When injuries inevitably crop up from time to time it usually means that adventuring goes on the back burner. With the long weekend looming and both of us feeling a bit down about not being able to climb anything, we had an epiphany that we could still ride our bikes. Bike packing has been a somewhat foreign concept to me so far but after following Mark Watson biking the length of the North and South American continents for the past few months (you can check it out here) I decided it could just be a go. After all, what could be easier than cruising along on a mountain bike and watching the kms fly by instead of trudging along a track with a huge pack?
We headed out to one of our favourite spots, the Hakatere, and parked the car at Buicks Bridge (FYI this is not the best place to park if you're biking this track but more on that later!) where we had started our Mystery Lake trip from. The plan was to head into Boundary Creek Hut and then keep following the track up the South Branch as far as it took to find a good camp spot. After throwing my pack on and jumping on my bike it didn't take long to realise that adding 10kg of gear to your back significantly impacts my speed and ability to control where I'm going! The track to begin with is a gradual uphill and not very flat so I was feeling my legs well in truly by the time we reached the stream 45 minutes later.
The dog took the opportunity to cool off for a bit before we turned off the Te Araroa and headed up the 4WD track to Boundary Creek Hut. The riding became significantly easier although remained slightly uphill most of the way to the hut. There is a bit of a hill that makes for a rocky and fast descent but anyone of average mountain biking skill (of which I am not) shouldn't be too bothered by the terrain. When we pulled up to the hut a large group of early 20-somethings were unpacking their gear and chilling bottles of scrumpy in the conveniently placed river. Another couple of groups were setting up tents nearby, bringing the total community to slightly more than we were keen to spend the night with. Thus we took our introverted anti-social selves off down the track another kilometre and out onto the river bed.
Izzy had run the whole way in chasing our bikes and we assumed she would be keen to cool off and curl up for a rest. Apparently she wasn't convinced that we had traveled a sufficient distance and instead proceeded to head across the river where the track continued and sat waiting for us to join her for most of the rest of the night. In an effort to try and reduce the weight of our packs for easier riding we had brought a tarp and ground sheet instead of a tent. The tarp can be pitched with a couple of walking poles or sticks making for a lightweight but spacious shelter for the night. What we were vaguely aware of before setting out and acutely aware of at 7am is that tarps don't keep sand flies out.
There was a meteor shower that night and lying out on the river bed with a good fire made for perfect viewing with our oversupply of salami, cheese and the requisite pick n mix from New World. The dog eventually came back but refused to sleep in the tarp with us, I guess to teach us a lesson. Despite the blood suckers turning up early in the morning I really rate tarp life. There was a lot more room than we normally have in our two person tent despite having thrown all of our gear in around our sleeping mats and getting in and out was easy with the pole set up. If I can find some low sand fly zones in future I'd happily take this over the full tent and fly set up.
The trip back out was downhill the whole way (after pushing our bikes back up the hill right after the hut) and we had to slow down a few times to let Izzy have a rest from running. She may have come from a farm but she spends most of her week sunbathing on the couch in our living room rather than sprinting full pace through the countryside. When we reached the single track we had initially ridden in on we instead followed the 4WD track all the way out to the road. This was considerably easier riding even with the head wind back down the min road to the car park.
There are so many great parts of the Hakatere to explore either on foot or by bike you could spend weeks out there but Boundary Creek is a nice introduction for the uninitiated. The sun can be brutal with the lack of shade so sunscreen up and take a good bit of water if you're walking.
I have a love-hate relationship with mornings. That is to say I love sleeping and hate having to get up. But every now and then (read very infrequently) I feel motivated enough to get up at some miserable hour to head off for a mission. Having been suffering from the dreaded ‘wilderness withdrawals’ I had big plans for my Monday off work and set out to come up with a plan to make the most of the fine weather forecast. I knew I wanted to do a good bit of trail running and to try and push myself a little harder than I normally would. I figured a day trip to Diamond Harbour sounded like just the ticket. Diamond Harbour you say? Hardly sounds like a hardcore outing. Certainly it isn’t the first thing to come to mind when you think of trail running, but what ensued was a fun day filled with technical trail, a good dollop of climbing, and views to rival any.
The plan was simple: park the car in Lyttleton, head up the bridle path to the crater rim, then follow the crater rim all the way around to Gebbies Pass, cross the road and follow the trail up to Packhorse Hut, traverse behind Mt Bradley and over Mt Herbert, then drop down to Diamond Harbour and catch the ferry home. Simple enough right?
