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Coal Hill Track, Mt Peel Conservation Area

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August 2018 Issue

A sunrise climb

Dawn was calling. Not unusual perhaps, except that this dawn was a rendezvous I had made with the summit of a minor foothill in South Canterbury – and I was late.

Coal Hill, 1617m, stands on the south bank of the Rangitata River, not far north of a well known landmark, the often-climbed Little Mt Peel. It’s a fairly strenuous 1100m ascent to the top and given that it was winter, dark, cold, and just a little daunting, I was taking my time finding the way up. The route is lightly marked, starting from easy farm flats at the base of the hill leading out onto the steeper upper flanks.

I had moment to pause and wonder what the heck I was doing there, having left a perfectly comfortable sleeping bag and warm house back at Mt Peel Village where my family was still sleeping. And the nice fire I had lit before going, and a nice coffee. No point thinking about that now though, as the slope steepened and I crunched into the first snow bank. A glance over my shoulder revealed faint light already appearing in the eastern sky.

The route up follows a deer fence, almost to the summit. Access to this ‘new’ tramp has been made possible by the tenure review process completed in the late 1990s.

The spur climbs steeply all the way to 1460m, with a couple of small shoulders to clamber over, and ever expanding views below. For me though, the views were of ever deepening blackness, punctuated by a few house lights, distant town lights, and a growing glow on the horizon. Ice axe out, I continued through to 1460m and crested the large shoulder where a low fence is crossed into the official public land which covers all of the summit ridge and extends south to Mt Peel and beyond.

From the shoulder, it’s still 110m of ascent to the top along a firm snow ridge. The spectacle also increased, with barely visible ridgelines jutting out above the Rangitata Gorge and beyond, north-west towards Mesopotamia. By then I was glad I had risen early to make this journey and it looked like I would beat sunrise to the summit.

It was a dramatic moment, especially as the slopes are lit by the rising sun sending a slow tide of light and colour down their flanks. The beauty of these moments, alone on a summit, are always memorable.

The steepness of the slope made for a tiring descent, but once I got into a rhythm I quickly made my retreat, gaining the lower slope and farm terrace in about an hour, where I relished the warmth of the morning sun.

I soon crossed the fence style and over the road into my ute where I began to think again about that fire, and that coffee.

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6.6km to summit
Total Ascent
3-4hr to summit
Off Rangitata Gorge Road at a marked easement about 26km north of Peel Forest Village

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