Towering over the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand, are the twin peaks of Mt. Riley and Mt. Sunday. These mountains were calling me and I had to climb them!
The mountains of the Richmond Range stretch across the skyline of Blenheim, where I currently reside. Everyday when I leave work at the winery I can see the peaks silhouetted against the sky. Mt Riley is the closest and most prominent of these mountains with its pyramid shape. I decided I must climb it. After researching the mountain from the Department of Conservation’s website, I found that it would be an easy loop track that actually encompasses two mountains: Mt. Riley and Mt. Sunday. The statistics of the track are listed below, however, different maps and literature on the website showed conflicting elevations so I’m not exactly sure of their actual height.
• 15 km (9.3 mi) loop trail
• Mt. Sunday elevation 1,310 m (4,298 ft)
• Mt. Riley elevation 1,314 m (4,311 ft)
Around noon I drove off in my newly acquired 1992 Toyota Camry. It was a pretty drive until I left the paved roads and traveled a dirt road up into the mountains. I was nervous my car wasn’t going to make it. Safely at the carpark I threw my 1-liter water bottle and some granola bars in my drawstring bag and set off. The sign said it would take 8-10 hours and if that proved true I might be racing against daylight near the end.
The trail began with some overgrown plants before I was presented with a fork. Left would take me to the summit of Mt. Sunday and right would take me to Mt. Riley (it was a loop so I would hit both peaks regardless). I went left. The foliage quickly changed into a dark, canopied forest as I climbed up the steep slopes.
When I hiked the Appalachian Trail, the route was marked with a painted white blaze on the trees every so often. On this track, orange plastic triangles were nailed to the trees. I was constantly running out of trail and found myself searching for the next orange triangle.
Up and up I went. The shade of the trees made for a cool hike but the terrain was the steepest I had seen in New Zealand so far. There were a few spots where it felt like I was rock climbing. I really wished I had trekking poles.
Several times the trees parted and I thought I had reached the summit of Mt. Sunday only to find it was a false alarm. At last I reached the summit and was treated with an amazing view of the Wairau Valley and even a glimpse of the Marlborough Sounds. Across the way I could see Mt. Riley waiting for me.
I descended from Mt. Sunday across the saddle where I passed a shelter/hut for campers. I took a peek inside and signed the log book. It was somewhat windy at this elevation and I could actually see my breath despite it being summer!
Another steep climb up from the saddle brought me to the slightly taller summit of Mt. Riley. There were some telecommunication infrastructure at the top as well as a 360-degree view of the Wairau Valley, the Richmond Range, the Cook Strait, and the Marlborough Sounds. It was incredible and worth the grueling climb. I could see the entire towns of Blenheim and Renwick as well as endless vineyards stretching through the valley.
I ate the last of my granola bars and realized I was out of water. Unlike the mountains of Appalachia, there were no stream crossings or water sources on this hike. I savored my last few sips of water and began my descent. I was really missing my trekking poles after descending some slippery sections of loose rocks/scree.
The descent was fast and steep but offered great views looking back up at the mountain. Below treeline the shade provided more opportunities to see my breath. Eventually I crossed a stream but I realized I hadn’t brought my water filter. Parched, I eventually made it back to the carpark. Another successful hike! As the sun set over the vineyards in the valley, Mt. Riley and Mt. Sunday watched over me as the moon winked.
I enjoy James Arthur’s songwriting but sometimes they’re just too sad. But the remixes always get me pumped!
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