Paul Helms Tarn S-K 2017

Tarn Ridge SK. A grand Day out in the Tararua Mountains.

Paul D Helm 23 November 2017.

Time  taken 23 hours 11 min

 The thinking behind this run was that Tarn Ridge and the Holdsworth Ridge are fantastic places with great views on the right day. There was no plan to go as fast as I could, more to go steady and enjoy the tops travel to Holdsworth and then just keep going for the remainder of the route.

The previous two weekends we had strong south easterly gales over the ranges with some rain and low cloud so they were written off. I got to the stage of thinking that waiting for a Saturday with good weather wasn’t going to work and looked for a window of fine weather. That looked like the Wednesday /Thursday and Friday with Thursday the best. The diary at work could be cleared so that was it, the SK was on. Only issue with mid-week was people to support me. Couple of Emails to those possibly able to support and that was sorted.

Tarn SK Route

ALT 4400M



So came the end of work on Wednesday and a steady drive to Greytown to drop off food and gloves/torch for later on with Seanoa and then to Carterton to stay with Steve and Sue Lyttle. Great to chat and catch up. Steve then offered to drive up to Putara with me and bring my car back. I had planned on leaving it at the road end.

Up at 2 am Thursday. Off at 2.30 after breakfast and coffee. Cool and clear night, good drive up to Putara. Plenty of Possums on the road and around.

Out the car at 3.20am. Sort out gear etc. then away at 3.28am with a quick “well bugger off then “ from Steve. The track was very dry, very little mud and it was warm. I took it easy and 78min later got to Herupai Hut. No one in, plenty of water in the tank and feeling good. Still needed a torch but all the undergrowth was dry. Filled up 4 ltr of water so felt slow at first heading up from the hut. Most other times you can hear the wind when you are at the hut but not today. No wind, plenty of stars and it was warm. Also plenty of birds wakening up to welcome the day.


Good climb up on to the tops. Again, no mud underfoot. Sunrise as I went up to East Peak and startled a couple of deer who were in no mood to move off quickly.  Quick photo stop at the top, 2 hours 18min to the marker. Trotted across to west peak, no problem route finding and leatherwood all ok. 2hours 56min to the top of west peak, warm climb up but easy to follow the track. No wind even on the summit. Good views to Mt Ruapahu.

Turned left and headed south after some more photos. Grass dry, no wind no mud great for progress but with heavy pack with water not easy and no rush, brilliant views everywhere you looked. Not a cloud in the sky and it was getting hotter already.


4 hours and I was sitting above Dundas hut turn off. Felt ok and drinking plenty. Track easy to follow but also daunting with so much visibility you could see how far this SK was. On to Logan and Dundas, then easy following the ridge to Arête. Track mostly over grown and very hot at this stage in the day, sidled off to Arête hut, using up the last of the water. Hotter still in the bowl where the hut is. No one at the hut so signed in, sorted gear and refill for water, then 15 min nap in the shade on a bunk with door wide open. Great views of Bannister etc. but very warm.

Set off with plenty of liquids to get to Tarn Ridge hut. Stopped at top of the Pinnacles to take photos and look around. No one about, track dry me very dry! Easy over pinnacles route then on to the ridge. Tarns all dried up or looking very low. Stopped at the grave, then on to the hut. Again, no one about.


It had been 5 hours 34 to Arête hut and I left after 6 hours. 6 hours 33 to Pinnacles and 7 hours 42 to Tarn ridge hut. Heat starting to slow me down at it was just after 11am at this stage. Had another 15 min nap at the hut, really needed that one. Very hot day and still, no wind at all.




Climbed up to Girdlestone and took photos and then turn south again. Always interesting climbing down off Girdlestone. Even hotter at this stage and the rocks hot to touch. Down and in to the saddle with a tarn before Adkin. Tarn was getting badly dried up, not fit to take water from, even to cool off my head. Slow climbing Adkin and over to North king. The grasses are very long here and that made it hard hot work to get on to the top. Some slight breeze on the top but not a lot. Mid king and south king went by still hot but that slight breeze felt good. Then on to BAP and the climb to MacGregor. Some cloud appeared way north over Dundas but too far away to be useful to me.

North king had taken until 9 hours 52min. Angle knob was 11 hours 28min. When I was at South king I felt way off schedule and wondered about pulling out at Pig Flat given the heat etc. but then started to feel good and make good time. Body was ok just tired and sore but generally felt ok.

Jumbo was hit bang on schedule at 12 hours or 3.30 pm. Chatted to Seanoa on the phone and confirmed I would be good to carry on. It was a huge relief that after South king I got out of a lot of the long grass and was able to run more of the track. This improved even more from Angle knob.


Then a bit of a disaster. I took a good slug of water on Jumbo and ran out! No water then until Powell hut. It took a hard hour to Holdsworth summit and 27 mins down to Powell. Hard with no liquids but managed, used tarns as water source to cool off but not drink. All are very low and looking bad re flies and grubs and animal use. Cool breeze starting to hit but very little and only on the edge of the track, once back from the edge it was hot and hard to move fast.


