Tararua Main Range SK Attempt

After our SMR in April Anthony and I planned to make an attempt on the famed SK route. Dave gave us some compass and gps training, Chris gave us a timing schedule and I got lots of help on the food to take. In December it all came together. The perfect weather window was lining up for December 17th.  We dropped a car at Kaitoke and got a cab to take us to the train at Maymorn. From Masterton we got a cab to Putara and borrowed Tom’s car from the road end to get to and from Putara base camp.

There were 5 groups planning missions from Putara on that day, Marta dropped in at 2.45am to tell us they had turned around from the tops due to the rain and wind, Al, Dave, Paul and Tom were hunkered down in Herepai Hut waiting for it to clear. We got started just after 3am and hit the tops as the sun was starting to raise. It was spectacular climbing up under lights seeing the group in front high on the slopes above it reminded by of scenes from climbing movies. This was the adventure I had been dreaming of. As we hit the tops Danny and Sam sped past on their way to setting the speed record. Once the sun rose and the wind died it got beautiful and hot, it was so clear we could see Hector from the top of Dundas and all the main range in between.

Coming down towards Drac Biv, 7 hours into our 24 hour mission I slipped and rolled badly on my ankle, my SK day was over. I could still walk carefully on it but couldn’t move quickly. I turned around and walked 9 hours out to Poads Road where I was kindly picked up by Anna.

Anthony and Carlos continued on the epic SK route and Anthony completed the full route in one continuous push. An amazing achievement. Carlos headed out at Otaki from Kime with an injured ankle. We are planning the next attempt:)

A Year in the Mountains 2016

Over a year ago I started reading these amazing stories about people traversing the length of the Tararua’s in a single day. The stories were filled with adventure, challenge and inspiring country. After completing our Great Walk challenge I was looking for the next challenge and something closer to home with less nights away from the family was appealing. I connected with Chris Martin from the Wellington Sunday Big Run crew and started showing up for the Tuesday night runs from the Southern Cross.  I got to meet all the epic adventurers I had been reading about. Chris, Dave, Tim, Al, Lou, Marta and Chris who is the chief organiser.

During the year I got to hear more stories and plans about awesome adventures. I set about taking on some of the missions.

In January Dan and I headed up to Mitre Peak.

In March Anthony and I headed up to do the Broken Axe Pinnacles and Plane Wreck

Late March on a trip to Christchurch I ran Goat Pass (the Coast to Coast run route)

In April four of us did the Tararua Southern Main Range

In May I went on the Ridge Runners trip to the Old Ghost Road

In June Anthony and ran round Mount Taranaki

In August Marta and I attempted a snowy Southern Crossing and Anthony, Mark, Marta and I did a night snowy mission to Hector and back.

In October Anthony, Hugh and I did a Dundas loop

After our SMR in April Anthony and I planned to make an attempt on the famed SK route. Dave gave us some compass and gps training, Chris gave us a timing schedule and I got lots of help on the food to take. In December it all came together. The perfect weather window was lining up for December 17th.  We dropped a car at Kaitoke and got a cab to take us to the train at Maymorn. From Masterton we got a cab to Putara and borrowed Tom’s car from the road end to get to and from Putara base camp.

There were 5 groups planning missions from Putara on that day, Marta dropped in at 2.45am to tell us they had turned around from the tops due to the rain and wind, Al, Dave, Paul and Tom were hunkered down in Herepai Hut waiting for it to clear. We got started just after 3am and hit the tops as the sun was starting to raise. It was spectacular climbing up under lights seeing the group in front high on the slopes above it reminded by of scenes from climbing movies. This was the adventure I had been dreaming of. As we hit the tops Danny and Sam sped past on their way to setting the speed record. Once the sun rose and the wind died it got beautiful and hot, it was so clear we could see Hector from the top of Dundas and all the main range in between.

