26/01/2018 – 27/01/2018
21:38 Friday Night. Putara Road end start. The boy is about to turn into a man.
The reality of what I had undertaken only settled in roughly 15 minutes after I left the security of civilisation at the Putara Road end. Nearing 10pm on a Friday night, my ride here, would now be far away, it was dark and I was alone. The clouds that had been covering Wellington City all day seemed to have been hanging around the northern part of the Tararuas Ranges also, resulting in very damp and humid conditions. At least it was warm, the trusty temperature gauge in Dan’s car read 20 degrees in Putara. For the feat I was due to undertake, the ride to the start had been very casual. In a change of roles, it was my good mate Daniel Jones who got to put on the support crew hat and while I prepped for the big mission ahead.
With the taste of leftover spaghetti that I demolished on the ride up still fresh in my mind, I thought ahead to the food I was going to eat. With Godzone (http://godzoneadventure.com/), the 10-day adventure race looming 1 month away, it was the perfect time to test some new nutrition. I was really looking forwards to seeing how well my cooked kumura would turn out, as well as the variety of other food I had brought along.
An hour into my mission the hut came, and with that, I got to my routine of filling up my bladder, prepping some food and drink. By this stage the clag could be felt in the trees, it was very damp. With the long night ahead I put on my rain jacket and headed off. This was all unknown territory so I was following my nose. Two obvious tracks left the hut, and one of them was the track I came up. By process of elimination, this left me with one way to go, this led me to the long drop… back to the hut we go. The next viable track was a slight clearing in the bush, this was promising, until I found myself bush bashing through tree fall. I had been told there were no tracks in this section but surely it was not this bad, so I retreated back to the hut. With another look at the map and the gps, I knew I was definitely in the right place. It was dark and I was starting to get flustered. Only an hour into it… not a good start.
On my third attempt at leaving the hut I had success, just metres past where I had lost the last track, a small rusty sign had remnants of the word ‘tops’, Bingo! I was off with a new found spring in my step. With the knowledge of night time travel taking longer than daytime, I was keen to gain back the time lost. This state of mind only seemed to make things worse. In my haste, I began to slip over more, with the clag limiting my vision to the 5m ahead of me. Soon enough, I was a mess, less than 2 hours into what I expected to be a 24hr day I was in a dark place.
Before I left Wellington, a good mentor, friend and inspiration for this Tararua mission, Chris Swallow gave me one last piece of advice, “remember, the mountains will always be there tomorrow”. He didn’t need to tell me the second half of the saying “make sure you are too”. I couldn’t help but think of the horror stories you hear of mountain disasters, where one bad decision leads to another, and another, until I become front page news. A slip in my footing lead to a full blown cramp up of my entire left leg. Ouch. After a stretch out, I proceeded to take a few more steps, all the while cursing my idea of starting this entire mission let alone starting at the hour I did! Bang, this time my right leg seized up in cramp…
23:40 (ish) Friday night. I had two options at this point: turn back to the hut, sleep a few hours till day break and resume my mission, OR chill out, forget about everything else and enjoy the adventure. There’s no way I was turning back so I decided to take a few deep breaths, plug in my headphones and hit play. Can’t Stop by Red Hot Chili Peppers came first on shuffle and I let out the first of many “What a tune!” moments.
00:06 East Peak. It was on, new day, new me…
With my new found pumped up but relaxed attitude, I carried on my routine of regular eating and drinking. With the knowledge that the sun later on would likely break me, this fuel intake was going to prepare me of the battle that lay ahead. The peaks came and went. With clag restricting my vision I spent little time looking for a view, rather looking down at my feet searching for a track. This was fairly easy heading uphill, where I could spot the footprints or small foot wells covered by the tussock, but heading down hill was a whole different game. Dropping off peaks proved to be difficult, with the GPS often getting putted out and after changes in heading I was off again. I attempted to take compass bearings between target points and following the compass, but I found the map and compass another distraction from keeping track of the track!
