Nelson Lakes, 5 passes D’Urville to St Arnaud

After finishing our Travers Sabine circuit we started planning our next visit to Nelson Lakes. There was talk of St Arnaud to Lewis Pass, after a few conversations and some map study that route seemed an under utilisation of the beautiful alpine country on offer. I plotted a route from D’Urville hut up the valley over Moss pass, over Waiau pass then heading east on to the St James range, along the ridge that includes Clarence pass, then south to Paske saddle, through to the Begley then over the high ridge at Cotterell peak, down to John Tait in the Travers, out to St Arnaud. It made a great looking loop.

I started searching for trip reports and couldn’t find anything for the middle section from Waiau to Paske, I reached out to the Nelson Lakes backcountry group and got some good intel but still no reports. I sort the advice of Danny G, he wisely suggested ridge travel in the area is tricky, best to stick to the passes.

Our flights were booked for early December, the snow had been melting fast which was good news for our high route but the weather was not looking flash. The day before our flight the water taxi phoned to say it wasn’t running due to high water levels, DOC staff were unable to travel up the Sabine due to flooding. Suddenly our trip was postponed. We headed north to Ruapehu and found good conditions for some mountain time and rescheduled our trip.

Rebooked for the end of January this time the forecast looked excellent. We flew early Friday and were getting eaten by sand flies at lake Rotoroa waiting for the water taxi to speed us up the lake. We shared the taxi with a nice couple from Nelson, Nigel and Michelle, they were also heading to Blue Lake up the main Sabine route.

Travel up the D’Urville was beautiful, Anthony led us up the river to avoid the track sidles, then used his deer hunting skills to follow tracks across the river flats. It was hot so being in the river was perfect.

We made good time up the valley and were at the bottom of Moss Pass within 4.5 hours. I had read a few reports about Moss since Danny G had recommended it as a detour to our Travers Sabine circuit last year, the climb is 1,100m and after our experience of the 800m West Sabine to Travers pass climb I expected the worst. The climb started steep with a bit of time on all fours, soon the slope eased and we were rewarded with superb mountain views that took your breath away. On the pass we saw the many different mosses that give the pass its name. From the top we had great views across the park, Cupola stood out high on the Travers range to the North.

We climbed down the steep shute and across the very slippery grass to our first views of Blue Lake, the afternoon sun was creating huge shadows in the valley.

There was a good group of Te Araroa hikers and a couple of others doing smaller trips, after a good explore around the lake and a wash down stream in the river we grabbed our mattress to sleep under the stars.

On Saturday we had the first of our off track sections, after Waiau pass we headed east up the eastern headwaters towards the northern part of the St James range, we had a bit of bush bashing to get above the scrub then the travel was nice right upto the last 100m of climb on to the ridge. The ridge was gnarly and the planned route looked questionable for the North heading ridge section, the lower east heading section looked good, exposed to the south but a path on top. Looking back we should have had an explore but it is always better to be safe in these areas. So we headed south on the ridge looking for a place to drop down into the Clarence via the scree slopes. We found a good route down and did a bit of scree surfing.

The headwaters of the Clarence are a wonderful backcountry area, I wonder how many folks travel in here? Down the river we found a steep gut heading upto to Paske saddle. This was the third and last of our big climbs of the day. It was nice to get to the top and eat another of my fabulous croissants filled with avocado and salami. We had been going for 9 hours so we were getting tired, we headed down to the river via the bush towards the east. We lost the cairns before the bluff section. After the hut the travel was easy to the Begley and up the pretty track on the true left. The sun was setting as we passed the valley heading up to Begley saddle, looks like more wild country to explore there. We arrived at the hut after dark, washed in the river and were greeted by Ben who had been baking fresh bread on the fire, warm bread was a nice treat with dinner.

We needed to get to St Arnaud by 5.45pm to make our flight so we set off early the next morning, the day was beautiful again, three days in a row. It was 26 degrees at 7.30am, straight into regular filling of the hat to cool down. Travel up the Begley was good, at the top of valley we turned left to follow the creek towards Cotterell peak. There is one 30m waterfall that has a good route up on the true left (the left hand side of the flow of the river, right hand side looking up towards Cotterell) to get around it.

