Scenic ascent a stunner
Travelling along SH 63 towards Nelson Lakes, I gaze upon the 1650m Mt Patriarch expectantly, in anticipation of the day I would bike to its rocky summit.
Well, now that day has passed, leaving me with an experience that both surpassed my expectations and also fell short of them.
Actually, I cheated.
At the beginning of the ride is a very long gravel road climb known as the Staircase. It would have been a beast of a climb on our bikes, but we faintheartedly decided to use diesel instead of muscle.
Our bold quest thus began at Enchanted Lookout, only 12 kilometres from the road end. From here, the views all along the elevated road are fantastic. The ridge drops sharply to the Wairau Plain on your left, with the Richmond Range stretching to the right. The ride along the ridgetop was stunning in the early morning light.
Trees started to take on the autumn colours and Lake Chalice winked at us from below like a polished emerald. We were in no rush, stopping often, and enjoying Marlborough's scenery at its best.
After traversing the ridge for an hour we encountered the only major climb. It was quite challenging to ride up, with fairly large rocks, but after 10 minutes or so we were at the top - and also at the end of the gravel road.
The summit beckoned a kilometre or so up ahead, but from this point it's walking access only. So, after enjoying a quick feed and the snowy vista of Tapuae-O-Uenuku, we ditched our bikes under some trees and resumed on foot.
The hike to the top was the toughest part of the day. The route is marked but it was scree covered and dodgy in places. Forty minutes later, though, and we were at the summit. The rocky slog had been worth it. Rugged mountains stretched around us in all directions with Blenheim in the far distance and Tasman Bay to the North.
Later, we trudged back to our bikes - now which pine tree were they under again? Just as well we were in no hurry! But we found our bikes eventually and before long we were back at the car.
What a great ride, and a wonderful introduction into easy back-country mountainbiking.
So, back to the expectations. How did the ride fail to meet mine?
Well, I expected a much tougher ride. Unlike the last mountain I biked up, Mt Fyffe, Mt Patriarch is totally doable for almost anyone comfortable on a bike. That's one instance where it's nice for expectations not to be met.
To get to Lake Chalice, head up Northbank Rd, and take a right up Top Valley Rd. Turn off at Staircase Rd. Unless you're a fitness freak or keen on a bit of punishment, I'd recommend driving up here.
This ride is mostly about the views. If the weather's dubious, stay at home.
While cycling, take care on the corners. There are many blind bends - assume a car is coming around each one. And on the subject of safety, don't attempt the hiking section if visibility is low.
If you are planning to head up by foot to the actual summit, remember to pack some rugged walking shoes. Also remember where you stashed your bike.
The Marlborough Express