This website collects the Fastest Known Times (FKTs) for the numerous routes available within the Tararua Ranges. Note times listed in routes are for running/fastpacking not tramping.
S-K Main Range Sub 24 Hour Club Launched
With 15 people now completing the Putara – Kaitoke route via the Main Range in under 24 hours we thought it time to formally recognise such endeavour with the formal launch of the SK Main Range sub 24 hour Club. The objectives of this club are as follows:
- Build on tramping club history
- Ratify Colin Rolfe as the first person to run SK in sub 24 hours.
- Formalise the 24 hour target for Putara to Kaitoke via Main Range
- Promote safe long distance traverses of the range and assist potential assailants by providing information, support and encouragement
- Keep member list current and up to date
- Acknowledge sub 24 hour successes
- Recognise sub 24hr attainment with certification
Colin Rolfe, the first member back in 1995, was conducive to the idea so an SK night was organised for (appropriately), the 24th (May 2016). Colin made the effort to fly up from the South Island and headed a line-up of talks from some of those 11, all sharing their uniquely personal experiences to a packed Southern Cross back room of appreciative punters from the tramping and running community.
The evening ended with Colin presenting the newly made members’ certificate to nine of the eleven present who have managed to attain Kaitoke before the watch clicks over the 24.
Next certification evening 24th April 2018. Two certificates are being handed out. Could you be number 16? Happy safe ridge running.
Here is the video footage of the evening with presentations by members of the club.
Where are the Tararuas?
Note: The above map is a fantastic 3d representation of the park with tracks. Geographix (office in the Botanical Gardens) make them for you for $20! A great aid for visualising your adventures...
The Tararua Range-two running routes and the ‘holy grail’.
The Tararuas offer many a loop, day walk, crossing or multi-day trek in glorious terrain ranging from easy going bush clad valley floors to calf burning climbs towards exposed undulating ridge tops. Since time immemorial mountains have attracted people to them and it is only natural that the testing nature of these wild places leads some to challenge themselves within this environment. With a multitude of trails, marked and unmarked tracks, river travel and huts, like many a New Zealand mountain range the Tararuas have a challenge to the degree you desire. Lots more useful information about routes within the park is available here, courtesy of the Tararua Tramping Club’s excellent publication, Tararua footprints:
It is the intention of this piece to offer some background and perhaps history to aspects of the range and some particular routes within it, notably the S-K, or Schormann’s – Kaitoke, a route considered by many to be one of the most challenging in the park. I am no expert, nor historian and many out there will be better equipped and more experienced than I to comment on such matters, but the Tararuas have enticed me in, fostered my intrigue, stimulated my ambition, satisfied some desire for adventure, bullied me into submission and pushed me towards my limits. Overall though they have been a place of enjoyment, challenge and camaraderie, of experiences shared and a place where I’ve enhanced my appreciation of our wild surroundings.
The Three Versions of the S-K
Having explored other areas of the park while ‘training’ I began to hear whisperings of a long Tararua route, the S-K. I tracked down this publication in Wellington library:
And then spent a pleasant afternoon reading accounts from way back, written by enthusiasts who had tested themselves along the range.
This edition has recently (2014) been re-published with some editing and additions and more information can be found here:
These publications will give you much more insight and information about the routes and history of the S-K than I am about to. Whether you are planning an attempt, wondering whether you could or simply intrigued and want to know more, go dig out a copy and learn some more. Before I gave the route a go, the Cuthbertson and Jagger 1997 edition became a much referred to source for inspiration and advice.
The prospect of completing a north – south traverse of the Tararua range seemed to have been conceptualised way back, but like many of these ideas it was not given a solid attempt immediately. The challenge from the off seemed to be the unwritten notion that an S-K assailant should aim to leave work on a Friday night and be back in on a Monday morning having done the route in-between times. The first to record such a feat is thought to be Bruce Jefferies and Dave Capper in 1963.
There are many ways one could get from the Putara Road end (where the route begins) to Kaitoke, but three main routes are considered by most.
First option for an S-K. THE VALLEYS S-K
The first, by the valleys, travelling the rivers via the Waingawa, the Waiohine and finally the Tauherenikau.
Second option for an S-K. TARN S-K
The second, via Tarn Ridge and finishing down the Tauherenikau.
An article on S-K and Graham Dingle Tarn Ridge SK was in Wellingtonian recently
Third option for an S-K.
The ‘holy grail’…The Main Range S-K
The third, via the Main Range, traversing the western range from the Dundas Ridge, down the Southern Main Range finishing with the Southern Crossing. It is this third route that is considered to be the most challenging due to it’s length, total vertical climb and general exposure to the elements. It is this route that I am most familiar with and refer to now.
Map of the Route here….
