Wanaka winter wonderland, South Island, New Zealand

Roys Peak summit.jpg

Getting out of bed prior to sunrise on my holiday was never going to be easy, especially in the near freezing temperatures of Wanaka, New Zealand, but after 2 hours of double time marching up to the summit of Roys Peak from Lake Wanaka below made it all worthwhile.

In anticipation of the daylight, I didn't appreciate how dark it would be at the start and unwisely didn't take a headlight, stumbling up a well trodden path under starlight and occasionally used my cellphone when the ground was uncertain. High up on the mountainside were a couple of headlights of more hardy souls than I, already well underway. I made it my goal to catch them before the summit and got stuck into it.

After over an hour of endless switchbacks I was making great progress up the trail, although my intrepid early starters were beginning to find the ridge line and my goal of catching them was beginning to look unattainable.

A couple of hundred of metres below the summit I hit the snowline and the dawn light began to reveal absolutely epic views across the lake to the jagged peaks of the Aspiring National Park. The adrenalin began to flow and the joy of running high took over and it was already going to be a great day.

Within 2 hours I scrambled up onto the summit and found both groups, two couples, had arrived only a few minutes before. I felt a little smug when they disclosed their start time was 50 minutes prior to mine, but cruically we all beat the sunrise, good times!

 Roys Peak summit, looking north to Aspiring National Park across Lake Wanaka.

Roys Peak summit, looking north to Aspiring National Park across Lake Wanaka.

The Roys Peak summit hike is now a very popular route and for good reason. It is close to the appealing ski town of Wanaka, yet the trail quickly gives hikers that experience of isolation and sense of achievement of knocking off a peak with 360 views including the Southern Alps dressed in all its winter beauty.

The Department of Conservation recommend a generous 5 to 6 hours to complete the ascent and return however any moderately fit trail runner in clear weather will comfortably knock it off within 4 hours, I was down in 3.5 hours and stopped to enjoy the rising sun turning the mountain grasses that golden yellow colour so typical of the beautiful Central Otago hinterland.

trail.jpg
 Trail, Roys Peak, Wanaka

Trail, Roys Peak, Wanaka

Coast to Coast, South Island New Zealand

The Coast to Coast race in New Zealand is a daunting race, that crosses the South Island from the west coast to the east coast,  including ascending and descending the Southern Alps via Goat Pass. A participant will need a roadbike, trail running shoes and a river kayak to complete the event. Training for this event requires obtaining a whitewater rafting certificate and at least a 6 month commitment to many hours spent training on a road bike, kayak and any technical running trails near your home. Furthermore,  on the day, a small and knowledgeable support team is required to meet the athletes in transition from bike to trail running shoes to bike to kayak and back to bike again. 

It is also highly desirable to train on the course and complete a reconnaissance of the area as valuable minutes can be saved on route finding and quick transition. So when athlete and good friend, Dr Ben Tallon, invited me to partner in his training for a weekend and run the trail running section of the Coast to Coast course within Mingha valley and up to Goat Pass hut, I didn't think twice.

 Mingha Valley

Mingha Valley

The day we chose was a boomer, with the sun hot, even in the mountains and a warm summer breeze blowing down the valley. We enthusiastically headed up the valley floor with Goat Pass out of sight to the left in the far distance. The narrow path was not benched or formed, rather following a course of least resistance. We made good time, including bustling across the cold and clear river more than once, to the end of the valley floor.

 climbing the knoll

climbing the knoll

Then the trail begun climbing abruptly up the steep climb of the "knoll". Climbing the knoll is really just the remnants of the glacier moraine that previously inhabited and formed the valley and soon enough we popped out of the forest to an open area with broad views further up the valley.

 standing on the Knoll, looking westward toward Goat Pass

standing on the Knoll, looking westward toward Goat Pass

 ascending Mingha valley in amazing NZ trail running scenery.

ascending Mingha valley in amazing NZ trail running scenery.

The highlight of this run for me was rising above the treeline into the open tussock land, the  winter snow had melted away, the endorphines were flowing, a true backcountry trail running experience. 

 Approaching Goat Pass from the east

Approaching Goat Pass from the east

I had heard about the formed boardwalks, built by the Conservation Dept to protect the fragile plant life, over the mountain pass, but I was still impressed by the efforts made to keep runners and walkers alike off the grassland.  It is unusual to see such structures this far away from the road ends, and may negatively affect those looking to escape all signs of modern living. However we embraced it, taking only a few minutes to climb the last couple of hundred feet to the pass itself.

 descending to Goat Pass hut, to views towards the west coast.

descending to Goat Pass hut, to views towards the west coast.

It only took 2 hours of steady trail running to get to the hut and we met a bunch of other runners training for the Coast to Coast who arrived from the west coast side of Goat Pass up the formidably named Deception Valley. On their account, the boulder hopping and technical terrain made me realize we had chosen the easier side to ascend and as our vehicle was at our start point, we had to turn around and head back the way we had come. 

As much as I would have liked to complete the route from one side of the alps to the other, I very much enjoyed running downhill all the way back to the valley floor on a now familiar path. It only took 4 hours in total and was a lovely morning out, the steep valley walls make it very difficult to lose your way, the trail is mostly well formed and an experienced trail runner should be able to move across the land easily. Anyone of moderate running fitness in good weather should have a great time, of course the weather in the mountains can change quickly, it is always much colder at night and an injury could make one feel very isolated.  

