My legs were stiff and sore from the hike in the night before. Its been a while. Wriggling out of my sleeping bag, I pull on some warm socks before my bare feet hit the cold wooden floor. I shuffle over to the bright window and as my eyes adjust, I’m greeted with the most stunning sight a rock climber could hope for.
No, I wasn’t in Yosemite national park with its towering 800 meter wall of granite. I was in New Zealand around the Mount Somers area, staying at the well serviced Pinnacles hut. But the view before me excited me just the same.
There was rock. And lots of it!
THE PINNACLES - IT ALL STARTS WITH A HIKE
The three hour hike in the night before had been a wet, misty and view-obscured trudge through forested slopes. It’s a rather steep and boring walk I have to admit, but all worth it now that I could see what awaited us.
Lanna and I had travelled to the Sharplin Falls carpark on the bad weather day. The idea was to walk in the late afternoon, with light rain peppering us, and be ready to go full steam on the forecasted sunny day to follow.
This was actually our second attempt at the trip, with the first being foiled with similar rainy weather. Admittedly, I hadn't read the forecast thoroughly enough that time, and we arrived to muddy brown, raging creeks. Not ideal conditions as we had to cross the water numerous times along the track. We bailed before even starting and left the trip for another day. You live and learn I guess.
Note to self: Just when you think you are getting to know it, New Zealand weather is never to be underestimated!
Waking up with such a nice view, it didn’t take us long to gear up and head out. It’s a short 10 minute walk from the hut to the first climbing areas. I love these short walk in’s if you haven’t noticed by now. Spoiled for choice on where to start, we picked a nice easy multipitch finishing on the west pinnacle summit.
Like literally, you finish on the pointy bit on top. Though it was a very easy climb, it was incredible just for that experience!
The whole area is a puzzle playground of spires and steep basalt columns. Cracks for climbing were plentiful and I was regretting not bringing my full trad rack as my options were now limited to the bolted sport climbs.
Nonetheless, we had a ball!
With the names of the many climbs being lost in the haze of a climbing frenzy, it’s still worth a mention that not every climb is a classic here. Either the holds are on, or they are off.
One memorable route was a climb I couldn’t find the name of, and looking easy enough, I started up with full confidence but was soon stopped by no less than 5 hand and foot holds popping off. I was unable to get any further and used my first ‘bail biner’ in over a year to lower off and get out of there.
Yep, it sucked and was a little crap to have handholds popping off as you try to pull a hard move. Not inspiring at all. The bolted climbs revolve around the knobs and jugs sticking out of otherwise bare faces. Once these crucial holds are torn off, either by people or just through weathering, the climbs can get significantly harder.
This is all part of the adventure however, and you will find many of the routes still worthy of the starred ratings. Everything we climbed was bolted well, with never too much spacing in between the bolts. Its a shame I didn't get to try the proper cracks as they looked amazing. I will certainly be back!
Climbing in New Zealand is all about the views. If you are coming from places like America and are expecting world class rock, it’s not exactly here. But you do get proper adventure climbing areas all to yourself.
WOOLSHED CREEK- Views that never end
Two weeks prior to the Pinnacles trip, we had visited the Woolshed hut for another overnight trip to explore the climbing around there. A three hour walk, much better than the one to the Pinnacles hut, was the way to get there. The track weaves the contours of the tussock covered hills and you get magnificent vistas of the area.
Woolshed creek hut sits in a great spot and is right next to a creek. There's no debating it, the hut system in New Zealand certainly is world class!
On arrival we once again got straight to it and stuck to the bolted climbs.
A fine multi-pitch climb at the Water Caves area started our adventure at Woolshed creek, and it was here I snapped a classic perspective photo that has become quite popular.
Climbing next to a creek and out of the valley, the views at the top are amazing. Just don’t forget to belay your partner!
We spent the rest of the time on a little crag called Gecko Wall. Some great climbing up the sharp, overhung, angled arete was my highlight for that place. It definitely got the heart pumping.
Gecko wall-Woolshed creek
The Woolshed creek hut is also much larger than the Pinnacles hut. Staying over a weekend for that trip, it was packed to the brim with families and a troupe of uni students. It was very busy to say the least!
But it was great to see the parents taking their kids outdoors and experiencing the adventure as a family. Not a mobile phone or tablet was in sight. It’s becoming a rare thing these days, I know I still have the habit of checking my phone even when in remote places.
I also met a few local Christchurch climbers there with their kids on a hiking trip, who had surprisingly never heard of climbing around the Woolshed area! I must do my research backwards as I had found the Woolshed climbing area before the Pinnacles one.
They all swore to come back for a climb after the stories I told them that night.
The Woolshed creek area is definitely not frequented enough, and though much smaller in size compared to the Pinnacles, it should be on anyone's list who is visiting the Mount Somers region.
ORGANISING A TRIP
While Christchurch has plenty of crags around the Port Hills region, Mount Somers offers something extra to the climbing experience. I personally love staying in the huts and being close to the climbing action. It’s something different to just rocking up at the local crag.