Of course in reality some parts were a bit trickier than I had first anticipated! The travel is initially easy going up the bridle path and around as far as Gebbies Pass. You can either run the road or take the Crater Rim track (which generally follows the road) - I have to admit to running the road for the majority of this first section. Once you hit Gebbies pass you are on trail for the rest of the trip and I saw no need to tire my legs any more than necessary before hitting the harder (and higher) portion of the day. When I was planning the trip I had initially wanted to start in Diamond Harbour and run back to Lyttleton but all the trip reports I could find were for the other direction. I’m picking this is because if you go the other way you end up with a soul destroying slog up to the crater rim from Gebbies Pass. Seriously you can see the next 5km of road stretching out and up in front of you into eternity. Definitely type 2 fun.
From Gebbies pass you turn left (towards the head of the bay) and cross the road. You will see a gravel area and a 4wd track that leads you to the track to Packhorse Hut. The track when I went was in a miserable state. Christchurch had been hit with record breaking rain in the weeks prior to this trip and the track showed it. In most places it flowed with water and I ran into significant sections where the track had washed out entirely. Still all things considered the track was enjoyable, initially climbing through pine plantation before popping out into tussock and up to Packhorse hut. I arrived at Packhorse Hut 4 hours in at 10:30am feeling pretty good and happy with how the day was progressing. After smashing down some food and refilling my hydration bladder I started on the climb up to Mt Bradley.
The track here climbs somewhat steeply and then traverses under the mountain and around towards Mt Herbert. This is where the fun started. All that rain I mentioned earlier? Yea that froze. The track would have been perfect for ice skating but it proved less so for running. As this part of the track is south facing it gets hardly any sunlight and as such had frozen solid and wasn’t thawing anytime soon. I ended up holding on to any foliage I could and sidling above or below (watch out for the bluffs!) the track to get past the worst bits. When I finally made it back into the sun on the saddle between Mt Bradley and Mt Herbert It had taken me about 40 minutes to cover less than 1.5km. Thankfully here the ice made way for snow and I passed the Mt Herbert Shelter around midday.
The final 9km from here drops down from the summit through farmland directly into Diamond Harbour. I must admit that I found this section a bit tedious; constantly dodging cow crap and trying not to fall over in the mud. It would definitely be more enjoyable if it were a bit drier. The old pins were starting to tire somewhat by now too so I was happy to be on the home stretch. The track crosses Marine Drive and drops down alongside a stream directly to the ocean. Once you pop out at the water's edge there is a track to follow the 500m around to the ferry wharf. I ended up using the last of my energy sprinting this to try and catch the rapidly approaching ferry. I got a few strange looks from the locals as I ran down the wharf covered in mud and no doubt looking somewhat haggard. My total time for the day was 7 hours and 15 minutes and distance was just over 43km with about 1700m of climbing. The ferry costs $6.50 and is a hell of a lot quicker.
There's something a little masochistic about trail running and the more I get into it the more I'm equal parts fascinated and disgusted at how much I enjoy it. At the start of the month work was sponsoring the Motatapu down in Arrowtown and I was lucky enough to get to both help with the behind the scenes stuff as well as compete in the 15km Miner's Trail. This was the first time I had done any real training for an off-road event and the stunning scenery and awesome track design made for a really fun morning out. I almost didn't notice the massive soul-destroying hills or the wicked bout of stitch I got about halfway through since I was having such a good time. While I still feel thoroughly intimidated by the compression tight, GPS watch, short short wearing ultra hard core running crowd I decided to suck it up and give the whole "trail running" thing a real go this year.
Naturally my first step was to rush out and purchase a copy of Kiwi Trail Runner and study up on everything I would need to know. As it turns out, trail running is basically just like tramping when you're trying to cut the DOC time in half; without a huge heavy pack, or heavy boots, or having to navigate, with giant numbers plastered across your belly. To be fair, it sounded like an easier way of doing what I do most weekends but with a finish line and prizes and stuff. I'm pretty sure more people would be out tramping and exploring our amazing wilderness areas if we gave them the chance to win free stuff for just turning up. But I digress, it was also in the magazine (which was actually a bloody good read) that I came across the Arrowsmith Thee Races.
Lake Heron and the Hakatere Conservation Area in general is a majestic place on a clear day. You get these vast sweeping views all the way up to the Southern Alps and the stunning Arrowsmith Range towering far above the sparkling waters of the Lake. Saturday was not a clear day and as I drove through from Mt Somers the rain and dense cloud from the plains was also there obscuring all but the really slow SUV I was stuck behind on the narrow shingle road. When I made it to the Lake, some time later, I parked up next to the wool shed and headed in for registration. The organisers had covered all of the most important aspects of event village set up with a coffee van on site and two portaloos just covering the pre-race demands of around 260 competitors. I checked in, collected the requisite four safety pins and perused the racks of snazzy looking ultra lightweight jackets and packs from furtherfaster while I waited for briefing to roll around.
