Paul Helms Main Range S-K Report 2016

Pauls SK talk

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S K ( Schormann to Kaitoke) or Putara to Kaitoke 22 January 2016

Some facts, my Sunto Ambit2 on trekker measured 75 km travel 8800mtrs of climb.
Total time to beat was 24 hours. Three of us travelled up to Putara School on Thursday evening after work. Clare Helm our driver and supporter to get Marta Zanetti and myself to the start point some 5 km up the road from the school.

The sky was clear there was a near full moon and plenty of stars out. Great we thought. Just as forecast and only light winds. After settling down at the old school Dave Allen , his partner Marlene and Jean Beaumont arrived. They were not staying but called in as they were off in the morning as well.

Up at 3am to winds and some clouds but looking ok. On arrival at the start point, Dave had already gone ( 3am start) and so had Jean (3.30am start). We sat and waited, put on sunscreen as we knew we would need it. Quick photo stop at the start line/gate and we were off. Marta and I had done the route before with two over night stops ( Dundas hut and Kime hut) this time we wanted to break 24 hours.
The track was dry and yet at 4am as we started, it was still warm. Windy, but not too strong. I wasn’t carrying much weight as I had support organized as for a Bob Graham round. Water and food was being dropped off along the way and then runners would join in from Kime hut, some 16 hours ahead. Nice easy run in the dark up to Herepai hut. We could hear the wind increasing as we climbed the hill. All this section in the bush and heaps of tree roots to try to trip us up.
The hut appeared (65 mins) and we grabbed some water, I filled up here as I had not carried any the first section. Only needed about a liter as some was stashed on the ridge for us. Still with torches on we climbed up out of the bush to Herepai. A wonderful sunrise behind us but we could see cloud racing in from the west. Strong winds on Herepai once we were out of the bush. Torches off as we climbed Ruapae. Now we were in the wind but feeling ok as the forecast the day before said the wind would drop as the day got on. We could see East peak and it was a slog through the long grass to get to it. Most of the track is over grown and with the wind it’s hard to see clearly in places.
East peak arrived after 2 hours 25min. a quick grab of some food and off on the narrow track down to the col. Plenty of leather wood to avoid here and some could not be avoided. Still the track was a good line of least resistance. Last year Marta and I did this in the dark and lost our way. Not this time, we stuck to the track and made good progress across to West peak. Slow up the climb but at least we were out of most of the wind at this stage.
Once on the ridge we were in the mist, and wind. It was quite strong and from the west, still warm. There is not much of a track along the ridge and when it exists, the wind was blowing the long tussock grass over it.
The ridge in the mist and rain was hard to follow but not too bad. Going up on to Pukemoremore the wind was stronger and it started to get wet. Just at the turn off to Dundas hut, the sign had our stash tied to it, good job in the wind. Chris Martin and Ash Walker plus dog Scout had carried food in to here and left us two bottles of water they had filled from the hut, some 200m below the ridge. Great to see the stash and to know that others were helping us out. It had saved a carry of food and water to this point. The previous weekend Jean B and I had run to this point and back in glorious weather, very hot, light winds and good visibility. Not today, strong winds, mist and cold and wet.
At this stop Marta put on over trousers, I put on thermal leggings. We already had our coats on and had since Herepai. Cleared all the stuff away from the stash and headed on into the mist. Over Logan and on to Dundas, it was hard going, as we were cold and getting a bit wet. Dundas appeared, we took a compass bearing and checked Viewranger and off we went. Only a couple of minutes but it did not feel right and no cairns, so we checked and sure enough we were on the ridge to the west of the one we wanted, quick contour around and back on the sort of track, but cairns in places. A couple of minutes later Jean could be seen off to our left, she had gone way off the ridge further east. Still thick mist but once she was back on the track and had a few words exchanged she was off ahead of us. She soon disappeared in to the mist. We kept going, still not easy in the mist and wind. It would be good to do this bit in clear visibility; everything takes longer in the mist and strong winds.
