Sunday, February 13, 2011

Last week's "Briefly visiting Canterbury" cont. This time Mt Somers and a coal mine.

(Cross-posted on the icommunicate blog)

I discovered the historic "Blackburn Mine" at Mt Somers back in '01, while extricating myself from a bit of a snowy winter trap on the track that goes around the back of Mt Somers. Since that really hurried adventure [story below] I've been keen to learn more.

Coal was the objective, but that was long ago. These days the entrance [now closed] has been restored, and I can tell you in the piping Nor West last Sunday the shelter this afforded was very appreciated...


A brief history:

  • 1929 Mine opened

  • 1933 Bankrupt

  • 1933 Co-operative formed

  • 1935 A Mr Burnett took control

  • 1952 Incline closed and coal trucked via Old Burma Road

  • 1955 No 1 one mine closed with fire, No 2 mine opened

  • 1956 No 2 mine worked out and closed

  • 1963 No 1 mine re-opened and mined by open cast

  • 1968 Mine closed

A view of the surface erosion [left of center] by the mine from across the valley. An "incline" had been constructed on the ill defined ridge dropping further left, down which 4 ton of coal was lowered at a time in rail hoppers, by wire rope, with the loaded hopper pulling up an empty one each time...

A 4 ton hopper at the lower end of the incline. Then each load down would end on a wooden platform above a railroad track [especially constructed apparently all the way from Ashburton via Mt Somer's Village], and the coal would simply be tipped into a waiting carriage...

But we had plans as they say, so off we trundled north with hope of reaching Woolshed Creek Hut for a late lunch. This we achieved, but with a slight route variation - an upwards traverse of a broad ridge was deemed a bit risky in the high winds prevailing so we went out west a bit...

A friendly fence took my eye...

Woolshed Creek Hut. But I was disappointed - I was expecting the old character-full hut of my memories, not a new "back packers" style...

I found this picture of the old hut on the web, and copied it here courtesy of The Tramping Report...

After a bite to eat we headed back. This was a particularly nice part - out of the wind and with some shade occasionally...

A rare picture of myself, knees and all - yes, you guessed it - having a break out of the wind...

Lastly below is the full story of my adventure back in 2001:
It was a grand wee adventure: Two of us drove to Springfield and stayed a night with an old friend, then headed to Sharplin Falls just north of Mt Somers, with a very mixed bag in terms of a weather forecast.

The plan was to use a walkway that goes in behind Mt Somers and climb same. The first hour away from a damp and shady car park was straight up it seemed! We muttered about French Ridge similarities as we struggled with tree roots, while adjusting clothing to meet the demands of mid winter's day.

Before too long we'd reached a nifty little knob that gave the first glimpses of the amazing rock of this area [basalt in columns] and we hunkered down out of a chill wind to admire some cruising bellbirds while we wondered if we'd reach Pinnacles Hut before dark [we were map-less, but otherwise felt over equipped in the warmth].

The track then got down to business as it ducked in and out of an unpalatable series of shady gorges that harboured the occasional and exposed [as in one could slip/fall to a nasty end] ice covered rock. The up and down nature of the route was not quite enough to annoy, yet made me sweat as we wandered into an increasingly spectacular landscape of rock cliffs.

We got to the hut just before dark and then had to endure several young folk partying. They left us the next day however, and a quarter of a bottle of rum richer while we sat out a pit-day of light rain.

At 5 pm it decided to snow all night. A meagre supply of wet firewood allowed us to enjoy 10 degrees in the hut, while outside it was zero, and as long as we had a rum this was where we sat until bed and watched the snow flakes fairly plummet down. By 11 pm the radio aerial had collapsed and we'd made the acquaintance of the resident possum.

Next day the front had departed and we cleared the snow laden branches to the long-drop toilet as a precursor to the real thing - we'd decided "no gorge for us with all it's slippery connotations" we'd go over the pass, as the unknown seemed much preferable to gloomy gorges complete with snow covered icy rock! And so we did, after we'd devised a technique to find the track: feeling it through your boots as we knocked laden branches ahead to avoid cold showers of snow down our necks.

The summit/pass was duly reached as we doggedly plodded breaking trail, which was now marked OK once out of the alpine scrub, while marvelling at the sun and unbelievable beauty of ice crystals glistening in the sun.

Lunch was celebrated under a huge overhang facing the sun - we reclined in earthy warm grass gazing out at a winter wonder land of white and cold.

Then we sidled for hours never loosing height as we headed into the unknown Woolshed Creek.

No time to loiter though - we'd no car at the other end of god-knows-where-we-were [no map if you recall].

The snow never let up in thickness as we declined to follow the track from the hut down a dodgy looking and sounding "Hydroslide gorge". Opting instead to transfer our allegiance to a 4wd road that seemed after an hour to interestingly head towards Geraldine, but never loosing height!

However this company of high-plains-drifters could do no wrong as we strode in the sun on a broad ridge, that offered the type of spiritual views that mostly only God knows of.

The reverie was broken all-to-soon though when we spotted another road coldly angling down eastwards to the last sun on a snowy bench above two gorges and beech forest. This little spot revealed it was host to a DOC restored coal mine and more than several environmentally unaware cattle. We descended further now in bush/mud, myself mindlessly - my body was in top form this day thank goodness, but without sun my brain was tuning out.

The start of dusk found us at the car park of the other end of the walkway. This for some reason truly amazed me, after taking such a wide detour! Thirty minutes walking then saw us contemplating a straight Canterbury back road to nowhere - ETA midnight at Mt Somers Village I reckoned.

My companion at this stage was starting to verbally regret the current situation of living-for-the-moment so I assured her that a farmer would arrive very soon. Positive thinking and then verbalising same really worked as five minutes later we were in a farmer's Nissan heading back to help him round up 2 errant cattle.

The farmer liked us though - he even did half the gates [he was fussy with his latching systems] and then drove us to within an hour's walk of our car as dark came on.

We donned our packs, passed by a closed and lonely burger bar and heard a car behind - my companion smiled the smile of lets-be-silly enough to expect a lift, and stuck her thumb out, and it worked. Within fifteen minutes we were in our own vehicle.

In another hour we were back in Springers cooking a meal for our friend and having a bath.

And now I only have the memories to relate too, and the magic to lift the spirit for the rest of my lifetime. Once again I'd been where I really belong in the white light with the timelessness of all my companions ever, us two of a company that shared the oneness of an amazing day.

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Blogger fantailnz said...

Lovely story, and lovely pictures. It must have been a wonderful trip, and the new hut does look less rustic.

February 13, 2011 at 7:24 PM  
Blogger Donald said...

Dear Val

Yes, the first trip was very memorable and mentally demanding, but so was the second also memorable!

But, they're so different, not just in seasons, but in many other ways.

That's how life is so often eh!



February 13, 2011 at 9:05 PM  

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