The Arrowsmith started out some ten years ago as a mountain bike race but has since added an off road marathon, 17km Lake Face race, a duathlon and an 11km fun run/walk. I was competing in the Lake Face run which started, would you believe, along the lake before climbing to almost 1200m above the station and looping back around and down to the start line. I'm going to honest, it was a busy week leading up to the race and I had spent about 30 seconds studying the map and elevation graph for the course before I turned up that morning. I'm not sure if this turned out to be a good thing or a bad thing as it meant I had no idea how much of a climb we were going to have in the first 9km so I stupidly assumed I was almost at the top for about half an hour. The track became rougher and started disappearing slowly into thick cloud the higher we got which added a fun kind of Stephen King quality to the run.
Thankfully it was at about the halfway mark that I met an awesome 11 year girl that I had been running slightly behind until then. After I got over the fact that I was clearly being out classed by someone less than half my age we got chatting and found we made a pretty good team running together. The cloud and smaller field meant we ended up on our own trying to follow the sometimes sparsely placed markers down the more rugged descent. The company was great (see the Stephen King reference above) and having someone to talk to made the last few kms fly by. Cleo also had one of those fancy hard core watches that told us how far we had gone - I've realised now how much I need this in my life.
She stayed with me right until the last 20m where we had a pretty legitimate sprint off that she won a little too easily (I think she was holding herself back those last two kms because she didn't want to hurt my feelings!). I really enjoyed the rougher ground compared to road running and felt pretty good with my pace although I'm still not sure what my time was as I write this as I always forget to pay attention when I finish. Probably something to do with feeling utterly relieved I've actually crossed the finish line or you know just being totally above such antiquated measures of ones performance as overall time or position. The cooler weather was actually perfect to run in but I didn't hang around too long afterwards as my support crew of zero meant a long and lonely drive back to Christchurch on my own. Don't feel too sorry for me though, a twin pack of snickers bars had me feeling like I could run the whole thing all over again... in about a week.
If you haven't been out to that neck of the woods it's well worth a day trip to either Lake Heron or Mt Sunday if you can pick out some sunshine. For more information on Thee Races visit their website here. A big thanks to Multisports events for putting on such a fun race, I'll definitely be back next year to have a crack at the full (I've published that now so I have to do it right?).
What are work perks for if not to be taken advantage of for your own personal travel ambitions? With the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Utah at the end of our Christmas break, it would have been rude not to tack on a cheeky roadie around California on the way. With the bosses blessing one of my workmates and I loosely planned a circuitous route from San Francisco to Salt Lake City taking in some of California's stunning coastline as well as the Nevada desert and a couple of National Parks over a two week stretch of American winter.
I flew up to Auckland on Boxing Day feeling a little worse for wear after the previous day's festivities and gorging myself on classic kiwi summer BBQ fare. I had packed in a hurry that morning and my bag was a concerning 20kg already since we were heading into winter and wanted to get in a bit of trail action as well as shopping and of course gambling in Vegas. To be fair I used everything in my suitcase but I had 3 times as many clothes as what I backpacked around Europe with!
We arrived in San Francisco feeling totally awesome after a 13 hour flight with little sleep and that really really good plane food. Having a somewhat limited budget we had opted for the HI at Fisherman's Wharf to spend the first couple of nights before we picked up our hire care and started the actual road part of the road trip. It's not the flashest hostel I've spent time in but it was warm and clean with pretty good staff and the location is ideal for exploring in most directions.
A wander down towards Pier 39 takes you past plenty of great seafood restaurants and kiosks if you're that way inclined. We took a massively scenic walk all the way from here to Union Square up and down hills that took me back to living in Dunedin again. Street Cars are a much more leisurely form of transport but be prepared to line up for a long long time to get on one from the Fisherman's Wharf end on Hyde Street. The shopping at Union Square is pretty awesome and if that's your thing then I would recommend staying in this part of town and just visiting the waterfront instead.
On our second day way rented bikes from Blazing Saddles (also on Hyde St) and cycled along the waterfront and over the Golden Gate Bridge. The ride is pretty easy and a fun way to see the bridge from both sides. The guys at Blazing Saddles made sure we knew exactly where we were going and it's almost impossible to get lost (if you're a direction challenged individual use Google Maps and pin some points along the way before you leave). Once across we continued on to the idyllic Sausalito which conveniently is downhill the whole way from the bridge and all kinds of quaint. It was a bit early for lunch but this would be a great spot to stop for food before you catch the ferry back across the harbour or continue on to Muir Woods.
