UPDATE: Completely forgot that this was the first hike I had done with my new Personal Locator Beacon. After a bit of research (and a nudge from brother in law who is involved with LANDSAR) I opted for the Garmin inReach Mini.
This is a bit different to the standard PLB’s that are out there, which are essentially a one way distress signal, that sends your GPS location. The inReach Mini actually allows for two way text messaging, via the Iridium Satellite network. As Garmin explains:
inReach Mini is your go-to connection for maintaining off-the-grid contact. It’s our palm-sized satellite communicator for adventures where size and weight matter. inReach Mini lets you send and receive text messages, track and share your journey and, if necessary, trigger an SOS alert to contact the GEOS 24/7 emergency response team. With inReach connectivity, your family and friends will know they can stay in touch globally.
The Hiking Guy has a pretty good review of it here. I might do my own review in due course, but suffice to say it worked as advertised. I was able to send SMS updates via the satellite network even when there was no cell phone reception. I limited these communications to the “free” pre-set messages giving an update home saying we were safe and all was well (these automatically include a hyperlink to a website tagging our GPS location on a map from where the message was sent).
I say “free” because, unlike other PLB, the inReach does require an active subscription, both for non-urgent messages as well as sending an actual emergency SOS. These subscriptions aren’t cheap – check them out here – and I’ve opted for a pre-paid month by month that I can cancel when not doing any hikes.
Following on from last week’s jaunt up the Bealey Spur, I decided to take Niamh for a quick one nighter camping experience up the Sign of the Packhorse – there is some really interesting history linked to this site that is worth reading:
The Sign of the Packhorse is one of four rest houses planned by Henry (Harry) George Ell, a Member of Parliament for South Christchurch and conservationist. In 1900, Ells envisioned a track which would begin at Dyers Pass, follow the hills of Banks Peninsula and culminate at Akaroa. Along this route he intended to construct rest houses which would provide shelter and refreshments for groups of walkers.
A later than desired start was looking likely due to needing to record a podcast on Friday afternoon and it was not until after 6pm that we got started. Fortunately, the start of the track is not far, nor is it hard to access:
We arrived and parked up, changed into our hiking boots, hoisted backpacks and were soon underway beneath slate grey clouds. For a two minute summary of the trip, check this video:
Day One & Hike Up to Sign Of The Packhorse
We had heard from friends who had recently completed this hike and said it was definitely closer to the 1hr mark and not the 3hr mark on the DOC signs at the start of the track, however neither Niamh or I had any real expectations of what the track would be like.
It did not take long for us to discover there would be two distinctive features of the hike:
- An unremitting climb to the summit – there was almost no level sections on the track at all, making us feel we had been turned into literal packhorses for the ascent!
- A huge amount of sheep, rabbit and cow poo all over the track, meaning we had to keep our eyes peeled in the fading light to avoid any regrettable incidents!
We became thankful it was not a hot sunny day, as we both worked up a sweat climbing up the hill. In contrast to the Bealey Spur the week before, this track was a rough 4WD path which in some ways made the climbing more difficult than the “stepped” elevation at Bealey Spur.
Route map for Sign Of The Packhorse by Sam McNeil on plotaroute.com
There were a few spots where we could see decent views, but largely there was limited reward for the effort of climbing on the way up.
After climbing for just over an hour we negotiated some cows with their baby calves just below the summit and then saw the Packhorse Hut emerging through misty rainclouds – smoke emanating from the chimney indicated there were guests there already and we looked forward to quickly pitching the tent and warming up by the fire.
Once we had set up camp, we headed into the hut and made a hot chocolate and had a yarn with the two couples who were staying in the hut. They invited us to sleep inside, however Niamh and I were keen to stick to the tent as planned. The Packhorse Hut is very comfortable (especially compared to the Bealey Spur hut!) and comfortably sleeps 7-9 people, with a nice open area and a hot fire – definitely worth a stay!
Back in the tent, we experienced a very windy night, with light rain and the tent being blown around a fair bit. It was great to see it handled the wind with aplomb!
Day Two & Hike To Point 570
Whilst I didn’t have a great sleep, Niamh was out to it after the exertions of the hike the day before, waking around 6:30am. Given the strong winds and light rain overnight, I was keen to know what the weather forecast was likely to be, so used my new Garmin inReach to generate a localized weather forecast that was sent via satellite allowing me to see the wind would be steady (strong) but no real rain forecast.
The optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or compatible device paired with the Earthmate app, so you’ll know what conditions to expect en route. Basic and premium weather packages are offered. And you can request weather forecasts for your current location or any other waypoint or destination on your itinerary.
Arising just after 7am we made some porridge and hot chocolate on the cooker, thankful the generous porch outside the hut out of the wind so the cooker could operate with something close to maximum efficiency.
There was swirling misty clouds outside and a strong wind coming up from the harbour below and pushing clouds over the ridge and down into the valley. Niamh was keen to pack down and then have a crack at summiting Point 570 up behind the hut – I was definitely in for that!
Route map for Point 570 Behind Sign Of The Packhorse by Sam McNeil on plotaroute.com
We packed up the tent, still wet and mindful it would need to be pitched and dried when we got home, we were thankful for the rain jackets we had packed even though there had been no forecast for rain. The misty clouds scurrying over the ridge were definitely adding a layer of dampness to everything they touched, and soon our clothing and boots were quite damp.
In anticipation of the final summit, Niamh found a great rock to stand on for a photo:
A further 35mins later we had made the top of Point 570 after some scrambling, rock hopping and change of routes. With strong wind and some quite steep drops at the top, we had to be mindful of the risk, and the final photograph, surrounded by thick cloud, does not show the summit for the accomplishment it was:
A Speedy Departure
In contrast to the effort coming up the previous evening, after summiting Point 570, it was an easy stroll back down to the Packhorse Hut, hitching up our packs, and getting ready to head down the hill. In a change to my normal packing, I decided to strap the wet tent to the outside of my pack and was pleased to see how much room this gained internally. It also did not feel unbalanced at all, so I’ll likely continue with this configuration.
Just below the summit, we came across 8 women who asked us to take a photograph of them. They were hiking on to the Rod Donald Hut which could be another one for us to add to the list to attempt! With a more relaxed effort downhill, we were able to enjoy some of the scenery with more leisure, and the flowers below were a beautiful contrast to the browns and greens that dominated the walk:
Given the close proximity of the carpark to home, we were home by 11:30am and were again pleased to have squeezed so much into less than 24hrs away. I think with better weather, this would definitely be a place to return to and enjoy the sweeping panoramic views when unhindered by low cloud.