Josh Cambell’s S-K Main Range Report.
4:15am 9/1/2020-4:03am 10/1/2020.
Three hundred and sixty six days ago I attempted to run the Tararua main range. There hadn’t been a day since that I hadn’t thought about that gruelling day. It was time for redemption.
There was a bunch of mistakes that I made in my initial attempt and I spent the year mitigating them. In no particular order the major mistakes that I made were: no sleep, not enough endurance and climbing based fitness, navigation, nutrition and gear.
Mistake 1: No Sleep. For the 2019 attempt we stayed at the roadend in tents. This time I made sure I had a comfortable bed. We were going to stay at the School House, however, it was booked out for the week. We ended up at the Ekatahuna Inn and that had everything I needed. I had been getting up at 3am for months prior so getting to sleep at 8pm wasn’t a problem. Sweet, well rested!
Mistake 2: Fitness. No shortcuts here, you know the score. I did a couple of specific Vert weeks with climbing of around 8000 metres. I also did a few runs of 50km plus including the A100.
Mistake 3: Navigation. The Tortoise beats the Hare, if the Hare runs 20 mins down a false spur. My navigation is terrible so I took it slow and checked every time I was even a little bit doubtful. There were a couple of times I was going the wrong way so this approach paid off. Also, in 2019, we had taken off at 2:30am. I didn’t want to be running in the dark above Herepai so it was a revised start of around 4am.
Mistake 4: Nutrition. My 3am early rising was always coupled with a bowl of porridge and often a run with a full stomach. This had worked well for the A100 so I had no qualms for the S-K. For the run I had 4 Kumera and 20 pieces of Sushi. I split these into 4 lots that I moved into my race belt every 6 hours. Every 1/2 an hour my nutrition alarm went off and I made myself either consume some food or a gel. This worked until Alpha: more about that later.
Mistake 5: Gear. For some reason I thought I needed more robust footwear for the 2019 attempt. I bought some Salomon S-lab Alpine 2 shoes with a built on Gaiter. These were far too heavy and didn’t provide enough grip in the wet. I also had a Salomon Skin 15 pro bag which was too bouncy and I had to take it off and rustle around for gear and food. This time I ran in Salomon S-lab sense 7 SG shoes that are light and grippy. I used a Salomon 12 vest and agile 500 race belt which was more comfortable and meant I didn’t have to take my bag off until replenishing water.
Joe took off at 4:10am so I was going to take off at 4:13. However, my watch couldn’t get a satellite “come on, come on”. At 4:15 am I was off. I had been nervous to the point of sickness in the week leading up to this run but I was surprisingly calm heading up to Herepai. Michael Beaumont gave me a great text the night before telling me not to stress and it was only another long run. I had woken up feeling more excited than nervous and it was great to be on my feet. I got to the hut without much energy spent in a semi-respectable 60mins, filled up with water and made sure I got on the right track to the tops.
It started out clear, if a bit cold but it soon got claggy. Last year we had got lost at this stage so I was happy it was light. I saw the spot where I almost leaped into oblivion 366 days ago, trusting a stalled Viewranger for directions. Sheesh, it was a long way down. The wind picked up and I got into some warmer gear. The Clag was keeping things damp and the wind was unrelenting, but I knew that I was pretty lucky. It wasn’t knocking me off balance and there was 10-40 metres of visibility. Slowly but surely I started ticking off Peaks and developing a rhythm.
Most of the day was pleasantly uneventful. The sun kept wanting to come out but didn’t quite. As I entered the bush I saw the muddy slip that we went down last year, I stayed up on the ridge saving more minutes. I was cruising now, this was easy. Approaching Nichol’s I saw someone ahead of me, surprisingly it was Joe Murphy. I hadn’t expected to see him at all. We had a few words but he moved ahead on the next hill. I then passed him as he got water from Nichols hut. I can’t remember exactly where he caught me again, but that would be the last time I got close. I saw him a couple of times heading up to Bridge peak and again near Kime and Alpha peak. At Andersons I had a nice surprise, Paul Helm was there. It was great to receive some words of encouragement although his advice to use the time available nearly bit me on the arse. For this I had no one to blame but myself.
