Mt Somers Loop
For this excellent overnight Mt Somers trip, we started at the Sharplin Falls car park and took a leisurely day, walking in an anti-clockwise direction to Woolshed Creek hut. We then climbed the upper track almost to the ‘Bus Stop Overhang’ where we found the perfect camp spot. The following day we climbed the sweeping ridge up and over the high plateau on the Southern side of Mt Somers to the 1688m summit. Then, in a howling gale and with some trepidation, we made our way slowly and carefully down the steep summit track to the South Face track and back to the car.
Mt Somers (Te Kiekie) 1688m is a volcanic mountain located at the foothills of the Southern Alps, part of the Hakatere Conservation Park. I walked some of this incredible mountain country between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers on Te Araroa a few years ago and loved it so much I returned the following year to take another look around at Mt Sunday and Mt Potts and Mt Guy and Lake Clearwater.
A trip to Mt Somers has been on the list for a while, and the opportunity presented itself recently on an Easter break to Canterbury.
Getting there Mt Somers Track
Mt Somers is roughly an hour and a half South West of Christchurch. To get to the Sharplin Falls car park drive on the SH1 to Rakaia then head inland to Ashburton forks and Staveley. Alternatively, and to avoid the traffic and for some nice photo opportunities, take the inland route via Charing Cross to the Rakaia gorge. Before our tramp, we stayed 20 minutes away from Mt Somers at the Methven camping ground.
Mt Somers Track – Our approx times
The 26 Km track around Mt Somers can be done in a day, but most people break it up by making it an overnighter. I was going to compare our times to DoC’s recommended times, but DoC times vary from the website to the signage, and from signage at the car park to signage at the huts.
- Sharplin Falls car park to Pinnacles hut – 5.2 Km. Took us 1.5 hours.
- Pinnacles hut to Woolshed Creek hut – 6.2 Km. Took us about 2 hours 45 mins including a 30-minute lunch stop and a 15-minute explore of the Water Caves.
- Woolshed Creek hut to our campsite before the Bus Stop Overhang – Approx 1.5 Km and 420m climb. Took us 1 hour 20 mins with a detour to the gorge by the swingbridge, and a 10 minute stop to fill up with water at the hydro-slide.
- Campsite up and across the high plateau to the summit – Approx 4 Km, and 560m climb. Took us 2 hours 15 mins in a howling crosswind.
- Summit to South track intersection – Approx 1.5 Km and 600m careful descent in a gale. Took us 1.5 hours including a 20-minute break.
- South track/Summit track intersection to Sharplin Falls car park – 2.7 Km. Took us 1 hour 50 mins, including a long lunch stop.
Mt Somers Track – Sharplin Falls to Pinnacles hut
We arrived at the Sharplin Falls car park at 10 am on Easter Saturday. It was packed and we parked just down the road. We noticed that there were CCTV cameras at the car park, which was reassuring given that we were leaving a weeks’ worth of belongings in the car. I used the very good facilities at the car park (clean, and loo roll included!) and we got going.
The track started with a good 250m climb to Duke Knob to get our legs warmed up. Not having done much reading beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised at the beautiful state of the track to the falls turnoff (the track to the falls is closed). It became more of a tramping track as we climbed, and it was nice to have a breather at the rock.
The track continued through the forest for a short time before descending to follow Bowyers Stream. We enjoyed the undulating walk along the stream, and the well-worn track up the bank meant there was no need for wet feet. There was a swing bridge to cross, and there were a couple of chain sections to help you up/down. We found it fairly easy-going, and we thought it would be a lovely introduction to tramping for newbies.
After about 1.5 hours we stopped for a quick break just after a very cool spot where a waterfall ran off a large overhanging rock above. The track took us behind the waterfall. We found a large boulder in a sunny spot, listened to the sounds of the forest, and watched the water droplets and spider webs drift across the shafts of sunlight.
Soon after, we gently climbed into the sub-alpine environment and saw the volcanic rock formations known as the Pinnacles. We climbed a giant rock outcrop to get a better view and saw the Pinnacles hut in the distance. After a little while, we realised there were a couple of climbers scaling the huge rock outcrop beyond and we watched the tiny figures make their way up the face.
We poked our noses around the door of the 19 bunk serviced Pinnacles hut to sign the hut book, at about 12.30 pm but didn’t feel the need for a long stop. As we walked by we noticed a few tenting spots tucked away in the bushes close by.
Pinnacles hut to Woolshed Creek hut
From Pinnacles hut at 900m the track steadily climbed to 1100m. We couldn’t take our eyes off the pillars, cracks and boulders of the volcanic rock formations beside us. We knew you could summit from this side, and wondered where the route was up to the plateau.
An hour later and after a couple of little stream crossings we found a spot in the tussock and enjoyed a lunch break overlooking the splendid Winterslow range.
The rest of the track to Woolshed Creek hut was easy and downhill all the way. We stopped en-route to check out some of the rock outcrops closest to the track, in case we ever bring the climbing gear down this way.
The Water Caves
Close to Woolshed Creek we dropped our packs and took a little detour down to the Water Caves which was a big jumble of huge boulders with a beautiful, shallow, clear stream running through it. There were numerous little tracks to explore. It would be a great place to come in the summer with your togs, for a swim and a proper investigation of the area.
