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Putting Mountains back into Mountain Biking


It’s been a thing of mine for many years, witnessed globally and not just in NZ, I feel it’s a good time to give this some more light, absolutely the bike parks are a great and valuable asset and proving ground for the developing rider and busy lifers. Mountain biking started as a fringe sport or not even a sport, just a fringe actively from society’s fringe, filled with hippies and alternatives of what mostly originated on the Californian coast. A time of adventure and getting wild on bikes that were not designed to do what they were doing, pushing boundaries and getting out into the mountains and nature!

I believe the mountains have never left my mountain biking but I do see so much of our nations riding being done in the easy access parks, places where off-camber corners and rooty messes are very limited, but it’s much more than that, it’s our connection to nature and the wild spaces that these hold, places I would love everyone to appreciate and therefore to connect with and so want to protect for our future! So, putting the mountains back into mountain biking is a deep seed for me, and for me, it is a natural draw to the fringe, to the corners less explored, and I believe this does not need to be the crazy or the gnarly trails over multiple-days, just the places less visited, making the space in your life to get out back and find some wild for your world!

I tell many stories through blogs like this, magazines, and a lot via my "Jamienicolladventures" social media, I'm lucky that this is my job, my passion, connecting people with nature and community through Mountain Bicycles.

The story here that I want to share is definitely more on the extreme end of my riding and local exploring, though still only an overnighter and only made challenging because I like to try riding as much of the nastiness as possible.

What was special about this trip is very much the people I joined to make an East-ish to West-ish crossing of the Richmond ranges, maybe even the first, as we have yet to hear of anyone who has done it with a bike before.

Like I said, " the people" the three boys I joined who are all based in Wellington, but probably know the Richmond ranges better than any except maybe my dentist Hunter and his mates, are, well, unique and definitely fringe in their riding tastes, so unique that I have long said that I believe these boys are pioneering a new MTB discipline and absolutely pushing the edges of what is believed ridable on our current bikes!

The idea; Starting above Lake Chalice which is inland from Blenheim and heading Northwest to Old Man, Slaty Peak, and the Slaty Hut for the night before carrying on to Mt Starveille and out down the Hacket coming out near Richmond.

Picking Tom up from the Nelson Airport at 8pm we headed around the ranges to the start of the trail and camped the night there, I shared the van with Rhys, waking from weird dreams it was time to get out in the wet misty morning and get going! Starting with a big fast descent down to Lake Chalice before the pushing and carrying starts, plenty of great chat about trail advocacy and saving the world with increased responsibility around bike warranty and repairs all helped the long climb to peak 1522m. From here the ridge traversed to Old Man peak, even in the wet and mist we uncovered trail riding that was so good...the mountain bicycling was go! At Old Man 1514m we gained the junction with the Te Araroa Trail, (a trail network that takes you the length of New Zealand) and we turned due north pushing deep turns in scree as we descended towards Ada Flat and near heer is where my favorite pictures of the moss-lined ribbon trail through stunted Beech forest was taken while the expansive views out to the bigger peaks were still hidden from sight. A shorter carry taking us back above the bush line to 1538m had us riding the tops as the weather closed in and the rain came down in sideways fashion, we threw our rain jackets on and carried on as now the hut was not too far with a wee techie traverse under Slaty peak had us at the door of Slaty hut, a welcome site appearing out of the mist! The hut was already warm and toasty with two older ladies having arrived earlier than us on their trek south.

Boiling the billy for a few cuppas and an impromptu pizza made on the fire surface past the hours until the evening cleared into one amazingly clear sky, we climbed Slaty Peak for sunset and boy was that worth it, views out to the Richmond plains and my home beyond that and turning around I could see out to Blenheim as the light changed and the colours grew into the mountain sunset we all dream of! Off to bed with laughs and chatter, we all got a good night’s sleep.

Slaty Hut to Mt Starveal was yet again more amazing riding, still quite slippery but with clear views all around, one very challenging shoot was mastered by Rhys making it look doable at best, this gave me the motivation to drop-in too, but it wasn’t my day yet, and struggling for control a tree growing near horizontal was my uncontrolled direction, it was the side of my helmet, my jaw and neck that took the first hard impact and a saddle to the pubic bone took the rest of the energy, I had to have a little lie down until I stopped feeling dizzy. From Mt Starveall I was back on form, cleaning the whole of the top section down to the hut, Rhys came down clean too and Tom and Scotty knocked off new sections on their goal list. This top section is well off the charts for tech featured in MTB parks even when considering Nelson’s sanctioned grade 6 trails (Double Black). So, I felt pretty pleased to dial this in as it’s been years since I last attempted this section, and even more pleased not to add a chopper ride or more bruises to my list of collateral. Many would know the descent from Mt Starveall hut to the Hacket river to be one of the top backcountry descents in the ranges and so with eager anticipation, our train of four rolled into our final descent.

A wee nude swim in the damn cold Hacket had us ready for the trail out to the car park, a fun and ever increasingly smooth trail had us feeling fast, stoked, and ready for another swim at the popular Aniseed Valley Road footbridge swimming hole!
Now that’s back to the mountains and that’s a sample of what fringe pursuits can bring you!

Have fun out there

Words & Pictures: Jamie Nicoll