Departing Maungahuka was very satisfying, I had stayed at this peaceful spot last year, defeated by the Range. I had remembered some scary and difficult climbing but this time it seemed easy. The shooting pains in my knee previously must have been due to poor conditioning. I watered up and prepared for the Southern Peaks. This section was challenging but not hard to concentrate on. One mistake here and not only is the S-K over but things could get grim. Up the ladder “been here done that” and a bit more scrambling and then a little walk up to Bridge Peak.
Well, thats what I thought. The day was catching up on me and I was starting to struggle a bit. The good thing was that I was moving well going down but I was feeling it going up. The conditions were the best of the day so far: cool and clear with little wind. This was good for the sheer majesty of the surroundings, however, the cloud had helped me all day concentrate on only the next section of the track. Being able to see the whole track was playing with my mind a bit.
I finally got to the top of Bridge Peak and I gave myself a congrats: ”job done mate”. The run up to Hector was amazing, you can check Joe’s photos. I didn’t take a shot all day, and anyway photos could never do that view justice. It was a special sunset and a massive full moon. I gave myself a minute for it to soak in before taking off. “Just a couple more hours and I can have a rest” I stupidly told myself.
It was fully dark now but I didn’t have any problems until the Dress Circle. I was constantly worried that I wasn’t on the track, using up nervous energy. Every time I saw a Waratah I had a huge sense of relief then doubt after I passed it. It was slowing me down but I still had tons of time left, no problems. I finally got to Alpha hut and took on more water. I also made the biggest mistake of the day. I didn’t eat.
Why didn’t I eat? I don’t have a good reason. I was feeling a little nauseous but that was understandable. I hadn’t had any cramps yet. I think the main reason was the wrong impression that I was only a couple of hours from the end.
That long night on Marchant nearly broke me. It was lonely and disheartening. Again, I was doubting my competence to stay on track and that was slowing me down a lot. Block XVI came relatively quick but the next section went on and on. I was feeling pretty low and becoming delirious. I was worried I had somehow turned around, or was descending to Smiths creek without knowing it. I was also having trouble seeing my watch, my eyes were getting sore from having contacts in for so long. At 23 hrs and 15 minutes I told myself I had another hour left. My addled brain concluding that I left at 15 past the hour.
The “eat’ alarm on my watch was going off about as regularly as the kilometre alarm. Where the fuck was Dobsons? My brain finally clicked as to how much time I had left and it wasn’t a lot. Just as I was really doubting myself the track flattened out and the adrenaline of panic allowed me to start running. The problem was time and distance and the solution was to run. There was no excuse, the alternative was unthinkable. Another year of planning how to knock a few minutes off a 24 hour run? Fuck that, just run you bastard. And I did…
I would like to thank Chris Martin for the support and his dedication to Wellington mountain running. Sandra Murphy, for the lift to Ekatahuna and the Road End. Joe Murphy for logistics and an overhaul of my training technique: why go for a run when you can make it a race. His positive outlook makes any run a delight. Trentham United Harriers for their support and encouragement. This club is nearly a Mountain Running club now. I get to use the PLB for free. BSR for the brutal SX runs and limitless knowledge to mine. Chris Swallow, although I hardly got to know him, his do it attitude made a great impression on me. My tendency to procrastinate, I think, was tempered after his passing. What a legend. Michael Beaumont for unfortunately seeing me achieve this first when he deserves it much more. I am sure that without me he would have done it last year and due to an operation the start of this summer was a no goer. He’ll get there soon. Maree Sandbrook, who I meet only briefly as she was taking off for a double S-K. I asked her a couple of inane questions like “have you got everything?” I could tell that she was completely under control. What an impressive woman, also legend! Kyle Malone for coming to meet me at the finish and another one whose attitude has made an impression on me. No fear of failure for this boy, get out there! Finally, of course, my patient and lovely wife, Kayo. At least she didn’t have to drive to Otaki this year.