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PUBLISHER + EDITORIAL + CREATIVE Hollie Woodhouse COPY EDITOR Charley Mann CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT COVER Braden Currie and Dougal Allan Wanaka, New Zealand (Story page 62) Image: Red Bull Media House
BACK COVER Chris Burkard Canmore, Alberta, Canada (Story page 14) Image: Chris Burkard
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Published by The Adventurous Kiwi Printed by Spectrum Print, Christchurch, New Zealand ISSN: 2422 8850 © Say Yes to Adventure. All rights reserved. Nothing in whole or in part in the magazine may be produced without written permission from the publisher and contributor. Say Yes to Adventure is a compilation of stories based around the epic experiences that come from the great outdoors. Therefore the views expressed in the articles are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publisher. Although information presented in Say Yes to Adventure is, to the best of our knowledge, accurate and credible, authors may not be experts in the respective subject matter. DISTRIBUTION As Say Yes to Adventure is independently published, purchasing a copy through our on-line shop is the best way to support the magazine – www.sytamagazine.com. Please email email@example.com for enquiries. CONTRIBUTION We collaborate with creative individuals from all over the globe. If you love adventure and have a story you’d like to share, Say Yes to Adventure would love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sytamagazine.com/contributors for more information.
OPPOSITE PAGE: Laura Shallcrass is an artist, illustrator and mother; lover of animals great and small, reader of books and student of life. She lives and works in Queenstown, New Zealand. www.laurashallcrass.co.nz F www.facebook.com/LauraShallcrassIllustration www.instagram.com/laurashallcrass
RHINO PRINT Laura Shallcrass
ADVENTURE AWAITS Sarah Walden
WILD THING Hollie Woodhouse
BOOTS ON THE GROUND Sam Taylor
TRAVELING TO ALBERTA Chris Burkard
OUR HONEYMOON ADVENTURE Camilla Rutherford
CLIMBING ANCIENT CHINA Michael Guggenmos
TRADITIONAL CLIMBING AT ROCKLANDS Caroline Ciavaldini
MY PLACE Bec Woods
DOORSTEP DISCOVERY Victoria Rutherford
ONE BREATHE AND A THOUSAND THOUGHTS Annelie Pompe
RIDING FOR RHINOS Will Frazer
THE LAST BEST PLACE Isla Smith
RUNNING THE WORLD: ANNA FROST Hollie Woodhouse
THE UNTOUCHED LINE Richie Johnston
A WEEK IN THE WILD Mimi Atkinson
CAVING IN CANDLELIGHT Nick Morrison
WAY OUT WEST Natalie Bowie
RIVER SURFING REVOLUTION Paolo Marchesi
JUST SIXTY KILOMETRES UNTIL THE FINISHING LINE Charley Mann
THE GRAND EUROPEAN TOUR Rod Wilson
EVERY DAY IS AN ADVENTURE Jenny Palmer
338 KILOMETRES OF FREEDOM Eric Leifer
ONE LEG ON MONT BLANC Chris Parsons
MYSTERY, NO ADVENTURE” 120 “NO Mike Libecki
THE ONLY WAY IS FORWARD: BRADEN CURRIE Hollie Woodhouse
OPPOSITE PAGE: Tales At Sea is a New Zealand-based design and lifestyle blog by Sarah Walden. Her love for hand and brush lettering, along with Scandinavian design, has resulted in the Tales At Sea Typography Range. www.talesatsea.com www.shop.talesatsea.com www.instagram.com/talesatsea
thank you YOU ARE HOLDING in your hands something that has been a dream of mine for the last ten years. My passion for design and adventure has meant a sports-based magazine has always been near the top of the bucket list, but until now the timing was never quite right. In April this year I will compete in the Marathon des Sables; a 250 kilometre ultra race through the Sahara desert in Morocco. Looking for a creative way to raise funds for Running for Rangers, I came up with the idea to create this magazine, a celebration of all things adventure. Running for Rangers is a charity that I feel very strongly about. My twin sister Flick and her husband Sam live on and manage Borana Conservancy in Kenya, where Sam is the Chief Conservation Officer. Every day he works with the rangers who protect the welfare of the Rhino and Elephant on the Laikipia Plains in Kenya. They do an incredible job, but to make a difference they need our support. You can read more about this on page eight and how you too can support this great cause. An adventure can mean so many things; from the extreme of traveling the world to taking a different route on the way home from work. The aim of this magazine is to celebrate the emotion that goes with experiencing these adventures, wherever or whatever that may be. Within these pages you will find ordinary people doing extraordinary things; from competing in a multisport race from one side of New Zealand to the other, to an adventure honeymoon in the remote Upper Mustang of Nepal, to river surfing the waves of the Lochsa river in Missoula, Montana, USA.
Image: Richie Johnston
want to soar with “Iftheyou eagles, learn first to swoop with the owls.” I love every single article, image and illustration in this magazine and I hope you do too. I trust it inspires you to go on your own adventure; it’s just a matter of saying ‘yes’.
Enjoy, Hollie Woodhouse
For Nicki Mitchell xo This magazine could not have been possible without the amazing generosity of so many people. A huge thanks to everyone who has contributed their inspiring stories, images and illustrations, with special mention to Camilla Rutherford, Richie Johnston, Braden Currie and Anna Frost. Also to those who have supported me from the very beginning: Boo and Hamish Woodhouse, Flick and Sam Taylor, Ben Woodhouse and Gina Taylor, Charley Mann, Sonia Dench and Daniel Fridd. OPPOSITE PAGE: As a youngster Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was one of my favourite books. I love this quote and really do believe ‘inside all of us is a wild thing’. www.holliewoodhouse.com F www.facebook.com/theadventurouskiwi/ www.instagram.com/holliewoodhouse/ t www.twitter.com/holliewoodhouse
BOOTS ON THE GROUND WORDS: Sam Taylor IMAGES: Sam Taylor and supplied
The Black Rhinoceros teeters on the edge of extinction. Little over 5,000 roam wild in Africa today, as the international poaching trade relentlessly hunts down these noble beasts. AT KENYA’S BORANA Conservancy, a team of highly-trained rangers is all that stands between the endangered rhino and extinction. These men risk their lives everyday to protect the wildlife around them. Just looking after rhino on a day-today basis means looking for rhino. The importance of seeing each animal every day, if possible, cannot be underestimated. Rhino can succumb to more than just poachers. Their poor eye sight makes them susceptible to falling down holes and banks. Injured or sick rhino lose condition fast and swift action must to be taken to aid their recovery. Even the seemingly simple act of eating unfamiliar food can make them ill. Predators are also a constant threat,
particularly to the young, and as we work to establish this new population, trying to boost breeding rates is of crucial importance to us. Each day, the rangers’ patrol scouts set out into their patrol zones. The terrain is vast and diligent tracking is necessary. Each rhino is identifiable to these men by its unique tracks. Subtle differences distinguish individual rhino and the rangers know them well. They may get a helping hand from a supervisor who, with the aid of telemetry, points them in the right direction, but tracking on the ground is crucial. They might pick up tracks of poachers. They might find tracks of an encroaching male, in which case it’s possible that there may have been 10
some territorial fighting. Finding that rhino is crucial. Trying to make time to get visuals on each rhino is time consuming, but rewarding. Following rhino down the path less trodden can lead to exciting and unexpected discoveries such as the incredible sighting of this mother and calf nonchalantly browsing amongst a pride of lion. (Image above) As the patrol scouts track the rhino, the peripheral scouts are also at work. They too are on the lookout for tracks and signs, all the while repairing and measuring fence voltages. Their job is crucial. They are protecting our neighbours and their crops from elephants and their livestock from lion. The fences they maintain also keep our rhino in, so that we can protect them.
Image: Mike Fell
Image: Max Melesi
Image: Max Melesi
men are the last ‘These line of defence. They are proud of their job and take it seriously.’
Protecting rhino is cripplingly expensive and raising funds for the conservation of rhino is surprisingly difficult, even with the global attention the plight of rhino receives in the media. It makes sense that we all do this together – raising revenue for universal needs in a wider landscape. The welfare of the rangers is of paramount importance. These are the men who have it in their power to keep rhino alive and we need to invest in them financially and personally. Their ownership of the difficult and often dangerous task they are performing is directly related to morale, and a level playing field of welfare must be standardised across all conservancies. Once we know where our rhino are, from the dedicated daytime work of the rangers, we can begin to think about how to deploy our armed team. These dedicated men start their work late in the evening. They are deployed by their section commanders to locations where the rhino appear more vulnerable. Long nights await,
sitting on a high-point with thermal imaging or night vision trained into the darkness, scanning the landscape for poachers. These men are the last line of defence. They are proud of their job and take it seriously. Each morning they return weary and foot-sore, yet still go for a team run.
do all we can to help them. These are the men who are charged with saving a species. The long days and nights they spend in the field are the key to keeping rhino alive. If we are to save our wildlife, we must invest in these men and their welfare. Without them, we will lose.
The Marathon des Sables is described by the National Geographic as the toughest race in the world. It involves racing 240 kilometres across some of the hottest and most desolate terrain known to man for five days, carrying everything including food, sleeping bag and medical kit.
