Greg Thurlow Report 2008

After being cooped up inside through such a great spell of fine weather in December

2007, I reckoned it was time for something big. Graham had been badgering me for

an attempt at the S-K in December and due to prior commitments this had been

delayed until wkend 5-6 Jan. However looking at the wx forecast, New Years day was

looking too good to resist.

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After a few calls, New Years Eve was spent on the long drive to Putara. Due to

logistical reasons (pack weight, transport) I decided to go into Herepai on the first

evening. I know purists would say that it is not the “whole hog” however I think it’s

justifiable after staying in Speargrass Hut on another Wellington Ridge Runners

attempt at a St Arnaud – Lewis Pass mission. Fortunately this story has a better

ending, just ask Andy, Mike or Kelly about the other trip – I’m sure they would

remember the night at Christopher Hut !!!

I pushed the rev limiter into Herepai, amazed at how dry the track was. Even though

it was southerly, I soon had a good sweat going and blinded the wildlife on route by

shedding my t-shirt. Soon enough the hut appeared in a brisk 50 minutes. After lots

of stretching out it was onto cold rations for tea. Not the highlight of the trip but

necessary to save weight. A bit sad hitting the sack at 8pm on New Years Eve but at

least I had the hut to myself.

Up early at 04:25 and away up the trail under torchlight by 04:50. By the time I hit

the tussock tops round Herepai the new day’s light was filtering through the early

morning clag. This was being blown through the saddles between the peaks of East,

West, Herepai and Ruapee.

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I had been contemplating doing a reccie of this area as it had caused me a few

issues on a Bannister daytrip, just on dark in the clag a few years ago. No worries

now as there is a worn track – little did I know that it was a sign of things to come..

Eventually made it to the waratah at East peak, dropped down through the clag of

the saddle and finally back up into the first sun of the day on West Peak. With a

biting south-easterly blowing I had hands like iceblocks and legs that didn’t work

properly – even in tights..The tablecloth of mist forming on the eastern side of Mitre

ridge looked superb but alas I had to put the foot down to make haste while the

temperature was bearable. Pretty soon Pukemoremore went by and I went thru the

saddle before Dundas with the hut quite a way below. One day I must drop down

there to bag it but I have never been bothered when I have been in the vicinity .A

steady plug up Dundas and it was into run mode trying to match the Goldsworthy

time of 50 minutes to Arete. I had estimated my times from those of Ben and Richie

from 2004, and couldn’t resist noting those of past legends Gary Goldsworthy and

Colin Rolfe.I did keep reminding myself that I was racing the darkness and not other

people..

thur3

The track was now in good shape and Ruapehu was levitating above the ground to

the north – it looked so close. Taranaki was also visible and the cool southerly was

rather refreshing…Te Matawai was beckoning however I was off on ginga (I mean

red) line down through to Drac Biv. The track through here was just magic – I was

running but alas Colin was still a fraction quicker through here. The sound of the

river in the Park valley below was tempting me but I pushed on. Finally got rid of the

tights at Drac Biv and warned people in the logbook about a “low flying ginga on a

mission” ahead on the Main Range. Spirits were high due to the cleared track and it

was off again through the cool of the native bush to Nichols. The heat out of the wind

eventually got to me as the day progressed. By the time I got to Nichols I definitely

preferred the slight zephyr on the tops. And back onto known territory – from here

on I knew what I was in for as it had been completed on previous trips.

Crawford came, photos and txt msgs sorted from the top and back to unlimited

views of the Tararuas.

The feeling one gets when looking back over the vast distance covered is always

tempered by the Southern Crossing looking rather distant.

But onwards one must go so I dropped down to Andersons where I surprised two

tramping folk who commented that I looked rather fresh after coming from way

North. They were really positive in their encouragement – just what I needed as it

was now the make or break of the trip through the dreaded mud and leatherwood of

the Southern Main Range (SMR) . But alas I was to be disappointed – not. DOC had

cleared the track and the travel was remarkably quick through here to Kime.

Kawhiroa, Aopak (as it was known to me from childhood days when I managed to

loose a pack here and spend a night out on the tops), Wright (smaller than I

remember), Simpson (which bump is that ?) and up to the barn that is now

Maungahuka. Here, I surprised a group of trampers having a dip in the tarn. Some

questions as to why I would want to do this and then the start of DOC’s wonderful

blue poles over the peaks. Care required here – then quick time through to Bridge

Peak. I was actually enjoying the climbs as they were in shadow.the heat had taken

it’s toll even though I had had a light zephyr most of the day. DOC has done some

good work through here, alas the feared leatherwood tunnel crawl somewhere

around Yeates is now gone. Nice to see they have left some of the old overgrown

track on the climb up Bridge Peak. A reminder of the slow travel that was the SMR of

the past. The numerous false summits of Bridge Peak took forever as per usual and

the sound of the stream from the tarns below had my mind wandering from the job

at hand.