We opted to head back across on the ferry (we had tickets already from the bike rental which made life easy) and continue exploring the city. While we still had the bikes we made our way right across town and inadvertently straight through the ghetto to see the painted ladies which were actually pretty amazing. My eight year old Full House loving self was properly impressed. Much shopping and another night at the hostel later we were picking up our rental and heading west for Yosemite. The rental company had thoughtfully given us a car with no gas in it so our first challenge was getting out of the city in rush hour traffic whilst trying to find somewhere to fill up. I had a few nervous moments driving on the wrong side of the road down the narrow streets but thankfully I'll never see those people again.
The drive inland took us through Modesto and Merced and onto a little town called Mariposa about 90 minutes from Yosemite National Park. The Main Street was straight out of every feel good American film I had seen in the 90's with a handful of shops, s couple of gas stations and surrounded by beautiful green forest. We were lucky there hadn't been a lot of snow when we arrived so we were able to drive into the park ourselves without chains the next day. The YARTS bus runs fairly regularly though and would have been a good alternative had the weather been different.
As we got nearer to Yosemite and started to glimpse the huge granite towers that form the walls of the valley, I got just a little bit excited. I've watched countless videos and documentaries set in the park but seeing it in person was pretty breathtaking. We headed to the visitor centre to collect a map and set out to Yosemite Falls which is a short walk away from here. The trails are all paved but covered in ice which made things interesting. About five minutes into the walk we rounded a corner to see three deer wandering into a clearing in front of us. I felt incredibly stealth trying to get a shot of them until I realised they were completely tame and most likely after some food from us.
From here we spent some time exploring further around the park but had to make tracks in the early afternoon to try get back out to the coast by that night. I'll have to go back in summer now to spend a bit more time hiking some of the more further out trails without snow everywhere. Our destination that evening was the seaside town of Monterey and we arrived well after dark after a pretty long day of driving on massive freeways to get there. The main attractions here are the aquarium and the seafood - neither of which we experienced as we were back on the road early the next day. We had lost a day after arriving in Mariposa due to a stomach bug I promised I wouldn't mention in here (bad things happened) so we had to catch up a day if we were going to arrive in LA on time.
From Monterey we began the winding journey down the Pacific Coast Highway which sits atop some pretty spectacular cliffs as we made our way south through Big Sur. The real danger here isn't the road's proximity to a certain death fall down a huge cliff but the tourists stopping erratically and suddenly around every second corner. Anything for that perfect Instagram shot though right? The weather was clear and sunny so we did manage to get a few holiday snaps for the Mum's before heading to Hearst Castle in the late afternoon. I've traveled all around Europe and seen plenty of spectacular castles but this place is still well worth the visit. Courtesy of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the Castle is incomplete but exuding that grand opulence which accompanies some of the most prolific art collectors in the world. Catch a tour of the grounds, grand rooms or cottages from $25 for an adult.
From Hearst Castle we made our way a little further south to Morro Bay for pizza, a glass of wine and an early night. We were away again first thing the next day and shopped our way through Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara before arriving just outside of Ventura to stay with some family friends for a couple of nights. As much as I enjoy doing my own thing while traveling, there's nothing quite like staying with some locals and getting to know an area from a non-tourist point of view. Terri and Alex were incredibly accommodating and treated us to a tour of the Patagonia Archive where Terri works collating and preserving the history of the company. When you work in the outdoor industry going to Patagonia is a little bit like going to Disneyland and we actually got to meet Yvon Chouinard - at the salad bar naturally.
Rebecca spent a morning out rowing on the lake while I tried to sleep off some of the cold that I had been carrying since our second day in San Fran. It was hard to leave the beautiful home and great conversation at the Laine's and return to the not so stimulating confines of the rental car but thankfully the trip from here to Santa Monica was fast and incredibly picturesque. We checked into the HI after having a difficult time trying to find somewhere to park the car. The accommodation here is pretty standard but the location is awesome with the pier just around the corner and plenty of great shopping in just about every direction. If you want to blend in whilst in LA just remember to always carry a yoga mat with you at all times and only drink overpriced green juice.
The only non-retail aspect of our three day stay in LA was a morning hike up in the Hollywood hills and a visit to Griffith Observatory. We had beautiful weather and it was nice to see another part of the city as well as stumbling upon the ubiquitous film set halfway up Mt Hollywood. I had been to Universal Studios on a previous visit so skipped the Theme Parks this time around, however if you haven't been I would still recommend taking a day to explore at least one. We left the city with myself a little worse for wear after the previous night out so to be honest I don't remember the trip to Joshua Tree. Arriving in the early afternoon to the alien-like desert landscape, I soon perked up and got a bit excited again. We were surrounded by strange looking trees, enormous rock piles and a whole lot of dirt that I just couldn't get enough photos of.
