Wednesday, April 3, 2013


For this post I had a number of titles float through my mind as I did the run.

1. Truly spectacular run in Kaikoura
2. Its not an adventure run if there is no blood
3. It all turned to custard
4. I'm lost and there is crying in the wilderness
5. This is how you build character
6. Wow

That describes, in a nutshell, my experience of the first run listed on Mike Steel's web page Classic mountain runs.  It has 2 stars (which means it is really awesome).  Note, this is a long post, but I hope it is worth it. 

I should note quickly that #3 is one of my favorite Kiwi sayings that means, basically, that things took a serious turn for the worst and may or may not turn out fine.  In this story it all turns out fine, but was definitely custard for a while. 

Mike does list what "rules" he uses to qualify a run as a "classic mountain run" and so I did know that as I cruised up the 4wd road to the Mt. Fyffe hut and the trail seemed lovely and straightforward to the top of Mt. Fyffe,  that there was more to come or it would not have been listed in the category it was on his page, but still... I remember thinking, there must be some sketchy stuff somewhere on this adventure...

The plan: Drive to Kaikoura Thursday night; whale watching tour at 7:15am --- approx. 3.5 hours; do Mt. Fyffe run, estimated time 5.5 hours - 6 if things aren't going well (Mike takes 4.5 and this is in line with other runs I've tried of his); drive to Christchurch in time to leave for West Coast with Alex James (more on this later).

Driving to Kaikoura Thursday night went fairly well, a bit later than planned, but all good.  However, in the dark it seemed a fog was rolling in.  I got up stupid early on Friday morning to discover the world in one of the densest fogs I have ever been in.  When I called the Whale watching company to get help with directions (I was lost) they informed me it did not matter because the tour was canceled.  I could go later in the day or get a refund.  Given the run and meeting Alex, I had to take the refund.  First bit of custard (title 3), but not bad. But then what.  I knew from Mike that the run was also a bad idea in the fog.  So I took a nap and waited for the fog to lift.

I was at the trail head about 9:45am.  As I had hoped/predicted the mountain was inland enough the fog had lifted despite the fact that the coast was still socked in.  I got high enough I could see it lifted there around noon or so.

I set off around 10:15 jubilant that I was starting at least 1.5 hours ahead of the scheduled time and the day was truly beautiful. So jubilant I had to do a self portrait.  At this point we are definitely on title 1 and that title lives on for a while (although the whole whale thing getting canceled thing fits into title number 3). 
Long story short, the next few pictures are why one does this run.  The adventure and the views on the ridge are not to be missed and I'm still counting my blessings.  But there is more to this story.  Keep reading...
I'm headed up that ridge.

The whole view, trail and mountains. 
The mountains on the other side of the valley.  Many hours from now, I'll be bashing through the river below.

That is the top of Mt. Fyffe you see and the ridge I ran to get there.
Smurf mushrooms.  There were 4 or 5 and I've never seen such vibrant colors.
The Kaikoura penisula.  Lots of wildlife living out there that I could not see because of fog.
Almost to the summit of Mt. Fyffe.

I made the summit!  The bit of Kaikoura sticking into the ocean in the background.  2 Hours at this point --- Mike takes 1.5 so I am on target! or so it seems.
The mountains on the other side of the valley I will eventually spend many hours descending. 
Past the summit and running the exposed ridge section, which was amazing --- I'll eventually cross that saddle of scree you see.  That was still in the easy bits. At this point I've been (and still am) running most of the trip.

Running along the ridge. 
Headed toward the Kowhai saddle.  Is this the scree slope I'm to take?  If you have to ask...
 Here is where we return to the story and titles 2 and 3 enter the picture.  The funny thing is that I decided to take pictures, exactly because I thought, "I should document this decision."  I've just started plunging down what I think is the right scree slope, but am wondering.  The view up.
 The view down.

I make good time down the slope for a while, but then it goes to custard.  I decide to bush bash to the side to find a better way to the river.  This is a better choice until I hit the next scree slope (no picture) and slip and have enough time to think "You have to self-arrest, find a way."  I do.  I was wearing skimpy running shorts.  There was blood.  But not too bad --- mostly bruises and "road rash". 
 Then I made it to the Kowhai river.  While my river bashing skills have definitely improved, I thought it would be the usual, fairly flat (in terms of grade) running on round rocks constantly crossing  the river bit.  This happened, but not until after I spent about 1.5 hours (now we are in full on custard territory as I've already been on the road for about 3.5 hours) boulder hoping/class 3 rock scrambling down waterfalls.  The picture to the left is looking up and this is just the beginning!  In a few spots where I might have needed a rope there was almost a trail off to the side to help, but that was it.  I'm also now permanently wet (but that part of NZ running/trail crazy I've gotten used to). 
 Gratuitous waterfall.
A look back up the valley.  The saddle is the Kowhai saddle.  I descended just to the right of it into the river.  The steepness you see was all in the river on large boulders.  Now I'm down to "regular NZ river bashing."

From here I have moments of amazing fast running and moments of, "am I lost? do I cross now or later?  where do I turn to get to the car?"  I'm way overdue so my phone starts making noise and Mike is checking in because I haven't and Alex is wondering how things are going.   The phone, plus time, plus my watch stopping --- it only has 7 hours of battery time when on satellite --- leads to title number 4.  Which then leads to me saying to myself, "self, you have to keep going, that is the best thing even though it all seems like custard, it will all be o.k." which leads to title number 5.

I found the car (thanks to some lads in a car on the road I eventually found) and Alex was amazing and flexible and we left for the west coast on Saturday morning (posts to come) which made the fact that I was out for about 8 hours, not 5.5 o.k. since I knew she was not waiting on me to get to ChCh.


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