Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Godzone Adventure Race

Unfortunately this post has no pictures (other than a few I stole from the website) because a week after the race during TWALK Chris decided to take the camera for a swim......we hadn't downloaded the photos at that point...

After an extremely busy term at school it was time for Easter and for most people, a nice relaxing 2 week holiday. Somehow things don't often work out like this for me, as I had decided to join a team to race in the Godzone Adventure Race - a 5 day race starting in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Leading up to the race things were hectic - Chris was also racing for his team Seagate and he was busy trying to organise himself and me. We had stuff all over Chris's parents house, bike boxes and paddle gear were exploding out the door! Meanwhile I was desperately typing up thousand word essays in amoungst thinking about what food I could possibly eat for 5 days and what shoes should I wear!?!

Easter Friday came and Chris had already headed down south with a laden car and lots of my gear. It was a beautiful fine day when I met with Tim, Elisha and Rob my team mates. Rob is from Scotland and was the oldest on the team (I believe he is an old mountain marathon running acquaintance of yours Ally?) Elisha is only 19, so he was the youngest competitor in the whole race. Tim was the original founder of the "Go Team" and having down lots of orienteering and rogaining he was the chief navigator for this race.

We had a very slow drive down to Queenstown, eventually making it the house we were sharing with another team. We had a couple of days to organise ourselves before the race started on Monday. Logistics were challenging for us, as none of us had ever done a race such as this before. We each had a bike box, and four 'gear boxes' in which to distribute our gear. But each box did not necessarily appear at each transition so you had to make sure you got your gear in the right box for the right stage.

After a very busy Saturday we had our boxes sorted and early on Sunday morning we dropped them at the race head quarters. We spent an hour lurking round Queenstown wearing our O gear (mine I discovered to my horror even had hole ripped in the bum!) before hopping on the bus and heading down to Te Anau. By now we were already pretty sure the race would start in Milford Sound, but it was supposed to be a secret.

We filled up with pies in Te Anau, and by now we were all starting to feeling pretty nervous as the race start was looming closer. It was nice hanging out with Chris a bit and getting some last minute tips off him as we gazed across the lake.

At the start of the Routeburn Track we were finally given our much anticipated 2 sets of maps, and spent the rest of the spectacular trip peering at hundreds of kilometers of map we were about to cover. Our first thought was that there was lots of bush and tricky route finding on the treks - it was going to be a tough race!

When we finally arrived in Milford sound we were dropped at our bikes and given half an hour to sort out our bikes and paddle gear, before jumping on the bus for a final time to be dropped off at the Ferry Terminal. Teams had the option of sleeping inside the terminal building, or camping in the domain. We chose to camp in hope of getting an earlier night.

Tim and I dived into the tent and spent time planning the maps while the others cooked dinner. Then we all wandered down to the terminal building for the race briefing. By now the race was feeling very real and we would only have a couple of hours sleep before we needed to be up and boarding the ferry by 3 am.

I had a very restless sleep I was excited and nervous. Several times in the night Elisha thought his alarm had gone off and started getting his gear packed only to see it was still too early. When the alarm did finally go we were up and ready to go very quickly. We carried our boxes down to the start and then ate as much breakfast as we could stomach in the ferry terminal.

The boat ride out to the start was exciting, the Sound was pitch black still and we tried to grab a few more minutes sleep. Eventually the engines slowed and team numbers were called to get on the little boats which would ferry us to shore. The atmosphere was very exciting - it was still dark but the whole shore was lit up with teams scrabbling around finding their kayaks and getting organised.

At 6 am we entered the water in our kayaks and headed out to the foot of a waterfall. It was still dark and the sea was quite choppy. There were at least 60 double kayaks bobbing around in the water, lit up by headlamps and the distant glow of the Real Journey's Launch we had been dropped off in.

In no time at all the race director had blown a horn and we were off, charging towards the launch. Kayaks were going everywhere and Rob and I got pushed right into the launch itself in the desperate fight to get around the boat and start heading back down the fiord. There was quite a surf and it was a real battle to keep the boat going straight. We kept yelling out to our team mates to try and stay together.