DONATIONS To find out how you can donate towards Running for Rangers, please visit their website www.forrangers.com/donate
Pete, Sam, Hollie, Jacqs and Joss are running this event in April 2015, attempting to raise $1 million for rangers’ welfare across the private wildlife conservancies in Kenya. By Running for Rangers we hope to raise funds to ensure that all rangers are adequately equipped with good-quality basic equipment. These are the men who risk their lives to save the Black and White Rhinoceros and we must 13
Sam Taylor is the Chief Conservation Officer at Borana Conservancy, Kenya. The Marathon des Sables will be his first ultra race, but definitely not his last. www.borana.co.ke F www.facebook.com/boranaconservancy www.instagram.com/boranalodge t www.twitter.com/boranaranch www.forrangers.com F www.facebook.com/ForRangers www.instagram.com/runningforrangers t www.twitter.com/ForRangers
TRAVELING TO ALBERTA WORDS AND IMAGES: Chris Burkard
When I got the call that we were going to Alberta, Canada for ten days with my assistant Christian and a free reign to go wherever we wanted, to say I was stoked was an understatement. WE BEGAN, AS all our trips do, by researching the places we most wanted to visit. Coming out on top was Canmore, located just outside of Banff. As luck would have it, an early season snowstorm had dusted the area with 15 centimetres of fresh powder. After a spontaneous decision to head up in the mountains, we stumbled upon a lake with a perfect little peninsula where our tour guide, Jeff Spackman, stopped and set up the camp for the night. The skies were clear, the air was crisp and the moon was out in full, providing gorgeous light for us to work with. After a few hours shooting we decided to get some rest, as we knew there were some big days ahead of us. We awoke to find that Jeff had left his camera outside all night while shooting a time lapse. I don’t think I
have ever seen a camera covered with so much frost, but luckily it worked fine after it thawed out. The next day we were itching to head straight to the Moraine Lake, to see for ourselves what all the hype was about. When I go somewhere new, first I like to scope it out from all directions. There are usually angles that can be easily overlooked unless you make the effort to search around. After about ten minutes of scoping it out I looked over to my assistant with a grin on my face and asked if he would jump in the lake for a shot. Without hesitation, he was off to grab his trunks. The lighting was perfect, the water was the brightest turquoise I have ever seen and with the recent snow it was setting up for a rad shot! It was my assistant’s first polar plunge and it couldn't have been in a better 17
location. After a few goes I decided to jump in myself, as I can’t pass up opportunities like that. Everyone around us was pretty confused about what was going on and why we kept jumping into the freezing water, but to us it was just another day in the office. Our next mission, and the main goal of the trip, was to spend the night out by Spirit Island in Maligne Lake. We had researched this location well and knew it had potential for some breathtaking imagery. Eight days on the road driving through Alberta had left me tired, achy and permanently hunched over from driving. As I stepped into my kayak on Maligne Lake, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom. The three-hour kayak trip was a small price to pay for the beauty that lay at the end of this lake: Spirit Island. The kayaking was further and harder
Valley of the Gods framed the ‘The shot of the deer perfectly, as they swam through the crisp, clear water towards us. ’
than any of us had expected, but our psych levels were so high it didn't seem to matter. Our goal was to get every possible type of shot we could think of, with the limited time that we had. The light was fading fast when we arrived. Knowing another polar plunge shot was a must do, I hurried my assistant to get on a perfectly placed rock and jump in a few times before we were out of light and he got hypothermia. Once the sun went down and we realised how far away we were from any other human contact, the grins on our faces just kept getting bigger. There’s something to say for really being out there; looking up and seeing endless stars, hearing rock falls in the distance and having no way to contact the
outside world. We felt alive and wanted to shoot the whole night. Spirit Island has been photographed many times before. If you choose to take the tour boat out there, you are limited to their rules and only get the midday light, as you aren't allowed to have boats out in early or late hours. Sometimes if you really want that unique shot, you have to get out of your comfort zone and figure out a way to make it happen. The stars were some of the brightest I have ever seen and you could see them perfectly reflected in the calm water. As the sky began to get brighter with the first beams of sunlight illuminating the peaks, I wanted to get one more shot of the sunlight hitting Spirit Island. 21
The first tour boat arrived as I took the perfect shot and just like that, our solitude ended. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something; two deer were swimming from across the lake towards us, heading straight for the island. The Valley of the Gods framed the shot of the deer perfectly, as they swam through the crisp, clear water towards us. Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer and artist, based in Central Coast California, America. His images are punctuated by energised landscapes and moments of bliss, by adventure seeking and the lifestyle that ensues. www.chrisburkard.com F www.facebook.com/ChrisBurkardPhotography www.instagram.com/chrisburkard t www.twitter.com/chrisburkard
OUR HONEYMOON ADVENTURE WORDS AND IMAGES: Camilla Rutherford
A TEPID TRICKLE of water slowly began to saturate my dustencrusted hair. I kept my lips tight shut so not to let any water enter my mouth, for a single drop swallowed could lead to a nasty tummy upset. My grubby fingernails massaged the shampoo into what little lather could be summoned from my filthy mane. This was my first shower in seven days. This would be most people’s nightmare, I thought as I scrubbed and cleaned my tired and aching body. And we were on our honeymoon. For Tim and me this is exactly what we had signed up for. We were looking for the ultimate adventure; after all, isn’t a honeymoon about giving you the excuse for a holiday of a lifetime? This was an excuse to go all out, go on a trip you would never normally set aside the time nor money to do, to spoil yourselves, treat yourselves to the first adventure of your newly married lives. For us it was Nepal, and a three-week trek into an area so remote that it was like walking back in time. I actually really enjoyed organising our wedding. Again I saw it as a selfish excuse to do exactly what we wanted, throw a party our way with our favourite people at our favourite place; at home on the farm. My loving and loyal family didn’t begrudge the fact that I decided to get married in New Zealand, rather than my home country of Scotland. They revelled in the fact, jumped on a plane, little ones in tow and thought nothing of the three grand airfare and days of jet-lag at the other end. They understood that we wouldn’t
be coming to Scotland for our annual visit this year, that we would selfishly go on a holiday all to ourselves, to please only ourselves. Being allowed this freedom set my mind into overdrive, where and what would we do for this holiday of a lifetime? We could go anywhere, do anything! Antarctica, Alaska, Africa, South America... the possibilities were endless. Tim knew he was signing up for a life less ordinary when he married me, a natural born adventurer. I’m just lucky that this South Island high country farmer revels in the same pursuits and after being levered away from his farm he is just as adventurous as me, if not more so. As an action sports and adventure photographer I find it hard living the mundane, and strive to make every day different and I’m on constant search for the next big assignment to take my lens on. So when I suggested Nepal, trekking and camping he shrugged his shoulders over smoko and grumbled, “sounds good honey.” It helped that clients of mine, Adventure Consultants in Wanaka ran the trek I was looking into; says it all in the name really, they were going to be our adventure consultants. They had only run this trek once before, and showed me a map and some photos explaining that this area of Nepal was pretty darn remote. The Upper Mustang is the former Kingdom of Lo where traditional Tibetan culture remains and foreigners have only been allowed to enter the region since 1992. It is still heavily regulated. With its strict entry rules it 23
has resulted in the area being relatively unspoilt or influenced by tourism and western culture. It sounded such a heavenly place to go explore. Where do we sign up? Packing for this adventure was no easy feat. The extensive list of equipment necessary for the trek, along with my camera gear was all to fit into a 15 kilogram duffel bag. We had a pharmacy with us for any ailment that could possibly plague us while we were in the back of beyond and this took up an inordinate amount of space, so there was no room for comforts. It was to be one change of clothes, our pharmacy of drugs, a bucket load of hand sanitiser, only one roll of loo paper each, sleeping bag, three pairs of socks, waterproofs, a puffer jacket, the all important head torch, my precious camera and three lenses (the very minimum I could bear to take) and a Goal Zero Solar charger to juice up those precious camera batteries, as there would be no electricity where we were headed. Our luggage was thoroughly weighed in Pokhara before climbing aboard our Yeti Airlines plane bound for Jomsom. The minute aircraft, which appeared to be straight from the 1950s, was briskly loaded with its assortment of passengers – a mix of Indians dressed for an occasion, a few elderly Nepalese, some Sherpa weathered mountain faces, a couple of intrepid trekkers, our Nepalese guide Nema Sherpa, and ourselves, the honeymooners. The air hostess walked down the line of five rows of seats and handed out a lolly and some cotton wool to her
were hugely privileged to have experienced ‘We first hand the ancient culture of the people, on the brink of change. ’ passengers. Tim and I watched as the locals immediately stuck the lolly in their mouth and the cotton wool in their ears. We followed diligently being careful not to get it the wrong way round. I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous about this flight. Having heard many horror stories about the domestic flights around Nepal’s colossal mountains and how horrendously dangerous they were due to weather, soaring above 8,000 metre peaks in ancient equipment, I squeezed my husband’s hand and gulped nervously as we shuddered into the sky. Up and up we went soaring past the jungle-clad mountains around Pokhara. My heart skipped a beat when I caught a glimpse of my first Nepalese snowclad peak. It was gleaming pink under the 6am sun and it was breathtaking. I couldn’t get a photo through the small scratched window as we peered out taking in the marvel of the enormity of it all. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world surround Pokhara. My mind was sufficiently blown and we hadn’t even got there yet. The flight only took 25 minutes and was one of the most beautiful winged journeys I have ever made. It felt like we were still going up when we spotted the tiny landing strip in Jomsom. We had taken off at 1,200 metres in Pokhara and landed safely in Jomsom at 2,800 metres, with little descending. We were in the heart of the Himalayas. After a very leisurely first day walking we camped in Kagbeni; the gateway to The Upper Mustang National Park. We stood on the edge of this small village gazing up the valley into the unknown, with its colossal dry mountains soaring vertically out of the wide dry valley below; it is one of the largest and deepest gorges in the world, making the Grand Canyon look like child’s
play. There were a couple of guards loitering at the entrance, watching us making sure we didn’t make a dash into the protected park without our mandatory guide or paying our fees. Like good law abiding tourists we paid up and headed into the unknown with Nema, bound for the ancient walled city of Lo Manthang and the boarder of Tibet. As we walked along the recently completed ‘highway’ to Lo Manthang I grilled Nema about the controversial issue surrounding the building of this basic dirt road, carved steeply into the side of Mustang’s desert landscape. Just six years ago the only way into Upper Mustang was on foot, the only way to transport goods was by pony, yak or donkey. This has resulted in a culture largely untouched by western influence and forced to rely on its self-sufficiency through ancient techniques, with no machinery or electricity. Only one in seven villages in Mustang has access to electricity, without modern plumbing and hospitals. Walking through these villages felt like walking back 2,000 years. The road has only just been completed in the last year. The distance from Mustang’s capital, Lo Manthang to Pokhara is a mere 112 kilometres but due to the geography of the Himalayas it takes an average of 14 days to walk. The road is opening up Mustang to the modern ways of life, with jeep access to some villages, so the standard of living is increasing. New schools are being built with teachers arriving who can teach English and modern subjects. Supplies can be brought in; goods from Pohakra, rice, fresh produce, newspapers and modern clothes and shoes. With the access of jeeps and machinery, modern influences are beginning to affect the ancient culture 24
of Mustang. The young now dream of a life in the big cities and not about taking on their families’ ancient craft. Nema says he already sees a shifting in the culture of the region. This new road is a symbol of modernity and brings with it a significant shift from the ‘old world’ to the ‘new world’. As we wound our way up the huge valley, sleeping under the stars in the gardens of local tea houses, we were in awe of not only the vast and ever changing landscape, but by the characters and faces we met along the way. We were hugely privileged to have experienced first hand the ancient culture of the people, on the brink of change. The valley of Mustang is littered with Gompas (ancient monasteries) made from mud with centuries old mandalas (paintings) and full of practising Buddhist Monks. We were lucky enough to visit a few of these Gompas. Lo-Ghyekar Gompa is one of the oldest monasteries in ancient Tibet, built in the 8th Century at 3,934 metres, and it was a perfect place for us to eat our picnic lunch. We were invited in to view the mandala paintings and meet some of the monks. While we hungrily gobbled down our food, I asked Nema about the shouting noises coming from an open window. He explained that as part of their practice, monks would sit and read from holy books for eight hours straight, out loud, as loud as they could for days on end. To my delight we were invited to take a peek and yes, I could take photos (photography was forbidden in many of the monasteries). There were monks of all ages, some old, some no older than ten all shouting as loud as they could, never once breaking concentration to see who the white faced intruders were. Hot steaming liquid was poured into their cups that