Our accommodation was in Twenty-nine Palms, just on the outskirts of the park so we dropped off our gear before heading to the visitor centre to pay our entrance fee. You can drive right across the park in a couple of hours but we stopped in so many places we ended up heading in and back out the same way. It's a little off the beaten track but the Park was really worth the visit. The landscape is just so different from anything else I've ever seen and watching the sun set was pretty breathtaking, We only had an afternoon after losing a day earlier in the trip to sickness but we still covered a fair amount in the few hours of daylight we had left. The Applebee's in Yucca Valley was the perfect end to a pretty spectacular day.
Our last stop before heading to Salt Lake City and the actual "work" part of the work trip (yes feel free to roll your eyes at that) was Vegas... naturally. There was a fair amount of driving on some long boring roads in between the two spots and a couple of hours in I was paying not so much attention to things like speed limits and state troopers parked on the side of the highway. Thankfully the kind Police Officer was good enough to pull me over and explain the difference between miles per hour and kilometres per hour as he quickly deduced this was the reason for my being about 40kph over the speed limit. I got off with a warning after a lot of "yes sir, sorry sir, I understand sir" - I'm fairly certain I would have lost my license back in NZ! Upon entering the city my first impression was pure fear as I encountered possibly the worst drivers in America (other than myself clearly) all heading at break neck speed along the freeway. We were staying at Bally's more or less in the middle of the strip and after finally ditching the car and getting to relax a little I got to fully take in the wonder that is Las Vegas.
It was early afternoon so we checked in and headed out to walk the length of the strip and see each of the different casinos along the way. With very limited funds there wasn't going to be much gambling but after a 3 hour time share presentation on the outskirts of town we managed cheap tickets to Cirque du soleil and about $25 worth of dinner vouchers. I didn't buy into the time share in the end but if I ever do I'm convinced Vegas is the place to do it. Just walking around and admiring the general splendor was plenty to keep me entertained (I had sworn off alcohol after the incident in LA which we won't go into) but if you're not into betting then there are plenty of shows, great restaurants and clubs to visit as well. Then again I suppose some people go to gamble too.
We left Vegas at 5am with a 6.5hr drive to Salt Lake ahead of us to get the rental back on time. We were doing great until we stopped at an iHop for breakfast only to find we had gone forward in time when we crossed the state border. Thus began the most frustrating race against time following my earlier run in with the Feds and the torrential rain which followed us for the next few hours. By the time we reached our drop off point we had 2 minutes to spare before we started getting fined for being late. We parked in the very bottom of the hotel and I left Rebecca to carry all of our luggage while I sprinted upstairs to the Hertz office - which was closed. After catching my breath I calmly dropped the keys in the drop box and tried to figure out if I wanted to be pissed they weren't there or just relieved we wouldn't get charged any more.
Next work trip I'm not driving.
Picture endless rows of grapevines stretching all the way to the coastline on a beautifully warm Marlborough day. Throw in some classical music, overly friendly chickens and about 300 women in all manner of dress and you've got a bloody good setting for a running event. The Yealands Yak has been on my radar for a few years now and I finally got organised with some of the girls from work to enter a team for the last weekend of February. Based at the sprawling Peter Yealands Winery, all female teams of up to eight can walk or run as many of the 3-8km courses as they can in six hours. With at least two team members needing to run at any one time you can make this as casual or competitive as you like. - some teams expended more energy on costume design than actual physical training for the day.
'After pulling in a couple of extras from outside of the office, we assembled our team of five in Blenheim on a scorching hot Friday evening over a couple of drinks. Race day planning consisted of a we'll figure it out when we get there philosophy and promptly wandering off to find a nice restaurant for the evening. Thanks to sweltering temperatures that night, we were less than well rested the following morning as we bundled into the car for the short drive out to Seddon. The Mums in the team were thoroughly organised with practical things like shade tents and folding chairs while Rebecca and I contributed literally nothing other than ourselves to establishing base camp at the winery. Once set up we watched in not so quiet amusement as everything from paddling pools to a full wedding banquet were erected around us by the other teams.
