For my next adventure I set off to hike Mt. Richmond, one of the tallest peaks in New Zealand’s Richmond range. But a simple mistake almost led me up the wrong mountain!
Check out the video of this epic hike:
After hiking Mt. Riley and Mt. Sunday earlier, I was ready for something bigger. At an impressive 1,760 m (5,775 ft) above sea level, Mt. Richmond towers above the other peaks in the Richmond Range. From what I read online there are several routes to the summit and two days is recommended for the hike. Of course I planned on cramming it all into a day hike.
To start my hike, I decided to take the Richmond Saddle route. According to the Department of Conservation (DOC) website, the route consists of driving along Top Valley Road to the carpark. From there you follow a four-wheel drive track across a river and for another 4 km to the trailhead. Then it’s another 6.5 km to the Richmond Saddle Hut, about an hour below the summit. The website says “it is possible to climb Mt. Richmond in a day but a good level of fitness is required.” Challenge accepted.
JOURNEY TO THE TRAILHEAD
As usual, I got a late start and didn’t hit the road until after 8am. Knowing that my junker car could not handle the four-wheel drive track, I stowed a mountain bike in the back seat (don’t ask me how I fit it inside). Remembering how steep Mt. Riley had been, I wanted to use trekking poles for this hike. Not owning any poles, I settled for a pine branch I found that made for a light walking stick. I also knew I would lose reception along the way so I made sure to remember the directions to the carpark.
After an hour of driving I turned onto Pine Valley Road and followed it to the carpark. I pulled my bike out of the car, grabbed my walking stick, and attempted to ride my bike across the stream while holding said stick. The stream bed was mostly dry and I reckoned my car could have made it across. Biking along for a short bit, I reached the trailhead. But the sign did not read Mt. Richmond but rather Mt. Fishtail. Did the trail to Mt. Fishtail also split and lead to Mt. Richmond? I was so confused and of course my phone was of no help without service.
I racked my brain trying to figure out if I had made a wrong turn. Though I didn’t have cell service, I was able to bring up a map on my phone. I looked at the road names and suddenly realized my mistake: I had turned down Pine Valley Road instead of Top Valley Road! Seriously, why can’t the Kiwis come up with better names for their streets? (The town I live in has three roads named Old Renwick, New Renwick, and Middle Renwick). Sheesh!
Angry with myself, I turned around and hightailed it back to my car. I shoved my bike in the car and drove off at speed. In 15 minutes I arrived at the turn for Top Valley Road and soon found my way to the carpark for Mt. Richmond.
CLIMBING MT RICHMOND
At 10am, an hour late, I was finally ready to hike. I pulled my bike out of the car and realized I’d forgotten the walking stick back at the last carpark. I couldn’t do anything right! Unsure if I had enough time to summit and return before sundown, I stubbornly set off.
The stream crossing wasn’t difficult but it was actually a four-wheel drive track this time and I knew my car would not have made it across. My shoes immediately got wet in the stream which did not help my mood. From there I attempted to bike the 4 km to the official trailhead. The track was uphill the entire time and I ended up walking my bike for a good portion. I hoped I didn’t exhaust myself just trying to reach the trail. I had brought the bike to help cut down on time for this part of the trek but I wasn’t so sure it was helping.
At long last I arrived at the official trailhead and was treated with my first view of Mt. Richmond. It was an impressive sight with a clear view of the entire mountain. I stashed my bike in the woods and set off into the forest. The track was steep right from the start and I wondered if I had finally lost the “trail legs” I’d developed while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I kept my eyes peeled for a new walking stick and eventually found a suitable, yet heavy companion.
The track was exhausting with a steady ascent until I finally left the woods for a moment and caught another glimpse of the mountain. Seeing the beautiful peak cracked my bad mood that had hung around since morning. I was surrounded by mountains with the Wairau River far away, stretching across the valley. I could see how the trail would take me through the woods to the Richmond Saddle at the base of Mt. Richmond. It was a bit disheartening to think that after pushing my bike uphill 4 km and then hiking up steep terrain in the woods I still wasn’t even at the base of the mountain!
Into the woods I continued, crossing a small landslide and eventually made my way to the Richmond Saddle Hut. The DOC does a great job of maintaining an extensive hut system throughout New Zealand and supplying them with water sources. I filled up my water bottle and was ready for the summit push.
TO THE SUMMIT
After leaving the hut, the track quickly climbed above treeline. From here it was a choose-your-own-adventure as I picked my way through a large field of rock scree. My knees and legs were extremely grateful for my heavy walking stick; I needed it. I followed a series of orange ski poles that marked the trail. They were used in place of rock cairns as the latter would be impossible to spot in the sea of scree.
I climbed and climbed and then climbed some more. Surprisingly, I thought this part of the hike was rather fun. I stuck to the bigger rocks as they didn’t slip or slide as I climbed.
At one point I heard what sounded like a young woman calling for help. Except the ‘p’ at the end of the word “help” was cut off. I later discovered this was only a baby mountain goat calling for its mother. Nevertheless, I was a bit worried for a while that I would have to rescue someone.
At long last I clambered over the rocks to the summit and the most amazing feeling swept over me. I was on top of the world and I danced!
I could see everything. The Pacific Ocean was off in the distance with the town of Nelson at its shore. Epic ridges rose up like a scene from Lord of the Rings (the movies were filmed in New Zealand). The Wairau Valley stretched across the island as far as I could see. Mt. Fishtail, that devil mountain, was right next to me, and far off was my town of Blenheim and Cloudy Bay. A glimpse of the North Island could be seen as well. And then there was Tapuae-O-Uenuku, the highest point on the horizon and the mountain I hoped to climb in a few weeks! This hike up Mt. Richmond was my warmup!
I spent a good hour enjoying the summit and the most spectacular views. I had the mountain all to myself. Despite the mishaps and delays, I was ahead of schedule and had plenty of time to make it back before sunset.
The descent was fairly easy. The rocks had ground my walking stick down to a nub on one end and so I had to turn it upside down. But the rocky slopes were not too bad and I was still riding my adrenaline high after the summit. Once at the hut I slogged on through the woods before eventually reaching the ridge and catching my lasts views of the beautiful mountain.
Upon arriving at the trailhead, I grabbed my bike out of the woods and raced down the last 4 km. I flew at such speed I was worried the brake pads on the bike would burn out. This quick descent on wheels made it all worth it, taking the bike along. Across the stream I soaked my feet once more before finally reaching my car. In the end I crushed my time estimate, finishing in about seven hours. Apparently I’ve still got my trail legs! I have to say that this has been my favorite hike in New Zealand so far! Funny how such a rough morning turned into an amazing afternoon!
I’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race lately and his song “Adrenaline” got me pumped for the final summit push on Mt. Richmond. It also made for a nice victory dance at the top!
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