Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cass Lagoon Trail

 Last week (Feb 21) I completed the Cass-Lagoon Loop.  One of the best actual runs I've done.  The loop was really running plus some great views.  A view right at the start of 33 km. 
 The view into the valley as I passed over the first (Lagoon) of two saddles.  Early in the run.  Feeling good. 

 Great moment in the run!  A cool bridge, but more importantly the marker of a turn that was psychologically quite important. 
There are a number of warnings on this run about avalanches.  Of course, this time of year it is not an issue, but here is one of paths --- lots of these around.  They are kind of a dime a dozen...

Views of the second (Cass) saddle.  The one to the left is the view back down the valley I had climbed up to reach the saddle above.  Mike Steel (person I came to work with) said he would head up in the opposite direction to meet me at the Cass saddle (above).  I cleared the saddle and no Mike.  I was a little sad, it was getting late.  But then, just above the Cass hut, I ran into Mike!  At the time it was great, but I had no idea how great.  Around this time, my heal was disintegrating and I was getting really tired.  After we descended for a while we were in the riverbed for quite a long time and we were losing light.  Fortunately, Mike was leading and he knew his way through the riverbed.  Many many crossings.  I would have wandered lost with it getting dark had he not met me.  But he did, we made good time and got out before it was totally dark and the whole run was awesome!! All thanks to Mike.  Even better we returned to a great dinner coordinated by Jessica Leigh (awesome cook who is work on evolutionary bioinformatics at the University of Otago). 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hogs Back Trail ---- MTB number 2

I'm still catching up from my week at the Cass field station.  Good because you get interesting posts while my day to day is go to work, try to do math, repeat.   On Feb 23, there was a MTB race in the Castle Hill/Craigieburn area, but basically all downhill so I decided not to do it and to ride the full trail in the opposite direction on my own.  The trail works both ways (except one section I had done the day before) and was SUPER fantastic.  They have some excellent trail builders here.  I also learned to use the panoramic feature on my new camera.  It helps give a sense of the experience and views on this trail.  Later I was whipping downhill on sweet single track in the trees.  No pictures of that.

 In the distance you can see Castle Hill Village where I started. 
 I could be riding horses in Lord of the Rings trying to get somewhere, but thankfully I'm on the trusty Spot.

A view down the gully I just chugged up. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Craigieburn --- First MTB in NZ

Feb 17-22 I was with a group of other mathematicians at the University of Canterbury, Cass Field Station.  The station is not far from Arthur's Pass where I did the Avalanche Peak Challenge.  So the plan was to go up early to for the challenge (see earlier posts) and then bike over to the station (Mike Steel --- my NZ host --- had most of my stuff in his car) on Feb. 17.  Great plan!  Then during the week, the plan was to do mathematics and adventures.  Apparently, when the weather is bad, more mathematics gets done and less adventuring.  But when the weather is good, like we had all week, more adventuring happens than mathematics (although I've solved a problem since my return!).

Day 1 I got a lift to the start of the Craigieburn ski road.  This starts my first MTB ride in NZ!  

The look back down the Craigieburn ski road.  Great Ride.
 The trip up was a road that is closed in the summer --- open in the winter to go skiing.
The look up the road to the ski area from the same spot.

The Craigieburn ticket office.  A sign I am almost at the top!  A solid climb.  For the prices, the services are quite limited.

The Craigieburn ski area!  A collection of tows in avalanche country.  So different!

My attempt at a self portrait.  In a few of the attempts I made it around, but the funny part is that this was the best of the photos. :)

The trail I'm headed down. The views end soon after this, but for one spot, but the ride is super fun.  A few very exposed spots on scree --- the view you see was easy and mild in comparison.  Still a good ride for my first MTB in New Zealand.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Devil's Punchbowl and a Kea

After the Av. Peak challenge I did a short hike to the Devil's Punchbowl Falls, of which we had a great view when going up Av. Peak. 
 I also managed to see several Kea in Arthur's pass. 

 And a look down the road as I traveled on my trusty Spot from Arthur's Pass to the Cass Field station.

