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June 2014 Issue
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Half-Night Hike

View west from the summit of Mt Grey. Photo: Pat Barrett
 5-6hr round trip
Take Douglas Rd out of Amberley (30min north of Christchurch), turn onto Cramptons Bush Rd and then into Mt Grey Rd and follow this to the Grey River picnic area and tracks on Okuku Rd

Mt Grey, Ashley Forest

Late afternoon light crept into the Grey River basin in north Canterbury, softening the landscape and throwing the ridgelines into sharper relief, where they swept from the tops into the valley below.

The hike around the back of Mt Grey’s modest summit on a rough little trail known as the Red Beech Track is not the easiest way to reach the summit, but I felt like a challenge and the prospect of going somewhere new – that and the omnipresent deadline of sunset, and reaching my car again about nightfall.

The track along the upper Grey Valley passes through a remarkable stand of beech forest, pre-eminent among the beech species is of course red beech, from which the track takes its name. These stately trees inhabit sheltered pockets in the forest and climb some way up the steeper spurs that lead towards Mt Grey and attendant summits.

A winding sidle best describes the route up valley as it climbs and traverses through the watershed – easy through pleasant forested glades and then demanding where it cuts over broken rock and loose shale above a vertical drop to the water below. During the early section of the track an old hut was passed; a possumer’s refuge from bygone days and now a historic structure. It’s rustic, dark, and would provide a modicum of shelter for the hardy. I prefer to walk.

At the end of the sidle up valley, the route fords the river and begins the climb in earnest, though I soon found that much perseverance is required as the ridge crest is interminable and never seems to top-out: there’s always another hummock needing a bit more grit and determination to get to the top. The forest up here is beautiful: airy, bright, and festooned with old mans beard moss and offering fleeting glimpses of the summit through the canopy.

I was anxious just to get there as time was marching by and I still had the tops to traverse before dropping back to the picnic area where I began.

Finally, I exited the bush and made my way to the summit, fully exposed to the nor’wester which was gusting strongly over the open summit slopes. Despite this, the view is dramatic and takes in all of Pegasus Bay, the distant Alps, Seaward Kaikouras and southwest to Mt Hutt.

Despite the view, I paused only briefly to eat a few sandwiches and take a swig of water before shouldering my pack and continuing on along the south summit track and a rapid descent into a tributary headwater of the Grey. 

About an hour later, I exited the bush once more and cruised the last 100m to my car and a welcome change out of sweaty clothes.

Dusk had fallen and the bush was silent and dark. There was only the distant call of a morepork to welcome me back, plus a vibrant sunset over the plains as I drove the tortuous forestry roads back to Amberley.