SK valley trip report 15 April 2018 Paul Helm
Having made the call to run the SK via the valley route and got Iain Atkinson to join in the madness, there was no pulling out. The weather the week before has seen snow on the tops and river level quite high. We decided on the Sunday as a start as that would provide us with an extra day for the river levels to fall further. Marta Zanelli was happy to travel up with us so we could leave one car at the K end and to take another car back for us.
Saturday saw us set off for the Base camp backpackers at Putara via Carterton’s kebab restaurant. Settled in to a fine but cool night at the accommodation although with the fire going soon warmed up.
Up early and off running by 5 25am from the road end. Iain in front, Marta somewhere behind, she was heading up to Herupai and Dundas and stayed back so was not supporting us. Wet and muddy under foot from the off. Very muddy down to Roaring stag hut. Torches off before the hut. Grabbed a bit to eat and then off to the bridge. Over the bridge and then by the river, water cold and rock wet and slippery. Steady progress down the river, couple of crossing and wading through the river, cold but not too deep. Thigh deep or waist deep in places but then got to a narrow section where the only option was full neck deep and swim. That was very cold but we pushed on. Got to Cleft creek and finally out of the river. I struggled to get up the creek so went up the left hand side straight up. It certainly warmed me up then the muddy and wet trek towards Cow saddle. Slow progress but much quieter than by the river and warmer.
Over the saddle and down to Cow creek hut, cut the corner across to the Hut. Iain in front and I took a trip flat out in the river so pretty cold at that point.
Quick refuel and off again, still cloudy at this stage but no wind but wet tree roots etc. Hard slog down to Mitre flats hut. Missed the track in one place on the way down due to a tree fall but otherwise navigation going well. Iain hit the boards before the hut and took a fall. Sunny at the hut so grabbed water and food and a brief rest. Not racing the course but wanting to move steadily. Feet and body ok but still slow. Off on the Bartons track, got the poles out for the first time to climb the saddle. Nice weather calm but still wet underfoot so slippery on the roots. Climb was good then short decent to next river valley. Some views on to the tops as cloud was breaking up. Muddy and wet down to the Atiwhakau hut. Using poles along this bit so I didn’t fall. Met folks at the hut who obviously thought we were mad and unlikely to manage the trip we told them we were doing. Reasonable pace to the Mountain house turn off, then the climb up the hill. Sunny and cool at this stage. Met folks that had been on the very tops in the snow and sunshine. The valley route really keeps you in the trees and gives no views at all. At this time of year it’s wet and damp and you see so little sun. It’s not a great time of year to do the run.
Stopped on the top of the Pig flats to make calls and grab messages. It’s the only place with good coverage to the outside world on the route. More food then off again. I was slowing down at this stage. The past few weeks were catching up with me. Northburn 100 miles, 4 weeks before plus a 7 hour run two weeks ago were not ideal prep for this run. Got down to Totara creek easily enough and filled up on water and food. Good run to Totara flats hut. Feeling good but slow Iain pushing on but pulling me along. Met a group in the hut one of whom I knew from work. Hot in the hut as they had the fire going, they also offered a cup of tea. It was starting to get dark but we didn’t need the torches at that point. Filled on food and then off across the flats. Got the torches on as we climbed off the flats. Too dark under the cover of the bush. Ok moving down the valley to the turn off to Cone Saddle.
Using the Led Sensor torch was far from ideal, my Nao was leant out to someone else so had the basic torch plus heaps of partly used batteries from Northburn etc. That was a fail as well since I was going through batteries quickly or putting up with poor lighting. Very slow up to the saddle. Kept stopping. Feeling sick, make myself sick. Realised I couldn’t face food or even water to drink. Tried jet planes and even those didn’t stay down. Going slow at this point and started falling over via slipping on wet roots etc. Lost the track after a big tree fall at one point but found it again and pushed on. Iain going well and waiting for me or getting me to change batteries!
The saddle top at last, sat for a while then off again down to the hut. It felt that it took a long time to get to the hut. Very slow and kept slipping and banging knees and legs. Once at the hut just sat on the bench outside and tried not to be sick. Not sure what started the sickness but it was not a great feeling.
Set off again, no real option and the end wasn’t getting any closer by sitting. Put an extra top on before setting off as getting cold with moving slower and not generating any heat. Bit or a blur after that all the way down to Tutuwai was hard and muddy and slippery, plus kept stopping to rest then get up and get going again. Tried food but that didn’t work. On down the river valley, boy that is a long way without energy or drive. Got to the river bridge, then Smith creek shelter, more stopping and struggling tried food again but not working. Very slow now along to the bottom of the puffer track. I recall sitting down several times and then just pushing on. Digging deep to complete the route.
Finally going up the puffer and down the other side. Still wet and muddy but then the clay ! Very slippery. Fell several times. Cursed and swore but that did no good. Still swapping batteries as needed.
Finish was just a relief, no pleasure or satisfaction this time. Happy to sit on the back of the car and have a beer. That felt good and did stay down. Iain did a great job, he was a lot stronger than me and could have left me and gone a head from Mitre flats but didn’t. We broke the 24 hours but it was not easy. I realise now that I should have respected the route more, been fully rested before it. Tried it in warmer weather and dry conditions.
It really started to rain very heavily after we left the car park. Iain followed me in his car to Jardin mile to be sure I was ok driving home. Finished after 20 hours 25min. Beer waiting in the car and on the back of the car left by Marta and Chris Martin, all very welcome. Last of the three SK options for me to complete in under 24 hours. Harder than expected but satisfying in hindsight.
Got home after 3am in the morning, slept as I was then up at 6am, showered cleaned up, off to work for 730am. Managed not to fall asleep but went home at 3pm to sort/clean gear and then sleep.
Lessons, be fully rested before this. Take a good torch. Take a good mate that will help you through! Oh, and not such a great idea to do it on your wedding anniversary !