Probably how you should not structure a weekend around a 10 km race a week before a 19 km mountain adventure race (Feb 2021).
The sign to the Irthing Picnic Area points down what appears at first glance to just be a farm track into a paddock. The ruts, the clearance and the destination all look questionable. I turn the Elantra down it and half expect to almost immediately become stranded on the middle strip, but instead subject the undercarriage to a very thorough brushing from the long grass. Fifty metres down the line I am faced with a very muddy puddle of unknown depth. I exit the Elantra and probe the depth with a rock since there are no sticks. It is hard bottomed and only about 10 cm deep. I feel silly. The road enters beech forest and I begin to wonder where I am going and how far I am meant to go. Another puddle requires probing, but is also fine, and then I find some very rutted sections to scrape the car along. After about five minutes of driving down the track I emerge into the picnic area, proceed to accidentally drive over a built up campfire and then park the car. There is one other vehicle.
The presence of said vehicle implies that there is a good chance someone will be at the hut, so I strap my tent to the side of my pack along with my crocs and head off on the DOC specified two hour walk to Mansion Hut. It is boiling hot. The track is lovely and flat, although there has obviously been quite a significant amount of flooding fairly recently. I cautiously cross overhanging sections of track wondering at which point they will collapse and hoping it is not today. There is the occasional stand of beech lying horizontally in the middle of the river bed with a DOC marker still attached. I choose not to follow those. One river side slump tests my vine swinging abilities but requires a croc sacrifice, leaving me with one compromised croc no longer capable of engaging its 4WD mode.
The track is lined with incredibly dense hook grass; it is so abundant that it somehow manages to latch onto the tiny strip of hair that I missed on my shin while shaving my legs and permeates to the very sole of my hiking boots. No suitable surface is left untouched, and even the tiny Macpac logo on my shorts becomes adorned with numerous dangling seeds. I reach the inevitable river crossing, but luckily the massive floods have placed numerous beech trees in an optimal crossing arrangement, and I am able to make it to Mansion Hut with completely dry feet. Mansion might be a bit of a stretch for the tiny building but I imagine that on a miserable day it may well seem like a mansion, particularly with its fireplace and small, easily warmed, 2 bunk interior.
I go for a dip and then the sandflies chase me inside the hut. Dinner is a modest but very tasty affair consisting of potato and leek cup a soup accompanied by an adjusted sourdough version of the Wilderness Magazine tramping bread covered in a thick layer of butter [Just replace the 1 3/4 cup water with 1/2 cup sourdough starter and 1 1/4 cup warm water, I use as little as 1 cup of flour sometimes and have added a few tablespoons of sesame seeds with a favourable outcome]. I journal and then disappear into my sleeping bag, with views of the spectacular vivid pink and purple sunset peeking through the silhouetted beech forest outside the window.
After no more than half an hour of good sleep I wake up to a pack zipper being undone outside the hut. Footsteps leave. Footsteps return. More pack rearranging occurs. The door opens. It is a hunter. He is not planning on staying though, instead taking a short break to consume an incomprehensible quantity of muesli bars and chuck back a few cups of water. This suits me fine as my possessions are strategically strewn throughout the interior of the hut and I am very cosy inside my sleeping bag. We chat for about half an hour until he reluctantly departs for his ute and the quiet returns.
I wake up prior to my 06:30 alarm. It is race day. I depart Mansion hut at five to seven, stop at the river crossing to brush my teeth and stop at a clearing to photograph spiders covered in dew drops. I beat the sun to my car and am away for my race in relatively good time.
Argiope protensa (tailed grass spider) is a distinctive species with a long pointed abdomen with yellow stripes. The long abdomen assists with camouflage among the stalks of the tall grass, shrubs, or in this case, speargrass, which they inhabit. The species is native to New Zealand, but also found in New Guinea, Australia and New Caledonia.
To see the route to Mansion Hut click here. It took me about 1 hour 10 minutes each way.
Shotover Moonlight 10 km Race
The only reason I am here running a race, a week out from my big event of the year, The Goat Adventure Run, is that I won a spot prize for an entry. I’ve been trying to tell myself that I will jog, but even before leaving Dunedin the day prior I have been slowly coming to realise that I almost definitely do not have enough self control.
