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June 2012 Issue
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Options aplenty in Mt Richmond

Mt Richmond. Photo: Jacqui Lawless
Rocks Hut, 16 bunks; Middy Creek Hut, 6 bunks; Mt Fell Hut, 8 bunks; Richmond Saddle Hut, 10 bunks
From Brook St in Nelson
Mt Fell Hut, Mt Richmond Forest Park

One of the many advantages of living in Nelson is the number of superb tramps that start within walking distance of the central city. Mt Richmond Forest Park is a wee beauty with a range of routes from easy to extremely challenging, but it is overshadowed by its much more glamorous cousins – Kahurangi, Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes national parks. This is a good thing for those preferring solitude in the hills rather than packed mega huts. Even in the middle of summer it is rare to see many other trampers.

Leaving the Brook Valley Camp, the shortcut from Windy Point to Rocks Hut was a good way to save over half an hour instead of the conventional route in Mt Richmond Forest Park via Coppermine and Dun saddles. The route followed a spur down to the forks and up the other side, but someone had kindly tied coloured tape along the line of an old un-maintained track through the bush. It was worth the effort to get a close look at the ultramafic belt that gave Dun Mountain its name.

From Rocks Hut we had a daunting view of the Mt Fell Hut ridge lurching towards Mt Richmond. A series of grunty climbs over ever-higher peaks extend to Mt Fell and beyond. Bluffs edge the Richmond Stream side of the ridge and Conical Knob rises 1216m above the Pelorus. Beyond is an unnamed 1496m peak so steep it has three fixed wires to reduce the chances of trampers hurtling into the abyss. Mt Fell, Johnson Peak and Mt Richmond follow close on each other’s heels, from 1500m to just over 1700m in height.

It took an hour or two to drop down to Middy Creek Hut from Rocks Hut. The track to Mt Fell starts here and some wag had attached the sign so it pointed almost straight up, which wasn’t too far from reality. This isn’t a route that mucks about with such niceties as zigzags. It got down to business and headed straight up the face past Conical Knob.

Things then get a bit more exciting – the fixed wire nemesis. After half an hour of plugging away along the steep but well vegetated ridge there was a short stretch of wire rope, followed by an even more exposed second wire and an easy third wire. Then we hit the benign tops and enjoyed a pleasant stroll down to the saddle before another grovelly but straightforward climb onto 1602m Mt Fell.

Once at Mt Fell Hut, there is a choice of trails to exit the park. Head out via Johnston Peak, Mt Richmond and Top Valley or, as we did, down into Timms Creek below the hut.

Whichever way you go, spare a thought for those who carried out the bodies following the 1942 plane crash on Johnston Peak. Don’t expect to see obvious signs of the crash site, although the nose-cone of the Lockheed Electra is still embedded in the rock face 200m below the ridge. There is a full account of the crash and its aftermath in Mt Fell Hut.

– Jacqui Lawless