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.