Dawn broke as we were about half way down the fiord and the distant terminal building came into view. Teams had become more strung out now and it was much more peaceful as we neared the end of the paddle. Some dolphins came jumping out of the water right by our boats.

The day was grey and misty, so we piled on a few dry layers before heading off on stage 2, a bike ride up through Homer Tunnel and over into the Eglington Valley. We set off on our own and felt the first real surge of excitement that the race was finally underway. We rode together at a good steady pace picking up a few teams along the way. Tim got a bit of a tow from Rob and Elisha on the last section of the climb, up through the tunnel.

Then we emerged on the other side and enjoyed the ride into a bit of sunshine over the Divide and down to TA 2. Now it was time for a canoe down the Eglington River, which was running very low and we needed to be off the river by 7pm before it got dark.

We didn't have much skill on the river to begin with, but we slowly started to get the hang of it as we went down. Some of the time we had to jump off and run with the canoes, and one of ours sprang a leak so we had to stop to pump it up. Some teams passed us while we caught up with a few, and after about 6 hours on the river we finally rounded a bend and entered the gorge.

The gorge proved pretty straightforward, and as we were floating through the last part of it a small figure appeared on a rock above us and shouted that it was only 15 minutes to the transition which meant we would make it off the river before the cut off, phew we were relieved!

At the TA 3 we moved quickly to organise ourselves for the monster trek. We knew it could take 24 hours, so we packed lots of food and heated up some water to eat some Backcountry dinners on our way out. We had a quick gear check as we were leaving, and then we were straight into some very dense manuka scrub which made eating dinner tricky!

We lost a bit of time trying to take a more direct route through the scrub and ended up bashing back out to the fence line to try and follow that. I was thinking to myself that Chris would be loving this (how right I was!). By now Chris's team Seagate, Subway and One Square Meal were all some way out the front chasing the lead - they were several hours ahead of us.

As it got really dark we found the start of the tramping track we would follow up the mountainside. Lots of teams had overtaken us while we were lost bashing around in the bush and we were amused to overtake lots of them on the hill climb instead - we thought navigation was supposed to be our strong point not leg speed!

Up and up we went for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually after some debate with the altimeter and another team we arrived at the marsh plateau where checkpoint number 1 was located. It was a very satisfying feeling to have finally reached the first checkpoint. From there we climbed higher out of the bush and onto a the shoulder of a mountain. The wind had picked up and it was raining a bit so we were wearing all our warm clothes.

We traversed through a series of shingle slopes and gullies eventually arriving at the main ridge we needed to descend. Our route choice was to climb over a couple of distinctive hills on the ridge in order to descend a very straight and direct looking ridgeline into the forest.

Unfortunately I don't know if we could have picked a worse ridge, the tree fall was worse than I have ever seen. We bashed and grovelled our way down the ridge until eventually it became so impenetrable that we dropped off into the creek - this proved marginally better and at about 4.30 am we emerged from the bush.

It was raining and we decided that it was time for a sleep so we put up the tent and crashed inside. Despite lying in a thin bag on a tiny mat I slept very well and felt cold but ready for more when the alarm went off two hours later. We packed up quickly in the daylight and headed down the river.

The next control was in a tricky place in the forest which was part of the reason we decided to sleep through the last of the night so that we would reach it in daylight. We followed up a tussocky river bed and then up into the trees again. Our spirits were very good after our sleep and we passed several teams who looked like they had spent the night wandering around lost rather than sleeping.

We made a small mistake climbing to the control by taking the wrong ridge, but then we got back on track and after another small correction we were in the right gully climbing to the control. From there we carefully descended the long ridge into yet another river valley.

When we reached the hut at checkpoint 6 we were surprised to find we had moved ahead even more places. From the hut we had to continue up over another mountain range. Coming here in daylight meant it was much easier to pick a good route up an enormous scree slope and we climbed steadily as the afternoon wore on. The day had turned out remarkably sunny and we got very hot as we climbed.

We reached the top of the range and descended down a much nicer forested ridge than the previous night into the final river valley which lead all the way out to the transition. There was a good track to follow once we got some way down the valley so we made good progress even though it was dark again.

