FIRST WINTER SNOWY TARN SK EVER-UNHERALDED
Tarn SK (snowy pre birthday attempt) as it eventuated;
I had been thinking about giving this route a crack for a while now and was waiting until the body and mind and of course weather lined up which just so happened to be very close to my birthday.
Putara start 0300 and felt excited to be getting some high class tops action. Cruising up to Herepai Hut I make a solemn promise to no one in particular I was going to run within myself, in my happy place and savour each moment.
The Caravan of Glory awaited at Kaitoke
No sitting on gravel in a small carpark
Weather on the tops was forecast to be good and it turned out superb. Sunrise was spectacular from East/West Peaks.
I had taken splits for 23hrs but sub 24 was secondary to the 2 main goals for the adventure;
1. Enjoy the day
2. Complete the mission.
The ground conditions underfoot from Herepai to East Peak were more slippery than I remembered and I was glad I took poles as these helped immensely. I had arranged microspikes last minute but after seeing the snow decline rapidly over the last week I decided against taking them. Not sure if they would have helped as the low grass and bush often forces your feet together and I’d probably puncture my own toe.
West Peak to Arete was very slick with about 50mm ice/slush on top of the ‘track’ and have never slipped over so much, I lost count at 50 before Dundas (didn’t destroy my good mood though) and not too many snow pockets. It was my first time through Dundas Ridge and it was awesome with 2000m vert by Arete. I savoured my first glimpse of Dundas Hut and paused to absorb this new angle of the ranges. Bannister and Cattle Ridge looked amazing with snowy highlights.
Before dropping down to the biv I remember many accounts that mention how daunting looking down the range can be but you only have to look back and see how far you’ve travelled to put in perspective.
Arete Biv to end of Tarn Ridge was magic with the Pinnacles, so cool! I rolled my ankle for the 3rd time badly shortly after the Pinnacles (on very non technical terrain thanks Murphy) and resigned myself to stop and do field repairs. I was glad I took a whole roll of tape. I had been shoving snow down my sock since the start and it had been working great keeping inflammation down after rolling it originally at Herepai.
The saddle after Tarn Ridge until Adkin was filled with snow and I’d sink at least to the knees. Lifting your knee past the horizontal for any length of time burns a lot of energy (proof today when the sorest part of me is my motor). The annoying thing about the remains of snow was that it was mostly covering the runnable track so it was that or sidle in the grassy scrub (which I did after almost hyper extending a knee in the snow).
With only sporadic snow pockets after Angle Knob this was where I started having stomach issues and promptly threw up after getting a whiff of my own gas. I think my core had packed it in from of all the slips, stumbles and snow and along with some mild dehydration said stuff you and your Tom&Lukes balls eff off! I was struggling to even keep tailwind down.
Approaching Mt Holdsworth a glance
at my watch had me looking twice, 37km 4000m vert but then I remember similar stats from a northern crossing.
An anti nausea pill worked briefly and in hindsight maybe if I stopped at Powell until I could get whole food down…but that probably would have been a few hours.
I still felt in good shape mentally leaving the hut but not long after I made my last phone calls the stomach really started playing up. I had the head torch on before mountain house and managed to get a few gulps of water in from the tank. With stomach still gurgling I decided to try and walk it out to Totara Flats in the hopes my stomach wood settle and take something, anything.
Although I was starting to manage a few sips of water and even running sections to Totara Flats Hut I was conscious of compromising myself on dwindling energy reserves.
I had a moment at the rocky river section only 2km before the final shopping sign to Walls Whare/ Cone Saddle when I was getting disoriented. I popped out of the brush and kept thinking this ain’t the right river. My subconscious must have been still ticking along as I wandered in the correct direction with my mind playing tricks on me. Moments before climbing out I rolled my bad ankle again, bad enough to break the strapping tape. I don’t remember feeling anything except noticing how bright the stars were laying on my back with boulders for a mattress, and they felt surprisingly comfortable until their chill started seeping through.
Navy Seal face
I carried on gingerly until the sign post, plonked myself down and tried patching up my able to no real avail. My leg was so grimy and with nothing clean to wipe it down the tape wasn’t sticking properly. I tried downing some painkillers but promptly threw them back up grr.
I sat staring at that bloody sign fighting that internal battle of wills that I’m sure many of you will relate to and have fought yourselves. When something of magnitude sits at your fingertips but is surrounded by your demons and fiends of the moment.
Attempting to make an honest assessment without trying to be my own hero and knowing I had 6+hrs in front of me (if I didn’t degrade further) I decided the combination of dehydration, nausea and no fuel for the last 4hrs wasn’t worth it. The ankle didn’t really come into the equation as I’d just be hiking out anyway. I was still within sub 24hr range sadly. As I tell others I’m know they’ll also tell me the hills will still be there tomorrow. Chin up.
It was more of a slog than I imagined trudging the 5km back to road end not an ounce of running left in me.
I started dreaming of bumping into a tramper who would conveniently pull out a sat phone and order me a taxi home and 50 chicken nuggets. The imaginary bastard never showed up.
The walk from road end to
Hopping exit Waiohine Rd
a slither of reception 4km later was excruciatingly slow. A text to Jimmy ‘walls whare, help ‘ followed with confirmation someone would come. I promptly jumped in my Sol emergency bivvy on a safe spot beside the road, removed all wet layers (feel face first in stream while dreaming of nuggets) and chucked on every dry thermal. Instant warmth.
I was just closing my eyes when my brother pulled up and helped me in with a chuckle.
Quick post match discussion with Jimmy, JT and Major Martini on the way home lifted the spirits. They were stoked and supportive as were all the other messages throughout the day and night before from the BSR and WaiBSR crew. They always give you a boost so cheers!
Epic trip, great memories and lessons. Wouldn’t change it. Here’s to a season of epicness in the hills 🍻
Failure is a step towards success.