Woolshed Creek hut
We reached the palatial 26 bed, serviced Woolshed Creek hut at around 3.15 pm. The delightful volunteer hut warden greeted us and kept Rich entertained while I went in to sign the hut book. Woolshed Creek is one of DoCs ‘bookable’ huts, so you have to book your bed before you come. As it’s an easy walk in from the closest road-end it is very popular with families. It being Easter, the hut was full, although there was heaps of great camping around the hut.
We had originally been thinking about camping here, but because time was on our side, and the hut was so busy, we decided we would camp somewhere up towards the Bus Stop Overhang instead. A quick look at the map told us there would be a reasonably flat spot a couple of hundred metres below it.
Woolshed Creek hut to (almost) the Bus Stop Overhang
We left the hut at around 3.30 pm and started climbing. Woolshed Creek itself became gorged to our right as we headed up towards the nearby swingbridge. Rich went down to investigate the river by the swingbridge and chatted to some families swimming there.
We crossed the swingbridge then climbed steadily for around 100m to the next little stream. This one had an incredible hydro-slide leading to a waterfall you wouldn’t want to go over by accident. We filled up all our water pouches here.
Because we like to camp on the tops where often there isn’t any water, we each carry a 32 oz Sawyer Squeeze water pouch. This gives us just enough water for an overnight/next day water supply (in addition to my 1.5 litre and Rich’s 2.5 litre bladder). We said this time, that we would add another pouch each to our packs for next time, as they weigh next to nothing and the extra water means we get a second morning coffee.
After the hydro-slide river, we climbed gently for another 120m until we came to the relatively flat area we’d seen on the map. We could see the Bus Stop Overhang in the distance, so dropped our packs and scouted around for a good camp spot. Rich found a beauty close to the track at 1030 m – a flat, bare patch of ground big enough for a tent and a kitchen area. By 5 pm we’d got the tent up.
As we got the water on for a hot soup, a couple of other parties came down from the summit and from the Rhyolite Track loop, and stopped for a chat. We enjoyed a beautiful, quiet evening and watched the shadows creeping over Woolshed Creek valley below. That evening Canterbury treated us to a spectacular sunset.
Bus Stop Overhang to Mt Somers Summit
The clocks went back overnight, and when I woke up my watch said one thing, my phone another. I was 98% sure my phone automatically changed, so we went with that. We left our campsite at 8 am and made our way up to the Bus Stop Overhang for a quick look.
To get up to the high plateau, we needed to retrace our steps 100m or so and started climbing the ridge above the overhang. This route wasn’t tracked, but someone had posted their waypoints in an online tramping forum which we had copied across to my map. Their advice had been to ‘keep right to avoid the middle/boggy bits’ which is exactly what we did – it worked perfectly. The ground was mostly tussock with a bit of rock hopping.
The climb up and over was slow and steady. We spotted a cairn on one of the rock outcrops, then another, and another – which essentially followed the points on our map. We had expected the wind to get up a bit today, and sure enough, we were buffeted by a strong crosswind. When we came to one of the larger rock outcrops we were glad to hide behind it and take a break from the relentless gusts. It was getting so strong that occasionally we were having to stop to brace ourselves against it using our poles for support before we could carry on walking again.
Because I wanted to get to the top and then get down as fast as possible before it got any windier, it seemed like there were numerous ‘false summits’. It was one of those mornings where I thought it would be ‘just over that hill.. oh, hang on, it’ll be over this one.. or maybe this one’…
Mount Somers Summit
And finally, at around 10 am, there it was. There was no fun in hanging around. We took a quick look around the monument but didn’t sign the book as we knew the wind would take it! We took a few snaps, I read a few of the lovely messages on the painted rocks people had left, and we made our way to the summit track to go down.
When I clapped eyes on the summit track, I have to admit, I was a little nervous. We were going down that in a howling gale? The potential to actually fall off the mountain was slim, but nevertheless, it was mostly rock and scree, and we knew we’d have to take it very carefully.
We decided that a break would be a good idea, and found some respite from the wind behind some of the larger rocks. A young couple picked their way up to us and we chatted about the state of the summit vs the ridge.
Mt Somers Summit to the South Face Track
The descent was steep, slow, and steady. We had to stop to crouch down a few times so as not to be blown over, but other than that it wasn’t as bad as I feared. It was poled, but there were numerous little tracks, so it was really a case of finding your way initially. The rock and scree was as skiddy and slippery as you’d expect it to be, and we were glad no one was coming down after us to dislodge any rocks from above.
We were really glad we had come up and over from Woolshed Creek – neither of us would have fancied climbing up and down the summit track that day. By 11.50 pm we had reached the turnoff to the South Face Track, surprisingly, with no major knee pain.
South Face Track to Sharplin Falls
We really enjoyed the final stretch back to the car park. It was downhill all the way, but not too steep. The sun was out and we enjoyed along lunch break in a sheltered clearing. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the warmth. The final stretch was back through the beech forest and seemed to pass in no time at all.
We loved this trip, and will definitely be back one day to do the full circuit as a day mission! 🙂