Shortly we were climbing another bump on the way to Arête. We had to stop and check the route and where we were on Viewranger (great to see where you are in relation to the map). Continued on and up, then saw the sign to Arête Bivi. Still in the mist and strong wind but at least we knew we were getting to the top. The top appeared out of the mist. Six hours and one minute to the top and that meant we were nearly an hour down on schedule. Where had all the time gone? We were obviously going at the wrong pace and not pushing on when we should be doing. We headed over to Pukematawai and down to the junction with the Te Aroha trail. Met two trampers from France and took our leggings off. Stopped for food as well. Body feeling good but mind not happy with the lost time compared to schedule. We do not seem to have the urgency of hitting our times and pushing on. I mentioned to Marta that would need to get cracking if we were to hit 24 hours and encouraged her to keep moving on. The next section was hard, plenty of mud, and more mud. Met about four trampers spread out along the track, all muttering about the mud. It really was deep, slippery and hard to make easy progress. Stopped at some point and took our jackets off and headed onward. It had warmed up now but we had plenty of water from the Dundas drop so no problems. Once in the bush we were still slow, I mentioned this a few times to Marta and she stepped aside so I could go on. I went on to the Drac Bivi, not far but still easier to sort the water out etc then feed up. The conditions were still a bit misty but less wind in the bush. We chatted about the time we were down on schedule and Marta said she was not bothered about the 24 hour target, just wanted to do a continuous trip to the end without stopping. That surprised me as I thought we had the same goal. Still, best to be clear now about our goals. The two were not compatible as I needed to press on and Marta’s was to just keep moving without worrying about the pace as much. Marta suggested I press on and go for it and that at Andersons hut Mark H was waiting and he could go on with me as long as we left her food.
This did not sit well with me; we had reached Drac after 7 hours 38min just over one hour down on schedule. I thought we could both push on and make time up, the schedule was from Chris Swallow and he had said there was slack in it later on. We set off with me mumbling I would not go on alone. For a start I was not sure if I went alone I could catch up an hour. Also, with plans to do it together I had gone light. I did not have my own PLB with me and with forecast being for good weather I was carrying an old thermal top, about 30 years old,I did my BG in it in 1990, I had no additional spare and I had a singlet instead. Well you would with all that hot sunny weather forecast. I also had no over trousers, they would be with Pawel at Kime for the night section, after all, who would need them on a sunny day? With these thoughts in my mind I decided that I would stay in front of Marta and just see how it went. I didn’t say “right I’m off” or anything, just set off and started to speed up and left Marta behind, she had said she would be fine and after Drac there are options re huts and ways out, plus she had the spot tracker. I pushed on and got my head down. Through the bush was warm and the mist had lifted, some sunshine appeared. At least when we went in to the bush we left the mud behind.
Going along through the bush was good, I felt bad about dropping Marta but thought I would see how I felt and got a good pace going. Every now and again I was in open tops briefly where I could look down at Park Valley. When I got out of the bush going up Nicholls I spotted Jean ahead of me. My spirits lifted a bit with that sighting. When I was on Nichol Jean was just above the Nichols turn off. Although it was now clear it was still windy. I was at Nicholls at 9 hours 8 min, about 30 mins behind schedule. Wow, maybe I could recover the lost time. The climb up Crawford was hard, never quite catching Jean and getting hit with strong westerly winds. 36 mins to the top of Crawford and got to Jean just on the summit. Hard push to do so and worrying about burning up too much energy so eating quite a bit. Brief chat on the top with Jean then she was off. Jean is faster than me down hill. Most people are. So settled in to a steady downhill jog. Body feeling good, no falls and no major aches. Knees feeling good and Junction knob and then Anderson’s hut just ahead.
