Climbing Above a Sea of Cloud – Gibraltar Rock(503m)

“On a Mish” #252 Gibraltar Rock(503m). The Port Hills, Christchurch. 5.13.2015. The scattered remains of the once mighty Te Ara Pataka Volcano now make up Christchurch’s Ports Hills. These hills are a great place to test your legs against gravity as you hike around the undulating terrain. With Coopers Knob(573m) being the highest peak, the arrangement of volcanic debris aren’t mountains like in New Zealand’s great alps. But the Port Hills are still an excellent training ground to sharpen your skills before venturing into our mountains…

Amongst the rounded hills of both the Port Hills and Te Ara Pataka / Banks Peninsula are several volcanic plugs, each very distinctive, shaped like the Christchurch Wizard’s hat. From my parents’ home I can look towards the Port Hills and see Gibraltar Rock(503m). As close as the peak seems, to get there I have to get onto the Summit Road either via the city, or the road over Gebbies Pass. I usually take the more scenic Gebbies Pass route, which has great views of Lyttelton Harbour, with the ‘Head of the Bay’ directly below. The Summit Road is like Christchurch’s upstairs balcony, and over time the city below has changed dramatically in size and shape. During my days working as a full time bogan I used to head up the hills in a convoy of petrol guzzling beasts, turning the usually peaceful area into a mountainside race track / burnout pad. The city has changed a lot since those days, as it was knocked down a peg with the devastating February 2011 earthquake. A CBD of multi-story buildings was quickly replaced by a skyline of cranes. Since the quake the city has continued to grow wider, with once isolated outer suburbs being consumed by the city spreading outwards. After many trips to Gibraltar Rock(503m) I came across a Port Hills climbing guidebook, which had an array of climbing routes on the rock crag on the city side of the peak. So I headed to the hills with my climber partner for a taste of Port Hills rock.

Cloud covering the Canterbury Plains

After driving up to the Summit Road via Gebbies Pass, we loaded up our backpacks with our climbing gear and hiked towards the distinctive cone of Gibraltar Rock(503m). To get to the climbing crag we followed a light track on the northern side of the peak, and in places we had to negotiate the gorse which had managed to grow over the track. A few scratches later we were at the base of the crag. With a cool southerly breeze keeping the mid May temperature down, we took turns at keeping warm with climbing (the other person ‘chilling out’ on belay). After finishing the easy climbs we looked at some of the difficult stuff, but both decided we had done enough, and didn’t want to risk going for “one last climb” and taking a whipper into the rock wall. The climbing mission was complemented with some crazy cloud coating the eastern side of the Port Hills, making it look like cloud below a high altitude airplane. Satisfied, we returned to my car, still mesmerised by the layer of low cloud.

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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