GPX of route
Break down and info on route here…
With weekend S-Ks being completed fairly regularly by fit trampers, human nature grabbed a few ambitious souls by their laces and encouraged a no sleep approach with a view to knocking off the Main Range S-K sub 24hours. Roger Coventry in 1975 seemed to be the first to give this method a good go arriving at Kaitoke 28 hours after leaving Putara, commenting in his write up afterwards, ‘that the prospect of a 24 hour SK is not such a dream after all’. Gary Goldsworthy in 1988 gave the route another fast pair of feet to contend with and came tantalisingly close to breaking 24 hours, arriving at Kaitoke 25 ½ hours after leaving Putara. Rob Camden in 1995 knocked off a Main Range S-K in one hit, taking 31 hours to reach Kaitoke from Putara Road. These three meritorious performances were all undertaken solo and unsupported.
Later in 1995 a man familiar with the Tararuas mustered some support groups, had a big breakfast and set off down the main range from Putara Road. Colin Rolfe arrived at Kaitoke 22 hours 59 minutes after leaving Putara Rd, with many an unforeseen hurdle on route to contend with.
The 24 hour barrier had been broken, giving credence to Roger Coventry’s postulation from 25 years earlier that such a feat was indeed possible.
It took 18 years for Colin’s record to be beaten and once again the range tested the assailants; I know much about this day as it was my good friend Laurence Pidcock and I that arrived at Kaitoke 22 hours 12 minutes after leaving Putara Road.
Our accounts are hosted on this site should you wish to read them, so I will not dwell here with details, except one. We tackled this test in a supported and paired fashion, meaning we had the assistance of some of our friends, members of the Wellington mountain running community willing to offer their time to assist us on the route by taking food to various sections for us. This enabled us to travel as light as possible, a method designed to maximise speed and, it seems, to inadvertently stir up opinion as to how such matters should be tackled. The controversy we attracted from some was to my mind fairly surprising. I am not one to overtly run in the face of tradition but it seems some folk couldn’t see that our deviation from solo and unsupported was, if anything, a compliment to those that had gone before in such a fashion as we chose a perhaps less challenging method of attack. Sure, travelling light brings the challenge of speed and maintenance thereof. But it also takes away many facets of solo travel such as carrying extra weight, maintenance of morale when the inevitable dark spots arise and the backing of one’s judgement of pace and navigation decisions with nobody else to call upon for a second opinion.
I think about parallels that can be made between styles of ascent in mountaineering: the siege tactic of formal advance camps cached with supplies and then the ‘purer’ alpine style where the assailant carries all their gear for a rapid siege on the mountain. Or rock climbing; ‘sport’ climbing where one man clips into a bolted wall, compared to ‘trad’ climbing where the gravity defeater carries cams and quickdraws up a face, all the time looking for suitable protection points to place their gear. If sports didn’t progress, or traditions weren’t built upon, we’d still be climbing Everest wearing a shirt and tie beneath a tweed suit, swigging a slug of rum to warm the blood, eschewing supplementary oxygen as an unnecessary and illegal performance aid! Styles of attack are different and distinct and should be viewed as such; they bring about different challenges, in these cases none of them easy and therefore deserve to be recorded and appreciated, and for others to draw inspiration from.
The UK ‘equivalent’ (if one may permit such a comparison) of the S-K is a route called the Bob Graham Round
(find out more here: http://www.bobgrahamclub.org.uk/). It is a 24 hour challenge on a route that is longer, with more vertical climbing and in my mind harder than the S-K. With the current membership list up to the end of 2013, only 1848 (since 1932 when it was first completed by Bob Graham) people have completed the round in the specified 24 hour period. Why do I mention this? Because almost all of those 1848 people completed the route with support and pacers. Why? Well, in my opinion, on an arduous and demanding day in the mountains on a route of this length, to get ‘around’ in under 24 hours many a mortal will need every inch of psychological and physical help one can be offered while still putting their own feet one in front of the other. Sure there are remarkable exceptions to the rule who seem to muster depths of strength others can perhaps aspire to, but for most, attacking such a challenge solo will not bring about their desired outcome of a sub 24 hour achievement.
There are links on this site to more formal descriptions of what constitutes supported, unsupported, self-supported etc but I would like to take this opportunity to echo Peter Jagger’s sentiments when he asked, ‘Will tramping club members carry on the challenge of the S-K?’, but I’d like to add, if you are going to take on the challenge, do it in whatever style you feel suits you best and don’t worry about what a minutiae may think. Eventually those that critique such attempts that deviate from their own perceptions of what is true and correct may come to realise that no SK is easy! And it is perhaps better to embrace evolution for what it is: a different style of approach to a traditional challenge. As Peter Jagger so rightly said, “all accounts record fitness, effort and determination to traverse the SK, ‘just because it’s there’”. The challenges of differing approaches are distinct and different and what works for and appeals to one may not suit the next.