they would sip on between words; I’m guessing to keep their mouth from drying out with all that shouting! On asking what the liquid was we were immediately invited to have a cuppa in the kitchen with the ladies who looked after the monks. The ‘kitchen’ comprised of a mud floor with some pots and pans and a dung burning stove at the heart of it. Wood is extremely scarce in Mustang so dung fires serve as the oven as well as the heating. A large kettle sat upon the stove warming its hot brew. Sitting on the mud step that served as a seat we were poured a cup of thick milky looking tea. In our best Nepalese we thanked the shyly giggling girls for our beverage and took a sip – yak butter tea, hot and milky, sweet and salty. Not the best combination but we gulped it down with thanks. We plodded along, one step at a time, walking around five to seven hours each day between an altitude of 3,000-
4,500 metres. Having started walking at 7am each morning, we were usually at our designated camp spot by mid afternoon allowing us time to explore the village and put our feet up for a bit. We were definitely ‘glamping’ with donkeys in tow to carry our gear, a cook and his helpers to prepare our meals and a guide to show us the way. We were at leisure just to enjoy every step. Each night we would pore over our map with Nema, discussing what route we would want to take on the way home. We had decided to take a different route back, to get more off the beaten track. We had seen two other groups of westerners so far, and in my mind that was two too many! Day seven was a long one. We walked up what seemed like a never ending hot and dusty valley, with over 1,000 metres of ascent to our destination of the ‘walled city’ of Lo Mantang, and with the promise of a shower, some green grass to camp on and a rest day ahead, we were eager to get there. 27
We finally summited the pass to Lo Manthang and saw the city for the first time. Red walls embraced a small cluster of mud houses surrounded by a patchwork of green barley fields amongst the high mountain desert. Finally we had reached the ancient city, the mid way and turning around point of our adventure. I felt quite sad. It was a much smaller place than I had imagined. I’m not too sure what I expected, a thriving metropolis? After all it was the Capital city to an ancient culture! Lo Manthang (3,810 metres) was just beautiful. Quaint streets wound their way around mud brick houses and monasteries. Children played amongst baby goat herds, old women sat around spinning yak wool and nattering, the sounds of monk chants echoed through the narrow streets. It was like a picture book. Spending two nights camping in the same spot had its advantages. We were able to wash some clothes in our
young now dream of a life in the big cities and not ‘The about taking on their families ancient craft. ’ metal bowls usually brought to us each morning for personal cleaning. There was a ‘hot shower’ available which was little more than a piddle, but it was running warm water and I was able to wash properly for the first time in seven days. It didn’t really bother me, being dirty. So the shower was good but I wouldn’t have missed it if it wasn’t there. Washing my socks was more exciting. An adventure up to the ancient caves in Choser (within spitting distance of Tibet (China)) was on the cards for our rest day. We went on horseback to give our pins a rest, as it was a four hour return journey. We saddled up and headed for the top of Nepal. We had seen many caves on our walk so far, small holes carved out of the cliff faces, most of them made by monks to meditate in centuries ago. We arrived in Choser and I looked straight up to view the tiny caves
peppered amongst the cliff face like bullet holes. Way up at the top, some 30 metres high, were prayer flags flying. How did they get up there? I asked Nema. He smiled. I clearly didn’t understand what we were here to see. We walked up some sketchy stone steps to the bottom hole and ducked to enter a large room in the cliff face. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the inky darkness as we put our head torches on. Attached to this large room was a narrow corridor with lots of smaller rooms off each side. Each room got smaller and smaller as it went deeper into the mountain side. By the end of the ‘corridor’ we were bent double. We found a ladder and gingerly climbed up it to another network of rooms and corridors, each level slightly smaller than its predecessor. The ceilings of these rooms were black with tar from fires. Up and up we climbed to more 28
and more rooms. Suddenly I spotted the prayer flags hanging out of a hole to the outside. Carefully I peered out the small bright window. I was looking down 30 metres to the valley floor where we had been moments before. That’s how they got the prayer flags here. I couldn’t believe that there was a network of caves heading so high into the mountainside. They believe around 30 families used to live in these caves at Choser, one family per room, with the large room at the bottom as a communal living area. I couldn’t imagine living in the side of a mountain like rabbits in a warren. Ancient artefacts have been found in these caves dating back centuries. No one really knows when people stopped living in these caves and built houses made of mud and stones. Our adventure got even more remote on the way back home. We ventured far
off the ‘road’ onto goat tracks leading us up and over from valley to valley. We had four days in a row with over 1,000 metres ascent and decent leading us into the most remote of villages, accessible only by foot or horse. I just loved camping in these villages and meeting the smiling toothless locals. At one village it was a local lady’s 49th birthday, a very important one in Nepal apparently. People had ridden or walked for days from villages all around to join in the celebrations. That night we slept to the sound of villagers singing, laughing and celebrating into the small hours. Our longest day walking was nine hours and 4,500 metres at the highest point. We were nearly home. We spent our second to last night in the town of Muktinath which is one end of the backpacker popular Annapurna Circuit. It is also a very important Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage destination; many Nepalese and Indians travel thousands of miles to visit. Arriving into Muktinath was quite a shock
to the system. Since leaving Lo Manthang six days previously, we had not seen another westerner, no jeeps, no electricity. With heavy feet we walked through the hustle and bustle of the streets, passing fresh faced trekkers ready for adventure, signs advertising phones and wifi! 24 hour hot showers, tourist stalls selling scarves, fat Indians on the back of mopeds being driven to the temples and monasteries, as they couldn’t be bothered to walk… Oh gosh take me back to Lo Manthang! It was with a heavy heart we climbed aboard our 6.30am Yeti Airlines plane back to Pokhara. We were lucky to get out as many flights were cancelled for days on end due to weather and you were forced to take the bus. The flight takes 25 minutes, the bus takes 18 hours, with the first 14 on a dirt road. I was pleased not to be on that bus, but our cook and his boys were as the flight is much too expensive for locals. It would be 28 hours travel for them before they saw their families again in Kathmandu. Everything had gone so 29
well for us on our adventure, not one entry into our pharmacy of drugs we (or the donkeys) carried all the way, not even for a blister. A big hug from Nema our guide and it was all over. We would be sleeping in a bed, taking hot showers and changing our clothes oh so soon. The two weeks of walking seemed to melt away so quickly into happy memories of an epic adventure shared with my new life partner. We sank our tired bodies into our plane seats, popped the lolly in our mouth and the cotton wool in our ears and waved goodbye to the Upper Mustang and our amazing first adventure as man and wife. Camilla Rutherford is a professional adventure photographer based near Queenstown, New Zealand. She loves to photograph people in the outdoors and going on adventures. www.camillarutherford.co.nz F www.facebook.com/ camillarutherfordphotography www.instagram.com/camillarutherford_ photography t www.twitter.com/CamillaStoddart
CLIMBING ANCIENT CHINA WORDS AND IMAGES: Michael Guggenmos
Michael Guggenmos was drawn to the Great Wall of China, but the tourist trap that many restored sections have become did not appeal. ORIGINALLY WINDING ALMOST 10,000 kilometres across China, the Great Wall is a triumph of human glory, stamina and engineering. My desire to visit the Great Wall was strong. However, many travellers had warned the wall was the greatest tourist trap in all of China. Mass crowds, overpriced souvenirs and annoying touts were a sight to be expected. This was an aspect of China I wanted to avoid and after a little research, I decided to visit the unrestored Jiankou section of the wall. I was joined by two South Africans; Simon, who I had previously met in India and Ollie, who was studying in Beijing. We set off from Beijing with the Great Wall in our sights and Ollieâ€™s outstanding Chinese soon had us eagerly packed aboard a bus heading north to the quaint village of Xizhazi. The air began to clear as the smoky glass skyline of Beijing gave way to
sparse housing, densely forested hills and meandering streams. Xizhazi village was our base for the evening and after beers and banter with some friendly Chinese tourists, we were tucked up in bed in anticipation of an early start. The following morning some vague, and most likely misinterpreted, Chinese instructions sent us off into the jungle. A tiny path littered with forks pierced through the overgrowth. It was obvious nobody had been there for quite some time. Dew and residual rain saturated our clothes as we ascended several small passes in what we could only hope was the right direction. But our spirits were high and after one hour of hiking we suddenly burst out onto a pile of eroded bricks that littered a small ridgeline. An imposing but degraded watchtower to the right confirmed our suspicions and signalled our arrival. We were standing 30
on what was left of the Great Wall of Jiankou. Not a person was in sight. Largely unrestored, the Jiankou section of the Great Wall was constructed along a series of extremely steep ridgelines between the small villages of Zhuang hu and Mutianyu. We initially made our way north along the rubble, towards the Nine Eye Watchtower, which perches 1,010 metres above sea level. This watchtower is rumoured to be the highest tower on the Jiankou wall and we found it was a hub of activity, with an army of Chinese workers restoring the precarious bricks. Horses sweated as they carried heavy loads up the muddy path toward the tower. At the top was an outstanding unobstructed view of the surrounding valleys and Great Wall of China. Over the next few hours we made our way south along a section of the wall that was in surprisingly good
condition. Gravel crunched beneath our feet and sweat dripped from our faces as we pushed through the humid thick vegetation that occupied the wall. We soon approached the first of what would be a series of nearvertical sections of the wall, consisting of little more than crumbling bricks. Adrenaline pumped through our veins as we carefully manoeuvred up vertical walls of loose stone and bedrock. These crumbling sections challenged our fears and left me wondering if the Chinese were utter geniuses or completely crazy for building on near vertical bedrock. The elements had taken their toll on some sections, over the long passage of time, and it was no wonder some parts were simply crumbling away. The afternoon was cut short as the sky grew dark and thunderclouds consumed the sky. Lightening and torrential rain had us scrambling for cover, which was quickly provided by a small watchtower archway. Water crawled beneath our feet as we contemplated the risk of a lightening
strike on our exposed position on the ridge. Luckily, the storm disappeared as fast as it arrived and after the clouds had cleared we set upon a new watchtower that we proposed would accommodate us for the night. A fire was soon blazing and rocks were strategically repositioned to ensure a good nightâ€™s rest in our Great Wall Hilton. However, as the thunderstorm reappeared and our bedroom filled with smoke from the wet firewood we quickly decided that beers and a dry bed in the village below were a more appealing option. The following morning, after a bowl of sour seaweed soup, we scrambled back up to the wall to continue the final ten kilometres of our trek. The rain from the previous day had cleared and the sky had transformed into blue. The setting was absolutely stunning as we continued our climbing expedition along ridge lines and rock outcrops straddled by the Great Wall. Like the day before, we were met with many vertical sections that crumbled beneath 35
our aching feet. My fears continued to be tested as I was challenged to descend several near-vertical sections of the wall. My breathing was heavy, but this soon subsided as the wallâ€™s condition began to improve. By late afternoon the appearance of other tourists signalled an end to the unrestored section of the Great Wall. Crumbling bricks and endless silence were soon replaced with manicured brickwork, Coca-Cola and American accents as we moved onto the Mutianyu section of the wall. Chaos closed in as touts begged us to purchase their merchandise. After two challenging days hiking, experiencing a completely unique and rewarding experience of the Great Wall, we negotiated our way back to Beijing. Michael Guggenmos is an active New Zealander who has recently completed a one-year travel sabbatical. Highlights of his journey include the diverse cultures and landscapes of Tibet, Mongolia and Cuba.
