Not Part of the Day’s Plan – Steep Face Hill(1876m)

“On a Mish” #75 Not Part of the Day’s Plan. Steep Face Hill(1876m). Hakatere Conservation Park. 3.9.2013. We really are spoiled for choice when it comes to mountain landscapes in New Zealand, especially in the South Island. Incredible places sit in silence with very few eyes ogling at their beauty. It is up to the hikers, climbers and modern day explorers to see the sights and those sights never disappoint the motivated few. However venturing into the wild does come with its risks and sometimes things happen that are not part of the day’s plan…

Double Hill Run Road doesn’t see many visitors, even though the Rakaia Valley is one of the most spectacular places in Canterbury (and New Zealand overall). I wanted a good day trip due to a rainy forecast putting a stop to any overnight camping mission so the Rakaia Mountains would become my mish destination.

On a pre-storm day in September I began my quest to Steep Face Hill(1876m). The start of the track is accessed via Double Hill Run Road and a track at the base of Terrible Gully. Many times I had looked in the mountain’s direction from the top of Mount Hutt Ski Field, and now it was time to look back at the ski field from the summit of Steep Hill(1876m).

Terrible Gully is a small, steep valley / gut covered in scree slips and washouts, which lives up to its name. The beauty of a grass covered hillside is reinforced when looking at the gravelly slides and slip, all ending in a rocky mess at its base. As terrible as the gully is, it is the only way to access the Steep Face Hill route, so I followed the true right of this crumbling valley towards the north east ridge.

Once I was on the ridge it was a long, slow wander uphill before I reached level-ish ground just below 1500m. I found a rock to sit on and enjoyed some food while taking in the view for the first time.The rest was needed as from the rock it was the final climb.

All around me was barren rock with blustery winds beginning to whip up the dust of the Rakaia Valley fay below me. This is how you do a day off work…

The scrambling on the rocky ground was reasonably easy, however by this stage my legs knew they had had a busy morning. The scramble was now a slow step / stumble when finally I stood on the summit.

The view from the top is magic and unique, much like the incredible view from Mt Hutt Ski Field. The Canterbury Plains stretch for miles from the foot of the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. Looking across the vast flatness, I had unspoiled views all the way to Banks Peninsula and the city I grew up in below it.

I could see some of the way up the Rakaia Valley until the view was blocked by a wall of dark clouds rolling in from the west. The barren summit is constantly bashed by wind, rain and snow thundering down the valley, and as the weather began to change I realised if I stuck around I would get an unwanted first hand presentation of mother nature’s fury at this altitude.

The winds increased on the descent and I knew I needed to hurry to beat the weather as I could now see the clouds beginning to unload their watery payload on the Rakaia Valley.

I was nearly down at the valley floor when I decided to take a short cut by dropping off the ridge and heading more directly down the mountainside towards the creek in Terrible Gully.

The fast-track way down was working well until I got to a point where I was standing on the eroded cliff on the edge of the riverbed. I looked for a way down from the riverbank and before I knew it the ground around me completely collapsed and I was tumbling down towards the creek. I landed with a thud on a pile of tussock and rock near the creek’s trickling water. After the dust had settled I had a quick check over my body for injuries, and saw that I had a good gash on my knee and a slashed palm thanks to grabbing at sharp rocks during the fall.

Not part of the day’s plan, but now something I had to deal with only a ten minute or so walk from the end of the track and the safety of my car.

I finally got to use my first aid kit which is always in my pack, and in the wind and dust of the bottom of the gully patched myself up before carefully limping along the last section of the hike on the edge of the Terrible Gully creek.

I got back to the car and saw blood starting to seep through my quick fix dressings, so I had to clean and then redress my scrapes and scratches before beginning the drive back to Christchurch.

Climbing Steep Hill(1876m) had left me cut up and sore, and to some that might make it an unpleasant mish. But as the mountains began to sink behind me as I began to cross back over the plains the satisfaction of the day’s mish was already beginning to heal my wounds!

Rakaia River and Lake Coleridge from Steep Face Hill(1876m)

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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