Then the travel is easy on the alpine plain, the headwall at the top looked pretty intimidating but was much easier than it looked. The rock was very grippy. There is a cool luna looking spot on top of the headwall, we headed south to the low point on the ridge just north of Cotterell peak. The view from here was again one of the classics all the way down to the lake.

Some more scree surfing and a long bash down the ridge towards John Tait got us to the Travers for a much needed swim. It took 5 hours to get here and we had 25km to run out. We jogged, power walked and enjoyed the beautiful sections the valley has to offer, I had a swim every hour to keep cool, it was a fabulous way to spend the last hours of our adventure.

We had enough time for a swim, pizza and beer before heading back to Welly.

We covered 120km over the 3 days and traveled for 31 hours.

Day 1 30km to Blue Lake 7.40

Day 2 50km to Begley 14hours

Day 3 40km to St Arnaud 9.30

Thanks to the following for trip info

Nelson Lakes National Park Begley Saddle

Trip Report – Nelson Lakes 1 2012

Pass hopping to St Arnaud

Belvedere Pk

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1361399183905056/

https://www.instagram.com/tararua_mountain_running/

Les Molloy for maps intel and encouragement.

Route

SK Main Range 2019 report

Dear Swallow, on your commemorative weekend I finally completed a Main Range SK on my third attempt. A huge thank you for all your inspiration and guidance. It was four years ago that I first heard about SK from yours and others reports. I was captivated by the intense adventurous spirit. At the first SK talk night at the Cross I become more engrossed in the SK spirit. You generously provided your tips and encouragement to all of us regardless of our ability. I must admit I’m yet to find the second gear you described experiencing half way on your SK’s and BG, this might have something to do with our differing fitness levels 🙂 Watching you run on Tuesday nights or speed past at an event was a beautiful thing, you glide like a wild cat. You are a legend!

Dear Anna my beautiful wife, thank you for supporting me to do crazy adventures and get the time in the mountains I love. You drove to Ponds Road to collect me from my first failed SK attempt and looked after me while my ankle healed. You consoled me after my second failed SK attempt when I lost the mental game and gave up on the challenge. The painting of you with the Tararua Range in the background is one of my most special treasured gifts. I often reflect on how much I love you and our life together when I’m in the mountains and hope it makes me a better husband when I return. You put up with a lot so I can chase my passion of being above the bush line with the wind in my face and views for miles. Thank you

Dear Ruba, Rose and Lila our three amazing daughters,On the weekend we went on a great adventure in the Tararua range, we completed a route called the SK main range. Trampers started trying to complete the route over a weekend many years ago, some of our running group have completed it with no sleep and in under 24 hours.We had an incredible adventure, hiking through the night on the spine of the lower North Island. We could see Mt Ruapehu, Mt Taranaki, Kapiti Island, Wellington harbour and Lake Wairarapa. The sunset was beautiful, it looked like the goblin forest was on fire.

I love the time we get to spend together in the mountains. When you are not with me, I think about you and your future. I want you to be happy. For me happiness is living a full and inspiring life. Find the things that make your heart sing and do them. Push yourself to your limits, mentally and physically, your spirit won’t soar from playing safe and being comfortable. Doing the SK was one of the hardest and most rewarding adventures I have been on. I hope you get to experience something like it. Love Dad

To my fellow adventurers Marta, Anthony and Michael. Thank you for your company, support and adventurous spirits. We all enjoy the same drug of intense backcountry adventure. Without you guys, it would be a much less enjoyable experience. Classic quotes of the day were, Marta “once we get up Crawford we only have half a SMR and half a Southern crossing to go” and ” this part is new. Never been here before. It has to be an addition…” Michael “I think it is an advantage not knowing the route or ever being in the Tararua range before”. Looking forward to our next mission 🙂

Trip breakdown

Location Time Weather Fun Factor
Putara 8.30am Magic 8
Arete 2.30pm Magic 10
Andersen 8.30pm Magic 10
Maungahuka 12.30am Magic 5
Kime 4.45am Cold 1 micro nap time
Kime 7.45am Magic 8
Alpha 10.45am Magic 7
Kaitoke 4.30pm Magic 3 very tired, sore feet
Travel time 28:58