It had been imperative to be above the peaks by nightfall so wandering through the

dodgy tussock tops of bridge peak before dark was a bonus. Being 3 hrs up on my

predicted time was also a fantastic feeling. Water at Kime, with people being worried

about me not making Kaitoke before nightfall surprising me..I was thinking that the

southern crossing on a clear night during summer conditions was nothing after the

fun Hazel and I had doing a winter crossing in clag, fierce winds and snow. Maybe I

was also a bit complacent from the quick time I had made cruising down the SMR. A

couple of cellphone calls from Hector and I was anticipating the possibility of cracking

the 24 hr barrier. The sunset from around Hector was great – the Harbour like a

millpond to the south and the mountains of the South Island silhouetted against the

sky. Unfortunately my disposable camera was not up to the task..Then around the

warn path of the southern crossing. When I first did this route as a teenager one

could actually get lost up here as there was lots of tussock. During summer

conditions I don’t think that is now possible as I just followed the warn trail, no map

or compass required, even at night. In my books the best use for DOC’s blue poles

was under the water tank at Kime…pointing me in the correct direction away from

the hut..Pointless otherwise, but don’t get me started on DOC’s priorities..The stars

came out and were just beautiful, the dip down into the saddle before Alpha was

negotiated and then all of a sudden coming down off Alpha my knees turned to

custard. The pace slowed, much swearing ensured at the unevenness of the loose

rocks on the track and I sat at Alpha contemplating a break. I decided that 23:30

was not a good time to wake everyone at Alpha and I was made of sterner stuff so

just filled my water bottles and cruised on..

The beech forest proved to be more suited to my knees, although Hells gate was

another nightmare. A quick climb up the other side, on through the clearing below

Omega without a hitch and down the golden stairs leading to the Marchant. I’ve been

doing a bit of track building with the Kennet Brothers on the skyline walkway and

whoever marked out the track on the Marchant should be shot. Diabolical – I reckon

one actually traverses the ridge from north top south and from south to North

distance wise as it snakes it’s way down the ridge, finding every patch of tree roots

in order to try and snare an ankle. Add to that tempting glimpses of the lights of

Wellington and it’s not exactly the best situation to be in when one is brain dead. Aye

– The S-K was not giving in easily. Eventually Block XIV turnoff went by, then Mt

Marchant and the burn. Coming down off Mt Marchant I stumbled across a tent in the

middle of the track – the ridge had bitten someone else that night as well. About this

time orange streaks on the trees that looked like huge blazes on the trees confused

my fried brain. I thought that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to mark the

route for me. But alas it was the first rays of the sunrise. Light again and the flies

were out indulging in the mud of the track and another smelly being passing through

– reminded me of Australia and the WRC. Funnily enough this was the only real

Tararua Mud monster I encountered on the trip as the dry weather in Nov/Dec meant

the trails on the tops were in superb condition. After Dobsons the S-K shuffle was

resumed and out to the roadend to rendezvous with Hazel at Kaitoke. All in a total of

25 hrs and 47 min and 4 kilos lighter than I began.

Not much further than the Kepler but a lot slower travel and the constant climb

descent will test your mental strength – a whopping 6294m climb in total. I was

really happy with most of my times and the fact that I made the most of perfect

conditions. I should point out that I had way better trail conditions than those

legends of the past due to the work of DOC, however I was unsupported and had

extra kit in case of emergency (sleeping bag, EPERB). All in all a bit of an adventure,

another challenge completed that I had only dreamt about when I was a teenager.

Thanks to Claire & Hazel for transport, Graham for endorsing my “weather window”

and Colin “the legend” for inspiring me to do something special…

For the record:

My Wander

Time(stationary) elapsed time

Putara roadend 50

Leave Herepai 450

East Peak 610 80

Dundas 830 140

Arete (5) 0922(7) 52

Drac biv (5) 1054(9) 85

Nichols 1249 105

Andersons hut (5) 1421(7) 101

Aokaparangi 1613 95

Maungahuka hut (5) 1738(7) 85

Kime (5) 2035(7) 170

Alpha(10) 2329(10) 166

Block XIV turnoff 0156(5) 147

Kaitoke (the end) 221

Distance (approx): 68km

Total climb (Sunnto accuracy): 6294m

Boots: Salomon Raid Race II (size 10)

Pack (no water): start: 8kg

finish: 5kg

Me: start: 76kg

finish: 72kg

Approx 15l of water drunk over the course.

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