THE UNTOUCHED LINE WORDS: Richie Johnston IMAGES: Keith Stubbs and supplied
Richie Johnston has snowboarding in his veins and is in constant search for the next best line. He escaped New Zealand’s summer to spend two magical weeks immersed in the white gold and culture of Japan. IMAGES OF POWDER billowing up around my chest filled my dreams during the nights leading up to my two-week snowboard trip to Japan. I could almost hear the excitement in the voices of friends who would meet me in Niseko and to add fuel to the fire, an epic forecast was on the horizon. Snow, food, monkeys, people and their culture were the draw card to what would be an adventure like no other. After reading Snow-search Japan by Keith Stubbs, I was about to travel into a world very different from anything I had experienced before. Previous North American and European winter seasons had already given me a wealth of knowledge and experience in the snow-sports coaching world. However the main difference to this trip… not a student in sight. Hirafu Resort was our first base, only two and a half hours east of Sapporo airport. With many Japanese opting not to ride the glades and off-piste, there was a high chance of finding fresh powder through until the mid afternoon. Hirafu certainly delivered, offering some of the finest turns
of my life. The first week was filled with face shots, drops, plenty of laughs and earto-ear smiles. We enjoyed countless runs searching for the next untouched pocket, having previously scouted the best lines while riding the lift to the top. I was intrigued to encounter the Snow Monkeys, creatures I had heard and read so much about. Not to be confused with Ewoks, they would come down from the trees and enjoy the natural Onsen pools, which sat around 42°C. After an action-packed day on a mountain in the Yudanaka region, we had the pleasure of relaxing in the water (naked of course!), but in areas separate from the cheeky little buggers. At one point, a curious one reached out and tried to grab my camera – ha! Not this time monkey. I was surprised the bottom of the pools were not scattered with GoPros and passports. After spending the first week on Hokaido, an island with over 20,000 years of history, it was time to search for some new mountains and the towns that surround them. Flying into Tokyo, we picked up a rental and after many failed attempts
length of untouched runs were ‘The depthlikeandnothing we’d ever ridden before. ’
Image: Richie Johnston
to decipher the Japanese GPS we eventually headed north. There is only so much planning that can be done for trips like these. A fine balance is needed between setting your heart on a destination, versus learning where the storms are going to deliver the deepest snow. A mixture of local knowledge, good weather and previous advice had us headed in the right direction.
to a well-deserved lunch. Curries, soba and udon noodles, shabu-shabu and other interesting delicacies filled our hungry bellies. The exceptionally friendly people of Japan blew me away every day – their incredible amount of respect and courtesy was contagious. Even the smallest gesture of kindness was appreciated and was reciprocated as often as possible.
The snow was amazing! And it only got better towards the end of our stay, which also coincided with their peak season. There is very limited backcountry snow stability control work in Japan, a huge contrast to the States and New Zealand. Because of this, it was essential we each had and knew how to use transceivers, shovels and probes in case of an avalanche. Thankfully we never had to use them.
Of all the days on the snow, it’s the last that sticks in my mind. Ducking a rope and trudging through the snow before strapping in, I could sense this was going to be one of those days. With experienced locals at our side, we knew we were in good hands. The depth and length of untouched runs were like nothing we’d ever ridden before. Risking a late-return fee on the rental car and a hair-raising drive back into Tokyo, the decision was made to continue lapping the freshies. A call well worth making!
During our second week while exploring we found a wooden cabin nestled in the trees near the edge of the Myoko resort, which treated us
Japan had delivered. The powder, 39
new flavours and an understanding of Japanese culture made me more curious than ever to explore this country further. It’s comforting to know there are still people out there who choose to live their passions – even with three metres of snow to shovel in the morning. Surrounding myself with these kinds of people can only mean good things for the soul. The fortune seems to overflow during adventures like these, especially when they can be shared with friends. I’ll keep dreaming of the next powder day! Richie Johnston is an adventure addict. Based in Wanaka, New Zealand he spends every day possible up the mountain; coaching, competing and finding fresh lines. www.richiejohnston.com www.instagram.com/richie_johnston/ t www.twitter.com/richieofnz
A WEEK IN THE WILD WORDS AND IMAGES: Mimi Atkinson
For the past seven years, Kiwi Mimi Atkinson has been volunteering as a hut warden for the Department of Conservation (DOC) in New Zealand. The scheme sees experienced outdoor people stay for free in one of DOCs many huts across the country, providing advice to visitors, relaying information to the central department and enjoying the great outdoors. Looking back, she shares her diary of a week spent at the remote Siberia Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park.
Day One I was up early driving to Makarora to arrive at 8am for the usual briefing: a refresher on radio procedure, the daily occupancy sheets and a chance to talk to the out-going warden for any other useful information. I’d packed luxury items of fresh fruit, yoghurt and sausages, knowing there was a very good chance of being flown in to the Siberia airstrip, just across the river some 20 minutes from the hut. Today was not to be my lucky day, so with hours to wait for the jet boat instead, I had to rearrange my pack, sadly dispensing with most of the heavy food but the rich, chocolaty fruitcake was staying. It’s a traditional treat for my weeks in the backcountry. I foolishly weighed my pack to see it was 18.5 kilograms. Much too heavy, but I did have plenty of daylight up my sleeve. Driven up the Wilken River, I was dropped off on the grassy banks of the river at Kerrin Forks. It was a hot, windless day as I began the climb into Siberia Valley. I plodded on and on
counting the switchbacks to pass the time. I was devising plans to dump some of my load to collect later when I finally got to the top, after one and a half hours and was able to see the beautiful, wide valley and turquoise river stretching out ahead of me. It was then an easy one hour on tired, hot feet to the new Siberia Hut. Just one Swiss tramper was in the main hut when I arrived. The hut is a couple of years old, the previous one having burnt to the ground. The layout includes four bunks in the warden’s quarters, magnificent views up the valley, a small wood burner and a real shower. The only problem is that it hadn’t rained for weeks and the new water supply is rainwater only. I felt sure this would change, because it was pretty disappointing being unable to use the shower initially until some rain did fall. I radioed Makarora to report in. They probably laughed at how long it took me to get there. Never again will I carry in so much. Cake and a big cup of green tea were enjoyed after a good 41
wash in the shower with a bucket. I can feel a little spooked at night when I’m there alone, especially if there is no-one in the main hut. I felt a little foolish as I locked the door. The night sky was spectacular and the only sound was the Siberia River.
Day Two My daily radio call came in at 8.30am. This is when I received a weather forecast for the area and also relayed the numbers of visitors that stayed the previous night. At Siberia Hut we also wrote down any expected flights due in that day by the plane or helicopter, or schedule of departing jet boats from Kerrin Forks. This enables anyone to chance their luck at getting a quick trip out of the valley in a first in, first served capacity. Once everybody had left the hut I went in and swept, emptied the ash from the burner, and cleaned the two toilets. I did this in the shade, as the sun doesn’t reach the hut until 11.45am because of the huge mountains.
I did a good session of Pilates most mornings. My body welcomed it after yesterday’s exertion. I also discovered to my dismay that there was absolutely no toilet paper in the quarters. This is supplied for wardens but not the general public. I radioed Makarora and they promised to send some in with the next flight. That heavy fruit I packed was a godsend as I was able to swap an apple for a good helping of toilet paper from Gaeyon from Switzerland. He was a pleasant young man but a bit lonely, so we had some good talks together. He planned to head to the Top Forks hut and then to walk over the difficult Rabbit Pass into the East Matukituki Valley. I strongly recommended, on behalf of his mother, that he didn’t go over the pass unless accompanied by experienced Kiwi hikers. I took a long walk up the valley in the afternoon. It was lovely relaxing and reading, but I was constantly
distracted by the views up the valley and wondering if I could see anyone approaching. It was not the luckiest of days as, to my dismay, my Kindle died that evening. I had loaded up plenty of reading for the week which was now all gone. A search through the bookcase fortunately revealed several good reads and I always have a few Sudoku puzzles tucked away to keep my mind busy. Late in the day, three hikers arrived from the Young. I went to say hello and get their details before it got too dark to see what I was writing. I had solar lights in my room but mostly avoided using them – it just doesn’t seem right, all that light in the wilderness.
Day Three There were no booked boats, planes or helicopters this day so I planned for a quiet day. The three hikers who arrived yesterday stayed another night so they could walk into the 42
incredible Lake Crucible. I did the usual chores and some Pilates. I probably should have walked into Lake Crucible as the weather for the weekend wasn’t looking so good. Instead, I walked down the valley following the Siberia River. It was so inviting but absolutely freezing cold, so my swim/wash was extremely brief. I lay on the hot rocks to dry, well out of sight of the track. As I walked back, I headed up a side creek into bush and saw fresh deer tracks, lots of native birds and heard birds singing. Walking back I followed the airstrip – just two wheel tracks in the brown grass. I also discovered that the smoke alarm in the warden’s quarters wasn’t working. Still no loo paper! Meals were a bit of a highlight during the week because aimless snacking doesn’t take place when every item of food is assigned to a time of day. I usually bring quick pasta, rice and
dehydrated vegetables, plus a couple of the Back Country Cuisine range. Lunch was mostly salami, cheese and some sort of tough cracker that copes with travel. Bread is heavy, so slices are counted if it’s to come along. Some homemade relish brightened up most snacks. Four peopled stayed in the hut that night. The busy season was tailing off and soon the hut would not be manned with a warden until the spring.
Day Four Another lovely day if you don’t need rain for the tanks. I told the Makarora base that I would be out most of the day as I decided to walk up to Lake Crucible. I had hoped that some family might have managed to come in for a visit, but nobody had turned up yet. I took a daypack and a personal locator beacon. It takes about three hours to get up into the hanging valley and to
the amazing little Lake Crucible. On previous visits it had been full of huge lumps of ice. This time, because it was autumn, it had some avalanche remains on its far shore. There were a few random late-flowering Mt Cook Lilies and other tiny flowers about. It was the most perfect of mountain valleys. I felt like I was the only person left in the world. I took a ‘selfie’, necessary to prove I got there. I walked back down the track to the hut in two-and-a-half hours, arriving sweaty and tired. Then, a big surprise arrived. In flew a helicopter with my brother, sister-in-law, niece and her partner, bringing with them venison and cake for dinner and, best of all, two huge rolls of loo paper! Two other hikers joined us in the hut that night as well.