It seems the ‘dawn of sub 24 hour SKs’ may have arrived as mountain runners sense the challenge and approach with keenness to give it a go. With the first being attained by Colin Rolfe in 1995, it took 18 years for the next sub 24 hour S-K to happen. Since December 2013 there have been three more Main Range sub 24 hour SK successes.
In November 2014, Grant Guise and Matt Bixley (whose account is also hosted here) set the current fastest known time, arriving at Kaitoke an impressive 21 hours and 33 minutes after leaving Putara Road. One year later a Wellington man Tim Sutton left Putara for a solo and un-supported venture, battling a wind free and scorching hot day, to arrive at Kaitoke 22 hours 34 minutes after leaving Putara Road – a mighty and inspiring effort.
Since the originals, 6 more people have completed the route in under 24 hours.to make 11 the number in the sub 24 hour club… Could you be the 12th? The full list is on this website.
It is worth noting that any tramper or runner who has attempted an S-K will vouch that it is is an exposed and potentially dangerous route subject to extremely volatile weather conditions and navigational challenges, and therefore give the Tararuas the respect they deserve. Equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to tackle such an endeavour safely. Please refer to our safety section on this site for some advice and do your homework.
Recognition is perhaps a small reason why such a venture is undertaken, but should you be planning an attempt it could be a good idea to contact people who have gone before for advice, and even use this site to informally ‘register’ your attempt and intentions. We hope that in doing so we can foster a sense of community and give a home to attempts on the S-K, and other tracks in the Tararuas It would be unlikely and against the very spirit that mountain running embodies for anyone to fabricate attaining the personal challenge of a sub 24 hour S-K; at the end of the day it is only going to be formally recognised with trust and honesty, which I think is great and within the spirit of the whole thing. But could I take this moment to encourage the following (to primarily add credibility and interest, but also to serve as a verification method should you be successful going sub 24hours):
- Where possible have someone drop you off and pick you up
- Keep a record of your split times at the milestones along the way
- If going supported, have your pacers record your splits too
- Write an account of your day out – while muscle pain is still fresh. In it, name any pacers/lifts/crew that assisted you
- Of course a Garmin/GPS device records all, feel free to share GPX files
Good luck, go take up the challenge!
Chris Swallow, Jan 2015
Two classic routes two classic Tararua Mountain Races
The two classic routes that have been regularly raced for many years by mountain runners and fast trampers keen to test their mettle are the Jumbo Holdsworth race and the Tararua Mountain Race (run over the Southern Crossing). Both routes have over the years changed their direction of travel and the Tararua Mountain Race ran for the first time last year a Kaitoke – Holdsworth alternative.
The Jumbo Holdsworth race has recently started to offer competitors the choice of direction, when once it was decreed that one must go Holdsworth first, then Jumbo. Now runners have the choice, the murmurings are that there are a few minutes to be saved by going Jumbo first and descending from Holdsworth (and having done the race in both directions I feel I am inclined to concur). However, going Jumbo – Holdsworth omits the challenges present within the Holdsworth-Jumbo direction race; notably the ‘Sub 1hr to Powell Hut’ and perhaps the less formal but equally enticing, ‘how fast can you get from Jumbo hut to Atiwhakatu down the rain gauge?’ Attaining Powell Hut sub 1hr is no easy feat and there won’t be many who have done so (my time this year…? 60 minutes 2 seconds), give it a go sometime!
Back in the day a T Shirt and cap was awarded the first time you achieved this, then with subsequent sub 1hr achievements a brass badge was awarded to adorn your cap. Rumour has it that Tararua legend, Colin Rolfe (his name crops up time and again having held every race record at some point or another in the park, it seems the norm now to prefix with ‘legend’), made a bee line for his heavy, brass covered sub 1hr Powell cap in the first instance when his house caught fire.
The rain gauge descent from Jumbo – Atiwhakatu has been completed in around 13 minutes by Colin Rolfe. I will dig around some more to see if I can find some formal recognition of this very fast split time but then, thinking about it, maybe I won’t bother as often those long held memories of the guys who’ve been involved within the community are best left as they are. Colin dropped down there officially in 14 minutes 50 seconds in the 2002 race.
Lots more information about the route and race can be found here:
The Tararua Mountain Race is a point to point over the Southern Crossing, a classic route that one finishes with a real sense of having crossed the range. It has a bit of everything from the muddy, boggy, never ending moss forest of the Marchant Ridge, to the open ridge tops of the Dress Circle, Beehives and Hector through to the long descent from (or climb to…) Kime Hut. The record for this route currently stands at 4hrs 27 mins 20s, set by Andrew Symonds in 2006 in the Kaitoke – Otaki Forks direction. That man Colin Rolfe holds the record for the race going the other way in a time of 4hrs 32 mins 20s, set in 2000. More records and route information can be found here: