Bad weather has given us the opportunity to do day walks close to town. Frank scoured the maps and came up with this one. I’d always wanted to climb Mt Plenty after seeing a photo taken by his dad of young grinning Guy Salmon huddled up to a vegetable sheep on the mountain. It’s a bit of a dull plod up there as far as I could tell but Frank made the prospect more attractive with a descent down Ghost Creek. The latter is also something I’d be interested in doing but like Mt Plenty it was a bitser. What would you do once you got there? So his suggestion of a circuit solved the issues.
Frank had done this circuit on a moderately graded tramping club trip nearly 20 years ago. An issue in the past has been access to Mt Plenty via Castle Hill Station but recently the obvious access area has been incorporated into DoC land so problem solved. We parked up under silver birch trees and got a chance for a close look at Lisa Blakie’s memorial cairn after having driven by it a million times. It was sitting very pretty in an island of dog daisies. To avoid wet feet we crossed the Porter River Bridge and then started up a 4WD track for a few metres.
Things got tall and prickly but Frank eschewed clearer ground to climb over a gate. I wandered off to see the alternative. The clearer ground was surrounded by a barb wire fence so I then understood his strategy. Straddling a barb wire fence on steep uphill ground would be a very unpleasant proposition. A short traverse through thorny scrub of a much lower height was the go. The ground was steep but soft with pock marks of broken soil to climb up. I zigzagged up via the most favorable footings.
At a shoulder of the mountain we stopped in a dip for a sheltered lunch at leisure though I took time out to stand in the wind and admire the spectacular vistas, revisiting old haunts. We set off again, Frank in front going very fast. I managed to keep at his heels though it was unpleasant. After 10 minutes of this, I took my pulse – 156 bpm, and took it a bit more quietly though he arrived at the summit only 1 minute before I did. We paused and studied our surroundings. Castle Hill Peak looked like an easy climb via a smooth ridge from here but our mission was to drop down a scree to Ghost Creek from a low point on the ridge close at hand. Frank left the ridge to reccie the best line. It all looked good and the flat section of stream where 2 branches of the creek met was broad and inviting in its greenness.
I checked my home-made gaiters – socks with the tips cut off, the ends tied into my laces – and began a descent down very pleasing soft scree, picking the finest grades. There were regularly spaced footsteps here. Were they those of a bounding red deer or some other adventurer? We left the scree at a small scrubby choke point and sidled to the right to take advantage of brown silty ground amid a stand of stunted beech trees, coming out at the junction between the southern and eastern branches of Ghost Creek. There was a high waterfall upstream in the eastern branch with a scree lead on the true right but our business lay downstream where middle and bottom waterfalls awaited us, tagged by bluffy outcrops on the true left.
Frank had hazy recollections of the strategies employed to negotiate these impediments. Since it had been a moderately graded trip, I wasn’t too concerned until we came to the middle waterfall. There was no visible bypass trail but the obvious route looked to be sidling past a scrubby bush and gradually descending a laid back bluff to the base of the waterfall. Frank confirmed it was. I faced in to down climb from the top. Holds were everywhere but footholds weren’t that easy to target when facing in. I moved with slow concentration, gingerly testing all holds. Some were bombproof, others – not so much. There was a bit of lowering the foot, seeking something level and then doing a bit of shuffling to see if it could be improved on.
At a broad step 2 metres below, I waited for Frank and advised him to down climb more to my right so he could then just step across to where I was standing. The fine branches of a beech tree at my back were comforting. I noticed Frank testing one of my holds and rejecting it as it was really only sitting there and only good for a downward, not outward load. I was glad to be carrying only a day pack. Frank asked if I was OK with the next phase and I said it looked fine, though it also required further chameleon-like negotiations to stand at the base of a reassuring trunk of a black beech. From here it was straightforward to drop down to the water’s edge. I’m sure this bypass route could be scampered up happily enough though.
We carried on to the next waterfall. Its position was evidenced by a fine scree on the true left that Frank had described as the point to leave the stream and ascend to the crest of a spur. I outlined a circuitous route up the scree to keep to the more rocky and vegetated ground for surer footing. Frank said straight up was good as it was vegetated. Yes, for the first few metres then I began a very broad zigzag to avoid that desperate scrabbling that accompanies ascending fine soft screes. I complimented myself aloud on how well I can judge a scree, then shifted across to firmer ground, leaving a fitter Frank to carry on his labour up the shifting ground and waited for him to join me and reassure me the route down was looking good.
From this shoulder a strip of beech forest on our left seemed to be the feasible way down into the creek. We would need to traverse across the head of a nasty bony gully to reach it. It didn’t look too bad, not particularly exposed but Frank halted when it was revealed to be a bit of scree on firmer bedrock. I climbed above him and went in front. Only a metre ahead was the real deal of deeper scree so on we went, lightly grasping the rocks on our left to assist in providing the necessary immaculate balance.
Once on the softer ground within forest it was a case of deciding whether to do down, sidle to the right or sidle to the left. Frank initially instructed me to sidle left, dropping height until I could sense there was an incised gully system developing. Chances were this could lead to tears so we then sidled right. Frank understanding that a sidle towards the uphill side would mean less distance to drop down. He had a vague memory of a scree fan at the base of where they had dropped down. So we sidled right and dropped down to the narrow gully that was now filled with a trail of lovely scree leading down to the fan.
The challenges were behind us. We looked back to an evil band of steep shattered bluffs, pierced by that scree. Ahead lay a saunter down a gentle stream out to the car.