Day Five It rained overnight and my brother snored – all good sounds though, after 43
a quiet few days. The rain cleared to drizzle later in the morning and my family set off for a walk, saying they might go to Lake Crucible if it cleared enough. It seemed ridiculous that I was not going with them but I honestly don’t think I could have walked up there two days in a row. Later, when they returned suitably weary, they agreed that I’d made the right decision. While they were gone I had been able to light the fire and heat water for short, but welcome, showers. We had another lovely evening together, while six people spent the night in the hut next door.
Day Six It was misty first thing, but the family were able to leave as scheduled by helicopter at 11am. I had a good sweep and clean in the main hut. A small plane came in at 1pm with three hunters. I watched them through my binoculars as they
carried huge packs and guns and headed up the valley. It was the roar (deer mating season) and there were hunting blocks allocated further up the valley. One hunter called by the hut as he walked back down to get another load for their camp. Just as I thought I’d go for a walk it started to rain so it was a day for Sudoku and reading. Thankfully my brother managed to reboot my Kindle. I indulged in some Easter treats and cake left behind by my family. No visitors arrived that day. It was a strange feeling knowing that it was just the hunters up the valley and me.
Day Seven There was low cloud and drizzle when I woke. I went for a walk for an hour-orso late in the afternoon.
Five young men in three different parties arrived during the afternoon and then much later four older kiwi men came in. They wore fantastic bright fluorescent jackets as they knew hunters could be about. Most were walking out to Makarora the next day, crossing the Makarora River. They asked me about the route and I gave them a river crossing demonstration and suggested they cross it together, after carefully assessing the environment.
Day Eight It was time to head back to Makarora. I had numerous options for a quick trip back. Several helicopters were coming in, with space for me, or a number of Cessna planes as well. I chose the first plane coming in. The sandflies gave 45
me a hurry-up while I sat waiting near the turnaround area of the airstrip. Suddenly a tiny plane came up the valley and turned to land. Out hopped a group of fit young Asian women and their guide. He was relieved when I told him there was plenty of room in the hut. It was a wonderful end to my week, winging my way down the Siberia and Wilkin Valleys on such a perfect sunny day. Mimi Atkinson has spent her life living in the country. She loves tramping, snow skiing and training and riding horses. She lives by the philosophy ‘Never let an adventure pass you by’.
WAY OUT WEST WORDS AND IMAGES: Natalie Bowie
Natalie Bowie had never considered visiting China for a holiday, let alone living on the edge of the Gobi Desert. But in the space of 48 hours, she decided to quit her job, leave her New Zealand home and disappear to the Orient. IN FEBRUARY 2014 I arrived at Shandan Bailie School in Gansu Province, North West China, armed with my thermals, my camera and my enthusiasm to help support something that a very special New Zealander had started back in the 1940’s. Shandan Bailie School has special significance to New Zealand. It was founded by Rewi Alley, who was born in Canterbury, New Zealand in 1897. Rewi served in World War I and afterwards returned to New Zealand, farming for a few years in the back blocks of Wanganui before he set off to China, where he was to spend the majority of his life up until his death in Beijing in 1989. Rewi is regarded as one of China’s most important foreign friends of the 20th Century. He was the founder of the NZ/China Friendship Society,
which still runs today and supports a range of initiatives in both countries. He also worked on a number of lifetransforming initiatives in China. One was to set up a school for orphan boys in Shaanxi Province in the early 1940’s. With war raging in China and armies heading further westward, Rewi decided to move the entire school further inland to a tiny, half-deserted village (Shandan) perched on the edge of the Gobi Desert where the students were kept busy using Rewi’s theory of hands-on learning. After the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949 the school was moved to Lanzhou where it merged with a technical institute. Rewi kept his passion for the region and the people for decades and in the late 1980’s he found the funds to renew the school in Shandan again, even though he was well over 80 years old himself ! The 48
school continues today and now takes on one New Zealander each year to teach English to the students. Shandan is an oasis town five hours train-ride north of Gansu’s capital city, Lanzhou. As the train meandered up the Old Silk Road with giant mountains gracing both sides of the tracks, I was amazed to see camels ambling by amongst herds of goats and yaks. On three sides of Shandan, desert stretches as far as the eye can see. To the south the mighty Qilian Mountains dominate the sky towering to over 6,000 metres at their highest point. My journey was to be one of selfdiscovery as much as anything else. Leaving a good job, great friends, my own home and lots of family support for the great unknown was always going to be challenging. Add to that the fact that I was the only foreigner in the
of my time was my own and this ‘Most is where the adventures really began. ’ entire county and a young (ish) female; I was in for some interesting times! Part of that self-discovery was a new appreciation of teachers! I knew prior to going that, with my high sense of urgency and lack of patience, teaching English to a class of 55 teenage boys who were there under duress and wanted to be car mechanics or farmers, was always going to be testing. During my time in Shandan I taught over 240 local students what I could about life outside their small hometown. Most of my time was my own and this is where the adventures really began. Some of my trips included traveling into Inner Mongolia to climb the sand dunes and feel like I was in the Sahara, not China. I also visited the second largest horse farm, which is home to over 10,000 horses. I loved the natural beauty of the region including the stunning Danxia landforms as well as the man-made marvels such as seeing the true end of the Great Wall of China. This meant travelling nine
hours by overnight train further west to another oasis town. Part of the Great Wall also ran past my bedroom window, although it was just another area for rubbish, dirt and sand to accumulate in Shandan and most of the wall was so eroded it would hardly keep a sheep in let alone an invading army any more. Other adventures included surviving the constant sandstorms that ravage the region every spring time, working with local farmers to help support their cooperatives and spending hour upon hour on my trusty old bicycle visiting villages and farms within easy reach of Shandan. My adventures also led me to befriend a range of interesting characters, although making true friends was incredibly challenging due to the language barrier. I battled altitude sickness when I first arrived and found I also had to quickly adjust to temperatures that sat at around -15°C in the middle of the day and 51
plummeted even further during the crisp, dark nights. It was hard to reconcile the poverty I saw everywhere with the large SUVs and iPhones that were equally prevalent. I have come to learn, through subsequent travels in China, that this situation is certainly not unique to Shandan, but it certainly took some getting my head around. The few friends that I made will be forever in my heart and I am thankful that I had the opportunity through the NZ/China Friendship Society to follow in the extraordinary footsteps of Rewi Alley. My five months in the Gobi were incredibly unique and fascinating and one adventure that I will most certainly treasure forever. Natalie Bowie is a Kiwi who is currently studying on a Prime Minister’s Scholarship at the Chinese Language School in Shanghai, China. She writes a fantastic blog offering an insight into this interesting world.
JUST SIXTY KILOMETRES UNTIL THE FINISHING LINE WORDS: Charley Mann IMAGE: Supplied
Recovering from the shock of an earthquake, running was the tonic for Charley Mann. But was The Taniwha 60 kilometre ultramarathon, along New Zealand’s stunning Waikato River Trails, taking it too far? EARLY ON A balmy November morning I found myself excitedly trotting up a tarmac road amongst rolling hills, embarking on my first 60 kilometre ultramarathon.
Running, I discovered, was the tonic that lifted my spirits, repaired my battered soul and burned calories like wildfire. Little more than a year after my first wobbly steps, I ran my first marathon.
The journey really began three years earlier, in 2011, when Christchurch, New Zealand, was destroyed by a series of violent earthquakes. Weeks later, the sudden breakup of a long-term relationship smacked with the force of a good aftershock.
Somewhere while cruising through a half marathon on a ‘runners high’ in June 2014, I decided to up the ante. I got a running coach, bought a bigger backpack and entered the The Taniwha ultramarathon. I had just three months to train.
A passionate relationship with whisky and chocolate throughout the weeks that followed was the perfect fuel for my job as a journalist. Unfortunately, this diet isn’t viable long-term and doesn’t do anything for your health. Looking and feeling rather worse for wear, and with most gyms out of action, I decided to take up running. I haven’t stopped since.
The initial road-run that began the race soon sped downwards to the trails, meandering peacefully besides the
My goals for The Taniwha were simple: enjoy the experience and cross the line in less than nine hours, but preferably closer to eight. A new and relatively small race, there were just 48 participants in the ultramarathon segment.
