The idea came about several weeks prior during a family camping holiday at Peel Forest. Alex, Scott and I had just teared up and down Little Mt. Peel in a little over three hours – not bad for three ageing fellas I reckon. I should point out here that I in fact was the most advanced on the ageing front; or perhaps I feel the need for some sort of excuse up front, without ruining the ending – too much, of course. Anyway… feeling confident, strong and fit, I put out the idea of a much longer day trip in the mountains. There was of course a need on my part to either train, endure, condition my body, put myself through the paces, see if I could handle the distance – call you what you want; but the pretext was that I needed to start seriously preparing for a 100 kilometre plus ultra-marathon I had my sights fixed on in the early New Year. A long day in the hills seemed like a good way to get in some good conditioning – or put me off the idea altogether.

Alex immediately pounced on an old plan of his that had never quite come to fruition. In retrospect the alarm bells should have started here. Alex is an experienced adventure racer, Coast to Coaster, Godzone finisher, and veteran of many 100 km+ running races. Scott and I are of course no stranger to running long distances, we both recently competed our second Crater Rim Ultra Marathon and I would have you know that I am actually a National Champ in the sport (kind of…. but that’s another story). I’ve ridden a bicycle virtually non-stop for days on end and survived (although it has been a while), but the reality is the longest I have ever run for is a little over seven hours. A long time to run yes, but Alex’s ‘plan’ was going to require us to exceed this… just ever so slightly.

So with a settled weather forecast and a bit of logistical juggling, we found ourselves driving up to Klondyke Corner in Arthur’s Pass at 8 o’clock on the evening of 10th of December ready (or so we thought) for what the mountains could throw at us.

After a relatively awful asleep, we were away at 3.52am under lights and heading towards the upper reaches of the Waimakariri River. It was good to be under way. I love it when a mission goes from planning to fruition in such a short time (in this case about a month). It gives you less time to talk yourself out of it and come up with inane excuses why you can’t do it. Sometimes ‘over thinking’ can be counterproductive to actually doing.


Waimakariri River – Venus lighting the sky

The plan was a circumnavigation of the Arthur’s Pass town-ship via Harman Pass, the Taipo River, Dry Creek, Hunts Creek, followed by the famous Coast to Coast run via the Deception and Mingha Rivers to arrive back at Klondyke Corner to our awaiting car. Based on estimated times in various tramping guide books, I reckoned on about 16 to 22 hours to complete the 80 km circuit and roughly 3000 m of climbing. A big factor in the speed was going to be the roughness of the terrain and general lack of a worn path. Much of the route was in river beds.

We had barely left the camp when we waded into the strong flow of the Waimakariri River for the first time. It was refreshing that no one had the least bit of hesitation to soaking their feet in the frigid water, which was just as well as it was the first crossing of literally hundreds throughout the day.


Heading towards the Upper Waimakarirver River (Photo: Scott Condron)

As we picked our way up through the matagouri fields of the river plain, the Milky Way resplendent above, behind us Venus stared down on us in the otherwise blank Eastern sky. Further on still, the lighting sky signalled the arrival of the sun, the sun that would today guide us around the high peaks of Arthur’s Pass National Park.


Plenty of waterfalls in the Upper Taipoiti River (Photo: Scott Condron)

 We made good progress past both Greenlaw and Carrington Huts, their occupants still sound asleep before wading across the thigh deep White River and bouncing our way up the rocky, waterfall clad Taipoiti River to arrive at Harman Pass (1321 m) not long after 8am and roughly 20 km in. The moisture from the valleys condensed to form a low fog like cloud which shrouded our surrounds, but occasionally views of the majestic towering ice clad peaks would surprise us momentarily. Of course, we didn’t need the views of the towering peaks to make us feel small. Descending down into the head of Mary Creek through flowering mountain buttercups and daisies, the immensity of the task at hand, the remoteness, and sense of adventure, was everywhere we looked and stepped as we continually crossed boulder fields, tussock benches, thickets of alpine scrub and the delicious eye appealing greens, greys, reds and yellows which to me epitomise the beauty of the South Island sub-alpine backcountry.


Approaching Harman Pass


By 9.40 am we were at Taipo Hut. We had been on the go for nearly six hours but we all still felt remarkably good. Everyone was in good spirits, we had made good progress, we were nearly an hour up on our self-imposed turn-around time and once more we were eager to progress. After a five minute break to reorganise some gear we headed off towards the confluence of Dry Creek with the Taipo River, hung a sharp right and then in the space of 2000 horizontal metres, we scrambled up vertical 1100 m in a rocky Creek bed to gain the saddle between the Taipo River and Hunts Creek. I have to admit I loved this part, all hour and a half of it as perversely, I feel there is nothing quite like the shear grind of a good calf bending grunt. This enthusiasm wasn’t entirely shared by all though.


At the Saddle between Dry Creek and Hunts Creek


The long grind up Dry Creek


A brief break at the top (I should point out that all the breaks were expediently brief) was followed by a disappointing scree slide (not the right sort of scree). The highlight (for me anyway) was the presence of the fury leathery skinned mountain eldewieess growing in the inhospitable and impractical environment.


