Kev Fink SK Valleys 2017

Kev’s SK Blog December 2017


Really in its most pure and simple form, this is a report of an adventure spanning six river valleys with six corresponding climbs and descents, starting in Putara and ending in Kaitoke. But my personal journey makes this a story about firstly a desire to earn my club stripes; secondly a desire to put past failures behind me and redeem myself in my own eyes; and thirdly about friendship.


My journey started way back in April when on short notice, Chris Martin suggested we attempt an SK valleys route. I felt intimidated and vastly underprepared. But I felt it had been a long time since I had truly pushed myself out of my comfort zone. So, on the 16th of April 2017 we gave it a crack.

I’m not going to dwell too long on what happened here, but swollen rivers, poor weather conditions and a high level of under-preparedness meant that in the end, I came out with many lessons learned, but no right to wear the club shirt or cap. The feeling of abject failure had left a bitter taste in my mouth so it was only natural that before long we were planning a return with better gear, and this time, a more traditional date of the summer solstice.

The date rolled around much quicker than expected so on Friday the 22nd of December, a large group of us headed up to Putara. Marta and her Godzone training partner Jimmie opted to start as soon as we got there making it a night time mission. Chris Martin, Max Strummer, Caroline O’Neil, AJ Esler and I all headed back to the well-appointed Putara base camp with Ian Atkinson providing his services as driver and well of knowledge.

It was a great night of storytelling, jokes, eating and of course drinking. Which helped to dispel the persistent butterflies of the mission that was about to unfold.

All splits that follow are guides at best and bullshit at worst.


4.30 – 6.00am Putara Road end to Roaring Stag

After the usual faffing about at the road end with last minute gear checks we were finally off. The initial plan had been to all stick together until Cow Creek, but it quickly became apparent that breaking into two groups from the start would be the smartest plan. So AJ and I broke away. This felt like a natural pairing as we had spent plenty of time running side by side at the A100 only a month earlier. We were making good time and the nerves that I had felt the night before were quickly forgotten.


6.00 – 9.00am Roaring Stag to Cow Creek

During this section, it became clear how well AJ and I worked together. The conversation flowed freely, and importantly, my tendency to locate tracks quickly by reading the lay of the land and guessing where I was based on Viewranger (often without a decent GPS lock) was complimented well by AJ’s more methodical map and compass approach. We didn’t have too much trouble locating Cleft Creek and were quickly crossing the river to Cows Creek where we were greeted by a couple who were smoking freshly caught trout for breakfast.


9.00 – 11.00am Cows Creek to Mitre Flats

Sadly leaving the mouth-watering aromas of smoked fish behind, AJ and I mixed ourselves up some Perpetuem and Tailwind and we were off towards Mitre Flats. It was during this section that my stomach started to feel upset. Initially I was concerned about it but after cutting down on Perpetuem intake and switching to bars/water for the next couple of sections this minor issue seemed to clear right up.

11am – 1.20pm Mitre Flats – Atiwhakatu

It was somewhere along this section that I managed to roll my ankle, a mistake that would come back to bite me later. It always feels like a much longer and slower section than it has any right to, but by the time we were close to Atiwhakatu it felt great to be on the boardwalks and some truly runnable sections finally letting the legs turn freely. We were off again after a quick rest and lunch at Atiwhakatu, where we met a family whose son was training for a school trip to the Tongariro Crossing.

Atiwhakatu – Totara Flats

I really really hate the climb from Atiwhakatu to Mountain House and the pain in my ankle wasn’t helping my mood. Luckily AJ was on hand to remind me to pull my head out of my arse and my bad mood became temporary. That, my slight deviation off course in an effort to gain extra vert and bumping into a large Squadrun contingent were the only things of note on this section.


Totara Flats – Cone

Totara Flats was great. Stinking hot but great. We met another tramper at the hut and chatted for a while. She was planning on travelling to Tutuwai in the morning. AJ and I made the decision to stick to the river for as long as possible which may have slowed us down but the break from climbing, and the consistent access to fresh flowing cold water made it well worthwhile and gave me the chance to cool my quickly swelling ankle. The climb up to Cone Saddle was as to be expected but again, AJ and I worked really well together and were both in high spirits.


Cone – Kaitoke 8.45pm – 12.45am

We got to Cone before 9pm and it was still light! We were going to finish no doubt, and if I wasn’t so tired, I would have performed a happy dance. We stopped and talked to a hunter who recounted meeting Mark and Jimmie. We restocked our fuel and were off into the Tauherenikau valley with thoughts of glory on our minds. Head torches were out and required before we reached Tutuwai and my swollen ankle had slowed me down to a shuffle. It became apparent that AJ’s dreams of a sub 20 hour was starting to slip away but he faithfully stayed with me as my pace continued to slow.

By the time we reached Smith’s Creek, thoughts of a finish line whiskey had turned my shuffle into a jog, but the climb up the puffer was painfully slow. After that it was just a short jog out on dry clean clay surface all the way to the car park and a well-earned victory whiskey with a man who only a few months earlier I had never met, but I am now proud to call a friend.


Thank Yous

Thank you to Wellington Big Sunday Runs for the sharing of knowledge and experience and the big adventures. Good blokes, all of you.

Chris Martin for always encouraging us to push our limits.

Jimmie and Ian for driving duties.

Caro and Max for the great company, and of course AJ.

Most of all thank-you to my partner Julia who is forced to patiently put up with my constant training and then pull Christmas day together by herself while I sleep