revelled in the beauty of the surroundings ‘Iknowing that soon, it would be all over. ’ Waikato River and occasionally over the top via vast swing bridges. For the first two hours I ran in the land that time forgot, surrounded by soaring ferns and thundering waterfalls. Those first 22 kilometres were challenging and varied: chopping and changing from undulating ground, stairs, switchbacks, steep hills, long flat sections and a dam crossing. I chatted to a few of the other runners who were aiming for faster times than me. Jo, in her fifties, was gunning for seven hours. It was her first ultra, she said, after years of successful marathons. The second stage, from around 22 to 30 kilometres, was a tough slog up steep hills, all while dodging mountain bikers who were also part of the event. I was alone for the entirety, as Jo sped off towards her seven-hour finish. Pushing hard up one particular hill, so steep it had to be navigated in a seemingly endless series of switchbacks, I felt faint, nauseous and tired. Doubt crept in: would I finish, had I gone out too hard, too early? Walking hard uphill I came up with a plan to get across the line – I banished any thought of a finishing time from my mind and concentrated only on crossing that line. Soon the aggressive hills poured downwards to the state highway, where the route spilled onto the road. Struggling physically with sore knees and tired legs on tarmac, I broke the run down mentally. Thirty kilometres stood between me and the finishing line. Thirty kilometres was horrifying
but 15 kilometres, I reasoned, I could do easily without training. Once I had completed that, I would have just 15 kilometres to the end. Buoyed by determination I chugged down the road and was at the start line of the half marathon race within the hour. The tarmac gave way to gravel before drifting back onto trails. As nature began to close in my mood lifted, my legs felt lighter and I could taste the end with every step further into the wild. Passing the hallowed 15 kilometre to go sign that had kept me afloat for so long, I found myself walking alongside another runner for a break. Jim was running the Kepler Challenge, another 60 kilometre ultramarathon, just one month after he finished The Taniwha. His brother in law talked him into it, he said, rolling his eyes. Chatting to Jim, tiredness smacked me head on. I had reached the point where my legs hurt so much, it was less painful to run than to walk. Talking felt difficult, as though it was draining me of energy. As pleasant as it was to have company, I pushed on. The heat of the day was waning overhead when the ten kilometre to go sign came into view. Knowing the end was so close my spirits soared again, my knees picked up and my feet felt lighter. I revelled in the beauty of the surroundings knowing that soon, it would be all over. Then suddenly the lush scenery and mighty river melted away and I was 54
back on cold, hard road. With just four kilometres to go my soul was crushed. Road, endless road. No wildlife, no river and no scent of wilderness to keep me going. The next three and a half kilometres was the longest, hardest slog of the race. I broke down each step, concentrating on moving forwards and keeping good form despite the ache in my legs dragging as heavily as the ache in my mind. After what seemed like an age, two people came into view. “It’s just around the corner,” they said. “You’ve got minutes to go.” As suddenly as it first appeared, the road peeled away and rows of parked cars in a vibrant green paddock came into view – I was almost there. I picked up the pace on my sore, heavy legs, flew past the cars and down a long passage between two ponds, aiming hard at the finishing line. Eight hours and 22 minutes after I had set off, I had done it. Giddy with elation, I ran across the line. Charley Mann plans to run every trail and race that she can, albeit rather slowly, as she continues to work her way around the world in search of adventure, while unscrambling science and corporate jargon for the masses. t www.twitter.com/Charley_Mann
OPPOSITE PAGE A Little Ink (Jenny Palmer) is A Little Poetry and Art in prints, books and every eco-friendly surface she can find! F www.facebook.com/ALittleInkNZ
ONE LEG ON MONT BLANC WORDS AND IMAGES: Chris Parsons
Chris Parsons’ trip to the Alps was best summed up by a quote from Woody Allen: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." IT BEGAN WITH what should have been a quick, painless trip to Chamonix, the base for the alpine adventure. Unfortunately my flight was delayed by some Belgian fog. I missed my transfer at Geneva Airport and was bumped onto the last bus. The bus was delayed. I finally arrived at my destination at 1:30am, only to find my hotel room locked and no sign of the promised key. So the following morning I was not in the best frame of mind to start trekking round Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. The rain hammering down in Les Houches, our starting point, wasn't helping either. On the other hand, I was in the Alps again, after a regrettably long absence, and the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) had been on my bucket list for a while. The trip had come together at the last minute. I should have been surveying garment factories in Bangladesh, but an eleventh-hour cancellation left me at a loose end, so I hurriedly made fresh arrangements to join my wife Jen in France. We couldn't hang around in Les Houches either, as Jen had decided that it was not enough to merely complete the trek in the normal fashion. Carrying only a tiny pack and
aiming to run the downhill sections, she had compressed the standard 12-day itinerary into eight and had warmed up for the challenge with a week of skyrunning in (or rather above) the Chamonix valley. This caused me some concern. Number one, I run for trains, not for pleasure, and number two, I was carrying three times as much gear. The unfortunate truth is that I was a victim of timing. My last-minute phone calls and emails to the mountain refuges confirmed my fears. Some were fully booked, and I would need to carry a tent and a sleeping bag as there was no guarantee of a bed. My holiday was going to be more like a Royal Marines boot camp, except that I didn’t possess a firearm. Things started promisingly. The rain died off and thanks to an indulgent breakfast, I was powered up the first climb to Col de Voza by four kinds of cheese. Our aim was to skirt round the southern tip of the massif via a high trail over the Col de Tricot (a variant to the standard TMB route), finishing at the Auberge du Truc. This we managed to do, arriving in beautiful late afternoon sunshine, but a painful left knee left me limping the last few kilometres like a peg-legged pirate. 56
It was a recurrence of an old football injury, which has a habit of flaring up when I ask a few questions of the knee. The fabulous setting and clement weather helped to take my mind off the problem, but I already knew my TMB was in jeopardy. The next morning, we had a long walk ahead of us. Our destination was Refuge des Mottets, the final accommodation before the Italian border. We built in two variants; a climb to Tré la Tête at the beginning of the day and a crossing of the Col des Fours at the end, the highest point on the TMB at 2,665 metres. This was a day my knee will remember for years to come. That's just a figure of speech; my knee can't actually remember things. Tré la Tête allowed us to bypass the descent to Les Contamines, and it proved to be a worthwhile detour. We were treated to fine weather, fine views and a photogenic cat. It was followed by a steep but lovely descent through shady, spring-fresh pine forests. I had every opportunity to enjoy it because my progress was painfully slow, in every sense. Clouds were building as we climbed to the Col de Bonhomme, and a sudden storm at the top sent most other walkers scampering for the nearby refuge. It
the Col des Fours the sun reappeared, ‘At transforming the landscape from threatening to majestic in an instant. ’ was by now late afternoon, but we had to carry on. At the Col des Fours the sun reappeared, transforming the landscape from threatening to majestic in an instant. We lingered on the summit snowfield, enjoying the grand vista. But time waits for no man, and nor would the gardienne at Refuge des Mottets. Jen took my heavy pack and bounded off ahead to make sure we got a bed and a meal at the refuge. I inched, winced and grimaced my way down cursing whoever was responsible for designing the human knee. It rained, it poured, dinner time came and went and I was still on the damned hill. As night fell, the refuge finally came into sight. Inside, the dining room was full of well-fed trekkers. A girl was attempting to play the accordion, but every few bars she lost the tune and started playing random notes. It was a bit too avant-garde for the French guests, who drowned her out
with sympathetic applause. Jen had ordered our food, but it took a long time to arrive. The staff ate their dinner, people started drifting off to bed and still we waited. Eventually, a family-size pot of stew landed on the table, and we attacked it like ravenous wolves. After four bowls I was starting to feel pleasantly full. Then it was replaced by an equally large pot of boeuf bourguignon, accompanied by a platter of rice and vegetables. It was a three course dinner and the stew was the starter! The next day I soldiered on through the pain. I gritted my teeth, kept a stiff upper lip and did all the other things my British upbringing had taught me to do in adversity. But I knew deep down that my knee needed rest and the hardest day was still to come. I tried to think positive thoughts, but it was time for a plan B. My mind was made up by the longterm weather forecast we picked up at the Casermetta information centre on 58
the Italian side of the Col de la Seigne. Rain, rain and more rain. No thanks! I would walk as far as Courmayeur, then take a bus through the Mont Blanc Tunnel back to Chamonix and rest up for a couple of days. It was still raining in Courmayeur the next morning as I boarded the bus. Jen was bravely carrying on, climbing the Val Ferret to Rifugio Elena, then crossing the Grand Col Ferret into Switzerland on day five. Back in Chamonix, I set myself up in a hostel near the Brevent cable car station and planned some knee-friendly activities for the next two days. That afternoon I wandered around town, where gear shops outnumber cafés with free wifi by at least ten to one. In the timehonoured fashion of trekkers returning to civilization, I ate pizza and crêpes. That evening I went to the Chamonix Adventure Festival’s film night and marvelled at the likes of “Touch”, “Spice Girl” and others. On my second rest day, I swam in the local pool and
tested the knee with a wet walk in the beautiful Gorge de la Diosaz. Having declared myself fully fit, I decided it was time to get back on the trail. A short train ride and a two-hour hike brought me to the Col de Balme on the French-Swiss border where I had arranged to meet Jen. The pass was snowbound and there was no sign of her, so I retired to the nearby refuge for a hot chocolate and an omelette. Entertainment was provided by the gardienne, for whom the phrase ‘hell hath no fury’ might have been written. Woe betides any poor sod that breaks the house rules. It seems she has quite the reputation. The Chamonet website has this to say; ‘known to locals as the ‘dragon lady refuge’ due to the charming disposition of the proprietress, worth a visit just to see how much wrath you can incur’. It was mid-afternoon when Jen arrived at the refuge, a few hours after our
agreed rendezvous time. The bad weather had forced her to abandon the direct high-level route over the Fenêtre d’Arpette pass. By this stage I’d worked my way into a prime position next to the stove, polished off a greasy omelette and marvelled at the amount of wrath being incurred from the ‘dragon lady’ by the steady procession of visitors. After a celebratory chocolat chaud, we continued on the descent to Tre-le-Champ together. The final stretch of the TMB involved a sustained climb (with a few ladders thrown in) to the Grand Balcon Sud, and then a high-level walk with stupendous views of rain clouds. Lac Blanc, picture-postcard perfect when Jen had run the previous week, was now framed by snow and rock and looked distinctly uninviting. On the Brevent, cable cars emerged from the mist, depositing another batch of disappointed tourists on the summit. That evening at Refuge de Bellachat, 61
the clouds teasingly parted, but never quite lifted, as Mont Blanc stubbornly refused to reveal her full glory. So we were more than ready for the descent to Les Houches the next morning. We arrived at the train station only to find a replacement bus service was operating, which just about summed up our week. The TMB may have disappointed us weather-wise but the mountains have a habit of drawing us back, whatever hand they may have dealt us in the past. Chris Parsons is a keen outdoor enthusiast based in the Peak District, England. He has developed a taste for adventure travel in Asia and South America, with recent trips to Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, China and Thailand. www.parsonsontour.travellerspoint.com
THE ONLY WAY IS FORWARD WORDS: Hollie Woodhouse IMAGES: Red Bull Media House and supplied
Braden Currie is, without a doubt, one of New Zealand’s best multisport athletes. Little over three years ago he burst on to the multisport scene, leaving many in his wake. At the young age of 28, he is already three times champion and current title holder of the iconic Speight’s Coast to Coast, New Zealand Long Distance Triathlon Champion, Australasia Xterra Champion and one-half of the winning team at the inaugural Red Bull Defiance adventure race. This guy has the world at his feet and the only way is forward – and fast. Hollie Woodhouse found a snippet of time in his busy schedule to talk competing, family and Red Bull Defiance. BRADEN LIVES IN the small town of Wanaka, New Zealand, a mecca for anyone with a passion for adventure and the outdoors. Fortunate to find a spot of calm amongst his extremely busy schedule to catch up, I recognise his home instantly by the vast array of sporting equipment outside; kayaks, bikes and boats decorate his house. Met by his wife Sally and young boy Tarn in the driveway, they were taking this small window of opportunity to get out on their bikes while Braden was at home to keep an eye on their daughter Bella, who was having her afternoon nap. Having competed in the Speight’s Coast to Coast for the first time myself last year, which involves road biking, mountain running and kayaking 243 kilometres from Kumara Beach on New Zealand’s West Coast to New Brighton beach on the East Coast, I was super excited (and a little nervous) to talk to such an incredible athlete. Expecting to find someone who breezes through these types of multisport races, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that, even at an elite level, he too battles the demons telling him to stop, but somehow still finds the drive to keep going. “It’s phenomenal what the body will do”, he says, “You think you’re dead, but the body will just keep churning away.” What I found was just a normal guy doing what he loves, but with so much passion and an incredible desire to win.