At 01:40 I hit gold. Gold came in the form of clear skies! The clag had parted and the stars, moon and lights of Palmerston North were shining bright, with the silhouettes of the range ahead dark shadows in the light sky. I was buzzing, I flicked my phone off airplane mode to a barrage of messages. Everyone was so positive and encouraging, I was tempted to tell the tales of struggle but the scenes were too good to spoil with a sad tale. To say I was stoked was an understatement. The best text I received was from Godzone Team mate and drinking buddy Levi, “Go Hard. The hardest part is during the night!”. Looking back now, it wasn’t the most inspiring text, but the fact that after a few hours of struggling and feeling alone, to think there was someone out there watching me move along on the spot tracker gave me some great encouragement which pushed me on into the wee hours of the night. Dundas came and went, apparently the views are great from here… I was in the groove of dipping in and out of the clag as I went peak to peak on the ridge, with every time popping out into the starry night just as exciting as the first.
04:00 Arete, I let out a bit of a chuckle as I thought of all the punters on Courtenay Place finishing their night out. Here’s when I whipped out a slice of Tommy Millions Pizza. Leftover from my 2 for 1 Margarita Lunch special (great deal!). With this I continued the (sort of) tradition of getting a pizza on my way home from town. With sweet tunes and no worries I could sense the night coming to an end. The open tops and tussock were replaced with trees and mossy trails. Like clock work, bang on 8 hours since saying goodbye to Dan at Putara, I hit Drac Biv. A huge milestone!
05:38 Drac Biv. First water since Herepai Hut was a welcome sight and the daylight sneaking through the trees meant it was the end of the road for my headlamp and rain jacket. As these were put in the bottom of my pack, I thought to myself, hopefully I don’t have to bring these out again. A quick look a the time split matrix crushed my hopes of good progress. I was a full hour down on 24hr time, this would put me finishing around 11pm! I knew the night travel would have set me back on time, but was still gutted with how far down I was. I had work to do, so I piled on the food and filled up the water and I was on my way.
Photo: Most of my morning was spent in cloudy conditions, but the route ahead was visible, with glimpses of the mountains far away.
The roots and trees made for tough going, but I felt I settled into a good rhythm, running where I could. Since I was running along a track and in daylight now, I slipped into a complacent state of mind. This however punished me at Kelleher (see tracking photo). Later that evening I was told I wasn’t the only one to make this mistake on this section! Lesson Learnt: Look ahead and don’t assume the track goes up to every peak!
Image: A slight detour at Kelleher. Pro tip – keep and eye on the markers
Nichols hut came and I was still fresh from Drac. Biv. I decided to skip going down to the hut, instead I whipped out my absolute wilderness meal, Bacon Mash. I’d never had this flavour before so its absolute beauty hit me like a ton of bricks, mental note: for godzone, order a whole heap of these! The high of the bacon mash however was settled by the realisation I was still about an hour down on the 24hr splits. On the back of the time matrix I had, generously lended from Iain (cheers Iain!!!), there was one piece of motivation which pushed me through the day:
“SK = Relentless Forward Progress”
So the relentless forward progress continued! My first encounter with civilisation was a pair of trampers at junction knob. A good run from there to Andersons meant I was gaining time, only 50mins down and clipping along well. I had previously done the southern main range from Aokaparangi, so the next goal was to get there. Aokap came and I was on familiar ground, now only 25 minutes down. From here I was confident I could sneak in under 24 hours. I paused to put the maps and time matrix away as well as get a few nutella sandwiches out for the push to maungahuka.
Photo: Looking north somewhere along the Southern Main Range…
11:20AM, 13hrs42min Elapsed time. Maungahuka came quicker than I remembered the last time. I started to do the maths in my head and soon realised it was very possible I would get under the 24 hours, so I was out on the track again nearly as quick as I had come in. Here I started on my second 12hr ration bag of food, I still had plenty left of the first 12hr bag but couldn’t wait any longer to tuck into the good stuff I had eaten earlier on. The whole day so far I had a goal of making the hut stops as short as possible, with me only taking off my pack if I needed to fill up my camelback or take food out. I rather focused on eating on the go. So there I was nearing the infamous ladder while polishing off my plastic tub of creamed rice.
As bridge peak neared I could feel a sense of excitement growing. I could see a few groups of trampers in the distance and my legs were feeling great. I was running most of the downhills and even running a bit of the uphill sections.
Photo: The Southern Main Range, Bridge Peak, Kime and Mt. Hector in the clouds ahead.