Gear

Salomon 20Lpack

Salomon boots, Gaiters

Waterproof jacket and over trousers

Alpine Series hooded Alpha jacket

Woolen hat and gloves, Long top and bottom polypros, Merino long top

2 600ml water bottles and 2L bladder

Walking poles

Sun hat, sun screen

Emergency bag, First aid kit, PLB

Head lamp with spare batteries

Cell phone with view ranger and route gpx loaded

Map and compass, GoPro

Food 30 scoops of tailwind, BackCountry smoothies 2,  Bars 10, Cheese mini brie 10, Chocolate mini bars 12

Video flyover of the route

Travers Sabine Circuit plus Blue Lake Nelson Lakes

20181125_172237I first visited Nelson Lakes in 2012, I was amazed by the beauty of the lakes and mountains. I knew I would be back but didn’t expect it to take so long.This circuit had been on my list for 3 years. After a Tararua mission in September I received some encouragement to arrange a trip.I referred to my trusty Classic Tramping book to kick off the planning. We booked flights to Blenheim for the Friday afternoon and planned to do the first leg to Angelus Hut on Friday evening. Hopefully we would get a starry clear night.The route we were taking was the same route Tim had run a coupe of summers ago with the addition of a side trip to Blue Lake (the clearest fresh water lake in the world). Tim had smashed this trip out in a day 14.5 hours!!!!! The tramping times said it was about 35 hours, I estimated we would take about 22 hours given we were travelling light and able to jog some sections.Friday night was the leg on Robert ridge to Angelus, Saturday dropping down to the Sabine valley, up to Blue Lake then back to and over Travers Saddle to the Upper Travers Hut. Sunday would be down the Travers valley and out to the Robert Ridge car park.I saw the legendary Danny G (the holder of many Tararua fastest know times) who recommended an alternative route for the Saturday of going up the D”Uvillie valley and over Moss pass to Blue lake. Danny has spent a lot of time in Nelson and knows his stuff. I shared the suggestion with Ant and Marta and went searching for more info. I found a recount with some epic photos of Moss pass. Wow the passes in this part of the world are huge and very steep! I quickly emailed the crew to say cancel the upsizing plan, Danny G is a legend and I’m not. Stick to the plan.The forecast was looking a little wet and a cold front early in the week was going to dump snow on the tops. We packed our micro spikes and walking poles to manage the white stuff.Squeezing ones gear for a two night trip into a 20 litre running pack requires some good packing and only taking the basics. We wanted hot food so needed the cooker. We got a snow update on the way to the airport from the DOC visitor centre, no need for micro spikes, that would lighten our loads. Friday night was clear and calm, Robert ridge deserves it’s reputation as a fine trail run, lots of great run able sections. We run out of light for the last half an hour and arrived at the hut under lights.Angelus Hut is world famous for it’s incredible location, we woke to a beautiful morning . The section running down to the Sabine was one of those pinch yourself moments, we live in an extra ordinary country!We meet a couple of dads at Sabine hut who had boated in with their kids for a weekend of water skiing. Cool spot to stay for a water ski weekend.We saw a few trampers and fisherman in the Sabine valley, the valley made for good travel, some nice run able bits. We dropped our overnight gear at West Sabine hut and headed up to Blue Lake. Not long into this bit I lost my footing and face planted into a bolder. My tooth puncher-ed my lip and there was lots of blood. After some expert first aid from Marta I was ready to keep heading to Blue Lake.Blue lake is spectacular and a must visit spot. I was getting tired by this point and after getting back to West Sabine we had the big climb of the day. 1100m most of it over 4km so 31%, this is steep! The pass was misty and cold and rough going on the Travers side, we got to the lovely, empty Upper Travers hut a bit before 8pm. Hanging out in these parts of the mountains is what makes these adventures for me. A huge day in the hills where you have feasted on the best nature has to offer followed by hot food, warm hut and comfy bed for the night!On Sunday we ran out down the Travers, the day got clearer and hotter as we descended the valley. There were lots of folks out running around Lake Rotoito. After a nice cold swim we cleaned up before a cold beer and burger. Good times.

