Mt Enys – Finally!
Last winter after summiting Mt Cloudesley, we turned our attention to its southern neighbour, Mt Enys. Although it is only 87m higher, the approach is more distant so for our first attempt we traveled up the Porter River valley after crossing the road bridge. We had to eventually cross the river further upstream but were wearing light footwear which we changed out of once we found a way up onto the terrace on the true right of Whitewater Stream at the fenceline and had lunch there. It was a 700m climb up to the main ridge but it took much longer than expected as Frank had issues with one foot, caused by his plastic climbing boot. He stopped a few times to experiment with relacing his boot.
By the time we got up to the main ridge, stopping in the sunshine for a break and snack, it was evident that there would be insufficient time to complete the climb in daylight. We exited back to Porter Bridge via a 4WD track on the true right of the river. It was dark on our final stretch via a track on the true left of the valley.
Not long after this we had another attempt at Mt Enys but this time went in via a low, tussocky valley through which the southern tributary of the Thomas River runs. As we traveled up the gently rising valley I noticed a 4WD track high on the western slope going in the same direction but arriving a bit uphill of our destination of a low saddle at the head of the valley.
On reaching the head of the valley we angled down to the Porter River via a swampy traverse which was unpleasant in my sandals. We gained the fence at 3pm and once again, this time due to poor time management, we abandoned the mission. However we wanted to get some uphill exertion so went up an enticing gully caused by a limestone outcrop on the true left of Whitewater Stream and carried on as far as a barbed wire fence running across the slope. The plan had been to summit Leith Hill but I think we figured we would be doing some of that in the dark so when I mentioned the presence of the 4WD track I’d spied earlier, we decided to sidle along the fenceline and drop down to gain this track at my suggestion with Frank’s acquiescence.
Attempt 3 took place this winter. I was starting to believe that a day ascent of Enys was beyond us and suspected it would require a base camp at the foot of the mountain. The thought of camping in an open stony valley did not appeal though so we set off again, using the very attractive 4WD track that we’d dropped on to in the previous attempt. I couldn’t recall our exit route the previous time but Frank knew where we needed to start. It was the eastern entrance to the loop track that encircles the state forest at the head of the Thomas River. We set off firstly via silvery tussock on a great foot track which enters the forest itself, taking us to its southern boundary.
We moved up the slope and the 4WD track came into view, sidling around the hill. I announced my intent to cross the fence and get to the track via a short section of open friendly scrub. I realized that Frank hadn’t followed suit but carried on to the track and walked along it slowly, looking behind for him to no avail. So I turned around and walked back long the track. To my astonishment he had climbed higher than the track itself and was now slowly sidling through thick scrub parallel to the track. We communicated and he gradually gained the track which was a little overgrown but still visibly formed. After shoving my way along an animal trail that threaded through some unwelcome matagouri I reached a gate and stopped here to await Frank, using the time to change into my plastic climbing boots as I didn’t want to be sidling swampy vegetation in sandals again. Frank arrived, dropping down to the gate, having lost the track at the matagouri and gone above it. We traveled along the now open track, crossed a second gate and then sidled easily through attractive and at times open scrub across to the interesting access gully with its small saddle that we’d used on the way out during the previous trip. There was a strong animal trail here outlined by collected snow.
Near the saddle on our previous trip we had sheltered in a small sinkhole for a snack. We passed it by and dropped down to lower terraces, following the animal trail to a nice drop-off point to cross Whitewater Stream via its two tributaries. We started up gentle tussocked slopes to a shallow gully of fine scree. Where possible I used remnant runnels of snow as it was faster going. At the head of the gully I sidled to the north and climbed steeper terrain to use the snow cover. As we got closer to Deadmans Spur, the wind increased so we stopped to layer up. Frank pulled out his baselayer Transistion top but decided not to put it on – maybe due to the realization that this would lead to frozen fingers in the extensive delay. Instead he put an extra layer over the top of his nylon shirt.
We got up to the main ridge of Deadmans Spur, our turn-around point last time we’d made it up to here but, alas, the wind was strong, blowing snow in a head wind along our direction of travel. After a minute of this, I suggested we come back another day in better weather so we turned around again with Frank saying he had been waiting for me to voice the idea. I wondered how long he would have been prepared to keep walking against this vicious head wind, wearing only a nylon shirt as his baselayer.
Frank wanted to avoid dropping downhill via the steep snowy route through small bluffs that I’d used on the uphill so sidled north towards a spur. This necessitated crossing a short section of snow that had a couple of patches hard enough where crampons would have been a very good idea. He continued sidling to an area of frozen ground studded with rocks embedded in thin ice. I checked in with him and he decided to have a look at a descent of the spur to the south of our access gully instead. So we sidled that nasty snow cramponless again. Thank god for plastic boots and their superior edging. We both carried axes and walking poles too which was very helpful with keeping the right balance over our tiny points of contact in the snow as we edged across very cautiously.
The spur was a dream to descend. I moseyed left to the edge of our access gully where it was dry and sheltered from the wind so I suggested a lunch-stop. We got down to the stream and I took off layers for the short climb of 100m up via the access gully to the little saddle. At the saddle Frank paused to layer off and cool downt. Eventually he was ready to go and we sidled across to the start of the 4WD track. I was doing it by the seat of the pants but Frank had his GPS. He said I was right on track and when he suggested I gain some height to reach the level of the gate I climbed a bit and reached the fence. I checked in to see if I should go uphill or downhill to meet the gate and he said downhill as I’d misheard his earlier instruction. I probably would have reached it all by my own reckoning!