For Braden, he’s living his dream, not really believing that this could have been possible. Being able to travel for six months of the year, having a house in Wanaka and a family who continually support him while he does what he loves is something of a dream. “I love off-road racing for the places it takes me. I’ve always been into the outdoors and mountains and the ocean. Being able to go to Europe and race, it’s awesome. While it lasts, I’m just going to keep living it.” Growing up near Methven in Mid Canterbury, New Zealand, Braden has been immersed in the outdoors for as long as he can remember. With the Rakaia River and the Southern Alps on his doorstep, it’s not surprising that adventure racing would turn into his career. While attending Scouts as a youngster, the experiences he gained from tramping, hunting, hiking and crossing rivers, he credits to becoming hooked on the outdoors. During his final year at school, Braden attended Mount Hutt College’s Outdoor Pursuit Course, which provided him with many skills, such as rock climbing, kayaking and skiing, which would set the foundations for the years ahead. He loves the camaraderie that goes with adventure racing, mingling with everyone he competes alongside, so he can absorb as much
is a really cool part of my life right ‘Racing now, because it can be never-ending, I can just keep increasing the challenge. ’ as he can. Not one to shy away from fellow competitors, he credits Richard Ussher as being a huge inspiration. After competing in his first ‘longest day’ of the Speight’s Coast to Coast, finishing an extremely credible third, Richard took him under his wing and introduced him to the overseas adventure scene. He was fortunate to be able to step straight into a performing team, competing first in GODZone (a five-day non-stop adventure race), then traveling overseas to Mongolia, China and on from there. “I was really lucky to get that opportunity, to be able to step straight in to making money, to be able to afford to do it,” he says. Looking back over his already successful career, he says competing in the Speight’s Coast to Coast Longest day for the second time is still his greatest achievement. Having gained valuable skills and knowledge from the previous year, he knew he had the ability to compete with the top guns. “I held nothing back, I was ready to blow and leave everything out there on the course.” Racing alongside some of the biggest names that have come out of this sport, who were all at the top of their game too, made this win all the more sweeter. For someone who comes across as so humble, it’s nice to hear him say, “I just raced better” and to be so proud of that incredible achievement. Although over time his idea of adventure has changed, he believes the core values still remain the same. “My idea of challenge has got bigger. You think a two or three hour mission when you were younger was hard, but now you go and do it and you feel like you haven’t really done anything’, he laughs. “That’s always a challenge, because you want to be challenged, you want to feel that adrenalin pumping when you’re feeling fatigued.” He finds that that’s all
part of it these days. Finding the time to continue to do these missions with family commitments is now mostly done in two or three hour blocks. When he manages to get out and adventure more, they are on a bigger scale and are pushing his boundaries. It’s the thought of the challenge that motivates Braden to keep going. “Racing is a really cool part of my life right now, because it can be neverending, I can just keep increasing the challenge”, he says. All the way through his career there have always been these opportunities to win and beat the best in the field. “I get quite addicted to beating my competitors, the same with Coast and Richard (Ussher) and Dougal Allan. I get set on being the best in the world at that race.” At the moment he sees Xterra as his biggest challenge, and I’m sure once, not if, he achieves that, there will be something new to take its place. Heading to Europe in 2014 and competing on the international stage was another huge step in furthering his career. With his family in tow, he spent 12 weeks traveling through 12 different countries competing at eight different Xterra races. “It was just a ridiculous schedule that any normal person wouldn’t set by themselves, let alone doing it with a family.” Unsure of how he would perform against the likes of Spain’s Reuben Ruzafa, the current World Xterra Champion, he had no reason to be concerned, coming in an extremely credible second and only 20 seconds behind Reuben on his series debut. “I was stoked with the first race, especially to finish so close to double world Xterra champ Reuben.” He went over with the mindset of being a professional athlete, committing to six days a week of training based in France prior to competing. It was a 64
huge advantage having training buddy Nicky Samuels (New Zealand Xterra competitor) alongside him, swimming more than 30 kilometres a week instead of the usual twice a week of up to eight kilometres, which he was doing back home. “It was phenomenal the gains that I got out of it. If I focused for three weeks, imagine what I could achieve with a six-week block, how much better could I get then?” The mind really does boggle. It was a decision that certainly paid off, coming away with his first Xterra win in Sweden. To stand on top of the podium was a well-deserved reward for the amount of time and effort he had put in. With consistent top place finishes in his races and quickly getting a name as one of the world’s best endurance athletes, Braden was hungry for more. Getting together with great friend and fellow athlete Dougal Allan, they developed an idea for a new adventure race, but not without a twist. With Dougal stepping aside due to family commitments, Braden approached Red Bull with their concept and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was already on their radar. It was a relationship that worked both ways. Red Bull was looking for an opportunity to get amongst the adventure-racing scene in Wanaka and give athletes the opportunity to grow within the sport. To become a sponsored Red Bull athlete is no mean feat, it’s a huge achievement that recognises someone as being right up there with the best in their field. With Braden now sporting the iconic Red Bull cap, he became the face for the Red Bull Defiance adventure race and would go on to develop it into a worldclass race of the highest calibre. Designed by Braden, it’s a mentally and physically challenging race that
Image: Darryl Carey
is split over two days, combining off road running, kayaking and mountain bike endurance disciplines. The creative element of secret ‘special stages,’ which in its inaugural year involved abseiling and target shooting, makes it a race like no other. Competing in teams of two, the course sees athletes traverse over eight exclusive high-country stations in the Wanaka region, in either elite or sports category divisions. “Having it as a non-navigation format means it is continuous and fast, but then you get to sleep at night time.” This suits Braden’s style of racing, ticking all of the boxes of his idea of a great adventure race. With wife Sally as event manager, they became a formidable team. No longer was it just Braden standing there by himself, but now they both took the initial concept and worked through all the logistics that goes into putting together an event like this. “It was tough but we learnt so much from it. We really like to be involved in what we do and feel passionate about giving everyone a great experience.” Being so
involved also meant a lot of pressure, but with it also bought the relief of making it work how they wanted it to. Each aspect of the race was exactly how they intended it to be and it became a huge reward to see it unfold as successfully as it did. Not only was there the pressure to make the event a success, but all eyes were on Braden and teammate Dougal to take out the win. In typical modest form, Braden says he actually didn’t race that well. “I just hung on for dear life behind Dougal for two days, which was great.” He says the mountain bike on day one was tough, “I was only an hour into and already I was going in to the hurt box. I looked back at the other teams who weren’t that far behind and was thinking ‘oh no, what am I going to do to myself here’. I just survived day one.” By day two things were a lot better having fuelled up over night. Another fantastic day was had and, with incredible weather, they came home 67
easily, winning with more than half an hour to spare over their closest rivals, in a time of 12 hours, 58 minutes and 24 seconds. “The pressure meant a new challenge, but a good challenge.” Winning in front of his home crowd and home team meant a lot. "Wanaka is an amazing place. We have all of this on our doorstep and to be able to get out and race Red Bull Defiance in this town is so good," he says. Looking further ahead they have many exciting ideas to take it to new places and add to the challenge, but for the next few years both the course and format will remain the same, with the only major change being within the special stages. “I would love to see it evolve into two different races, with one being the same as what it is now; a big challenge where almost anyone can give it a go. And then the other where only approximately ten teams in the world could possibly finish it.” The dream is to step it up to the next level so there is something for people to really test their skills in the alpine
and mountaineering sections, with big mountain bike, hiking and kayaking sections also. “Something to make people think about where it all began, where it can go to and to really bring out the best in New Zealand adventure – how it can all link together on the international stage.” Throughout February, Braden will attempt what many would never even begin to think possible, competing in three of the most gruelling events in the Asia Pacific region. He will be forced to adapt his racing style and tactics to firstly defend his Speight’s Coast to Coast title, followed closely a week later with his first-ever attempt at a full ironman distance triathlon at Challenge Wanaka. He then jumps on a plane and heads to the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia to compete in the OTU Cross Triathlon Oceania Championships at the end of the month. “It’s an interesting challenge, one that I look forward to doing. And I’ve got a bloody good excuse if I don’t
race well!” he says. After spending the last hour talking racing together, I have no doubt that he will turn up to the start line of each of these epic races and give it his all, not only just showing face, but being one of the main challengers. “Who knows, I might just catch the eye of the storm. I might be sweet and end up loving my day,” he says. Whatever happens, I will be following his races closely. With a calendar already full for the year ahead he doesn’t see it slowing down anytime soon either. There are always new challenges, new races and with his competitive edge showing through, more people to beat. “I’ve just been beaten by a 41 year-old last weekend, in a three-hour race, so maybe I have still got 20 years left in me,” he laughs, after coming in second to Australia’s Craig Alexander at the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman. He likes to think his racing will evolve as he goes on and this is what excites him the most. The possibilities are 69
endless and he is still learning every time he does a race. “There is so much about it that I enjoy, plus so much that I have yet to achieve too. I’ve got so much out of racing, and not just from winning. I think for anyone out there who wants a challenge; it’s a really cool way to do it. At the end of the day, you never know what you’re capable of.” Are you game enough to take Braden on at his own race? The next Red Bull Defiance will be held on the 23rd and 24th of January, 2016. Check out www. redbulldefiance.co.nz for more info. *At the time of printing Braden had completed the first of his three races, winning the Speight’s Coast to Coast for the third consecutive year. www.bradencurrie.com F www.facebook.com/multisportbradencurrie www.instagram.com/braden_currie t www.twitter.com/BradenCurrie
TRADITIONAL CLIMBING AT ROCKLANDS WORDS AND IMAGES: Caroline Ciavaldini
IT WAS LIKE opening the door to another world... after four hour’s driving from Cape Town, my husband James and I were among the orange and grey boulders of Rocklands. Climbing is something you have to live. It’s hard to write about, because it’s something you have to feel – like how the rock comes alive under my fingers when I open a new line. It’s the game, the adventure and why we were there. Climbing is hard to resist when you arrive in the Cederberg, a wild area sprinkled with a few farms and a lot of stone. We were not in the middle of a safari park but were surrounded by monkeys, rodents, antelopes and singing birds. The chalk spotted boulders caught our eyes and imaginations. For the first few days we forgot our plans of ropes and gear, to play on the boulders like children. Climbing like this is so intuitive, so simple, you just try to go up. The shapes of the boulders draw you in, tempting you to try your luck. The bigger they are the more seductive the challenge. High lines like Pinotage and Air Star stood proud above all the rest. They are lines that make you dream as you tilt back your head and play out the movements in your mind. In the background behind the boulders were tall cliffs that made the boulders seem like pebbles. I had to find my line. It doesn’t happen every day, to put your hands on a perfect piece of rock and find “the one.” I went for the twin cracks above the camping, in
the middle of a famous bouldering area, without a trace of chalk. I started on my adventure, my harness weighed down by a full set of Friends, expecting a little difficulty through the roof and plain sailing thereafter. But the joy of climbing is often the surprises you find along the way. The roof passed OK, but the following section would not let up so easily and after several minutes of exhausting effort, trying to find a way to pass 20 centimetres of nothing, I slumped onto the rope, defeated. A good crack climber would have eaten the route for breakfast, but with my limited crack experience, I struggled like I rarely had before. To focus on your movements, to remember the order of your hands in the crack, to grimace against the pain of a particularly tight section and grimace a little more to sink the final jam in place; it’s hard work. Yet there is something simple and natural to it. We soon went in search of traditional climbing lines. James decided to focus on a rather improbable line, a British line; a route that almost everyone else would find too scary to even consider. It was a short route, almost two boulders on top of one another, with a wicked hard jump at the very top and a big boulder lying just where you would land. He was half thrilled, half terrified – a good sign, it meant the game was on. The last movement gave him a lot of trouble,
even from the safety of a top-rope. It took 20 attempts to get the hold but he decided to try and lead it. (Image – opposite page top right) With the protection a little too low to be of any use, Riky, one of our photographers, offered to change roles with me and stand as a spotter on the unfortunately placed rock. He stood like a baseball player with a giant catching-mitt, only this time the ball he may have to catch weighed over 70 kilograms! James closed his eyes while he tied his knot and cleaned his shoes. One try in 20 is not a great success rate, but he had a secret weapon, the belief that he always climbs better when it’s dangerous. I tried not to think too hard about the consequences of an error, both on his part, but also on mine or Riky’s. Time stood still as his fingers curled around the small hold. He stuck it and climbed to the top. Thankfully, we’ll never know what could have happened. On our last day we put on a
presentation for the children from the local school. It was a bitterly cold evening and we crowded around a welcome campfire to share stories of our adventures from around the world. During recent years, some of the visiting climbers have started a club to take the kids out on the rocks and teach them ways to enjoy the amazing natural wonder in their backyard. The kids live on the several gigantic farms in this vast area. Their parents are tasked with looking after the animals or the crops, or working in restaurants. It’s a hard life. One farm owner told us that 50 per cent of his workers had a problem with alcohol. None of the kids spoke English very well, but they understood enough and when the conversation turned to climbing, their eyes lit up. Teaching them to be precise with their footwork, in donated climbing shoes several sizes too large was a difficult task. However, simply showing them what it is to have fun with nature, or 73
what it means to take care of each other whilst out on the rock, were valuable lessons that can make a real difference. Rocklands was an eye opening experience and reinforced our belief that you don’t have to travel somewhere unknown to find something new. Climbing is such a wonderfully varied sport and we can change our focus almost every day. South Africa is considered a country for bouldering, just like Spain is a country for sport climbing, yet each of them enjoys a long and varied history of all types of climbing. There are so many amazing things out there, hiding in plain sight. All we have to do is open our eyes. Caroline Ciavaldini is a pro climber in perpetual search of new rock and vertical challenges. On every trip she is always joined by James, her husband, who is also a pro climber. www.onceuponaclimb.co.uk F www.facebook.com/caroline.ciavaldini www.instagram.com/onceuponaclimb t www.twitter.com/OnceUponAClimb
Coming Home: Becs Wood is a self-taught artist from New Zealand. She draws inspiration from travels and adventures around the world, as well as her home. F www.facebook.com/BecsWoodArtNZ/
DOORSTEP DISCOVERY WORDS AND IMAGES: Victoria Rutherford
Adventure is something that runs in the veins of the West Australian people, and they know how to make the most of what lies beyond their cities. Victoria Rutherford takes a look at the love affair WA has with getting off the beaten track â€“ and how it has inspired her to get back to basics too.