Best of luck to those hardy few who take on the Coast to Coast challenge. That afternoon I relaxed by the sparkling Waimakariri river reading a book while Ben completed a technical 76 km river kayak all the way to the Canterbury Plains in pursuit of knowledge and experience in preparation for race day.

running high in Arthurs Pass, New Zealand

It was a chilly -6 degree centigrade as we pulled on our trail running shoes at dawn in Arthurs Pass Village for an adventurous day summiting Avalanche Peak and running out of Crow Valley underneath the mighty Mt Rolleston. Arthurs Pass village is sandwiched in the valley between two very steep valley walls which provides one of the few highway routes directly across the southern alps of the South Island of New Zealand.   The autumn snow on the peaks was shining white in the early morning sun but it was dark and cold on the valley floor as we crunched along the highway to the start of Scott track west of the village where the humbly sign posted path abruptly becomes a single trail and heads directly up the valley wall.

After a steady 45 minutes, avoiding the frozen water and puddles on the track, Ben, of www.skindermatology.co.nz, and I broke out above the bushline. The Devils Punchbowl waterfall thundered down opposite and there wasn't a breath of wind in the valley.

The sky blue day beckoned and crisp superfresh air filled our lungs and we headed always upward thru the mountain grasses and then above into rocky terrain. 

 my Salomon Trail runners were perfect for this trip

my Salomon Trail runners were perfect for this trip

Fresh snow lay across the trail which had reduced to route finding up the ridgeline where three points of contact on the craggy rocks was necessary for quick progress.

After more than hour we could see the summit of Avalanche Peak and Mt Rolleston to the right was stunning in the morning light.

The ridgeline fell sharply away on both sides, our pace slowed as we picked our way up the last few hundred feet to the summit of Avalanche Peak.

 Ben overlooking Mt Rolleston from Avalanche Peak

Ben overlooking Mt Rolleston from Avalanche Peak

We enjoyed a snack and drank in the 360 degree view for a few minutes before scrambling around the bluff of the Peak overlooking Crow Valley and then began to jog westwards in soft snow on the ridgeline towards Mt Rolleston. Ben graciously turned and ran back up to entertain my photo taking.

 Ben Tallon pacing it out in Arthurs Pass National Park

Ben Tallon pacing it out in Arthurs Pass National Park

 The author enjoying running in the Southern Alps

The author enjoying running in the Southern Alps

Just before we could go no further without climbing equipment, we came across a peg marking the descent down a steep chute on the side of Mt Rolleston to the Crow Valley floor below.

Descending the chute was a mixture of snow and loose rock in the shadow of the mountain. We made good time and I was loving my weather proof gaiters in the cold conditions and paused occasionally to marvel at Rolleston's hanging glacier above and to our right.

Once on the valley floor we skipped across a rock garden, enjoying been back in the sun.

 steady progress across the rock garden at the bottom of the glacier

steady progress across the rock garden at the bottom of the glacier

 

In no time we were at Crow Hut, a gorgeous little Department of Conservation hut, thoughtfully turned to the sun and with views up the valley to Mt Rolleston. This would be a wonderful overnight excursion.

 a breather at Crow Hut.

a breather at Crow Hut.

A group of six overnight hikers were preparing to leave on our arrival after enjoying a leisurely morning in the perfect conditions and chuckled to themselves as we stopped only long enough for a quick chat while we stuffed some snack bars and nuts into our mouths, before heading off on the well marked track out of the valley.

If your a trail runner, the trail from Crow Hut to where the Crow Valley broadens into the great Waimakariri river valley is true running paradise. In my mind, the perfect forest trail follows the contours of the land and the natural path of human movement through the terrain. The Crow river trail was a wonderful mixture of undulating forest path through beech trees typical of the area, across old landslides and stepping across the cold snow melted water of the stream. There are no wooden stairways or benched walkways manufactured to iron out the path, just a well trodden and uneven surface where with quick soft steps and a keen eye are needed. Ben and I fairly whizzed thru the valley, enjoying every minute of it.

 still bursting with energy :-) and crossing a recent landslide in Crow Valley

still bursting with energy :-) and crossing a recent landslide in Crow Valley

After an hour of exhilarating trail running we popped out rather suddenly on the broad river plains of the Waimakariri River with broad views across to the Southern Alps moving further south in the distance. 

 Waimakariri River plains. stunning scenery and endorphins flowing.

Waimakariri River plains. stunning scenery and endorphins flowing.

 

We followed the true left of the river, fording it several times, to the highway and before not too long a generous motorist picked us up and we drove in comfort back into Arthur's Pass village to complete a highly recommended circuit in about 6 hours. This time is much less than the Department of Conservation's estimates but we are trail running, even across uneven terrain with only day packs, water, sufficient warm clothing and a Personal Locator Beacon.

Note, Avalanche Peak is a straightforward summit and return, but if you are going over the Peak and into Crow Valley, I strongly recommend you are fit, have appropriate gear for the time of year and visit the DOC staff at the local office in Arthurs Pass Village. Be wary of using this route in high winds or icy conditions.

 

 

 

 

born to run.

I realised my last 2 books I have been reading have the same title! Very different books, but inspirational in their own ways. 

We all have our "filler" runs, the run we do from the front door when we just need to blow off some steam from a bad day or we know we just gotta get out there because the carbs are adding up. Here is a spot I return to, time and time again, only a couple of kilometres into my local circuit.