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Kaikoura: Climbing Mount Fyffe

This weekend we headed up north to Kaikoura for some tramping.  We rented an 8 person van, packed it full to the brim, and headed out Friday evening.  Kaikoura was about a 2.5 hour drive north of Christchurch through what was probably some really great scenery (It was dark and we couldn’t really see…).   When we arrived in Kaikoura we found the bach we were renting for the weekend and settled in.  We spent the night visiting the town, eating Thai food, and hanging out in a really cool pub called the Strawberry Tree where they had some live entertainment.

Saturday morning we got up early and drove to the base of Mount Fyffe to start our tramp.  It was a pretty ambitious tramp for our group considering the mountain was 1600 meters (about a mile) vertical and was estimated to take 5 hours to reach the summit.  There was a 4-wheel drive track all the way up though so tramping was easy…at first.  The first hour or so was along a gravel road that wound up the side of the mountain.  The climb was pretty steep and we made it above the clouds in no time.  This gave us an awesome view since we couldn’t see the valley floor through the clouds but could see the snow-capped peaks of the mountains above.

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As we continued upward, we started to find more and more snow until the entire path was covered.  At first it was easy going, but it became much more difficult as the snow became deeper.  We settled into a single file line and rotated taking turns in the front since that person had the most work to do making footprints for everyone else to follow.  About 2.5 hours into the tramp we reached Mount Fyffe hut, a small cabin maintained by the Department of Conservation.  It was a nice hut with about 8 bunks, but we only stopped to rest and eat a quick lunch.

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Once we had finished up, we strapped on our packs and headed for the summit, where the tramping became extremely difficult.  Firstly, the path was very difficult to find as it appeared that no one had gone past the hut for quite some time.  Secondly, the snow was now really deep.  For the most part we could walk on top of the snow only sinking in to the top of our boots, but every few steps we hit a weaker section and sunk in up to our waists.  After making it about 200 meters from the hut, half the group decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore and went back to the hut to wait.  The rest of us still wanted to reach the summit so we continued on.  After searching around a little more we found what was definitely the path and pushed on.  About an hour later we were really starting to get tired and decided that there wasn’t enough time to reach the summit and make it back down before dark so we decided to hike up the side of peak we were on just to get a better view and then head down.  When we reached the top we saw that we weren’t far off from the summit and realized we had enough time after all.  When we finally reached the top we were all in awe.  The view was absolutely incredible!!  On one side we could see the Southern Alps and on the other side Kaikoura and the Pacific Ocean.  We took a bunch of pictures but they definitely don’t do it justice.  It’s impossible to capture the true beauty of the landscape and the feeling I had on the top of the mountain in a simple photograph; you just can’t beat being there in person and experiencing it for yourself!  The view there was absolutely worth the exhausting climb and I’m glad I hadn’t waited back at the hut.

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Going down was much easier; we were able to slide through a good portion of the trail and even cut through a few switchbacks.  We made it back to the hut in about 45 minutes, took a short break and headed for the base.  All in all the tramp took us about 7.5 hours, which was great time for the conditions!  That night we were all pretty tired and just hung out at the bach and then went to bed for the night.

Sunday morning we woke up, packed, and headed out.  We drove just north of Kaikoura to a waterfall known for its baby seal population.  The baby seals leave their parents and travel up this river to a pool at the base of a waterfall where they learn some social skills and interact with the other young seals.  It was actually pretty neat to see all the baby seals together playing under the waterfall!  Next, we headed back to Kaikoura for a coastal walk.  This tramp was much easier than the previous day!  The track took us along some cliffs on the shore of the Pacific where there was a colony of seals.  The views were spectacular, there were seals everywhere, and it was an easy walk.  It turned out to be a great way to end our weekend!

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Overall the trip was by far the best one yet and I think it will be pretty hard to beat the views from the summit of Mount Fyffe.  I’m excited for a trip next weekend, but for now I’ve got to refocus for another week of class…

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