You know you're not off to the best start when you've already hit the snooze button three times on a Sunday morning. We had great intentions to climb Mt Taylor until we weren't on the road from Christchurch until 7.30am. A hasty flick through google maps had us changing our plans to nearby Mt Harper which we didn't know much about but looked pretty achievable. Slightly further up the Rangitata River towards Lake Clearwater and about 2 hours south west of Christchurch we decided that Harper in fact didn't have enough snow on it to make for much fun. Conveniently, this put us just up the road from Mt Potts which my husband assured me would be a great alternative.
Mt Potts is a beautiful 2184m peak overlooking a valley so stunning it was the setting for Edoras in the second Lord of the Rings installment. The old, disused ski field road afforded us a leisurely path up to 1200m where we traded running shoes for our new mountaineering boots which were to be suitably broken in. This took us around 1 hour 30 mins with a few stops to remove layers etc before we turned to the more serious gradient towering above us. At this point I must reinforce that we had no way of knowing we had picked a snow slope that led steeply direct to the plateau between point 2152 and the summit itself. When we turned north east to begin our ascent I had in my mind that the first 500m would give way to some sort of leveling out where we could catch our breath before tackling the top third of the mountain. In reality we dragged ourselves up through a mix of knee deep powder and ice for the next 4.5 hours.
To add insult to incredibly tired legs we kept hitting large patches of ice which warranted putting crampons on after the first few hundred metres. This was actually a bit of a blessing as my cramponing skills leave a little to be desired. I've since found that I can in fact roll my ankle into an uncomfortable but effective position to have all 10 points biting into the ice. It was going on 4pm when we made one last exhausted push to the top of the ridge and sited the trig off to our left. We gave ourselves about 5 minutes to take some photos as a bitterly cold wind gusted across the tops and then we were on our way. Both of us had in mind a 2 hour trip back down to the ski field access road - the reality was somewhat faster. Thanks to my new found crampon confidence and the sand dune like nature of the slope, we more or less ran back down in 50 minutes. The terrain certainly wasn't technical but the snow was covered in some pretty thick ice towards the top so it was hard work zig zagging the last couple of hundred metres without slipping.
With the luxury of plenty of light left we made our way slowly back to the car while taking lots of photos of the impressive ranges across the river and further inland. This is a pretty magic part of the country and incredibly accessible for those who prefer the comfort of their car to punishing their bodies in search of a summit view.
Total time: 7 hours 45 minutes
Ascent: 5 hours 40 minutes
Access: From Christchurch drive south to Rakaia on SH1, turn at the Mobil and again at the South Rakaia Hotel to gain Thompson's Track. Head inland to Mt Somers Village and onward to Lake Clearwater. Continue on until you cross a bridge to the Mt Potts side of the river and on to the ski field access road opposite Mt Sunday.
Grade: High level of fitness required. Ice axe and crampons definitely needed during winter months but a non-technical climb overall.
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