Race briefing was quick with special mention of when the wine tasting would begin - about one hour after the running started and five hours before we would be finished! Our first pair stepped up to tackle the 3.5km opening loop and we were underway. With the exception of an 8km second lap most of the courses were either 3.5km or 5km, meaning we never had to wait long for our next turn out in the field. The day quickly settled into a rhythm of short stretches relaxing in the sun at home base interspersed with running loops around the different parts of the vineyard. Some gave beautiful sweeping views of the Awatere Valley while others took you down and along the beach and over rolling hills. With classical music being belted out of loud speakers (to help the grapes grow of course) and chickens that chased us along the paths between the vines, it was unlike any other race I have competed in.
After completing all eight loops once (just shy of 40km), most team members were hearing the call of the cellar door and so we called it a day with repeating only the first lap a second time. The catering company had put on an amazing spread and a sparkling Pinot Gris was the perfect end to a great day out. While the prizes for best dressed teams went to the much more deserved, we did pull off third place in our category for the actual running. The Yak was really well organised and the complimentary bottle of wine in our race pack was well received (thanks Yealands!). I would definitely recommend it for pretty much any ability but you could make it a real challenge by having a smaller team or trying to do the whole course multiple times in the six hours if you're a sucker for punishment.
There comes a time in every relationship when one needs to make compromises for the person they love. I suggested going to Raratonga for our 5th wedding anniversary, my husband wanted to spend ten days in an alpine hut learning to build snow anchors and rescue each other out of crevasses. Needless to say it wasn't long before we had booked an Alpine Climbing Course through Adventure Consultants in Wanaka. The aim was to learn the skills necessary to move from alpine tramping to actual mountaineering allowing us to climb higher and more technical peaks around the country. We were also pretty keen on the helicopter flights over the Southern Alps!
After raiding the product department at work and pulling together some last minute second hand gear we finally loaded up the Subaru and prayed it would make it all the way down south. Our first morning started at the Adventure Consultants headquarters (you may have heard of these guys in the recent movie "Everest") where we met our fearless leader Mark Austin and the other two members of our group, Matt and Greg. The weather wasn't looking favourable for the next 48 hours so we spent the morning signing waivers and culling our gear to the absolute essentials. I realised pretty quickly that this was going to be a one pair of undies per four days sort of trip.
After heading out to the local crag to go over rock climbing in mountaineering boots and rappelling, we enjoyed one last beer in town before the real adventure began. Day two saw us pile into the trusty AC van for a drive up to beautiful Mt Cook Village and the New Zealand Alpine Club's Unwin Lodge. The weather had us changing plans backwards and forwards as we waited for the airport to call us with a chance to get up the glacier. This gave us time to learn more rope skills on the front deck of the lodge and hanging from the ceiling in the communal kitchen - prussicking out of a crevasse isn't too bad when there's a cup of tea and biscuits waiting for you when you finish. We ended up having to spend the night as the weather refused to clear by evening.
This gave us a chance to check out the Hermitage and Museum in the village the following morning. I was feeling pretty grateful for crampons and my full Macpac kit when I saw photos of the first mountaineers to attempt summits in the park. We also spent some time on a concrete block climbing wall learning to use cams, nuts and slings to make equalized anchors. Thankfully we finally got the call around 3.30pm that we had a window to fly. With our packs all ready to go in the van we loaded up and tore off across the road to the airport and our transport for the day. The flight in was stunning as we helicoptered straight up the Tasman Glacier and past Mt Cook to our accommodation for the next five days, Kelman Hut. Sitting atop a rocky ridge at 2460m this is a DOC Hut with a serious view.
Before we could make the trek up to the hut we had to learn how to use our avalanche transceivers and practice roping up for glacier travel. When Mark was happy we could dig each other out of a couple of metres of snow, we stuffed as many of the food bags as possible into our packs and trudged up to the hut for a late dinner. Our first piece of technical terrain was encountered at the hut where snow had piled up so high we had to climb down to the front door. Kelman is a well stocked, 22 bunk shed with a well appointed kitchen and most importantly, reception for sport radio. We were sharing the place with four american ski tour guides who split their time between skiing off Mt Cook and trying to make meals out of condiments they had found left in the hut.
Day four was straight out into the white stuff and learning how to self arrest when falling head first on your back down a snow slope. I fear I was more gifted at the falling than the self-arresting but I didn't impale myself on my ice axe so I saw it as a win. We then trekked across the glacier towards Tasman Saddle Hut where our guide made us walk off the edge of a cliff to test our newly found crevasse rescue techniques. I was reasonably thankful we were also in a total white out and I couldn't see how high I was for the 20 minutes it took my husband to build an anchor and pull me back up to safety.