Castle Hill and the Cave Stream

Near the Cass Field Station is a rather large (by cave standards) cave with a river flowing through it and you can hike upstream through the cave.  The toughest part is being chest deep in rather cold water as you enter the cave, but then it is just over your ankles most of the rest of the way.  Very fun, but I failed to take photos.  I'll work on getting some from a friend.

Afterward a few of us went over to Castle Hill to do some hiking and bouldering.

 Andreas and Michael lounging after completing some boulder problems.
 Below, I am feeling very pleased with myself for boulder problem 3 of the day in borrowed and rather uncomfortable shoes.  That's Olivier, my spotter, at the bottom of the climb --- nice problem involving stemming, some holes and a little crack climbing.  Rather smooth rock at Castle Hill.

Olivier and Andreas and some of the bigger boulders.
Castle Hill bouldering area from the hill above (Olivier, Andreas and I went for a hike). 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Avalanche Peak Challenge

Now that I have a new camera, choosing the photos is impossible.   On Saturday, Feb 16 I completed the Avalanche Peak Challenge (  This is definitely what Mike Steel refers to as a true mountain run (check out the first paragraph on  It was probably the hardest 25km I've tried to do.  The uphill required hands to climb some rocks (nothing over class 3, but still) and the ridge and the steep descents --- lets just say I'm getting better at scree and it was a lot less running than expected.

The race went straight up this hill not far from Avalanche Creek there on the right.  Not so intimidating from here.  Unfortunately, I don't have great pictures of the top as it is a bit hidden.  The trip up was pretty cool though.  Once out of the trees (you can kind of see where it is bush not trees), the view was spectacular.  We could see the whole valley and later Mt. Rolleston and the Crow Glacier with its ice fall. 

The start!  I look a little silly in my picture with Rose (picture on the right).  I met Rose at the mountaineers club hut where I slept the night before.  She was super cool and ended up second in the race.  I never saw her again until she gave me a lift back to the hut. :)

I am pretty sure that is Avalanche Peak in the very back of this picture (and Mike has now confirmed this for me!).  We came down through the valley between the two other mountains you see in the picture.  
This is the view up the valley we ran down.  That is the "Northern end of the Southern Alps".  We actually came down the valley on the right between the grassy ridge in the front and the mountain behind it into this river bed.  We were in the river bed (see below) for a long time.  It was tough running on the rocks, no trail. 
I took these pictures of the Waimakariri River and the Bealy Bridge the next day as I rode from Authur's Pass to the University of Canterbury field station in Cass (hence the Spot in the picture).  We had to run under the bridge.  After that we had about 3km to go, still in the bloody river bed. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New Camera, Peak Challenge and Cass Field Station

I'm headed to Arthur's Pass today as Mike Steel (my host at Canterbury), myself and Michael Matschiner (also a math/bio person whom I have not yet met) are doing the Avalanche Peak Challenge tomorrow (  Then on Sunday, I'll ride my bike 25 km from Arthur's pass over to the University of Canterbury's Cass Field Station.  My impression is that it is a larger version of the CC cabin.  I'll be there for a week with a group of math, bio and mathbio folks.  Crazy.  Should be some good photos from all this fun. I finally got my new camera.  Here is a photo of my flatmate Laura, her most excellent mother Jan (She brought me the camera and bike parts!) and Tom, who is the husband of Maree and they own the house.  He is usually in Sydney, but was home visiting Maree.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My First Earthquake!

For some (many?) of you this won't be exciting.  But for me it is.  I was sitting in the math department and suddenly I felt funny and the building creaked like it was moving.  So I checked and sure enough, there was a 3.6 not too far away.  I've been told that under 4 you are not likely to notice unless you are in certain parts of town, or at the top of a building and seated (like I am), etc.  For example, looking at that site I see there have been several since I returned to Christchurch yesterday and this is the first one I noticed. 

Anyway, I've never experienced any kind of earthquake (that anyone could notice) anywhere.  People keep telling me they happen here all the time and now I can say I actually felt one. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Northern Circuit

I have successfully completed one of the "9 great walks" of New Zealand.  Of course all great deeds come with caveats.  Technically, the northern circuit starts and stops in Whakapapa.  Since I did the stretch from Whakapapa to Mangetapopo hut (about 8 km) on Wednesday (see Tongariro Crossing Post) and the weather was going to be good enough to add in a summit of Mt. Ngarahoe (Mt. Doom, see Tama Lakes Post) I decided to take the shuttle from Whakapapa to about 1 mile down from Mangetapopo.  So technically, I covered the full length of the Northern Circuit but on 2 different days. My Saturday Total was 25 miles.  Of course the watch ran out of battery at mile 23...