The temperature tonight was very cold and we realised we would have to put on lots of clothes for the bike ride. We ate some hot food at TA 3 and took a bit of time to organise oursleves. Tim sorted out some blisters on his feet and in my attempt to help him I strapped his light onto the wrong bike and forgot to put the lid on his bladder! Not so much help really, but I guess I tried.

We took off on the bikes eager to set a good pace and pick up some teams along the way. We found a member team Mazda bashing around looking for the first control in quite a panic and helped him find the control. Then we crossed the freezing river looking for a 4WD track which didn't seem to exist.

We passed the next few freezing hours biking up the river valley, sometimes on a track and sometimes pushing our bikes through tussocks and matagouri bushes. When we reached the hut with the checkpoint we wanted to have a sleep but the hut was already full so we pitched our tent for a very chilly two hour sleep. I shook so much that it wasn't a very restful sleep.

It was still quite dark when we set off so we kept our lights on and bashed up river pushing our bikes most of the way. We had to go on up the river for many more hours and then finally the sun rose and we turned left up a side river and in to the control. Much to our relief the second half of the mountain bike ride was dominated by rideable 4WD roads so we enjoyed a gentle climb and windy traverse.

The sun was shining warming us up for the first time. We had a big grunt up to a saddle, whoosh down the other side and then up again very steeply to a pass. Just before we finished the bike leg we took a wrong turn and managed to ride back over the pass we had just crossed. I was very confused when the stream was suddenly running in the wrong direction and Tim and I shared a pretty low moment for making such a dumb navigational error.
Back we went over the pass again, trying to put our mistake behind us we arrived in the transition many hours after we had expected to get there - but at least it was still sunny and we had some good hot food and all felt excited about going out on the next trek.

We knew this trek was going to be another big one so we put in lots of food, over 24 hours worth. Tim and I had been through some ups and downs with our navigation, but had decided that by working closely together and constantly checking up on each other we had the best chance of not making mistakes. We found the first control down in the stream with no difficulties, so then we had to climb up through the bush for a long way to reach the open ridge.

We had a fun time climbing the ridge, we kept finding things which people had dropped as they were going up - we found lip balm, gurney goo, a drink bottle, a packet of crackers and even a small pottle of jelly with peaches! I had a sore throat so that went down very well indeed!

Rob, Elisha and I got very sleepy when we were traversing along the ridge. I could only just keep my eyes open and was stumbling along the ridge - I think that the freezing sleep from the night before had had its price. Fortunately we weren't far from the next checkpoint and cozy hut.

There was a man at the checkpoint who was keeping the hut warm with a smokey fire and I was so grateful to crash on the floor and sleep. After the other team that was there left we crawled onto the two bunks and got 1.5 hours warm sleep. I felt so much better when we started off again and was back helping Tim with the navigation.

In the dark we stumbled around for a while trying to find the right ridge and ended up just taking a north bearing towards the pass we had to climb. By now Rob was having serious issues with his foot, he had strained something in the front of his foot from all the downhill and biking. He was taking lots of painkillers but he was clearly in pain over the rough ground.

We had to smash through some thick scrub to get back on course - we had veered slightly to the left of the saddle - and then we climbed up prickly spaniards and tussocks to reach the saddle just as the sun was rising. The sunrise was amazing, absolutely orange sky with sun rays beaming through. We traversed across and then descended a very long tussock ridge which was very slow and sore for Rob, he ended up having to do most of it backwards!

As we neared the end of the ridge we spotted a fit looking team marching out of the valley in the wrong direction. We thought it was a bit odd because they were not wearing race bibs and walking in the wrong direction. We kept descending down the tussocky slopes until we reached a nice hut, where we filled up bladders and the boys ate muesli and milk.

By now I was finding it hard to eat anything because I had a very sore throat and my meusli bars were tasting particularly disgusting. I found plastic processed cheese slices to be remarkably tasty! We kept a good pace up the river and soon passed a snoozing team Mazda. Tim was just talking loudly about the virtues of canned corned beef so I shushed him as we crept passed.

We reached the side gully which we knew lots of teams would try to use to access a pass which lead down to the control. We were very unsure about which route to take especially given the close contours in the side gully. When we got into the gully the stream immediately became a waterfall with cliffs on each side. Tim and I didn't take long to decide we didn't like the look of it, so we dropped back into the main stream and set off up that.

