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Fell Walking

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February 2023 Issue

Johnston Peak, Mt Richmond Forest Park

A string of rocky summits rise above the blue, hazy folds of Marlborough hill country. Their peaks are flanked by steep tussock slopes and unstable screes. Amongst them, Johnston Peak and Mt Fell are two adventurous scrambles, and they’re not more than an hour’s jaunt from the tidy six-bunk Mt Fell Hut.

The peaks were named after victims of the Kererū, a twin-engined Lockheed Electra, which crashed here in May, 1942.

The first 45 minutes of the trail is a pleasant stroll, skirting swimming holes in Timms Creek. Next, a track washout including four substantial slips has carved a path of destruction through the mixed podocarp forest. Heavy rain would make the crossing at the river forks impassable.

A spur track eventually tops out on a prominent ridgeline of beech forest. From there, a relentlessly nice trail continues to climb the lower flanks of Johnston Peak past the 1100m contour. The track then swings north and the gradient eases into a long sidle, passing over the headwaters of a dozen rivulets.      Mt Fell Hut sits on a tussock terrace at 1260m.

Mt Fell is two kilometres distant. Gain the tussock plateau, leave packs at the signed junction and follow the jagged ridgeline to the 1602m summit. Views to the north include the foothills of Nelson, the sweep of Tasman Bay, and Taranaki Maunga floating on the horizon. To the south, Tapuae-o-Uenuku and Mt Alarm. Allow two leisurely hours.

The second option is to visit the aircraft wreckage (grid ref: E16 342.11; N54 087.68) that litters the north-eastern slopes of Johnston Peak (1647m). The Lockhead Electra crashed in zero visibility killing all five people, including pilot Keith Johnston and local tramper Pamella Fell. A small plaque marks the point of impact. Remnants of the nose cone are still embedded in rock. Below the natural fall line are a dozen pieces of the plane: a propeller, crumpled wings, an alternator, pedals, engines and landing gear which have travelled downhill over the past 80 years eased by melting snow and the pull of gravity. Allow three hours from the hut.

Total Ascent
6–7hr to Mt Fell Hut; 1hr to Mt Fell or Johnston Peak
Mt Fell Hut (6 bunks)
Te Rou Rd, off Northbank Road
BQ26, BQ27

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