What Goes Up (Part One) – Mt Potts (2184m)

“On a Mish” #405 What Goes Up (Part One). Mt Potts (2184m). Hakatere Conservation Park. 3.8.2014. The is always two parts to climbing a mountain. While many focus on getting to the summit, it must be remembered that the top is only halfway. Most mountain accidents happen when your guard has been let down while descending. What goes up must come down, and sometimes going down can be much, much harder…

In Aotearoa most peaks over 2000m are considered to be ‘real’ mountains and must be treated with respect. The weather is harsher, the terrain is steeper, and accidents have much bigger consequences. A mistake at altitude isn’t an option I like to take, and after completing a couple of alpine courses I have approached the tops with much more respect.

The twin peaks of Mt Potts dominate the view at the top of Lake Clearwater. The two rolling mounds usually covered in snow look amazing and can be reflected perfectly on the lake’s water if you time it right. When I first started coming to Lake Clearwater Village, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I stood atop the mighty Mount Potts.

The first time I tackled the mountain and its surroundings I got as far as the old Erewhon Park Ski Field. The field closed many years ago, and now all that remains is parts of the rope tows and an old toilet. The field was opened in 1964 and once had buses full of skiers bouncing their way up to the snow for a play. Nowadays people must hike up the snow, but hiking is very worthwhile and a new hut up the mountain is on the cards.

After getting a taste of the area I returned wanting more, and this time I was joined by my outdoor fanatic friend from France. Nowadays Celine can run rings around me when it comes to vertical travel, but back in 2014 she was just learning the ropes. Like so many (me included) once she got a sample of the Aotearoa wilderness she wanted more, and luckily she knew someone with a crib / bach in Lake Clearwater Village.

Winter in Hakatere can be turned on and off these days. Fields of yellow tussock and grey rock can be blanketed in thick snow within a matter of a few hours, and while it might look pretty it does make alpine travel more interesting. The east faces of the peaks see the most sun and usually don’t hold much snow, but the south and west faces stay mostly hidden from the sun and can load up with the white stuff. This is why there was a ski field here and also why a new hut is under construction.

This mish began with a late-night drive to the crib. I finished a shift at the ski shop and then Celine and I crossed the Canterbury Plains under the cover of darkness. After getting to the crib, we lit the fire to create one of the only warm spots in the area. While enjoying dinner we discussed the plan for the next day, and after loading the fire for the last time it was time to retreat to bed to charge the batteries. What was a glimmer of excitement back in Christchurch was now a blazing ball of anticipation. The next day was going to be awesome.

Early-ish the next morning we were up in the dark getting ourselves fed and ready to climb a ‘big’ mountain. By the time we got to the lower reaches of the peak the sun was up and the clouds had been told to have the day off in the skies above Hakatere. We followed the old track up to the lower parts of the ski area and then crossed the basin to the base of our objective. In front of us was the west face of Mt Potts, and it looked a lot snowier than it did back in Lake Clearwater Village

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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