WHERE: Mount Richmond Forest Park – South Island, New Zealand
WHEN: December, 2017
WHO: Karma & Scott
OBJECTIVE: Climbing Mount Richmond (1760 m), holidays in the backcountry
Timms Creek Route: Te Rou Rd to Mt Fell Hut
Richmond Saddle Route: Richmond Saddle Hut to Top Valley Rd
Bush-bash adventure: Top Valley Rd to Te Rou Rd
Currently trapped in work mode, saving money for the PCT, we were longing for an adventure over the long holiday weekend. So we loaded our packs with a few extra special Christmas treats and headed for the mountains. We drove to the Timms Creek trailhead in Richmond Forest Park and parked up for the night. A nice and quiet spot it did not look like anyone had been in this way for ages!
The next morning we started our climb up towards Mount Fell. It was a beautiful and sunny day, so we were thankful for the shade offered by the bush. Mostly black Beech eventually giving way to more alpine species. Quite a few beautiful flowers showing off their best this time a year. It was a full day climb up to the hut located right at the bushline at 1280 meters. I was struggling a bit towards the end though… man, I really need to get my act together to get into shape for the PCT! Too much sitting in the van lately working! It is only a couple months before we leave for the Americas now, so time to get on the ball with some training…
Mount Fell hut
The route follows Timms Creek up for most of the way and the track was nice and dry, though relentlessly climbing. The Mount Fell hut is a small standard hut with 6 bunks built in 1964, but it was recently spruced up a bit which was nice. Beautiful views of the mountains and the valley below and nobody up here for the holidays so we had the hut all to ourselves.
After an amazing sunrise the following morning we set off towards our main objective, Mount Richmond, which at 1760 meters it is the tallest peak in Mount Richmond Forest Park. I have many fond memories of this area while hiking Te Araroa earlier this year. I said I would be back last time, and here I was. You do have to work for it in the wild and rugged terrain, but it is well worth the effort!
I really love being up here again and with Scott this time! This particular area is new to us both. Scott usually goes for higher mountains and Te Araroa follows the alpine route through the Richmond Ranges. While that route is not more than a days walk from here, this is still different. Same, same – but different.
We followed the staked route traversing the mountain range from Mount Fell towards Mount Richmond enjoying incredible views the whole way. Warm and sunny, but when we stopped for a nice lunch break on the Devils Armchair plateau, marine clouds began to roll in from Nelson, soon obscuring the summit we were just about to climb! WTF!
Hoping it would clear, we set off and began climbing up the rocky scree. True to form, the summit remained immersed in clouds though. It was really windy and cold at the top too. We actually had to come down a bit on the other side to film as it would have been impossible for you to see or hear anything from up there. Apparently, this is not uncommon as the summit seems to be a bit of a cloud magnet. Oh well… we still had a truly magical day up in the mountains, regardless of the whiteout on the summit.
Richmond Saddle hut
After a rather steep 560 meter descent down rock and scree, we arrived at the Richmond Saddle hut. Another basic hut with 8 bunks nested in the bushline of the saddle with a lovely view in the opposite direction from the previous hut. While enjoying a second lunch, or early dinner starter (yeah we packaged some extra goodies for this mission…), we heard voices. We ended up sharing the hut, and celebrating Christmas Eve, with a nice Belgian couple who had the same idea as us about how and where to spend the holidays. Good thinking!
I love being out like this. Out in the backcountry. Enjoying nature and each others company. Occasionally even meeting new people. Eating good food (anything pretty much tastes good after working hard for it). We even brought our solar lights from the van for a little extra holiday cheer on this one!
The long slog out
The next day proved to be quite a mission. After a really nice and fairly easy descent off the mountain, we opted out on the 17 km road walk back to the trailhead where we parked the van. Instead, we embarked on a river-walking, bush-bashing adventure cutting across the lower hills. Man do I regret not getting any photos or video from this part… it was really something!
After sliding down a steep gravel slope through freshly planted forestry we followed the Armchair Stream for a few kilometers. The water was low so it turned out to be a rather nice riverwalk. We did not even mind the wet feet since it was nice and cool in the shade from the dense bush which lined the edges. Next awaited a long slog up and over the hill on a very hot and sweaty backcountry logging road at mid-day. Finally over the crest, we began searching for the logging access road we had seen on the old map up at the hut. It was no longer marked on our new updated maps, but it had been there once so it couldn’t just disappear?!? Or could it? Well, the hut was built in the 60’s, chances are the map is just as old. Don’t underestimate New Zealand bush… a lot can happen in 50 years!
You see where this is going… lol… there was no road. So we were faced with a choice. Backtrack and road walk. Or bush-bash the last few hundred meters down the mountain to the van. The hillside was very dense bush and pretty steep, dropping about 350 meters in as many meters… It had been a long hot day already so backtracking did not sound very appealing. We pressed on.
Climbing over hundreds of downed logs and sliding under false floors where the forestry had been thinning the trees some time ago… Crawling on our hands and knees through evil spikey Gorse thickets… Rock climbing down a moss covered slippery stream bed… It took us about 2.5 hours to reach the van which we had almost been able to see from where the road had ended just above.
The Beast never looked better!
A few scrapes and bruises come with the territory, and this mission was no different… just rather amplified, lol. Finally at the van we quickly peeled off all our sweaty clothes and hopped into the creek to cool off and to rinse some of the bush off before getting in the van. It was lovely! Had it not been for the huge curious eel we might have stayed in all day.
Funny how the brain works though… by the time I had washed the dirt of my scrapes and gotten some nice dry clothes on, the last few hours of the day had already started fading into memory. All I could think about now was how nice the mountains had been. A wonderful Christmas to remember.
It about time