Coming down towards Drac Biv, 7 hours into our 24 hour mission I slipped and rolled badly on my ankle, my SK day was over. I could still walk carefully on it but couldn’t move quickly. I turned around and walked 9 hours out to Poads Road where I was kindly picked up by Anna.

Anthony and Carlos continued on the epic SK route and Anthony completed the full route in one continuous push. An amazing achievement. Carlos headed out at Otaki from Kime with an injured ankle. We are planning the next attempt:)

Dundas Loop

October 16 2016

In preparation of our SK challenge I wanted to explore the Northern section of the route from Putara to Dundas. In the planning the route we had two options.  One was the Dundas loop the other was a Banister loop.

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The day was looking mint, as we drove to Putara we could see a good dump of snow on Holdsworth, I was thinking I should have packed my snow running spikes.

As we got to the tops it was windy, cold and cloudy, we got to the Dundas hut turn off and decided that was far enough. Once we got off the ridge it was beautiful and sunny. But the track was another story. The route from the river below Dundas to the Ruamahanga was horrible, I will take the river next time. The the climb from the Ruamahanga to Cattle Ridge was the steepest I have been on, lots of it was 40 degrees. Here are a few clips.

Snowy Southern Crossing Attempt

In the last week of July a good cold snap hit the country bringing snow to the Wellington hills. On the Sunday we ran in the Mukamuka Munter in the snow.

Later in the week the weather cleared for a shot at doing a snowy Southern Crossing. Marta and I set out from Otaki, Tim and Ash from Waiohine.

We hit the snow well before Field, once we got above the bushline the snow was dry, light and upto knee deep in spots. We followed footprints to Kime which made it easier. We were expecting to get an update from Tim once he hit the snow at Cone.

We meet the couple who had provided the footprints at Kime. They had stayed the night and were heading back down.

No footprints to follow from here, just lots and lots of the white stuff. Soon we were breaking through the crust up to our knees and later on to our thighs. It was tough going heading up to Hector, my gloves were wet and hands were going cold, my gators broke and I was leaving a trail of blood from my knees. Fun times!

Tim and Ash had turned around due to waist deep snow. I used my spare socks as mittens and put on my overtrousers to get back to Kime. The old ski field was the perfect slope for a belly slide down the hill.

I learnt some Italian swear words when the ice drifts crashed off the roof of Kime with a hell of a noise. There were a handful of people enjoying the snow and sun as we cruised back to the forks. The adventure was perfectly finished with a quick dip in the river, Tim’s chippies and cold beer!

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Mud Snowboards and Crampons, Mt Taranaki round the mountain

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I hadn’t  been to Egmont National Park for 30 years. I can still remember the dramatic landscapes and the steep rough terrain.

Planning this trip I was inspired by the Sunday Big run crew who ran it last year and after reading about Symes hut in Wildernesses magazine I thought this would make a great combo.  Overnighting in a mountain Hut before going round the mountain.

One of the things we miss out on with fast trips in these magical area’s is the Hut experience. After my first fast pack trip on the Old Ghost Road I’m keen to add Hut stays to these adventures.

In typical fashion the plan expanded to climbing to the summit and then Snowboarding down. As I shared these plans with those in the know it was becoming clear I had super sized the plan.

After talking to the experts at Bivouac they said I would need crampons and an axe to get to Symes hut safely so I rented some gear. I was also told about a recent death on the mountain. Someone had slipped and fallen for 500m. This gave me a few nightmares.

I found out Symes hut had no heating and saw a bunch of photos of it covered in ice. It was looking like a wild winter experience.

Talking to the team at the DOC visitor centre to check conditions, they recommended only experienced climbers head up to Symes hut and beyond. They also recommend carrying crampons and axes for the round the mountain track. Bassel told me how to get a key for Kapuni lodge which sits below Symes hut at 1400m and has heating. This looked like the best option. Flag Symes, the Summit and Snowboarding, stay at Kapuni and go round the mountain.

