Four months of lead up and planning came unwound with a notification from my Air NZ app. Your flight to Nelson has been cancelled please contact the help desk to rebook.
After the Tararua Mountain Race last year I joined the Ridge Runners facebook group. I saw the odd post but a post about a West Coast running trip caught my attention. After reading the details I was pretty excited about the routes planned, The Old Ghost Road, Moonlight Croesus and the challenge of running four days back to back. I hadn’t even done two days back to back yet and overnighting on the trail added to the attraction.
I invited a couple of mates to join me but there was silence, so I signed up and booked my flights. Over the next few months I meet one of the guys going so at least I knew someone!
I went to the Wellington launch of the The Old Ghost Road book Spirit to the Stone and got my autographed copy. Reading it, I got some appreciation of the awesome ness of the trail.
4 min video
Of the group of 19 I was the only person on that flight, most had flown earlier and the balance were on the later flight. The wind was howling as it does from time to time in Welly. The help desk could get me on a flight the next day but I would be too late to join the main group I would have to join the crew doing the 85km Old Ghost Road in one day!
I was getting picked up by Colin and meeting Bill and Billie at the airport none of whom I had meet before so I was on the lookout for mountain running folk, athletic, outdoor looking with very small back packs. We headed to Murchison for dinner and rest. As it turned out Colin was injured and was happy to join me doing a two day mission. Bill, Billie and Tim were going to need an early start to cover the trail in the day.
We started right on 6am with our headlamps, we had light drizzle but were dry in the bush. Billie lead the pace up the beautifully graded trail. Mountain bike trails are my favourite uphill trails. After a few recent Tararua trips I was really looking forward to be able to run most of the way. We hit Lyall Saddle not long after 8am and I was feeling good. My fast pack was feeling ok, I had worked on getting it as light as possible with a lite sleeping bag and freeze dried meals for dinner (chicken curry) and breakfast (muesli and yogurt) which were yummy. Colin was carrying a tiny stove and ¼ filled gas can, enough for 4 brews so we would need the hut fire to cook dinner.
It was clouded in for the first of the tops sections between Lyell and Ghost Lake which looks incredible on a good day, as we passed the Lake the sky cleared and we got amazing views out East towards Murchison and could see the trail winding across the Skyline ridge. I managed to stay in touch with the one day crew until 34kms where a little bit of uphill broke my jog to a walk. Colin and I were meeting at Goat Creek 22kms away so it was going to be a solo adventure from this point on. The trail is excellent, I can see why it took 9 years to build, it winds through some very wild terrain and has been built to a high standard to handle lots of bikes and lots of rain.
Running over the tops section was magic, the trail snaking it’s way into the distance helped keep the motivation high. As I slipped down the Skyline steps into the bush the legs started to get sore. The waterfalls and the bush are some of the best I have seen. I could see the beauty Marion Boatwright and his team wanted to share with others. I loved the trail signage, Johnny Cake Creek was the highlight, I’m looking forward to the story about that one.
I got to Stern Valley at 11.40 and had 13kms to get to Goat Creek hut, I hadn’t seen a soul for a couple of hours and I didn’t see anyone until Colin arrived at Goat Creek at 3pm. His smiling face and chat was a welcome sight after a long last slog over the bone yards and a cold Creek crossing. I had just managed to get the fire started after my fourth attempt. Note to self you need heaps of dry fern when the fireplace is wet.
The Hut was built in 1957 and the only the floor had been replaced. It is a classic 4 bunker, with our very own hut Weka who popped into to say hello a few times. The hut is very different from the flash new huts. After finishing the trail I’m looking forward to going back and staying at Lyell, Ghost Lake and Specimen, these are stunning locations.
We boiled some water over the fire and the smoke kept the sand flies away so we could keep the door open, this was the only real light source as the windows are tiny. We had fun night chatting about adventures and learning mountain racing tactics. It’s not everyday you get to hang out with a mountain racing legend.
I was pleasantly surprised the next morning my legs felt good and we got to Specimen Point quickly. The gouge was a real highlight for me, the waterfalls, sheer cliffs, bridges and views down the river are fantastic. Lucky this wasn’t turned into a hydro lake. We reached the end of the trail at lunch time and were warmly greeted at the Rough and Tumble lodge with cold beer and chips.
The Old Ghost Road is a magic piece of trail, I’m looking forward to returning on my bike. If you haven’t visited it yet, book your trip and enjoy.
The next day we went for a jog on Charming Creek