been so focused on not dying sliding, I never would have noticed.
Sweet waterfall!!!

Lets get a close up of that bad boy:

The top bit is what we had seen earlier in the brush
After only about an hour, we reached a sign that said we were 40 minutes from the car. We had a good hour or so of light left, so naturally Scott decided we should take the “alternative route”instead of the normal track down. This proved to be longer and steeper, with tons of wind and snow damage, and about 90% of fallen trees in the forest having fallen on this particular trail. Good times.
We finally, finally reached the creek where our beers were chilled and ready, and well before the sun set I might add. Shout out to the brewer of Golden Eagle, who brewed a couple of damn fine, hoppy NZ craft beers!
Oddly, after our accidentally massive hike, we were completely worked. Dinner was uneventful, and we had to prop our eyelids open when we got to our B&B and met our chipper, chatty hosts. They poured us copious amounts of beer and wine, and we had good conversation despite our very weary bodies. Rick and Evelyn at Richlyn Park B&B in Geraldine are lovely, and Rick is a great cook. I definitely recommend their place if you find yourself needing a comfy, warm place to stay in the area. And prices are fair- which can be hard to find!!
In the morning after our bacon, eggs, toast, cereal, fruit, yogurt, and coffee/tea, we were fueled up for a bike ride. Only problem was, my legs still hadn’t forgiven me. So it was a leisurely ride, full of stopping to look at baby lambs and baby goats and baby cows. We rode through about 40 kilometers of countryside until we decided it was time to eat again (eating may be my favorite part of being on holiday).
Why aren’t you feeding me?
We still had a couple of hours left after our ride, so on the way home we checked out the Rata Falls hike in the Peel Forest. The Peel Forest is a native bush forest, unique to this side of the Southern Alps because it is full of ferns and moss and the greenery usually seen on the West Coast. It is quite beautiful, and definitely worth a stop on your South Island road trip.
Thankfully this was a mellower hike in regards to time and elevation gain/loss. But there were still plenty of slippery rocks to navigate and creek crossings to jump!
Rata Falls
So that concludes my ridiculously detailed account of our 2-day holiday. For your sake maybe I’ll keep the re-hashing of our trip to Australia (in 10 days!!!!!) is a bit more brief! But no promises.

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