Andersons hut is a real favourite of mine. I have stopped there a number of times so once at Junction Knob it felt like I was on to an easy part of the route. I know it’s not but the SMR, tramping and running trips through this bit meant I knew where I was at all times. Arrived at Andersons hut feeling good, Jean a couple of mins ahead and Mark on the deck relaxing. 22 minutes down on schedule and a planned 10 min rest stop. After Nicholl the track was a lot drier, little mud, sunny with some views but cold enough to keep a jacket on, I only had a my tee shirt on under it. Mark was great; he provided the food we had asked him to bring in so I could stock up, plus warm strong coffee. The coffee and chat was very welcome. Mark had been doing quite a few long runs and trips in to the Tarauas with Marta so wanted to know where she was and what was going on. We chatted about Mark packing up quickly and joining me as Marta had suggested and I was keen to have this support but Mark was not ready and would take a while to get going. In the end I took some food, water refilled and enjoyed the coffee. I said to Mark to get sorted and follow me as I’d had quite a break; I then headed off a while after Jean had gone on. I kept looking back as I went through to Aokap but Mark didn’t show. He had been reluctant to leave Marta on her own. It was a good and right call to make. I was focused on the 24 hour run and he on keeping us all safe. Marta did come through to Andersons and then they joined up and got hit with very bad weather on Aokap so stopped at Mungahuka Hut.
I continued on, having done the Southern Main Range a month earlier and again in October I felt ok on this stretch. It would have been good to have company but head down and slog along. Navigation was not an issue; the wind was, brutal on Aokap. Still, I have been there before in wind and it’s not so bad when you know that you have friends at Kime waiting for you. Aokap was a milestone, reached in 11 hours 59 min. so about half way in time. Aokap was also back into the mist.
Wright is always a hard climb, and I kept thinking it’s got the wrong name, it should be “ wrong “as it never feels Right ! Climbing the last few hundred meters to Mungahuka hut I could see in the mist Jean fighting the wind ahead of me. It gave me a lift to see another person out in the hills. As I got to the hut, Jean was sorting stuff out on the deck. It was a full on gale that was blowing now, I was already regretting carrying a light weight jacket and only cycle gloves, finger tips were frozen and I had no feeling in them. Arms were cold from running in a tee shirt and the thin jacket.
Before seeing Jean I had, since Wright, been thinking of calling it a day at the Hut. Sod of a place to stop, but there was I noticed a blanket in the hut and I could manage! It was not to be, Jean asked if I needed support, she would at least keep an eye on me for safety for the next short stretch until after the ladder. By saying this I was committed to going on! Quick feed, water refill and head out, then decided to put thermal bottoms on. Not the smartest to do outside the hut and only about 50m from the hut, but still stopped and put them on, wet from earlier use so not a lot of good but I knew we would be slow on the next bit and was really worried about the cold.
Headed on to the track behind Jean, first right turn was ok but then the steep bit down and missed the track markers, found them and we both got going. It was wet and slippery and very very windy at this point. With thick mist, it was a good job I had put sunscreen on before I set off ! The ladder was fun, with wind blowing us up it. At the top had to remember to go right not left but other than that all OK. We were at Mungahuka hut at 13 hours 21min so 7 mins down overall on the schedule. It was 5 20 pm in the afternoon and very cold on the tops. The wind through the gaps in the ridge was amazing and the noise, like a jet aircraft at 50 meters.
Once over the ladder and the next tops we started to split further apart, the turn to Penn Creek hut came and went in the mist. I started thinking about just getting to Kime and stopping at that point. No shame in the weather we were getting and I was cold. Thinking that if I’d brought another thermal top I would have it on but a singlet was useless! It was good to be on familiar terrain at this point, I knew I would get to the hut but then give it up. Long slogs up and down, I have been on this ridge six times and seen the same views each time, nothing, absolutely nothing. All times I have been here in the mist and all times in strong to gale force winds.

