Of all our national parks Mt Cook National Park is the least accessible. Even Fiordland National Park for all its remoteness and challenging weather is home to several Great Walks and plenty of shorter excursions that can be completed relatively easily from a car park. Mt Cook National Park is not like that. The main access point is the road to Mt Cook Village, so far so good but the road comes to an abrupt halt just beyond the village. There is scarcely any transition from tame to feral. One moment you are amongst crowds of camera touting visitors enjoying the gentle manicured paths, board walks and bridges coupled with plentiful signage and carefully labelled viewing platforms that mark the lower reaches of the Mueller and Hooker valleys. The next you’re sharing ground trails with goats though these trails quickly surrender to do it yourself route finding through scree, rubble, bluffs, unstable rock piles, thin shreds of alpine vegetation and scrawny tussocks. The Spaniards are typically robust but the associated puncture wounds and blood stained clothes render them a last resort. The flimsy stems of the beautiful Mt Cook lily are everywhere but afford little by way of physical support. Should you survive trial by vegetation you have the typical moraine, glaciers, crevasses and the steep snow slopes that go hand in hand with big mountains to look forward to.
I don’t remember much about my first time running the Broken Axe Pinnacles. It was a bank holiday weekend almost sabotaged by epic nor-westers. I’d abandoned a climbing trip down south because of the forecast. Trail running was my back up plan. I lost a sun hat in high winds on the Tip Track on Saturday. Monday/Labour Day it looked like the wind might finally abate. By the time we arrived at Holdworth Road end conditions were sunny and still thanks to us pausing for a second breakfast in Greytown giving the wind more space. What should have been an exhilarating adventure was overshadowed first by my running buddy Tony getting bad cramp just as we reached the Pinnacles then, when we stopped for coffee on the way back to Wellington, by the terrible news that the two climbers trapped near the summit of Mt Taranaki had died of hypothermia before they could be rescued.
The dark sky is fading to a blue grey twilight as we park at the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. It’s not quite light enough to forego head torches but we can make out the shapes of other vehicles, information panels, vegetation and crucially, the snow dipped cone of Mt Taranaki looming promisingly in the distance. The air feels like hot chocolate warm, thick, steamy and sweet smelling. Everything is moist, a leftover from the last few days of intermittent rain. Puddles pave our way. Water drips off trees and shrubs. Ascending the Fantham Peak Track initial attempts to keep trainers dry and mud free are soon abandoned in favour of more efficient stair climbing. The stairs appear to have been designed specifically to trap water and mud. It will take more than a bit of mud and moisture to dampen our excitement though. Everyone wears big grins, happy feet and high spirits as we tackle the stair master. Over our shoulders to the east the sky starts to lighten and brighten in earnest illuminating the black and white outlines of Ngaurahoe and Ruapehu. As I watch the chameleon sky switch from grey to candy colours I’m reminded of the story behind Taranaki’s location. Continue reading “Round Taranaki”→
Years of tramping, camping and running have given me a deep appreciation for tussocks. I love tussock landscapes, the sense of openness they engender, the muted colour palate, the unassuming way they stand in the background letting the sky, alpine tarns, lakes, pretty much anything show off. Tussocks are nature’s camera with their ever-changing texture beautifully recording and reflecting back the cycles of light and moisture. They have a slippery, soggy- ball consistency after heavy rain. They shimmer and sparkle when the rain clears and sunshine finally achieves cut through. They take on a special glow as the first rays of sunshine hit them at dawn and the last rays of sunshine bid their farewell. Tussocks have a great capacity to absorb light. This ability effectively softens ridgelines giving them a deceptively benign appearance. The sticky, spiky standing at attention attitude they adopt when frost coated. The way they ripple and wave collectively when the wind gets in their hair. Their amazing slipperiness in all conditions, especially when wet.
The Tarawera Ultra Marathon is not really an event, more a phenomenon. It’s a big adventure however you break it down. In terms of distance, participants, logistics, support, scenery, catering and social media. This is due in part to the fact it’s the second race in the Ultra Trail World Tour and therefore attracts international attention and international participants. In part to the course’s proximity to Auckland our largest centre of population and home to people who have the disposable income required to compete in large-scale running events. But the main reason is former Race Director Paul Charteris has grown the event from the grassroots up and he clearly has a talent for promotion, developing and maintaining great relationships and for building high performing teams. You can find out everything you’d ever want to know and more here:
The TUM is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour which is a coup for TUM Founder Paul Charteris and his team, great publicity for the TUM and New Zealand trail running. Some of us will run 60, some 85km and barring fire, floods and tropical cyclones forcing a shortening of the course, some particularly hardy individuals will manage 100km. Some of us will not finish. About 30 of us will run with Mal Law up Rangitoto Peak along the way as part of Day 1 of the High Five-O Challenge. If you are part of the Tarawera phenomenon on 7 February you will see us running in our red shirts. Continue reading “Reflections on the High Five-0 Challenge experience”→
I used to be a tramper. These days when I study a map, discuss possible routes or consider gear and food options it will be with running in mind. I blame it on my need for speed, my love of the impromptu, a weakness for instant gratification, an adrenalin addiction, a restless nature and the feeling of intense satisfaction derived from spending a very long time on my feet confronting the uncertainty of whether what I’ve set out to do is possible. As Graham Greene noted, “when we are not sure, we are alive.” Maybe it’s a sign of old age that I find trainers more comfortable than boots, I prefer a light day pack to a heavy pack, that I’ve developed a fondness for my own bed. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure I’ve nailed a convenient excuse to consume copious quantities of two of my favourite “foods” chocolate and caffeine. Continue reading “Round the Mountain”→
Trail running is enjoying a surge in popularity in New Zealand. This is a trend enterprising event organisers have been quick to capitalise on, effectively monetizing some of our most iconic trails. Scarcity value means some events sell out within minutes and relatively high entry fees can be charged as would-be participants compete just to gain access.
My first attempt to climb Mt Brewster took place in early 2013. First though we had to wait out the summer storm that cut off the West Coast and stranded both tourists and locals. While there are few places that rival Wanaka if weather forces confinement we were well and truly ready for the hills when the Haast River was finally fordable.
As my crampons scrape across the last chunk of sastrugi coated ridge I’m aware of two things. The sky is lightening with the promise of dawn and there is not much slope between us and the star sprinkled sky above. In the stillness of a fine, calm morning snowy peaks stretch out below us in every direction, icing on the cake punctuated by the cappuccino froth cloud nestling on the valley floors. Continue reading “Many Happy Returns”→