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Dun - Rocks our Socks Off (if you can, Hackett)

04 August 2017

by Ollie Whalley

Tristan takes in the view from Dun Saddle

A serendipitous chain of events a weekend past meant I had the great fortune to ride my bike in a place I’ve never been before. The seed of the ride was planted on the previous weekend’s jaunt on Nelson’s classic Coppermine Loop. When we looked across to the Mt Richmond Forest Park from Windy Point, and wondered what exquisite trail lay on unseen faces. And so the idea of a Dun Saddle - Rocks Hut - Browning Hut - Hackett loop was born.

Anja showing supreme bike carrying form

Riding companions for the excursion were fellow revolutionaries Tristan and Anja. Their 'day' job involves chasing endangered bird life around remote mountains at all hours of the night. This meant they were well adapted for the rigours of long bike carries. I feared that this wasn't the case for my office adapted body which had grown pudgy after extensive mouse jockeying. In the past these adventures were a once a weekend kind of affair for me, but with family and work life taking precedence my feats of bike carry had become distant memoires.

While we were blessed with a sunny window in the wintry weather, this didn’t convert to actual celsius digits and I would have been surprised if temperatures made it above 5 degrees the entire day. Safe to say we were very happy to be bedecked in the finest layers that Ground Effect make for such conditions, from Baked Beanies to Embers.

Icy conditions on the tops

The curious result of the ice lined parcours was that sections of the trail which would normally be boggy from recent rain had frozen over. This made for an entertaining ride as our tyres scrabbled for traction on icy puddles, only to ferociously grip on the rough ultramafic rock that made up much of the route. It certainly made for entertaining riding and with relatively shallow gradients the consequences for an off track excursion were minor, albeit cold and damp.

The ride began with 2 hours of steady climbing to Coppermine Saddle, followed by a short but calf searing push to Dun Saddle. The ensuing sidle to Rocks Hut took about an hour, followed by 3 hours of mixed riding and carry to the high point above Totara Saddle. From here it was 45 minutes to Browning Hut, then an hour out to the Hackett carpark. We chose to ride back to Nelson on the road for a total riding time of 9 hours, but you could get a pickup from the Hackett if you have an allergy to asphalt, saving about two hours. Check the MTB Trails Trust for a detailed summary of the route.

Tristan shreds some ultramafic rock

Despite the ice in the open, the conditions in the beech forest were surprisingly grippy and I relished the challenge of trying to ride awkward pinches, twisting turns and drops, buoyed by the feats of my riding companions. In the hands of a skilled operator it is amazing what obstacles that modern soft low pressure rubber combined with long travel can surmount! The descent from the 1031 m high point to Browning Hut was a highlight. Steep and tight, the trail weaved through windfall trunks before opening up onto a pick-a-line ultramafic rock ridge.

Bikes at rest after the gnarly descent from the trail's high point

One benefit of our road ride home was that we could scout for road treasure, with Tristan scoring a sweet flexible solar panel for his next off-grid project. Rumours that he was testing a Santa Cruz Solar E-Bike (Suntower or the Solarboy?) could not be substantiated.

Tristan flaunts his road treasure

Road treasure aside, the trail from Dun Saddle to Browning was mountain biking in its very rawest form. The combination of roughly formed trails with big vistas and good mates meant I was definitely in my happy place. To find such an epic backcountry loop so close to home was fantastic, but not entirely surprising. While we are spoilt for my preferred gnarly trails close to Nelson, this adventure has certainly piqued my interest to explore more of the Nelson backcountry, preferably on a bike, or at least with a bike on my back.