Day Five was our first real climb and an opportunity to put together everything we had learnt so far. Mt Aylmer sits at 2699m on the opposite side of the glacier from Kelman and took three really straight forward pitches to summit. We used a running belay to wander down the west ridge and then slogged through soft snow all the way back to the hut. The weather came to the party the next day again for our last climb which was the most challenging and fun of the trip. We started out down the glacier to a slope we had practiced crampon techniques on a few days earlier and began the first of eight pitches up to the ridge line. Having to climb up, build an anchor and then belay was pretty physical and I was definitely feeling it by the time we had stopped for lunch. We set off again on a running belay with Mark just gallivanting un-roped across the ridge line. All was going swimmingly until I hit a boulder twice the height of me that I had to shimmy down on my stomach. The team came through though and Greg talked me down from the ledge without any disasters. I should have known that this wasn't the hardest thing I was going to do all day and when we ran out of mountain 120m above the snow slope to the hut I may have had a moment or three.
Mark had all five of us cram onto a ledge the size of a rubbish bin lid and attach our belay devices to the rope. The first rappel wasn't too bad as it was broken up by a small shelf about half way down. The second however was just a straight vertical drop down bare rock to scratch up with your crampons. It felt pretty damn good to get to the bottom and even better to end up with a three minute walk back to the hut. Dinner was late and it was an early 5am start to listen to the All Blacks thrash the Wallabies the following morning - well worth getting up for. We walked out down the length of the Tasman Glacier over dozens if crevasses and with heavy packs to our helicopter rendezvous point. There was just enough time for a lesson in using ice screws before we were being whisked back down the valley to Mt Cook Village again.
Back in Wanaka we hit the showers hard and demolished a few burgers at Red Star. There was one more climb on the cards which saw us heading south to Queenstown and the Remarkables. Unfortunately all five of us managed to forget the food box so it was a hungry climb up to Single Cone in high winds. After picking our way through the deserted ski field it was an easy climb up to a couloir below the summit ridge. We pitched this and popped out on the top where a snow cave had been elaborately fashioned out of the mountain, seats and all. The last two days covered avalanche awareness, weather and lead climbing to wrap up the course.
We were really impressed with Adventure Consultants right from our initial inquiries right through to the instruction we received on the course. I would highly recommend them for guided trips or climbing courses in the Southern Alps and definitely felt like we got value for our money.
$3450 each for 10 days
2 Helicopter rides
3 peaks climbed
5 days in an alpine hut
1 Rugby World Cup back to back victor
Every year for the past seven years I've been trekking around the South Island to compete in an all female adventure race called the Spring Challenge. A combination of orienteering, rafting, mountain biking and running, teams of three can enter a 3, 6 or 9 hour challenge depending on your chosen level of punishment. This year my teammates Erika, Selena and I were in stunning Wanaka for the event and the area didn't let us down for either amazing weather or impressive views. The course was set at 111km and we were pretty excited to receive our maps on the Friday night and see we would be climbing to the top of the Pisa Ranges as part of a 64km mountain bike.
The next 12km of the Hawea River took us over some smaller rapids and past a few swimming holes I dreamt about later in the day and on to Albert Town where we disembarked for another short sprint to Transition 1. Wetsuits were torn off, food stuffed in mouths and within a couple of minutes our support crew were throwing us on our bikes and off for the longest leg of the day - a 64km mountain bike. The sun was out in full force as we made our way around Dean's Bank and back in the opposite direction along the Clutha River towards Luggate. Our expert navigator Selena made short work of locating the first handful of controls before we made our way south to the start of the Pisa Range Ridge Track. Our support crew were waiting to refuel us a couple of kilometres up the first hill but getting to them proved the first real test of the day. There's nothing quite like biking up steep, seemingly never ending hills to really make your quads hate you and I was ready for a proper break when we finally reached them. No such luck though it was straight back on the road and onto the mountain for more than two hours of dragging ourselves and our bikes to 1444m. While several sections we were able to ride, soft dirt and a rutted out track meant pushing our bikes more than half of the distance. While the ever improving view was some consolation it was back breaking work and I'm not ashamed to say I hugged the trig upon arrival at the top.
After reaching the highest point we had one last push through soft snow (just incase we hadn't pushed our bikes enough already) before hitting a fantastic downhill all the way back towards Luggate. About half way down we were plied with lollies and soft drink by race organisers as they warned us about the scary bits of track that were coming up. Fuelled by Fanta and Licorice Allsorts we smashed out the rest of the ride and rolled into Transition 2 feeling pretty good about the mountain after all. The second to last leg was a rogaine section taking us west through farmland, up a few hills and across two rivers. It was here where we started picking off some of the teams that had beaten us on the previous bike leg and with a good amount of energy left we ran into our third and final transition back onto the bikes.