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Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse

When you look at the map of the North Island there is a huge wilderness area East of the desert road all the way out to Hawkes Bay.

A few years ago I tramped a magic loop on the edge of this area up the Waipakihi river and back over Umukarikari.

The Big Sunday Run crew had done a few missions in the area and there was chatter about a trip in February. We circled a weekend in the calendar and started to plan.

I found a route in my Classic Tramping book, a gift from my father in law that inspired our Tararua SMR trip two years ago.

The classic Kaimanawa Kaweka traverse has a big block of private land in the middle of it. Thanks to the generosity of the land owners there are permits available when the hunting blocks are not being used. https://wilderlife.nz/2017/04/kaimanawa-ranges-access/

We found an account of a tramping group that had done the trip and started to map out our plan.

My father inlaw connected me with one of his tramping friends in Turangi to find out about possible transport options. Kevin was incredibly helpful, not only did he offer to provide transport, his son Robert had done the trip a few months earlier and was able to help with the trip planning.

After getting all the info we could, we made a plan.

We would set off from Kaimanawa Rd on Friday afternoon and if the weather was good we would bivi next to the Rangitikei river est time 7 hours. Saturday we would cover the rest of the Kaimanawas including the the island range, the high point Makorako, the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro and spend the night at one of the huts in the Kawekas, hopefully Te Puke to keep Sunday as manageable as possible est time 15 hours. Sunday out to the road end at Makahu Saddle est time 9 hours.

We had a group of 4 adventurers who were keen and available that weekend. Marta was keen for some more god zone training, Al is a true explorer and loves new country, Anthony was very excited about the route, one of his relatives had trekked it when they moved to a Hawkes Bay school back in the olden days. I was stoked to be doing a big adventure in new country.

The weather thumbnails were looking promising as we did our final packing, cyclone gita was going to hold off until we finished. This was my first two night fast pack trip and getting our gear and food right was going to be helpful for a successful trip.

I found a freeze dried back country adventure food pack and added my normal muesli bars, chocolate bars, 10 Kransky sausages and lots of tailwind for my drink bottles.

We meet Kevin at the Kaimanawa Rd turn off and set off up the Umukarikari range. There were two school vans at the car park.

It was a beautiful afternoon to be on the volcanic alpine tops of the umukarikari range. We had views for miles. I caught my first view of the steep rocky cone shaped Makorako, the high point in the Kaimanawas that would dominate the horizon for the whole trip. The school group were at Waipakihi hut, they had traveled from the far north that morning and were enjoying the last of the sun from the deck.

The climb to junction top 1600m was one of the most awe inspiring outdoor experiences I have had. The sun was setting behind Ruapehu as we climbed the lovely alpine ridge, the vastness of the area was starting to make its presence felt. Standing on the top we looked down into the steep Rangitikei valley, it was dark and ominous, the lights of Taupo were our last glimpse of civilisation for two days.


This is the start of the private land we had a permit for and the end of the marked track. We had a gpx provided by Robert but he hadn’t followed this route due to hunting activities that meant his permit required he cross the Rangitikei further south. We dropped down into the valley under headlamps trying to follow the gpx path. It was rough and lots of scrub meant we were bush bashing quickly. Soon we were stuck in a creek and bluffed out by a 10m waterfall. We got on our hands and knees and crawled through the scrub until we finally got back onto the spur which meant we could stand up. Marta announced rule no1 for the trip, if we have to crawl we turn back and find a better path.

Bush bashing in the dark.

We continued to bush bash down to the Rangitikei it was hard slow progress and finally we got to the river. We could see a little island up the river that looked promising for bivi spots. We found a nice spot to sleep and boiled some water for a late dinner. Sitting there in the middle of nowhere after a tough few hours brought on the magnitude of the adventure we were on. Halfway into tomorrow (Saturday) we would be about as far away from civilisation as you can get in the North Island.