The descent into Upper Kelly’s Creek

Hunts Creek was slow due to the complete lack of track, long tussock with hidden boulders and thick bush whacking sections. It was nearly a relief to get to the infamous boulder garden where memories of boulders as big as houses (according to Scott) turned out to be slightly exaggerated, and we made reasonable progress jumping from boulder to boulder (as big as…. well big rocks) until we were spat out at Hunts Creek Hut.

The bodies were now starting to feel weary, the last section of slow complicated travel having taken its toll. We rewarded ourselves with an outrageously long break – 10 minutes, before trudging towards the half way mark and to see what Hunt’s Creek had in store for us.


Destruction in Kelly’s Creek (Photo: Scott Condron)

It wasn’t pretty. The going was slow and difficult and just when things were starting to look like they were getting easier and we were managing to run short sections once again, the track came to a sudden halt and we were left peering into the river bed far below. Scrambling down into the guts of it, we bounced our way boulder hopping and stream crossing once again. Trees, stripped bare of their bark sat motionless and out of place in the middle of the river bed and large swathes of fresh debri material left behind jaw dropping cliff edges where ever we looked. It didn’t take us long to piece together the heavy rainfall events of several weeks prior and the mess we were negotiating. However there was little to do but to swear out a little, bemoan our misfortune, and plough on.

At 4.52pm we were spat out a few kilometres shy of Otira at Kelly’s Shelter. From here we could hitch back to the car. The cut off time for reaching Kelly’s Shelter was 5pm… we had just made it, and we had started eight minutes early, so it was on the wire! Years ago, Tina and I had tramped the very route we had just ran in reverse. It had taken us five days!

No questions were asked, no comments were made. We simply hit the road for the 3 km ‘sprint’ to the pedestrian bridge across the Otira River and the last awaiting pass – Goat Pass.

We were now on the mountain run made famous for its inclusion in the Coast to Coast multisport race. I had never ran or even walked it before and I have to admit I always thought that is must be a relatively ‘easy’ 33 km; although anything can become easy once the term relatively comes in to play I guess. After a ten minute break to ready ourselves for the ‘final’ push, once again the term final being used in a relative manner, we were off. We took Alex’s lead, he had actually run the route several times so was definitely the best placed to pick his way through the once again stony river bed and occasional benched trail.

After about an hour I began to drag the chain a bit and a pattern of Alex and Scott up ahead and me trailing 20 metres behind – never quite managing to catch up, prevailed. It was annoying as hell, especially when they did stop. I would nearly catch them but not quite as they would once again take off and the 20 metre gap would immediately reopen. The concentration I needed to stay upright on the stony river bed meant even extracting food from my pockets was difficult, but the pressure to move on was relentless. I knew exactly what was happening. Alex was worried about the dwindling light and the need to get in to the upper valley and across several tricky stream crossings before night fall. The only way for that was to push me along. So on I trundled as best as my body would go.

I did take the opportunity to pick up a lovely looking liquorice assort that some tramper / runner through earlier or the day (or week, month) had dropped. I dusted it off and popped it in my salivating mouth, it tasted pretty good too. That bought memories back of years ago during the Kiwi Brevet; watching John Randall pick up a piece of Simon Kennet’s chocolate muffin off the cow turd it had fallen on to, and much to our amusement, then eat it. Lack of sleep, long days in the saddle / on the feet, and a ravenous body tend to lower the culinary acceptance standard considerably!

As the hours floated by, Scott dropped back too and ran on my heels – I am sure he was just making sure I didn’t keel over and have a sleep. Alex guided us around the boulders in the now narrowed stream bed and in the last of the light – after a very long day, we bounded up the steep tributary of the Upper Deception to finally reach Goat Pass Hut on nightfall.

The inhabitants of the hut were asleep so we passed through, over Goat Pass itself and after a very long day of battling rocky gorges and river banks, relished in the opportunity to glide over some board walks before descended back down in to the forest and begin our descent into the Mingha River Valley.


Late night snack – Mingha Biv

At Mingha Biv. We stopped for a spell of shut eye (no… not sleep, but the act of merely closing one’s eyes for a few minutes) while Kiwi called in the valley surrounding us. After we woofed down some rations, and pulled the shoes back on, mine looking particularly worse for wear after a tough day on the job, we recommenced the trundle down.

By now I was a snail and after the excitement of Alex seeing a Kiwi cross the path in front of him – alas I was too busy trying to catch up, the next few hours is a bit of blur, and then the few hours after that are even blurrier.

Somehow, after asking Scott after every bend for about four hours – “Is that the Bealey River?”, it was – the Bealey River! By now, Alex too had succumbed to snail like place due to a blister on his foot (I have to be honest but I was actually happy for him to have some sort of impediment), only for Scott to take over pace setting duties for the final ‘sprint’ (I bring up the notion of relativity again here) to finally arrive back at Klondyke Corner where the whole escapade started 21 and a half hours prior. It was 1.30am.

While the others settled into their sleeping bags I rustled around and cooked up a back country meal before joining them in their slumber. Once the sandflies started biting a few hours later, we were packed and driving back to Christchurch. With luck, we coincided our drive through Sheffield as the pie shop opened – 7am… beautiful.