Little did we know we were the first team to make the decision to head up this stream! The route up the stream was quite challenging and we had to find our way up slippery boulders and through tree fall. Team Mazda caught and overtook us again as we headed up the forest. Finally the forest became less and we emerged into an open gully filled with huge spaniards and prickly scrub! The pass we needed to climb didn't look far away but the travel was painfully slow. Most of the time we tried to bash up the slippery creek but sometimes we were forced in amongst the spaniards. Rob found it very painful on his sore foot.

Finally after several hours of intense bashing we emerged on the saddle and looked down to see Team Mazda still stuck in the bushes. We quickly sidled over the pass and contoured round to the upper col. By now we were all starting to feel the effects of 3 days on our feet and we were a bit hobbly and sore as we descended another 600m down a tussocky river basin and found checkpoint 19 just as it got dark.

Tim pulled a delicious can of spaghetti out of his pack and I gobbled it up, it was slimy, cold and yummy! We could see some lights on the hill coming down behind us so we hurried off down stream. We still had many kilometers and another 1500 m pass to climb and descend to reach the transition.

Tim and I were both feeling a bit sleepy, but we were determined not to stuff up the navigation and paying close attention to where we were helped keep us awake. It was a cold night again and we had our thick fleeces on when we reached the saddle. It was a very steep descent down, with huge slippery tussocks all the way interspersed with prickly spaniards.

We found the easiest way to get down was to slide on our bums, so we slid down bumb bump bump for hundreds of meters. I thought this made a pretty comical sight, but Rob was in a lot of pain and Elisha was feeling very sleepy so I don't know that they enjoyed it so much.

In the river bed Elisha stumbled along half asleep with Rob helping him out. Tim and I were feeling remarkably awake, the map reading and sense of nearing the finish keeping us alert. Finally at the transition after slowly negaotiating the river terraces it was now about 2am. All the officials at the transition were up and eager to hear our story and even made us hot soup!

Tim made a fantastic captain speech "we will organise our gear for precisely 20 minutes, then sleep for 30 and be prepared to leave on the dot at 18.45" Given it was 2 am this didn't quite make sense and Tim stammered..."Oh, that was my altimeter reading, opps!" We all cracked up laughing and set to with the task at hand.

I slept in a the haybarn for about 20 before Tim woke us again. Elisha had about 30 minutes sleep and a Red Bull so he was feeling fired up and ready to go. We charged off down the road, Tim and Elisha so much so that I gave them a firm 'calm down' talking to. We sped into the first checkpoint in the dark, then made our way round the shores of lake Wakitipu on old 4WD roads.

Rob was having a rough time, he was struggling to eat enough to keep himself going strong. He swiped out a contact lens and then he got a flat tyre. We fixed it for him while he had a power nap beside the road. We had a bit of trouble finding the way through to the checkpoint beside the lake - I found myself on a walking track.

I got a bit frustrated with the maps - especially in places like that where they had gone to extra trouble to have a map insert and show all the detail but it was still incorrect! Tim gave me the creeps when he said "Don't worry Em, this is definitely right, I have biked on this map before!" I knew there was no way he could have biked here before and he was having a good dose of sleep deprived déjà vu!

The bike ride went on for ages as we battled up valley into a strong head wind, then turned down wind for a while, then back up wind again. The Earnlaw burn of trek 3 sparkled up above us and I was sad we had missed out on the final trek (having missed the cut off the night before) but I think it would have been pretty awful for Rob with his foot so maybe it was just as well.

We finally reached the kayaks in Gelnorchy and had a very relaxed transistion into them. I did try to hurry the boys along but they were faffing around in a happy state to be nearing the finish. Rob and I resolved to talk to each other constantly on the final paddle to keep awake, so our conversation drifted around the adventures we had had over the week.

We saw the odd strange thing such as a baby face in a tree or a baseball bat in a cloud, but generally everything seemed right as we cruised in on a big tail wind and a good 1 meter surf to push us in to the finish. We collected the 2 checkpoints along the way and before we knew it we were grinning at each other as we neared the shores of Queenstown. We could make out a wee crowd on the beach and sure enough there was Chris.