We picked up the key and got to Dawson Falls just as it was getting dark, it was less than an hour with torches to the Hut.  Wow this was no normal Hut, even flasher than a great walk Hut. Anthony cooked a fine steak and we sat as close to the fire as possible, it was cold at 1400m thank goodness we weren’t at 1900m with no heating!

The cloud cleared and we got great views of the mountain towering above us, wow it was seriously steep.

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The next morning was beautiful, we watched the sunrise over Ruapehu as we ate breakfast, baked beans, sausages and weetbix. We hit the track just after 7 and headed south round the mountain. It was amazing, the pink light in the cloud that sat at 1000m below us and the mountain above was breathtaking.

There was a small amount of snow and ice around but it didn’t slow us down. Soon we got to the gorges and the cliffs. Wild Country that makes these trips. Then we had the big climb / slide down the muddy ridge to the gorge. This is when I got the first scare about how hard and long the trip was going to be, in an hour and a half we had covered 7.5 km! The western side was bog after bog, it was a full on obstacle course complete with steel ladders to climb out of the streams.

We finally got to Bells falls and out of the cloud and rain. We saw the mountain again as we got back above the bushline, the magic country.

Wow this is a big circuit that just keeps going.  Lots of steps and good tracks on this side. We saw a few people out enjoying the sunny clear conditions. The last section from the summit track to the ski field had quite a bit of snow but it was soft and easy to run on.

After getting to Dawson Falls we had the last climb back to Kapuni lodge to get our packs and tramp out with our torches.

It was a tough magic day with all the adventure we could hope for perfectly ending with cold beer and roast lamb at the Edmonds in Wanganui.  Thanks Diana and Peter.

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The Old Ghost Road

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.

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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

The Tararua Peaks Southern Main Range (SMR)

The reason we pack survival blankets

It was 1am Sunday morning, we had arrived at Parawai Hut Otaki Forks after 19 hours of hiking, a bit of running and the normal Tararua scramble on steep rough country.

How did it come to this, an unplanned few hours rest before the last slog over the emergency track due to the Otaki Forks road slip.

We planned the dates for our trip in January. I had read about this route in one of the Tramping books my father in law Les had given me after I did the Tararua Mountain Race with my brother in law. Les loves the Tararuas and is keen to share this with others. He is always interested to see the photos and video footage we take to re live journeys he has made many times.smr

After doing some digging I found the Tararua Peaks route on Map My Run. It showed stats of 14 hours 45 kms and said tough country very little running possible. I was given a video link from a group who ran the route a few years ago in typical murky windy conditions, the video was named Tararua Peaks Apocalypse, they rated the trip super tough and gave a 3% chance of repeating the trip.

We had a core group of 3 booked in and 3 more accepted invites to join us. The first challenge was the slip on the road, after looking at some photos we decided we should be able to ride our mountain bikes over the slip.

After looking at all the information we could find we estimated the route would take us 14 hours from Otaki Forks. The thought of adding 3 hours to include the emergency track was not very attractive!

Our 14 hours came from the map showing tramping time of 26 hours, I compared this to the Southern Crossing 16 hours which we have covered in 7 hours racing and 9 hours not racing. The record is 9 hours and some fast folk had done 12 hours, the slowest times I had found were 14 hours. So it seemed fair. This proved to be one of many fails on this adventure.

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The forecast was looking good, a little cloud, warm, freezing level 3,000m and winds increasing during the day to 35km. I love the feeling of excitement the day leading up to a big adventure, the anticipation of the challenge, the awe inspiring country that exists above the bush line. The preparation is well driĺled, the food and gear required (including survival blanket) is packed and ready to go. Including a new pair of trail shoes! Another big fail.

We arrived at the slip road block about 6am, the sky was clear and still. We  jumped on our bikes and rode to the slip. Wow it looked very different from the photos, no way to pass. We back tracked to the emergency track and tried to bike up the hill. We got 50m up the hill and ditched the bikes.