One of the trampers I came across on the final climb up to bridge peak said to me “Oh have you run from Maungahuka today?”. Little did I know this would be the start of many interesting conversations with trampers. I responded “Oh yeah, well I’ve actually run from Putara road end”, after a moment of thinking they replied “So where did you sleep?”. In hindsight I should have said “No sleep til Kaitoke baby”, but in my half dazed state I muttered “Oh no, I haven’t slept… have a good one” and kept charging up the hill.
I had finally hit a great patch of weather and I could feel the sun burning the back of my neck, rookie mistake for not taking sunscreen. As the climb began to ease off at the peak, my phone began to buzz. A few messages of support came in, including a message from Chris Swallow “If you reach Kime by 2PM, it will give you 7.5hrs to the finish which is doable if you are still moving well”.
Photo: Bridge Peak: The legend goes, turn right for shopping in Otaki, turn Left for Glory in Kaitoke. I chose left, with a huge amount of feels for those before me who had gotten this far and pulled the pin, dropping down to the safety of Otaki Forks.
I got to Kime at 1:35PM, Chris had also texted saying “have a rest and a wash under the tap or in the tarn, have a rest and prepare yourself for the final push”. I disregarded this advice, instead filling up my bottles, grabbing some food and heading off towards hector a few minutes later.
To no surprise, the next section took well longer than I remembered it from the last time I had been over it during the Tararua Mountain Race, nearly a year earlier. The ridge seemed to last forever, until finally I dropped down to alpha hut. Feeling the finish close, I had been neglecting my food intake and could feel myself beginning to suffer.
15:38 (18hrs Elapsed) Alpha Hut. For the first time in 18 hours I sat down, wow it felt good! I filled up a ziplock bag of milk powder and enjoyed a smooth creamy drink. It was a great change from the sugary electrolytes I had been having. I managed to get a message out to my support crew Greg “At Alpha Hut. Starting to fade.” I could have quite happily stayed at the hut for a lot longer, but I knew if I stayed any longer, the rest of the trip would be long and difficult, so I was up again and on the last stretch. I was really struggling to eat by now, I felt like I needed to be eating but I wasn’t hungry and didn’t feel like forcing the food down. I tried more liquid food but my tummy wasn’t having a bar of it. I’d heard of other SK attempts ending in similar fashion, with the wheels coming off so close to the end but so far if you aren’t moving well.
I was stoked to remember I had added a couple squares of toilet paper to my pack at the last minute. I thought I better use it, with the hope it would create some space for me to get my appetite and attitude back on track. Sure enough, after a few quiet moments squatting behind a big tree, I was off running again feeling like a new man. (pro tip: don’t forget the basics, things like taking a poo and brushing your teeth are huge moral boosters and keep you connected to your normal desk job life!)
Soon enough I was through Hells Gate and past Block XVII. The sun still had a long way till setting and I could sense the end nearing. I was hungry again and eating and drinking happily. I wasn’t going to need to take out the head torch again!!! With about 5km to go, I came across some familiar faces in the form of Greg and Dan Hunt. They were stoked and surprised to see me so soon, and I too was stoked as seeing them meant I wasn’t far off the end. They threw a cheese burger at me, I returned the favour by throwing the last half of a kumura at them. Fair trade I thought but they weren’t as keen on the kumura as I was on the burger. After a few moments chatting we were off running again and it was a great feeling. With only downhill left ahead of me, the stories of the day were rolling out and it was fun to be running with people instead of alone with my thoughts. I was even managing to easily keep up with the other guys!
The final moments running into Kaitoke were very special. Because of the early struggles and slow start, I spent the majority of the day thinking I would struggle to finish sub 24 hours. To finish under 24 hours and in the daylight was just awesome. Greg and Dan were stoked, hooting and hollering down the final stretch. These monkey noises were replied to by similar noises from the car park! To my delight Tom Middlemiss was standing there as stoked as we were!
Photo: Kaitoke Finish. 21hr48min, 72.95km, 6,711m Elevation Gain
Hugs and high-5’s all around, a few beers and the unpacking of all my extra food followed (see list of food leftover at end). I could have happily sat underneath the glory of the Kaitoke trail end sign, but the sandflies must have seen me as easy prey. After a quick change and hop into the car, we were off driving towards the sunset in Wellington.