So I find myself running at a 4:40min/km pace in second place for the first two kilometres. The girl ahead of me is away and I do not try to catch up to her. Dan catches up to me at the first uphill and secures himself a stable gap between the two of us, and that is where we stay for the rest of the race. The route is entirely on a 4WD track except for a short trail section along a water race, and although I enjoy a good technical trail it is actually enjoyable to be able to run the entirety of a course at a reasonable pace. The many river crossings are hard work but the faster I run through them the more I splash water over myself, which provides momentary relief from the absolutely blistering temperature. Unfortunately my rather destroyed shoes inhale a bit much gravel for comfort but I don’t really have the time to stop and take my shoes off to shake it out so I keep going.
Upon finishing a medal and a beer are thrust into my hands and I find myself a shady spot to hide from the ridiculous heat. The first few 30 km adventure runners have made it back but most people are still quite far out from finishing their respective races. I chat to Dan who came second overall and first out of the men in the 10 km while I work on finishing my pre lunch time beer, and then head off to whatever I’m going to do next.
Post Race Walks
My plan consists of driving up to the Coal Pit Road carpark and walking along to Ben Cruachan, then dropping down to Glen Roy Racemans Hut. Unfortunately, about two kilometres up Coal Pit Road, with three kilometres and 500 vertical metres to go, I encounter a gate with large signage indicating that it is a backcountry road. This in itself is not the most concerning sight, but the four large 4WD vehicles parked at the gate are. I don’t stand a chance in the Elantra. Since the extra distance and climb is particularly unappealing after a six kilometre hike and sub one hour 10 km race I turn around and leave.
Plan B is hike up to Carricktown (or beyond) and camp for the night before heading back down the next morning. I arrive and finish the water in my 500 ml Nalgene. Due to the recent misplacing of my second Nalgene I have much reduced water carrying capacity and am probably already dehydrated following my race. Looking up at the landscape I can make a fairly good guess that there will be no water whatsoever, but the map says there might be so I head off up the hill ready for a night in my tent. I am exhausted as soon as I start walking. It is certainly over 30 degrees, and the only shade to be found along the continuous uphill is if I crouch under a briar rose bush (Rosa rubigenosa).
After three and a half long kilometres I reach Carricktown, desperately hoping for water but also hoping for no water so I can walk back down and satisfy my built up craving for the juice and chilled carbonated beverages I will find in the Cromwell New World. The views are nice and there are still a few stone building remains, but through the haze of dehydration I don’t pay too much attention to where I am.
Gold was first discovered in the Carrick Range in 1864 and Carricktown was established on the range in the early 1870’s. However by 1886 large scale mining had ceased as good returns were shallow and ran out quickly. Most buildings and structures were dismantled and taken away to be reused as people left the township.
The promise of a cold drink is indeed excellent motivation. I rush down doing sub 10 minute kilometres and drive straight to the New World. It is 34 degrees in Cromwell when I reach it at 17:30. It is outrageous. From there I drive to Pinders Pond and set up my tent for the night while contemplating what I can do to pass the time until I have to pick Tom up from Gore probably in the afternoon the next day.
The Carricktown walking track can be viewed here.
It is gloriously cool and misty when I wake up. I can’t see Pinders Pond from 30 metres away but I can see the tops of the Umbrella Mountains [Where Tom and Robbie happen to be]. I decide I want to investigate the Horseshoe Bend Walkway, but while I am having breakfast at the carpark numerous vehicles turn up for some sort of water skiing event so I decide to give it a miss.
Instead I drive to Tapanui and go for a very relaxed stroll up Whiskey Creek. I am in no state to get onto the tops so I settle for a walk to the waterfall. It is a lovely walk through big silver beech (Lophozonia menziesii) forest with the occasional tītitipounamu (Acanthisitta chloris) as company.
To see the Whiskey Gully route to the waterfall click here.
It is lunch time when I arrive at Dolamore Park just outside Gore, looking to pass some more time. I wander up Fantail Ridge, fittingly encountering the occasional pīwakawaka (Rhipidura fuliginosa) and then down to Dolamore Park itself. Instead of doing the big loop walk I distract myself by doing some serious ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) removal and admiring the arboretum with an exceptional selection of conifers. From there I head back to Gore to read my book and wait for Tom.