We hit Otaki Forks an hour and a half behind our schedule and decided to change the route direction as 2 of the team wanted a turnaround option from the tops. Within a few kms my new shoes were rubbing my heals and starting to blister. Huge mistake, my tried and true shoes that have done many trouble free missions were in the car back over the hill.

From Bridge Peak we could see the whole Range stretching North for miles and miles. It is a beautiful sight. We moved fast over Boyd Wilson, Vosseler and Yeates. I wanted to get to the famous ladder and Maungahuka Hut. This was our last turn around spot. The wind was starting to blow but the sky was clear making it spectacular. This ridge is the best I have been on. Wonderful views and terrain. I feel like I’m on top of the world in this country. We could see Ruapehu, Kapiti and the Wairarapa with all the big Tararua country in between.

The section with the ladder, ropes and chains in between the Peaks Tuiti and Tunui is amazing. I would love to see it in snow! Maungahuka Hut is a lovely spot. I’m looking forward to staying the night next time.

It was 1pm, we had been on our feet for 7 hours and we were still less than halfway. The call was made to continue on, we had the gear we needed including head lamps to manage traveling in the dark.

Far in the distance we could see Junction Knob, I was sure what I could see was part of the Northern Range but I was wrong. We did well over this country but it was taking its toll. The continual climb after climb was sucking energy. The wind was increasing and it was cold when we were exposed. The goblin forest before Anderson Hut was a lovely quiet and warm break from the exposed tops.

There were 4 hunters at the hut, they had helicoptered in earlier and were preparing for dinner. Their discarded sausage on the ground looked appetising. We sent texts to our loved ones letting them know we were going to be late and may have to spend the night.

It was 4pm and we had 11 hours of tramping ground to cover. Could we get out tonight? It was going to be dark soon. Our head lamps went on not long after getting below the bushline. It was slow going, we were tired and the steep descent was hard work. We finally got to Waitawaewae and decided to sleep for 30mins. It was cold in the hut but we got a power nap and felt better. One of the team was sick as we got ready to leave. He was not flash but wanted to continue on.

Again it was slow going the track was rough as it always is in the Tararuas. I hoped this might have some nice sections in it as it is part of the Te Aroaha trail. The new section of track to sidle around the slip was very slow under lights and tired legs. We saw 2 tents and dead but still warm deer on the track. Hopefully the hunters found him the next day. As we walked like zombies over this section we decided we needed to rest at the forks before doing the last grunt over the hill the next morning. There were four spare mattresses at the hut with just a couple sleeping down the bottom. I’m so sorry we were so noisy, emergency bags and blankets are impossible to be quiet in.

We put on every piece of clothing we had and used our blankets to keep warm for a few hours rest.

In the morning we left early to grunt back over the emergency track 26 hours after we started.

This was an epic adventure, full of amazing views and spectacular country, physical challenge and pushing our boundaries. Cheers to Andrew, Anthony, Phil,Serge and Carlos for the comradery. Until next time.

 

Goat Pass (Coast to Coast Run Course)

At a TimeZoneOne event in our new Colombo St office I met one of our amazing clients Matthew Mark from Ronald McDonald House.

In chatting with Matthew I found out he was a keen outdoors man. After we chatted about a few past missions Matthew kindly offered to take me on the Goat Pass trail next time I was in town. (At this stage I didn’t know Matthew had placed 7th in the Coast to Coast, that is legend status!) In fact I didn’t find that out until we were an hour into the run.

I called Matthew before my next trip and he kindly made arrangements to pick me up at 5am and his daughter drove the car between the start and end points.

It was meant to start raining at 7am and was touch and go if the rivers would be too high but the rain held off and we got a magic day in beautiful country. We even got a see a Whoi (Blue Duck).

Thanks, I look forward to returning the favour in our hills!

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