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Saturday, 4 May 2013

Mount Somers

She's a shining jewel of Canterbury, the bulging nose of Mt Somers stands proud above the plains of Methven. I first experienced the mountain in the winter of 2011 during my first immersion into South Island mountain running. The day turned into a pristine highlight of the year. I clambered through frozen rock to reach the summit ridge, a perfect snow arete rising easily to the trig. It was definitely a peak I wouldn't mind climbing twice.

Fast forward to Autumn 2013, and Mt Somers lured once again. As we drove through an illuminating sunrise across the Canterbury Plains, Somers was revealed with just a sprinkling of snow on the upper parts. The bush section was stiffer than I remembered, and a rude awakening for the calf muscles, and the hands bonded well with the knees till the bushline. I was with Daniel Redmond, a fellow mechanical engineering fourth year at Canterbury University. He was setting a fiery pace up the undulating, rooty beech trail to the summit turn-off.

Our initial goal was to run the Somers Round-the-Mountain track. But when presented with such a brilliant peak, so many vertical metres crying out to be swallowed, how could you turn down the opportunity. It would be so wasteful to blast the sidling RTM trail instead. Higher now and more exposed to the gusting westerly blowing in from the Alps, we hesitated briefly, but were already falling into stride towards the South Face before anyone had time to object.

The trail was super technical, and steepened exponentially as we entered the guts of the climb. With the wind now slapping our backs, pack straps flapping wildly, sweat streaking over our blushed faces, the adrenaline was building. Its times like these when the moment ignites into an oxygen-deprived frenzy, all tunnel-vision to the summit, painful but exhilarating, and the Mountain Mantra rises out above the wind...

Breathe life from the Hills!
Embrace the pain!
Let the cold wind rush blood through your skull
Release a scream of suffering
Transcend to the realm of mountain heroes
Where miles are meaningless and
Glory is forever...

The summit ridge was a shock to see again, this time free of snow and just a bony skeleton leading to the trig. An interesting feature to see the south face holding its snow while the north was bare, owing to the lower autumn sun. We signed in at the summit log-book, held in a rock monument on the top plateau.

Beyond, Mount Somers slopes mildy down to the west in triangular formation, a great field of rock and tussocks. Instead of dropping back down to the RTM, we dropped down to the west, reconnected trail and loped towards Woolshed Creek Hut - number 70 on the hut-bagging list. An incredible waterfall invited us off the main track for a few minutes, gifting us with this...

From Woolshed Creek it was a mighty slog up towards the Pinnacles Saddle. The 1200m of vertical that morning was now wearing on us, and a further 500m climb came as an unexpected surprise. Mt Somers boasts some amazing rock formations. As we descended to Pinnacles Hut, the scene of massive pillars, tall blobs, and great curved collumns of rock cropped up all over the landscape. Pinnacles Hut is a great base to take advantage of the extensive sport & trad rock climbing opportunities here.

The final hour of trail was brilliant running - fast & engagingly technical - with plenty of short hill bursts to remind us of our accumulated 2100m vertical that day. It was a fanastic route over a now well-instilled favourite Canterbury Peak of mine, and I was happy to share the experience with Dan Redmond, a very strong runner. Next time, in winter again...

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