Frank was once again very hot so stripped off some more. We walked along the track a bit and into a light wind where it was now my turn to put on another layer. After a while he realized he’d left his GPS unit at the further gate so we dropped our packs and set off to retrieve it. This being less boring than waiting for him though I could have changed out of my plastic boots. With all this stopping etc. we got out to the car around 8pm.
So we really had to bite the bullet and camp in the Whitewater valley in order to have enough daylight to summit Enys. The next weekend there was hardly any wind forecast and mild temperatures. But I packed my very warm sleeping bag that is only used for camping in the snow and ice caves. We returned to our usual crossing place and I saw a low terrace on the true right tucked up against the side of the escarpment which looked a lot more stone-free. I went and checked it out and found a flattish stone-free site just to the lee of a small patch of matagouri. However this was only our first foray so we climbed up onto the terrace beyond the escarpment but level sites looked as though they could have tiny matagouri plants growing there and seemed to be no more sheltered as well as being further from the stream for a water supply.
We set up camp in the first place and had a pleasant evening but of course our sleeping bags beckoned around 7pm. My head was a bit downhill and the tent inner was very close to my face. I woke at 10pm and turned round as there was more space between my face and the tent inner uphill. Frank cleverly uses his zipped up jacket placed over the foot of his sleeping bag to protect it from moisture accumulated on the tent inner but as I wake and turn at least 20 times during the night, the jacket will slip off so I can’t use his hack. The thick sleeping bag was major overkill and I had to take my polarfleece trousers off during the night and didn’t need to use my hood.
I woke before 8am and got up. It was mild enough not to worry about wearing gloves when performing the chores. We breakfasted and I took down the tent as there was concern about potential kea visitors. We hid our gear surplus to the day-climb underneath a large innocuous carex bordered by a cluster of matagouri. Most of the snow had gone from the shallow gully. I used my previous steps as much as I could on the hard true left but Frank chose the middle ground on firmer larger scree. We moseyed on towards the spur we’d come down the previous weekend and stopped for a light lunch where it seemed to be less windy in a feeble sun.
So this time we were on the Spur around half past 12. Conditions were very pleasant here and I trailed Frank who nobly plugged shallow steps in soft snow all the way. He eschewed the summit of Carn Brea which was good news to me as this meant we wouldn’t have to retrace our steps, climbing over it on the way out either. Instead he sidled in soft snow on a gentle north-facing slope. Occasionally he had to traverse patches of scree and being aware that I was barely exerting myself and starting to fell guilty I resolved to take the lead and plug steps up the final steeper section of the ridge to the summit.
We reached a small saddle and I passed Frank but I guess he though a race was on so we travelled neck to neck until I voiced my intent to take the lead to give him a bit of a rest. Luckily for me I soon realized someone had plugged steps up this final section so I followed their zig-zagging up gentle and steeper slopes including a short but steep pigeon holing section. The summit trig was soon in sight when I moved away from the plugged steps onto firmer snow which had a layer of thin ice. At the trig I layered up considerably and not long after Frank arrived and we shared a high 5. We lingered there for ¾ of an hour, enjoying the view in all directions although the mountains of Arthurs Pass were covered in cloud. But Cook was visible. I harvested slivers of rime from the trig itself for my water supply and Frank took out his battery he’d been keeping warm in his pocket and slipped it into the camera, taking panoramic shots.
We decided crampons would be advisable as the day was moving along, getting cooler in the shade. It’s always good practice putting them on as between seasons you can get a bit rusty with the techniques of both putting them on and walking in them. I put mine on wearing my possum merino gloves which then got a wee bit damp but it was mild enough for me to get away with that.
We descended carefully, enjoying the pigeon-hole descent especially. It was good to be using mountain-climbing techniques again – not just tramping in the snow. We used to do so much of this but with sloppy time management issues, not so much these days. I took my crampons off at the start of the bypass of Carn Brea and Frank did so too. I didn’t need to wear them and didn’t want to on the short sections of scree anyway. I took the lead as it’s easier for the one who follows and he deserved an easy ride after his efforts traversing this bit going up.
We travelled down the slope in the soft shallow snow leaving our uphill footsteps preserved for anyone who cared to climb via Deadman Spur. Most parties seem to go up Mt Cloudesley and traverse to Enys, then descend via the spur though. The other footsteps had belonged to a skier who managed to get a few turns in exiting via Whitewater basin. With carrying his skis up to the summit no wonder he’d needed to put in all those zig-zagging steps. Frank had wondered why I was doing this in such gentle angles, not realizing I was following someone’s steps.
We traced our steps to the exit off Deadman Spur and down the side spur to Whitewater Stream via that lovely soft scree. At the campsite I put on the billy for a brew and a second lunch while we packed up for the walk out. Once again we got back to the car at 8pm after a 10 hour day. We decided to return sometime to explore the head of the valley and go up to the low saddle between Leith Hill and Mt Cloudesley with a choice of going out to Castle Hill Village either via the Thomas River track or over Leith Hill itself to come onto this track. We could also spend time opening up that animal trail on the 4WD track where it has closed up with matagouri and deal to a couple of huge broom plants en route and in the valley opposite our campsite plus any wilding pines we meet along the way. I managed to spot and remove 4 of them on our recent travels there.