He finished the race a day earlier, doing the whole course and winning the race with team Seagate in 4.5 days. He was very pleased to see us and I was very happy to see him. We ran altogether through Queenstown up to the finish were we got a bottle of champagne and some pizza from the race organisers.

We were all so excited to be finished and it turned out half of our parents had all made a mad dash for Queenstown on Friday, having followed the race so closely online they came down to join the excitement. The Go Team finished very proud of the way we worked as a team and excited to do more!

The following night the prize giving was held up at the top of the Gondola with an amazing view across Lake Wakitipu. It was really fun to catch up with everyone and compare stories from the race.

Chris and I had been thinking of going for a tramping trip down South after the race, but Chris still had a sore throat and I was actually feeling a bit tired, so we decided a cruisey journey home with Mum and Dad through St Bathans sounded more appealing. We managed an interesting 'scenic bush bash' around the lake and plenty of coffees on the road too. If you made it to the end of this long story then well done - I decided a long story could only do justice to the great adventure I had (-:

Cloudy Peak Mission

We've been back in New Zealand for 5 months now and I haven't managed a single post! The shame! The trouble is not lack of fun trips to write about, it's lack of time afterwards to do it! I have started studying again and seem to find zero spare seconds in my day. Nevertheless, I am determined to do some trip posts again.

Since Christmas there have been several 'highlight' trips, one being a 5 day sea kayak adventure we did in Marlborough Sounds, another was a week's mountain bike orienteering carnival down in central Otago. But the one which I really want to write about on here was an amazing trip I did up Cloudy Peak with my friends Grieg and Clare.

It was the same weekend as Sprint theBays Orienteering up North, which Chris had decided to do. We decided we needed to do a really good trip to make him jealous. We had a three day weekend, and I foolishly left Greig entirely in charge of the trip planning without paying the slightest attention to what he had in mind.

We drove up the Rangitata to the Erewhon Station and parked our car under the shade of some trees because it was a baking hot day. We had a picnic and then trotted off down the road towards the river. I soon discovered the river was the most delicious temperature for swimming, so spent some time drifting lazily down stream.

We were walking in to a high valley where we planned to camp for the night before hopping up early to have a go at climbing the Great Prow. This rock climb was rated around 10, 12, and 14 was the top grade so I thought it sounded ok. I'm not sure if Greig had quite mentioned the fact it was at least 9 pitches yet.

Trying to avoid a scrub filled mountain side we traversed high early, only to discover we had actually come up one whole valley too early and needed to go down again. "One of the countries top navigators" wasn't performing so well thus far. Once back down in the river we found the correct valley to head up and sure enough it was a full on scrub bash grapple climb out of the river and up a steep ridge, my favorite thing!

Finally as the day wore on we emerged onto a beautiful grassy alpine meadow with a tinkling clear stream running through the middle. The great prow loomed up ominously before us and I had my first realisation that this thing was going to be scary! Trying to put that thought to the back of my head I enjoyed a delicious dinner and snuggled down into my warm bag.

Too soon the alarm went off and we slowly got oursleves organised in the dark - it was about 4 am. We started walking up the river in the pitch dark, then realised we might not have any more water on the way up so Greig had to run back down and fill up our bottles. As light began to fill the valley we could see little lights way up on the cliff above us - there were two other parties out on the same climb as us.

Next thing I heard a thumping sound and turned round to see Greig sprawled out on the rocks. He had tripped up and sliced his hand open! Clare and I suggested perhaps having to lead the whole route today wasn't the bast plan, but Greig was pretty happy once we had strapped his hand up with MeFix and strapping tape. We started climbing the long scree slide which takes you to the base of the climb.

Finally we reached the first of the small bluffs and Clare happily free climbed her way to the top, leaving me with no option but to reluctantly follow. We scrambled up a series of easier bluffs until at last we reached the base of the Great Prow. It was now very light and we could see it was going to be an overcast day with some cloud hanging about the tops. We were hoping Cloudy Peak might not live up to its name, but this looked unlikely.

We could see the others climbing up slowly above us, and everynow and then there would be a sound like a screaming buzzard as a little rock hurtled its way towards us, I found that quite terrifying so as Greig lead the first pitch I danced around out on the scree slope avoiding rocks and telling Clare that I wasn't sure about this!

