Following our unsuccessful trip to Redcliffs, our next port of call was Mount Somers, near Methven in the Cantebury region. This semi-apline crag boasts lines over 100m and a mix of sport and trad climbing.
The South Island Rock guide gives a good description of how to get to the Sharplin Falls Carpark, where the walk to the Pinnacles Hut begins. The Methven information center was extremely helpful with regards to maps, hut information and the walk. The hut altitude is around 1000m; we had a random day of snow despite it being the middle of Summer, so be ready for any weather. The hut is $15 a night per person, or for $92 a 6 month pass for all DOC huts is available at information centers. We stopped in at Methven Hammer Hardware (a local hardware store) for some gas, and walked out having hired a Personal Locator Beacon for $30 for the week, as the owner is in the local Search and Rescue branch. In hindsight we probably didn’t need the PLB as there are frequently people coming through the hut, but it was better to be safe than sorry as we didn’t know how isolated we would be.
The slightly overweight middle aged lady in the Methven Information Center had told us the walk in to Pinnacles Hut is “an easy walk, a bit steep at the top” so we threw anything and everything into the packs. Double ropes, a full trad rack plus plenty of extras, and food fit for kings. The walk is excellently marked and track good – steep and gnarly but obvious. Unfortunately, with our loads the climb was gruelling. With packs well over 30kg we started the walk and within 5 minutes were broken by the steep stairs. If ever someone in an information center doesn’t look like a walker, take their advice with a grain of salt. In the guidebook the walk is 2.5 hours, the DOC signposts say 3.5 hours, but it was 4 hours of misery for us. From talking to others it is normally about 2.5 hours. We stumbled into the hut looking like a pair of corpses, cooked a simple dinner and immediately fell asleep. Valuable lesson learnt: travel light when walking in.
The climbing was definitely worth the walk. The first area to check out was the sport climbing at The Pinnacles – around a 10 minute walk from the hut. The access tracks in the area are all rocky scrambling, constantly on the look out for our newly discovered nemesis – the Mount Somers Spiky Bush. We began on ‘Strong’ (16), and after a tricky start found it a nice wee line. It taught us a good lesson that Pinnacles climbing is both balancy, and pretty stiffly graded. We then ventured onto the two pitch innocuously named ‘Type’ (17). All the guide had to say was “Steep Slab”. What it forgot to mention was the line contained my favourite recipe of a 5 meter run-out slab section, with a twist of death fall potential on slightly loose rock. After scaring myself through this, the second pitch traversed far right, but was rather unexciting. I’d suggest this as a route to miss unless mind games are your thing. We climbed a few more routes around the Pinnacles, and found the routes above about grade 18 tend to be bolted much safer than the easier stuff. I guess it’s the old mountaineering ethos of never falling off on easy climbing. Good bolting on most of the lines and intricate climbing makes the Pinnacles a good place to spend a day or two, but certainly nothing compared to the rest of the crag. It is also often climbable if the weather is questionable as it is at a lower altitude than the other faces.
Once we’d finished scaring ourselves on the sport lines we decided it was time to pull out the trad rack. Up far left of the hut is the ‘Christian Principals Crag’, and the far right ‘Orange Wall’ and ‘The Fortress’. We first hit Christian Principles, which consisted of about 45 minutes of scree climbing and winding up the hillside. The climbing here was awesome; 20-30m crack lines with great cracks for taking protection. We worked our way across the crag, about 10 lines all graded between 16 and 19. A few of the lines had scarce protection (‘The Staircase’ 17 comes to mind), but most were excellent. ‘Bring Back the Cane’ (17) and ‘Sunday School Felching’ (16) were great lines to start on as an introduction to the area (or for beginner trad climbers), before moving onto the bigger stuff up the main wall.
When we ventured up to the intimidating main wall (Orange Wall, The Fortress, and The Far Side) we were ready to tackle some big trad. The cliffs all ramp up from a curved slab into vertical faces, with some lines over 100m. Another near hour long scramble up winding scree tracks and over boulders bought us to the right hand end of the Orange Wall. The guidebook let us down a bit up here (the route maps are vague sketches, while the Rock Delux guide has full photos) but we climbed some nice lines unsure what they were and had a blast on everything. Every day spent up the main wall we told ourselves we would climb as much as we could, but the beauty of the area repeatedly meant we succumbed to the lure of relaxing and exploring as much we climbed. With a trickling water fall surrounded by amazing rock formations and pools, the days drifted by with as much relaxing in sun warmed pools and enjoying the view as there was climbing.
Mount Somers is definitely a crag worth visiting as a trad climber, but if you are chasing sport or are unlucky enough to be travelling without a rack of trad gear it is probably not worth the walk. We spent a week in the hut which we both felt was plenty of time to experience the crag, but there was still a huge amount of climbing we didn’t touch. We carried in two ropes but only used one, most routes have adequate abseils but the odd one required double ropes. We walked out in just over 2 hours, having eaten most of our packs, and to our suprise managed to enjoy the hike out.
Not sure where we were headed next, we were pleased to be back at the Mighty Bongo and see him untouched and sleeping where we left him.