 Coming down from Bridge Peak

Bridge peak in the rain and wind was ok, the normal slog up and a brief celebration on the top, two orange chomps !! how easily we are satisfied . All the way on this section I thought of stopping at Kime and also of words I had picked up from the All Blacks Captain Richie MCaw went through my head. “ Pain is temporary pride is permanent “ and “ The body will do what the mind tells it to”. They kept me going onwards. I did not catch Jean back up again on these climbs but knowing she was still out there helped me. At Bridge I took a bearing across to cut out the triangle to Kime hut. I followed it for about 15 meters and turned back. I followed the markers on the track. I did not have the confidence to follow my bearing and it was hard work in the longer grass. It was easier in the mist and wind to go around. 15 hours 49 mins to the top of Bridge Peak. 5 mins later I was at the hut. 16 hours 4 mins to the hut, hang on that’s…17mins up on the schedule! Damn and blast. No reason to stop, well except for the wind , rain , cold etc etc, oh and the mist. Jean was through and away quickly. Pawel Kotarba and Chris Martin were at the hut, Chris set to stop the night and I thought fantastic he’s tired out having had a big tramp from Nicholls hut and we cannot leave him, so I can stop as well. Not what Pawel had planned, he told Chris to get sorted, there was a warm fire at Alpha hut and Ash Walker and the dog Scout where waiting for us. So with that decision made, I finally changed in to a singlet and very thin thermal. Had a few hot cups of tea, plus a coffee and repacked the bag, Pawel had brought some gear and food for me. Waterproof trousers went on, wet coat and hat. Got the torch sorted, as we would need it. The full moon would not be much use tonight. We packed up and headed out. A few meters and we hit the wind and rain, or it hit us. This bit was going to be bad, brutal and unforgiving. We must have stopped at the hut about 20 mins as we got to the top of Hector at 17 hours 5 min or 9 22 pm . Mist all around, gale hitting us but we pushed on. The Cross at the top came and went, down the other side was worse. Getting blown over and sliding in the mud is what I recall. Eventually we put on our torches, which only reflected the light back at us from the rain. It was hard to see and hard to move at times. Pawel was our rock not just a solid mountain man but he was carrying so much gear, I picked it up at the end it weighed heaps. On we slogged up and down, tripping and falling about, Pawel in front, then Chris and finally me. Towards the end, Chris was having trouble placing his feet but he kept going. Eventually we got to the Aston turn off. Until that sign we had no idea where we were, we were just slogging slowly along. Odd patches of shelter were experienced as we dropped off the ridge but then back in to the gale as the ridge was regained. I would not have wanted to do this alone and yet Jean was out in it doing it hard. Next we started to climb Alpha, at this point, and I do not know why, I started feeling really strong. I had no real pain or hurt in my body; I was not drowsy or tired. So, I got ahead of Pawel and suggested he stay with Chris and they get to the hut and I pressed on. It felt good to run across to the top of Alpha and then down to the hut. Navigation was easy and I was feeling confident. It was about here I decided in my mind to push onto the end. I got it in my head to go for it (the 24hour target) and also that there was no way I would be able to face Swallow or Pidcock if I gave up and still had time available!

Kime Hut

I got in to the hut to see a very welcome sight, Ash Walker, Al Shelton and Scout the dog plus a warm fire going. 19 hours 9 min on the clock 34 min down on schedule. We had been slow over the tops, all down to the weather plus the long break at Kime. I started to get sorted and Al and Ash helped heaps, sorting water and food etc. Pawel and Chris arrived and I told them my plan to continue. Al had been about to get his sleeping bag out and settle down. Pawel had never had such an intention. I am pretty sure he would have pushed me on if I had waivered. Chris wisely decided to stop with Ash at the hut. Al, Pawel and I would go on.