Finally it was our turn - we were going to climb simultaneously on the double rope. My pack felt terribly heavy - we had 9 hours worth of water and clothing and I had taken Greig's gear as well. We struggled up the climb until there came a crux I just couldn't climb with the weight on my back. I dumped my pack, climbed up and then leaned over and managed to get a sling onto the pack and haul it up as Clare held it out to me.

Feeling very desperate I had to leave the pack again and climb up to Greig. I wasn't sure what to expect when I reached him and told him I had left the pack halfway up, but he calmly abseiled down and climbed back up with my pack. We unloaded a bit of the weight from my pack and continued on up into a nasty chossy section and a dodgy anchor point. This was the lowest point of the climb for me - we had taken a long time to get this far and it felt very exposed. I didn't want to keep going, but I didn't really want to go down either.

Luckily for me Clare was very positive and encouraging and we slowly kept climbing pitch after pitch. Greig's good route finding skills found us back on route again. Some of the pitches had very big exposure which I was out of practice with. The cloud was starting to come in and obscure our view back down into the valley.

Eventually we reached what we believed was the final pitch, but it was hard for Greig to find a route through that was only grade 14. He did find one, but it involved a super airy move around a ledge out to the right. From their we scrambled up some rock gullies and into a little cave. The last pitch was a right grovel trying to climb up a chimney with an ice axe (for hammering in pitons) which kept getting stuck. I was so determined to get up that thing that I strained and pushed and pulled until I was up and safe and poor Clare was left struggling away on her own.

By now it was 7.35pm and I was seriously worried about the time, given it was about to get dark, it was very cloudy and we still had to negotiate our way down the mountain. We climbed on up the rotten ridge, first in our climbing shoes, then we changed into our light weight boots again.

Finally at about 8pm we reached the top of Cloudy Peak. We stopped for only a moment and then continued our hurried route down the mountain. I was finally back in terrain I knew, so I went ahead and tried to pick the best line down the loose rock ridge. I have never used a GPS in the mountains before, but this time round I was so grateful for it!

Greig read the map, but the GPS provided a great backup to confirm exactly where we were. We knew we needed to reach a saddle and from there the descent was much more straightforward. We started heading down a progressively steepening gully and stumbled across a little waterfall which meant we could fill our empty bottles with some much needed water.

Greig guessed we were one gully too far across, so we scrambled across quickyl and in a very short break in the mist I caught a glimpse of a clear route all the way down to the saddle. I was so happy to see this and we descended carefully down to the saddle. By the time we reached the saddle it was dark and you could only see a few metres ahead because of the thick fog.

Clare was really feeling the effects of the day by now, but I was quite energized because I was so happy to be alive! (-: We made our way down the endless scree slide, on the look out for our 'poo spot' which was the spot where we had left the scree and climbed the bluffs. We knew once we reached that spot we were back on familiar ground.

Clare and I were quite fixated on finding our poo spot, until Grieg pointed out we should just keep going down - did we really want to find the place we pooed 13 hours ago? After negotiating a small bluff the slope of the scree lessened until finally we were back in the valley. We were much higher up than earlier and we found ourselves bashing through thick scrub.

After a few stops for food and rest along the way our safe little tent in that beautiful meadow was calling us. Greig saw a huge pyramid shaped rock and I saw a deer with very reflective wide spaced eyes - it was only Clare who had the sense to shout out - "Guys, its the tent!" We cooked up some water and ate instant potatoes with tuna - completely delicious. Then we crawled into the tent well and truly spent after 19 hours on the mountain.

We slept in late and then emerged to a fairly grey day and the voices of the other climbers descending. They had had a much shorter climb, being of a much superior climbing level to Clare or myself, but also said they had found the route challenging.

We walked out chatting happily about the fun of the day before and managed to follow the newly slashed route that the other climbers had made through the scrub section. After bum sliding down the last steep section of tussocks and bracken we met the climbers sitting outside their 4WD truck beside the river. The offer of a ride out was too good to turn down, so we enjoyed a bumpy ride back out to the car sharing stories of adventures.

Chris was so jealous when he heard about the trip. Sprint the Bays had been good, but nothing quite compares to a good scary climbing trip with some great mates!