Peak 38: Mt Fishtail

Peak 38: Mt Fishtail
Fishtail Hut and the scree slopes above

After the previous day on Mt Royal and the weather going to be even warmer for longer, I decided to take on the peak that was haunting me all the way to the summit yesterday… Mt Fishtail.

The view from the bushline towards Mt Fishtail
The view from the bushline towards Mt Fishtail

Mt Fishtail (1641m) lies to the west of Mt Royal – just north of the Wairau (again in Richmond Forest Park).

The route description was pretty daunting, it was supposed to take 5h40m one way to get to the summit, and judging on Mt Royal’s performance yesterday with an eight hour return… I had assumed it would be a LONG day in the hills.

The route through the forest
The route through the forest

In fact it was quite the opposite. The track up Mt Fishtail was far more runnable than Mt Royal and was well formed along Pine Valley Stream – the first section of the route (~3km). It took in the views of the Mill Flats Campsite area crossed the river along a 1-man suspension bridge (which was fun to cross), passed next to the brand new 6 bed Pine Valley DOC Hut and then continued along the river until the climb began.

This climb, unfortunately WAS as the route description mentioned – VERY STEEP – and climbed up around 700m in height gain in just under 1km… crazy steep. (Then i noticed I’d dropped my map! Annoying as it had my peak number on it… grr – I’d try and find it on the way down….)

After that it levelled off slightly but continued at a ferocious angle up to a clearing in the trees at pt.976m. Here you saw for the first time in a long while the steep face of the fishtail. It still looked a long way away, but you knew it was going to be worth it!

The route, again, continued to climb with roots and rocky steps leading you up the ridgeline. The gradient at pt.1248m then began to change, the trees started to become more scattered and I could see the peak towering 400m above me. It was a great feeling, and more importantly; the trail was still runnable!!

Fishtail Hut and the scree slopes above
Fishtail Hut and the scree slopes above

Continuing on in the searing heat, I caught a glimpse of Fishtail Hut in the distance, that was where I was going to take a short break before the last scree climb to the summit. The track here was epic, only a slight gradient and you really felt for the first time (above the bushline) that you were really in the middle of nowhere, deep in the mountains.

Final climb up the scree
Final climb up the scree

The hut looked brand new – and indeed is only a few years old – the log book only filled in around 15 pages worth, not many for a hut of that nature.

I continued on my way – the final brutal climb up the scree slope (very big boulders) to the top. The rocks on the slope were of that annoying size where they slipped on each other – meaning one step forward, took the rocks above your foot come crashing down on you – so I chose a different route to my first plan as it looked more stable. Still, I persevered and got from the hut to the summit in under 25 minutes, so from the ford to the summit in only 2hrs15mins – half of the DOC time on the sign – Awesome peak 28 – (and as Gordon Ramsay would say – …”served”).

Spending about 15 minutes on top with photos and chomping on some Canterbury Billtong, I decided I’d seen enough views (however, it was spectacular – looking down on Mt Royal – spotting the North Island in the hazy distance, Mt Robertson [Peak 21] and the snowy peaks of Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku and Mt Alarm glistening to the south) it was pretty amazing – but I wanted to get down in a good time for more wine tasting in Renwick!

The summit of Peak 38 - Mt Fishtail
The summit of Peak 38 – Mt Fishtail

Back to the hut in about 15mins and then across the ridgeline towards pt.1248m – it felt a lot quicker than the ascent… The steep section started to make my feet hurt (and I could feel the blisters again) but felt good to carry on at speed. Passing lots of people on their way up, I wondered why they had started so late, as I feared they wouldn’t make the hut for a long while yet at their pace. Still, the views were worth it – I bet sunset would be stunning.

Back through the forest to the bottom of the steep section – relief – onto the flat. A drink of water from the stream and back along to the hut and suspension bridge – it was literally 1km from home.

The baby seals at Ohau Point
The baby seals at Ohau Point

Back to the ford and car in 4hrs45m. So much for the 11h20m return time for walking it! Phew!

Anyhow, I drove out on the dirt track, following a kid sitting on the boot of the car in front (as you do in NZ)… had a feed in Blenheim and we even had time to spare on the way past Kaikoura to watch the baby seals swimming next to the waterfall at Ohau Point on the way back. Amazing weekend!!!

M

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3 Comments on “Peak 38: Mt Fishtail

  1. Hi,

    this is exactly what I was looking for, since I moved to Blenheim pretty haunted by this mountain and didn’t make it yet. Was looking for a true description of the track, hard when you don’t really know what to expect(even reading carefully all the DOC info) and now feel like I have a better idea.

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