It takes a certain kind of man to convince his wife to walk across an exposed, icy ridge at the top of a snow capped peak. To then turn around and suggest that sliding down the mountain with nothing but an ice axe for support would be far easier than walking is just typical of our relationship. Mt Somers is not a particularly tall mountain at only 1688m, but the climb up there after months of steady snowfall was still challenging.
The three of us, my husband, his best friend and I, left Christchurch in the small hours of Saturday morning with only the obligatory stop for pancakes delaying our progress south-west to Staveley. Well, that and an early morning break-in to the Dunsandel Tavern to borrow some much needed sunscreen from the parentals. We set out from the Sharplin Falls car park at around nine and immediately regretted the trip to McDonalds as the steep incline made for a gut busting start to the day. After an hour and a half of verbally abusing the genius who designed the track to go over, rather than around the hill beside the saddle, we arrived at the worn green sign of the track junction.
Layers were added and photos were taken before we hit the snow line and began the steady march up towards the ridge. The weather was in our favour and we had wide, sweeping views over the Canterbury plains, as we zig-zagged our way higher. The terrain is quite rocky after you leave the trees and bushes behind with only tussock interspersed here and there which can be quite slippery when covered in snow. As we made our way up the spur onto smoother snow we kept well left of the marker poles as a cornice had formed overhanging the edge here. Thankfully we managed to make it to within 500m of the trig before the snow got so icy we had to cut steps into it. With three of us kicking them out we eventually made a tidy track across to the summit in the afternoon sun. The view of the Southern Alps from the plateau is breathtaking with snow capped peaks as far as you can see. We took our time exploring the vast, flat top of the mountain before the wind picked up enough to force our retreat.
Token couple shot complete, we retraced our steps back down the steepest part of the ridge before hitting rock again. Not wanting to waste time trudging back to the car, it was decided that we would attempt to glissade the rest of the snow covered part of the slope. With two ice axes and a walking pole for brakes, the three of us created a giant, frozen slide down the remaining 600m of clean snow. It took the remaining hour walk back to the car to fully thaw out the backs of my legs but it made for an epic descent. The DOC times around Mt Somers are overly generous in every direction, including the summit track. We took our time and were only away from the car for 6 hours altogether. The summit track can be enjoyed by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness in the summer but an ice axe and crampons should be carried until the snow has disappeared from the tops.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.