I rested 15mins in the shade at the hut, got food and plenty of water! Washed myself and gear in the cold water to get rid of the salt/sweat. Met my first people since leaving Steve. About 6 in the hut and as they were finished for the day and I had about 35km to go they were sceptical as to me getting out! So was I.

Down to Pig Flat and met Seanoa on the board walk. Stopped at the Pig flat turn off at 14 hours 12 min so just behind the 14 hours planned but all good. Cold Coke, ice and someone to chat too, great to have the mental support. Still plenty of day light so really pleased to be getting the next section done in the day light. Headed slowly off down to Totara Creek. Some mud at the top but very little and no breeze at all. Shade was good but if anything it was warmer than the tops. Took a bit of a fall on the way down and took a few mins to get back to moving ok, Seanoa took my back pack at this stage which helped although we then had to set up a call every 10 mins to ensure I got water and food. Great to chat and take my mind off things. Into the stream at the bottom and great to cool the feet. It was only going down from P Flat that I realised how my shoes were great for grip on the grasses of the tops but had little cushioning when on tree roots and stones. I had no blisters but my feet were tired and sore.

When I had fallen, I think that was one of a few times the heat was really effecting me. My vision was telling me the whole world wobbled. I think in reality it was me doing the wobbling but as it occurred 4 or 5 times I just took some water and moved on. The cool stream was great and probably saved me getting any worse.

We followed the old track down the creek to the bridge. All good and felt ok but slow. Got to Totara flats hut at 16hours, empty of people so we filled up at the water tank and set off again. Still a nice evening  as it was 7 30 pm. Feeling better as the temp dropped but still not fast, Seanoa happy with the pace and saying it was about what he had done on his valley’s SK, I thought he was being polite ! I was slow.

We stopped as we were about to leave the river so that I could get my contact lenses swapped out, They were dry and dirty and would not help my vision later on, that took a while as one was stuck on my eye! Also got the torches out and ready for later.

Turned off to cone saddle at 17 hours 18min and the long slog in the dark up to the saddle. Glad of Seanoa’s help and pace here. Good walk and great navigation and still chatting all the way up.


Top of cone saddle at 18hours and 38 min. Stopped to food up and sort out torches and contact lenses again. All good and then Seanoa headed off back to the Waiohine gorge and home. Sorry to see him go but he had helped heaps. Down to the hut at Cone 19 hours 20 min. No one around so grabbed some food and checked water etc., then saw a light and Chris Swallow ran in. Good to see him and know I had support through to the end.


It was about mid night and yet still 9 degrees C no wind, no dew and dry as anything. The river was very low as we headed off to Tutuwai hut. Good chatting again. Shortly after leaving Cone hut Chris’s pack split, broken zip. That gave me the opportunity to let Chris put his stuff in my back pack and let him carry it all! Great but still had to ensure I was eating and drinking. This was the only stage I felt cold as with no pack on I cooled rapidly.

20 hours to Tutuwai and confident that I can complete this run. Not fast but moving ok. I had run this section to the road end heaps and with the track being dry, all good. Chris went for water at the hut, still not trusting streams and rivers, I waited, heaps of possums about. Then on to the bridge and Smith Creek, 21hours 42min. Finally a better track and on to the climb over the puffer track. All good, but heaps of gorse. Still dry and feeling ok although some cramping but not badly. Then down to the car park. Low key finish as no one to meet us, Chris Martin had waited but I was too slow, 23 hours 11min. Feeling sore on the soles of my feet but good to complete this one.

Overall, very hot day, feet got sore and I got badly sun burnt. Great to do it all at one go. Couldn’t have done it without the support from Seanoa Isaac and Chris Swallow and of course Steve and Sue. Pleased I took my wife Clare’s advice and took rests in the huts. Mentally a hard one but I had no concerns after Jumbo that I would not do it. Went to some dark places and came back out again! 14 hours in the hills on your own is interesting and tested the self-will but the views were worth it.

Having a micro rest at the end (Shot courtesy of Chris Swallow)


Gear list:


OMM 25 ltr sack

Innov8 Xtalon shoes

Bridgedale socks

Thermal tops (2)

Thermal bottoms

Merino beanie

Cycle gloves

Basic first Aid kit ( incl mirror/contact lenses/no doze)

Led Sensor torch plus spare batteries

Survival bag (light weight)

3 ltr bladder for water

2 , 500ml bottles for perpetuum

I phone 6 with View ranger

Compass and whistle plus topo map of route to Holdsworth from start

Water proof jacket

Sun hat

Spare very small emergency torch

Food: Perpetuum for 16 hours, Gu, Gels, Snickers, Nuun tablets. Beef jerky and Crisps.




planned Actual
Putara 3.30 am 3.28
Arete Bivi 9.30 am 9.15
Jumbo 3.30 pm 3.30
Pig Flat 5.30 pm 5.45
Cone Hut
Kaitoki 1.30 am 2.41

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