Photo: Sitting under the glory of the Kaitoke Sign
I had seen photos of Kaitoke finishes over the years and I was prepared mentally for it. The classic photo of the SK legend curled up on the floor next to the car. To my surprise this feeling only hit me once I got home. I felt great, until I walked through the front door. Here I dropped my bags and managed to stumble to the couch. After probably an hour or more of sitting I managed to pluck up enough courage to get into the shower. Luckily my small Wellington apartment meant this was only 5 steps away, with another 5 steps from the shower to bed. I was done.
The next day was filled with lots of food and a very very slow walk around the block…
I’d like to send out a massive thanks to Tony from Spot Tracker NZ and Chris Martin for organising the spot tracker, this was a very helpful tool for all the supporters and friends to track my progress and know I was safe (or atleast still moving). Also Greg, Tom and Dan, you guys were awesome meeting me at the end, I can’t wait to greet you into Kaitoke in the near future! To all of the Tuesday night running crew, you guys welcomed me in as a first year uni student, allowing me to come on some pretty epic missions over the past four years, with tuesday nights being one of the many highlights of my week. Without all of your support and encouragement an SK would just be another two letters in the alphabet. To all my mates, sorry I couldn’t make it to the potluck party on saturday night, I tried really hard to get back in time, I succeeded in that but was too broken to make it to the event. Finally a huge thanks to everyone who has previously completed or attempted an SK, you are all legends, inspirations and trail blazers, and I hope you will accept me in your legendary status.
|Time||Split (mins)||Elapsed (hrs:mins)|
|Putara Road End||21:38 26/01/18||0||0|
|East Peak||00:06 27/01/18||88||2:28|
20L Osprey Pack
3L Osprey Bladder
500ml Drink Bottle (Easy to shake up drinks in, also easy for drinking out of rivers)
Merino Long Johns and Long sleeve polyprop top
Merino Long sleeve top
Inov8 Primaloft insulated jacket
Waterproof Over trousers
Compresport Calf Sleeves
Kathmandu Merino Socks
2XU Compression Shorts
Hillary Outdoors Trucker Cap
Black Diamond Collapsible Poles
Iphone with GPS app available offline
No-Doze Caffiene Tablets
Gurney Goo Chaffing Cream Tube
Black Diamond Icon Head Lamp
Suunto Ambit 3 Sport
Salomon S-Lab Speed Shoes
2x Plastic Spoons (it sucks losing a spoon and struggling to eat)
1x slice of Tommy Millions Pizza (last minute addition inspiration from lunch, crust was tough eating)
2x tubs of creamed rice (in a plastic tub instead of tin, easy light rubbish)
6x Muesli Bars
1kg of nuts chocolate & fruit (went a bit much on this one)
4x 500ml worth of smoothie (great to drink something creamy to change from watery electrolyte)
2x 500ml Raspberry Electrolyte
2x 500ml Green Tea Electrolyte
2x 1L of milk (1L is a lot to take in one hit, would do 250ml to 400ml package sizes next time)
500g of Tasty cheese (Have used cheese loads in bigger missions, sometimes heavy to stomach)
2x Kumura (would bake or roast rather than boil to hold form better)
1x Meal of Mashed Potatoes
1x Bacon Breakfast dehydrated (Absolute Wilderness meals, definitely rate them highly!!)
1x Chewing gum pack (great for plugging away going up hills)
10-15x Nutella Sandwiches (like gels but nice on the wallet)
Food left over:
Meal of mashed potatoes
500g trail mix
½ Boiled Kumura
2x 500ml Electrolyte mix
2x 500ml smoothie mix
6x Nutella Sandwiches
½ packet of chewing gum
- Definitely go over the northern section in the daylight, Dundas or Bannister loops would be ideal. This will give you huge insight into the track, tricks and turns.
- Take sunscreen and weather for a blizzard, especially going through the night, no matter how nice the weather is, you will get very cold.
- Think creatively about the start time. I definitely would NOT start again at 10pm. But there are huge time savings by finishing in daylight…
- It’s possible. Three years ago I was lined up at the start of the Jumbo-Holdsworth race, with buzz about of Tim Suttons SK attempt occuring at the same time. This year we traded places. At the time, the thought of completing an SK blew my mind and those legends who completed it were superhuman. Set it as a goal, it will come…