Overlooking our home city of Nelson is Mt Richmond. At 1780 m, it is the highest peak in the Richmond Ranges. Queen’s Birthday weekend promised a near perfect weather forecast, so we took this opportunity to finally tick this summit of the bucket list. From our door step it is roughly 80 km there and back.
The route from Nelson to Mt Richmond is roughly 40 km
On a brisk winter morning we set off on our bikes. We warmed up quickly and had a stunning ride along the Dun Mountain walk way, weaving our way up to 800 m with the sun slowly rising above Nelson. After about 2 hrs we reached the end of the bike track and proceeded to pile our bikes in a bush just above the Coppermine Saddle. To ensure we would find them again in the dark on return, we creatively marked the bush with some kryptic markers as not to attract anyone else to our bikes.
Early morning start for a bike ride to Coppermine Saddle
Now on foot, the track dropped down to Rocks Hut and Middy Creek Hut at the Pelorus River. Fresh and enthusiastic, we made good time over the first 11 km, reaching the river within 2 hours. With the promise of a water supply about half way along the next 12 km to Mt. Fell hut, we set off with 1 bottle each. From Middy Creek Hut the track changes to a much more rugged and steep terrain as it leaves the river bed. We gained over 700 m of elevation in the first 1.5 km and continued along the undulating ridge line on the seldom used technical track.
A urgently needed rest on the relentless climb up the ridge
The highlight of the journey was a chain ladder that took you from the bottom of the bush covered ridge line, up a 50 m bluff to the higher alpine ridge line. By the time we reached the chain ladder, we had been going for around 6 hrs. Not knowing what to expect, we first reached a cable to negotiate a narrow path along the bluff before ascending the 50 m bluff by making use of a big metal chain securely drilled into the rock. Although it wasn’t an actual chain ladder, I was thankful to have a chain to hold on to climb the bluff. Now on the alpine ridge, we quickly climbed the next high point (1500 m) and were rewarded with stunning views over the Tasman Bay and beyond. Now down to the last drops of water we searched desperately for the promised water tank but to no avail. With dehydration slowly taking its toll the 2 km long climb up Mt. Fell (1600 m) took us roughly 1 hr. When we reached the top the sun was just setting down behind the big mountains making for a very special moment.
Sidling around the bluff to reach the chain ladder
Climbing up on the chain ladder
We now could see Mt Richmond for the first time directly in front of us. We descended Mt Fell and followed the long ridge line that runs towards Mt Richmond. Icicles and snow made for some welcomed refreshments along the way. After 3 km we took a left turn and headed towards the bush line. We found Mt Fell Hut nestled into the bush, and upon arrival, instantly gulped about 1 litre of water each. Cold and hungry we split the chores to get comfortable quickly. Unfortunately, the chimney was blocked and after smoking out the hut twice and climbing the roof to fix the chimney we gave up on the idea of a cosy night. After multiple cups of tea and plenty of hot food we crawled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep in an instant.
The long spine going towards Mt Richmond (far right) from Mt Fell
Sunset over Tasman Bay from Mt Fell
The next morning was promising another stunning day. We set off slightly stiff from the previous day’s effort and walked back up to the alpine ridge. After dumping our bags at the intersection, we took a left turn and made our way towards Mt. Richmond enjoying being in the open surrounded by big mountains. The 3 km long climb was easy walking and took roughly 1 hr. At 1760 m, the view from the top of Mt Richmond was amazing- you could see both Nelson and Blenheim at the same time, with Blenheim being a lot closer than Nelson.
Ascending Mt Richmond with Mt Fell in the background
The top of Mt Richmond
Morning tea time at the intersection to Mt Richmond and Mt Fell Hut
Conscious about time we made our way back to the intersection, reluctantly re-mounting our bags at 10 am. The way back was relatively eventless except for a bit of a tumble coming down one of the scree slopes from Mt Fell. We then followed the long ridge through the bush back down to the Pelorus River. Although the way down was faster by roughly an hour the technical track through the bush was still reasonable demanding on the body. We reached Middy Creek Hut at 4 pm and decided that hot chips and our comfy bed are more attractive than a second night in the hut. So we climbed back up to Coppermine Saddle eager to make it back before the Chip Shop closes. It was going to be tight.
Reaching Coppermine Saddle on dawn
Happy to get off our feet we layered back up with our winter gear, jumped on our bikes and rolled back down the Dun Mountain Walkway into Nelson. It was a challenging 80 km but worth all the effort. In the end we could have gone on any weekend and didn't need that extra day. Although Queen’s birthday was well spend recovering on the couch.