We didn’t get much sleep, it was cold and we were travelling light. My experiment of not bringing a sleeping bag was a failure. My Bivi bag was fine for a hut but not for being outside at 1,000m. I setup my camera in the night to capture the stars, when I got the camera from the river bank it had been moved by some animal and was sitting upright no longer facing the stars. I hope I got the shot!

We set off with the fear of more bush bashing, the river was beautiful, so clear and blue ducks playing in a magic looking swimming hole. No time for swimming yet. We wandered down the river hoping to pick up the sign of a route where the gpx left the river. All of a sudden Al appeared at the creek we had come down last night. Al had been delayed leaving town and was planning to sleep on the tops and catch us at some point this morning. It was great to see him arrive safe. We found a cairn and to our surprise a good route out of the valley on to the island range. Today we would cover the moist alpine island range, the range with Makorako the high point in the Kaimanawas that dominates the horizon, the sub alpine scrub areas of Mangamaire, In the heart of the area we have the river valleys of the Mangamingi and Ngaruroro. We would finish the day entering the Kawekas in the beautiful beach forest with moss edged trails and tussock covered valleys.

Anthony spotted a red deer looking at us from the next ridge, the tops section were spectacular, easier climbing than our Tararuas and nice wide runnable ridges. We got caught in a rough patch of scrub heading down to the Mangamaire, I had to put my over trousers on to stop the leg pain from the sharp scrub. I had a nice dip in the river before we headed up the next hill. Anthony stepped on a wasps nest that lead to a furry of Italian swear words and some sprinting to get away. A few stings later we settled into our afternoon rhythm of crossing rivers. It was about this time I realised I had been wearing my tee shirt back to front and inside out, the brain was clearly working slowly this morning!. I got to try one of my new smoothie packets, that was a real winner, note to self always pack those.

We reached the lovely Tussock hut at 6pm and pushed onto Harkness, Robert had warned me about how slow this section was, river cross after river crossing in thigh to waist deep water on slippery rocks was tough work. It was great to find Harkness was nearly as nice as Tussock hut. We ate and crashed it had been a big day.

It looked like we had 24kms to cover on the last day and were getting picked up at 3pm. It ended up being 31km lucky we left at 7am, thanks Al. My timing estimates are often optimistic which can be problematic.

The tops sections in the western Kawekas are a nice mix of greywacke and alpine scrub.

Finally the barren loose rock of the Kawekas range that looks like another planet. In between are the beautiful beach forest trails lined with pretty moss verges.

The only people we saw from Waipakihi hut to the end were a Dad and his sons who had helicoptered in to do some hunting. We ran lots of the ridges and had our breath taken away by the views.

There is a special feeling that comes from an adventure like this, a mountain adrenaline that makes you feel fantastic.

Huge thanks to Kevin and Robert for their help and to my fellow adventurers.

The trip took us 28 hours hiking time including the odd quick water stop. We started Friday afternoon and finished Sunday afternoon.

Gpx

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nUDXya0IUo3khNzO0mfcsgEDao7N0ayv/view?usp=drivesdk

Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets!

Fresh crayfish, ocean swims and unbelievable sunsets! It’s not what I expected from my first multi day adventure event.

I have been on an adventure journey for the past ten years, it started with the Tararua Mountain Race, that got me into the Tararua’s for the first time since a school tramping trip. During the course of my journey I have meet an extraordinary group of adventurers. Every week someone is out exploring our hills and sharing inspiring photo’s and tales.

Last year I heard about the A100 event, I saw a photo of 9 folks leaving Eastbourne on a Friday morning, I felt like I was missing out on something.

My run group mates are often doing ultra events up and down the country, I hear about the Kepler, the Goat, Taupo ultra, Northburn, the Shotover marathon. A couple of the group have competed in some of the famous overseas events and spoken about them at the pub after a run.

I haven’t done a lot of events. I prefer to do big missions. The A100 had a big mission feel to it.

Leading into the A100 a few friends were signing up and then I saw a post promoting the last of the 30 spots for the event. I jumped off a cliff and signed up. I had never done a multi day event before and had never covered 100km’s in three days. Signing up gave me that scary nervous feeling you get when you have bitten off more than you can chew.