A quick break at Kime

It’s hard to explain but I was feeling good, a bit tired and sore now, but seeing so many friends I did not want to let them down. Al reckoned it would be touch and go to make the end but was willing to try. A lot of folks struggle on the Marchant its normally wild, wet muddy and hard work.
We set off for Hells Gate and tried to get a good pace going. It was the first time in ages that I was back in the bush, out of the wind, rain and mist. I could talk and did! Al and I chatted away but kept the pace going. Bull Mound turn off came and went 20 hours 2 min. Great we had 4 hours to go down the Marchant .
It was on the open part after Bull mound turn off that we realized we were out of the wind, no mist or rain and the track was dry. Great views of the lights in the Hutt valley and over to the Wairarapa. Omega turn off was 10 mins later and feeling good. Al kept telling me we were doing ok but that we would have to run from Dobson’s hut site. I kept telling him to push the pace as I could not run that bit, too many tree roots and too much mud. The Marchant was the kindest that I have ever seen it. Little mud, very dry track and we could at times see the full moon.
I was surprised, I usually fall over at some point on any run no matter how short or long, yet I never did on this run, I rarely tripped and tree roots were no problem. I was actually enjoying the run and the pace. With a pacer in front and support behind this was very similar to Bob Graham support. Not something that Kiwi’s are used to doing. Great run to Block 16 turn off. 20 hours and 52 min., damn still 30 mins down on schedule. Glad we did not stop to work that out at the time. It could have totally stuffed the mind games up. At this point I had a gel that for once made me feel a bit sick. Up to this point the food etc was great, gels snickers, mars bars back to gels. So I went back to a snicker and felt good. Just before the open burn off on the Marchant ridge we heard voices. Laurence Pidcock and Tom Middlemiss arrived along with flat coke to drink, Bassets licorice Allsorts to eat. It had taken them about 90 mins running in so they felt we would make the end in time, at least that is what they told me. Laurence replaced Al and Tom followed me, Tom took my backpack and we were off. The top open area of the Marchant has been getting very over grown recently so I was worried about this but good old DOC have had it cut. It was easy to see where we were putting our feet and we could move fast, well I thought it was, but it was probably a slow plod.
Dobson’s turn off came and went and the only tumble was me turning the Allsorts pack the right way up and tipping them all over the track. None wasted as the track was still so dry. Dobson’s turn off at 22 hours 51 mins. Yep we have got this cracked but no messing about. We then hit the turn off to Smith Creek but had a minor mishap. My torch flashed i.e. it was going to run out of battery ! We got my other torch out and got going again. No spare tops but two torches ! Next, the last turn down to the YMCA camp and the end. This bit is usually slippery muddy and horrible. Not tonight, bone dry and fast. I was feeling great, then around the fence line to the car park and shouts from the folks in the car park.
Stopped the watch at 23 hours 54mins. Dave Allen was there he did 23 hours 43 min unsupported and Jean Beaumont, 23 hours 42mins unsupported. Marlene and Tim Sutton were also at the end. Big hugs all round and a job well done.
Celebrated with a drink of Jura Whiskey from Tom, water melon and jam and peanut butter sandwich. Amazing what the body will put up with.
I ‘d had a grand day out in the hills. Not the same as a Bob Graham. I did mine 25 years ago but with the same self-satisfaction at the end. I was pleased I didn’t cramp up at all, and that my knees felt ok, if fact better than ok. I was foolish to rely on the weather forecast and cut my gear down in weight. That could have gone very badly with an accident. I was glad I knew how to use a compass and map. I was very glad of the friends that supported me and made it possible.
When we all got changed and headed home. Tom dropped me off outside my house, there were no lights on, I had to wake my wife up to let me in. The three kids were fast asleep. It’s good to know that there is some normality to life.
Thanks to Clare Helm, Marta Zanetti, Mark Hearfield, Chris Martin, Ash Walker, Scout the dog, Pawel Kotarba, Al Shelton, Tom Middlemiss and Laurence Pidcock. Also thanks to Chris Swallow who told me I could do it.

At Kaitoke car park 


Gear carried in a OMM 25 liter pack,
Hat and bike gloves
Marmot jacket
Thermal top
Running vest
First aid kit
Survival blanket
Compass and map, whistle built in to pack
I phone six with View ranger loaded
Two 500ml bottles for water and a drink bladder
Thermal bottoms
Innovate MudClaw300 shoes
Gear brought to Kime,
Over trousers
Food used, Gels mainly GUs, Snickers, mars bars, beef jerky sticks and licorice Allsorts!
Had too much food out waiting on the track so carried most back.
Paul Helm, 24 January 2016. 53 years old
Planned time
Mins to point
Cumulative time
Putara Road End
Herepai Hut
1 hr 13 min
1 hr 5 min
East Peak
2 hr 26 min
2 hr 25 min
West peak
2 hr 56 min
4 hr 52 min
5 hr 8 min
6 hr 1 min
Drac Bivi
6 hr 36 min
7 hr 38 min
8 hr 35 min
9 hr 8 min
Mt Crawford
9 hr 44 min
Junction Knob
9 hr 58 min
Andersons Hut
10 hr
10 hr 22 min
11 hr 59 min
Maungahuka hut
13 hr 14 min
13 hr 21 min
Bridge Peak
16 hr 16 min
15 hr 49 min
Kime Hut
16 hr 21 min
16 hr 4 min
Alpha Hut
18 hr 35 min
19 hr 9 min
Bull Mound
20 hr 2 min
Omega track
20 hr 12 min
Block 16 track
20 hr 22 min
20 hr 52 min
Dobsons hut site
22 hr 51 min
Kaitoke car park
23 hr 59 min
23 hr 54 min
23 hr 54 min
As to the time taken it would be relatively easy to reduce my time by about 1 hour 30mins to 2 hours. Its important to know the northern section as it can soak up time.
A Spot tracker was carried by Marta. We had planned to run and stick together but with changing that plan I had no tracker which was unfortunate. They work really well until the Marchant ridge, then there is too much bush but otherwise I suggest each challenger carries one.