Two minutes down the road we picked up another two teams and the race was really on. We had been on the go with nothing but a 3 minute food break for 11 hours and the finish line was only 20km away. I have to admit my two teammates had a bit more left in the tank than I did at this stage and it was all I could do to just keep peddling after them through a rabbit warren of mountain bike tracks. We managed to hold onto our lead despite my trying to bike straight through a inconsiderately placed tree and ran across the finish line in 8th place after 12 hours and 4 minutes. Thanks to my team for encouraging me through the last 15 minutes and to our awesome support crew for keeping us fed and watered. Bring on next year.
Back in November of last year we bought our first house in the quaint little beach side suburb of New Brighton. Without going into too much detail the interior colour scheme is a headache inducing orange and purple with bright green and yellow featuring heavily in the kitchen and bathroom. Only selected rooms are insulated and the toilet has a hand painted mural of rushes and dragonflies to give you that "getting in touch with nature" feel whenever you need to relieve yourself. The location is amazing though and we were keen to get stuck into renovating as soon as we moved in. After doing some not so exciting but necessary repairs to the laundry we got sidetracked by the old garden shed in the back yard. It was a mess of make shift work benches and rotting framework when J started clearing it out with grand plans to put a bar in.
It's not that I doubted him but I was still pleasantly surprised with the final result. We used scraps of salvaged ply to line the walls and made the bar top and table out of recycled macrocarpa from a earthquake demolished house. The wine rack was made from a pallet and the classic beer ads came courtesy of my parent's garage. My favourite feature is the old Fairy Down Sleeping Bag we found when cleaning out my Great Aunt's house. We can't date it exactly but going by old advertisements it's probably 50 years old and made by the same company that provided a bag for Ed Hillary's summit of Everest. Kmart provided the bar stools but only because we were out of free stuff to turn into furniture.
Being the only finished room in the house now we have already spent a few poor weather weekends planning our next tramp and preparing for our TMC in October over the odd whiskey. That's our other big news right now, we have signed up for a ten day mountaineering course with Adventure Consultants to get the skills we need to climb higher and more technical mountains. the unfortunate reality of working full time in the city is we need to learn as much as we can as fast as we can so we can make the most of every long weekend we can squeeze out of the year. The other not so unfortunate side effect is getting to upgrade a few bits of our gear including new mountaineering boots. Although going back to my tramping boots after wearing the Scarpa Cumbres feels like putting on slippers now, I'm looking forward to having warm feet above the snow line!
Having shelved our plans to climb Mt Taylor due to high winds, we settled on a much more challenging task - taking Izzy tramping for the first time. We had basically no idea how she would go off her lead on the track, let alone sleeping away from home for the first time since we got her. Full of optimism all three of us bundled into the car for the short trip up to Hanmer Springs to attempt camping near the top of Dumblane. Our little black Labrador X was itching to stretch her legs when we pulled up at the bottom of the Dillon and we immediately set out to sniff every single bush on the track... twice.
The track starts just past the Hanmer Hardware Store, through a ford and up the Dillon Road. We managed to drive through the next two fords before parking up and walking across the third. A wide 4WD track continues on for around one kilometre before the sign for the start of the track up to Dumblane appears on the right hand side. Although not as well maintained as the likes of the path up Mt Isobel, it is an easy walk up a gentle slope for a couple of hours. Izzy decided early on that she wanted to be as close to the heels of my boots as possible - no worries about her running away although I got her in the chin a few times. Our only real problem came with trying to get her across the narrow wooden bridges that cross a couple of the creeks.
The trip out the next morning was fast as we raced downhill to get away from some pretty strong winds up the top. The puppy was doing great until she ran full tilt into a bush full of prickles and came out with a serious limp. She got a lift for the last few kms (all 15kg of her) before deciding the injury wasn't so bad after all and ran out to the car.
Puppy 1, humans 0
I knew at some stage after our OE we would have to bite the bullet and do something mature with our lives like buy a house. If I knew how difficult it was going to be I would have grabbed a tent, headed for the hills and washed my hands of the whole idea of home ownership. Firstly you need to learn a new language - I thought a lim was something that got amputated if you got frostbite. Then you need to fill out multiple applications to access your own money, more applications for the bank's money and then figure out what money belongs to the house from EQC claims. It's all a bit much really. So we are currently annoying at least a dozen different agencies a day trying to get all the stars to align (I'm half expecting the insurance company will need a blood sacrifice before they give us an answer) in order to put a roof over our heads and be real grown ups.
Rachael and Jeremy