Once signed up I was on the journey, my friend Marta had a plan to add even more adventure to the three days. She was going to mountain bike the sections between the runs. I thought this sounded like an amazing idea! I was in. It was as easy as upsizing my order at McD’s.

As the weeks went on I started to worry that my upsizing was going to end with me in a pile of pain, in the dark requiring rescuing. I pulled up google maps and did the calculations, the biking legs were 300km’s! After that reality check we needed a different plan. Maybe we could bike to the train station on the last day and take 80km’s off the ride.

An event is fantastic for getting you out training, I found a new hill section to hike/jog reps on. It was brutal, 15mins of hard climb, 7mins straight down and another 15mins straight up. I got a two day Tararua mission under my belt and some magic mountain time on a trip to Hanmer. I settled into 10 days of rest before the start at Eastbourne. To my relief Marta had to pull out from the bike plan. So I just had to find a way to finish 100km’s with 5,000 metres of climb to win a new pair of undies.

The few days leading up to an adventure are filled with excitement and nervous anticipation. There is gear to pack, supplies to buy and stuff to organise. A three day adventure with my plan to camp had a big gear list. Need sun screen, it is always sunny in the Wairarapa, need two sleeping mats, (hope I can sleep ok after day 1 and 2, my legs will be sore) need lots of food, big breakfast’s, lots of dinner and snacks to replace the energy burnt. Thursday night I was ready to go, alarm set for 5am, cab ordered to get me to the railway station.

The next three days were a wonderful mix of running wild coastline, river valleys, hill top trails and hiking steep undulations this area has in abundance. At the end of the running and hiking we were greeted with screams of support, cold beer, busy bbq and the very important massage tent. We spent hours hanging out chatting about our adventures, eating and hydrating. A few of us found the cold ocean and stream pools to relieve the legs. The volunteers were amazing, we had great burgers and crayfish on day one and excellent sausages complete with table service for those of us too lazy to walk the 10 meters to get another sausage. Thanks guys!

Day one is the great journey from Eastbourne to Lake Ferry via the 545m Mt Matthews saddle. We are so spoilt in Wellington to have this on our doorstep. The Orgongorgono valley is a special place where we have enjoyed lots of family tramping trips. This was my first time entering the valley from the coast. The sandblasting we got for the first 10 kms was a good test. It was lovely to get the saddle climb for some hiking after 35kms of hard running. The wind was howling on the top nearly blowing us over. Once over the saddle we made our way down the Mukamuka valley, boulder hopping at the top and smoothing out as you get to the bottom. Then the final 7kms on the four wheel drive track along the coast.

Day two is the classic Undulator course through five valleys and four undulations among the mountains of the Aorangi Forest Park. This is a very rough route with challenging river valleys and super steep climbs. The last two undulations are soul destroying climbs of over 500m with bits that require pulling yourself up and stopping yourself on the way down with anything you can grab onto. We were protected from the wind in the valleys on a beautiful day, each river crossing provided a chance to fill water bottles and wipe the sweat from your face. We check in at each of the three huts we pass, Kawakawa Hut, Pararaki hut and Washpool hut. At the end we wind down the pinnacles track to the campground to be greeted with cheers, cold beer and hot food and the very important massage tent where Pablo is working his magic to get everyone moving.

Day three is an excellent four wheel drive track from the finish of day 2 north east on the Haurangi crossing to Sutherland hut and out to Waikuku Lodge. I was told to bring my hiking poles for this leg and they were fantastic. My legs were in some serious pain after the previous two days. We arrived at Waikuku lodge to cold beer, hot sausages and streaming sunshine. We all bathed in our glory of completing our three days and winning our undies that proclaim we kept going for three days.

The race for line honors was a humdinger with Simon Willis and Andrew Thompson going toe to toe. Simon grabbed a 8min grap on day one with Andrew getting 6 of those mins back on day two. It all came down to the last day, Andrew needed to win by more than 2mins to win. At the last marshall Simon was 3mins behind and managed to close the gap to 2mins for a dead heat after 12 hours and 27 mins. This result sums up the vibe of the event, adventurous spirits enjoying the magic country.

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.

2min video

Full 7 min video

Capture1

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.

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