Inside pinnacles hut.
Nothing beats a morning coffee staring up at the lines as you contemplate what to climb.
Doing your own climbing trip is easy if you come prepared. Get some adventure climbing experience under your belt, and you will find the trip pleasant. Without it, it can be a little intimidating. Loose rock is a reality on outdoor crags, and more so on seldom visited ones. I am quickly adapting to this routine and checking dodgy holds before committing my weight to them.
Most climbs, especially the Pinnacles area, are north facing and get good sun. Despite rain the previous day, by mid morning everything was bone dry!
Woolshed Creek Climbing
Woolshed climbing is probably more suited to pure sport climbers, with more bolted routes than trad climbs. All the crags are within 30 minutes walk of the hut, with most being around 20-25 minutes. A single 60 meter rope is fine to use, as is a standard quiver of quickdraws for the bolts.
If you are fresh out of the indoor climbing gym, be sure to learn the outdoor skills as this is still a remote area compared to the other crags around Christchurch.
Here’s a few handy tips to make your trip happen:
SEASONS: October to April ideal, occasional snow in winter.
WHERE TO STAY: Woolshed creek hut. Cost is $15 per night, 26 bunks, no bookings required.
CRAG AREA CARPARK: Located at the end of Jig road, HERE.
WALK IN TIME: 3 hrs to the hut, 20-30 mins to the various crags.
MAIN CLIMBING STYLES: Sport climbing
CLIMBS TO TRY: 18 Volt Smash, 2 pitches (17, 5b, 5.9)
GUIDES TO CLIMBS: Climb NZ.com
GEAR TO TAKE: 12- 14 draws plus usual outdoor climbing gear. A 60 meter rope is perfect.
OTHER COMMENTS: The summer season can see the hut get quite packed with people. Weekends are busiest. Be prepared with a tent if this is the case, there is plenty of flat grass around the hut you can use. Its always first come, first served.
Pinnacles Climbing Area
The Pinnacles climbing area is the real adventure area in Mount Somers. As far as the eye can see there are outcrops and pillars. Keep your wits about you when venturing up the slopes to the remote areas and plan your decent routes and exits with care.
A trad rack is ideal and will give you the most options for climbing. Double ropes (or a tag line) will be best for the upper areas as many climbs exceed 40 meters in length. The walk offs or raps down are more adventurous as well, so be prepared accordingly with the right experience and gear.
Here’s a few handy tips to make your trip happen:
SEASONS: October to April is ideal, occasional snow in winter.
WHERE TO STAY: Pinnacles hut. Cost is $15 per night, 19 bunks, no bookings required.
CRAG AREA CARPARK: Located at the end of Flynns road, HERE.
WALK IN TIME: 3 hrs to the hut, 10-30 mins to the various crags.
MAIN CLIMBING STYLES: Mostly trad climbing but also sport climbing.
CLIMBS TO TRY: Zephyr, 2 pitches (15, 5b, 5.9) and then rap down west side and do the obvious 16 back to the top.
GUIDES TO CLIMBS: Climb NZ.com
GEAR TO TAKE: 14-16 draws, trad rack with double cams, plus usual outdoor climbing gear. A 60 meter rope is fine for sport routes, for trad, use doubles or have a means to rappel a full rope length (tagline ect).
OTHER COMMENTS: The hut is not as busy as Woolshed as most hikers just pass through. No good spots for tents either. There are quite a few creek crossings on the way there, so if heavy rain is forecast, or already falling when you plan to walk in, leave it for another day.
Important note: The carpark at Sharplin Falls is also unfortunately subject to car break in's quite often. I advise calling one of the properties/businesses at the end of Flynns road and ask nicely if you can leave your car on their property. Offer money or other compensation as a courtesy without being asked for it. The people of the area are quite nice and friendly, so do the same and you should be in luck..
IS IT THE BEST ADVENTURE CLIMBING NEAR CHRISTCHURCH?
A trip to Mount Somers should be on anyone's list if visiting Christchurch. I should point out too, it doesn’t matter if you don’t climb, the hiking around the area is amazing and warrants a trip there just for that.
As a climber, it’s just a bonus being able to explore the rock around the two huts there as well.
The Woolshed creek and Pinnacles huts are separated by a 3 hour walk over a saddle, so the ultimate trip to Mount Somers would go something like this:
Day 1: Walk into Woolshed in the afternoon.
Day 2: Climb at Woolshed creek crags all day.
Day 3: Walk to Pinnacles hut in late afternoon, stay the night there.
Day 4: Climb all day at the Pinnacles area. Stay the night.
Day 5: Climb all day at the Pinnacles area. Stay another night.
Day 6: Walk out in the morning back to Woolshed carpark (6 hours total).
You could also split that and walk in from each end and do two trips, which is what we did. This would probably work better with the weather which will rarely give you a whole week of good conditions.
With the huge basalt columns at the Pinnacles and the dotted crags amongst tussock slopes at Woolshed, you would be hard pressed to find a more accessible, yet adventurous, climbing area near Christchurch!