I took some photos with my phone.  This first one is the map from my watch.  Which is broken again (the cover on the usb stick likes to break).  If anyone has Nike connections in the US, let me know.  New Zealand Nike in Aukland (much closer than Colorado) can replace it with authorization from the US, but I don't seem to know how to get that authorization.  Otherwise I have to mail it to Tom and have him do it.

 The view from the top of Mt. Ngarahoe.  That's the Blue Lake in the distance.
Another view from the top.  The rest of my run goes past the brown lake looking area, up the ridge from there and then down through the valley you see on the right. 

I passed a similar sign about 700 m before this saying "Volcanic Flying Rock Zone next 700m do not stop" and failed to take a picture of that one.  Up the hill (did not come out in a picture) are vents spewing all kinds of nasty stuff.  Apparently rocks come flying out occasionally too.  

 This view of Mt. Ngarahoe is good as you can see in the middle there a lighter colored streak.  Just to the left of that is a band of rocks.  The ascent is pretty much straight up scrambling on the rocks and the descent is a scree surf/slide straight down the light colored streak.  I was a bit intimidated going in, but then I saw who else was doing it, the day was perfect and it turns out it was pretty easy and fun.  My legs were pretty unhappy about the down part the next day, though.  And I'm only about 6 miles into my 25 at this point after doing an ascent of about 3600 ft. from the start to the top of Ngarahoe. 
 Another view of Ngarahoe. 

 A cool big vent/gash in the Red Crater.
 The "famous" Tongariro Crossing is actually only open to the Red Crater and here is the sign telling you so.  The reason is that the Te Maari crater erupted twice this fall.  Once on August 6 and once on November 21 and it is still gassing. For some really cool footage and more information see  In fact the Te Maari crater is not doing too much at the moment, but just over from it a whole bunch of new vents opened in the last week.  My bus driver took me to see it with some binoculars.  I told him about the vents on the North side of the Red Crater and he was surprised by how much gassing there was.  The area is very active at the moment. 

One last note.  If you watch the footage posted on with the article in the link.  What is amazing to me is that the hillside that has the new vents, looked on Sunday exactly like Te Maari looks in this footage just before it blows.   It made me very glad this trail is closed (which depending on wind, angle and how it blows, could be right in the path of a pyroclastic flow).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tama Lakes

The conference ended Friday at noon and I thankfully planned a bit of extra time in the park.  For my first adventure I ran up to the Tama lakes. I still don't have a camera --- but I do have a cheep phone that takes pictures that are good enough for now.

 Ngarahoe aka Mt. Doom (this is the mountain they used for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the rings).  Much more of Ngarahoe in a future post.
 Lower Tama Lake.  Its a lake in a crater of sorts.  There is a lot of that going on around here.

Upper Tama Lake with Ngarahoe in the background.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tongariro Crossing

I ran an out and back from Whakapapa village to the top of the Tongariro Crossing (a famous track) today.  The other side is technically closed and we were in one of the top two craziest winds I have every been in --- this one was the coldest.  I thought I might get frostbite.  The ground did --- incredible hoarfrost in the dirt up there --- and it snowed last night.  It was cold. The rest was fabulous.  Here are some satellite photos from the watch. 

 We were in a cloud as we crossed and could not see the small crater lakes near the end of our run.  The cone in the bottom of the two pictures is Mt. Ngauruhoe.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tongariro: Good news/bad news

Good News:  I'm in Tongariro national park on the North Island at a really great conference.  It is incredibly beautiful and I'm meeting all kinds of nice people and I gave a good talk that is done!

Bad News:  It is pouring rain (not uncommon here).  May stop by Wednesday.  My camera broke on my last epic run.  So I'm short on photos until next week when my new camera arrives.  In the mean time, here is my first run in Tongariro.  3.79 miles and lovely.  Waterfalls, cliffs, and an easy run.  An epic is planned for Wed or Thur depending on weather.