bush melts into burning white sand dunes ‘Scrubbyand the Indian Ocean pulses electric blue. ’ I REMEMBER SITTING in my car at the lights, surrounded by towering four-wheel-drives. ARB bull bars as tall as my roof adorned their front bumpers, while winches, snorkels, aerials and massive tyres were so abundant you could have sworn they came factory fitted. Wedged between these diesel monsters, hatchback cars were filled with students, their surfboards and swags strapped precariously on the roof. It was a Friday and everyone was heading out of town in search of their next great adventure. In a vein similar to surfing, AFL and claiming famous Kiwis, exploring the great outdoors is something the Aussies have down-pat. Young or old, farmer or banker, there is scarcely a resident here who doesn’t take a yearly trip to the windswept beaches of Esperance or north to the bountiful fishing grounds of the Coral Coast or the Abrolhos Islands. The expansive kilometres mean nothing to the hundreds of retirees who every autumn pack their lives into their four-wheel-drives and caravans, bound for the wilds that lie beyond the Tropic of Capricorn. North of the 23rd parallel, it is not unusual to see number plates from as far away as Victoria and New South Wales. For some people, chasing the sun is a way of life for six months a year. Nowadays when I open our storeroom door, it occurs to me that we too have morphed into leading a far more adventurous life. Summer weekends
now always include a trip to the beach, while we have added fishing, paddleboarding, snorkelling, cycling and camping to our list of outdoor pursuits. Surfing, however, still remains an enigma to both of us, and with Great White Sharks regularly lurking off the Perth beaches, I expect it will remain this way for a while yet. Last year my fiancé gained the use of a four-wheel-drive through his job. This has given us the freedom to take off and explore the sandy reaches beyond Perth. Once you are on the road north, you could be forgiven for thinking it is the most boring scenery you have ever seen. Nothing but scrubby bush, baked red dirt, cropped fields, gum trees and the odd blue-tongue lizard dicing death by sunbathing on the road. But head west and something magical happens. Scrubby bush melts into burning white sand dunes and the Indian Ocean pulses electric blue. Pristine beaches curl into the arms of cradling capes, while natural reefs beyond the coast give life to all manner of strange, tropical marine life. The furnace-like heat that radiates in the interior of WA is much more manageable on the coast, almost always tipped by a sea breeze, sometimes pleasant, sometimes ferocious, depending on the season. One of our best discoveries has been a small non-bookable campsite three hours north of the city called Sandy Cape. While amenities are basic and it can be a race to secure a site, the place is nothing short of stunning. This turquoise coast is a bona-fide adventure 79
playground – those with boats head out early in the morning to pull up their cray pots and search for dolphins, while the dunes provide magnificent coastal views. One of the best things to do is to find a sheltered spot and surf cast your fishing rod from the beach. As you cast out your rod in the fading light, hoping for that elusive bite, it is hard to imagine a better way to unwind. The sunsets and sunrises are so beautiful; they never fail to take your breath away. And when the day is done, nothing compares to throwing a day’s catch on the barbecue and sitting down under the stars, covered in sand and warmed by a glass of Margaret River red. While I feel we have only just scratched the surface, I can now profess to understand why West Australians are the way they are, which in turn, has influenced our views on the outdoors. Now when we travel home to New Zealand, we have become much more appreciative of what it has to offer, whether it be getting out on the bush tracks or heading to the lakes with the boat. After all, living in WA has taught me that the best adventures are very often the ones that start on our back doorstep. Victoria began her career writing for New Zealand rural publications. She now lives and works in sunny Perth, Western Australia as a grain market analyst and broker.
ONE BREATH AND A THOUSAND THOUGHTS THE INNER ADVENTURE OF FREEDIVING WORDS: Annelie Pompe IMAGES: Supplied
I LOVE THAT second, the fragile moment when I break the surface of the sea. My body leaves the small boat and the air just outside of Mozambique. I slide into the soft warm water to become almost weightless. I directly take a breath and put my head underneath the surface. I can hear my heart beating faster. I see a new world I’ve never been before. Blue. Silent. It is so exciting to dive down and explore; new fish, new types of rock, algae and sea grass. Freediving isn’t only about diving deep. My best dives are while weightlessly flying over a coral reef, photographing underwater friends and fish, or looking into the eyes of a shark.
So I take a deep breath, lean down towards the bottom, and I’m freediving. At first I have to kick harder with my fins to get beyond the buoyancy level, then follows the feeling of drifting in space. I’m surrounded by soft blue sea and silence. I close my eyes and just enjoy the feeling, until I remember why I’m there. I’ve been wanting to freedive with sharks for a long time. Whenever I’ve tried to dive with sharks they get shy and swim away. But the bus driver at the airport assured us that here “you don’t have to run to the sharks, they will come to you.” They did come to me. They loved me, or more specifically – my fins. After 81
a bumpy boat ride over a wavy sea we arrived at the spot where sharks follow the currents along the coast. Hopefully we would see Tiger sharks, one of the most beautifully striped creatures of the sea. We were guaranteed to see Blacktip sharks, who I’ve met before in other seas. But I’ve never met them like this. After a while I saw the first dark shape in the water, just underneath the surface. Then more appeared. As if in a dance the sharks swirled around us, every now and then showing off some of their freediving skills. I lost track of time and space. I think I forgot to breathe for a few minutes. I was about ten metres below the surface when the first shark came right at me, as if in a chicken race. I didn’t
if the experience made you and the ‘As body more welded together. ’
LEARN HOW TO HOLD YOUR BREATH »» Never freedive by yourself or do breath-holding in the water without competent supervision »» Do long, very slow, deep breathing a few minutes before the breath hold »» Take the biggest breath you can take. Hold your breath for the entire dive »» Spend at least twice the time of the dive on the surface to recover »» Hold your breath a few times in a row to warm up the body. Your breath holds will be longer »» Observe your mind and try to keep your thoughts positive and calm »» Relax your body. The more relaxed you are, the less oxygen you use
feel afraid because her movements were slow and curious. I felt hypnotised as I heard the thoughts racing in the back of my head, one of them wondering “when is she going to turn?” We were face to face for what felt like a long time before she made a slight shift of the fin and slid away next to me, eyeing the full, but short, length of my body. She was so close I could have touched her. But we don’t touch the sharks. We don’t hang on to their fins and ride them like dolphins. Because they have personal space, just like us. And maybe one day, one of them doesn’t feel like being touched. As much as I’d love to stroke the grey skin I don’t do it out of respect and love for the sharks. If I got bitten no one would blame me, they would blame the sharks, and probably worsen their already bad reputation. I stay a few minutes underneath the surface, breathless. Every dive feels like an adventure. During 83
the minutes spent breathing on the surface I can’t wait to be down there again. Something will happen during the minutes you freedive. Something magical. Something that changes the experience of being alive. It’s as if you feel your whole body in a different way. As if the experience made you and your body more welded together. Not that you were separated before, but after freediving you will feel united. It is perhaps thanks to the sea. The sea that embraced you, and slowly let you go again, back to the surface. Annelie Pompe is a professional adventurer from Sweden. Extremely accomplished she has climbed Mount Everest from the north side and is a previous world record holder in free diving to 126m in variable weight. www.anneliepompe.com F www.facebook.com/annelieadventures www.instagram.com/annelieadventures
RIDING FOR RHINOS WORDS: William Frazer IMAGES: William Frazer and Johan du Plessis
In November 2013 William Frazer received a text from his friend Johan du Plessis asking whether he fancied cycling around the world. Five months later, on 20th April 2014 the two friends set off on an eight-month bike ride around the world to raise awareness of how demand for rhino horn in eastern Asia is driving one of nature’s most iconic species to the brink of extinction. Cycling over 23,400 kilometres through 23 countries in 234 days they successfully raised more than £23,000 for the rhino conservation charity, Save the Rhino International, to help continue its valuable work protecting viable populations of wild rhino across Africa and Asia from poaching and habitat loss. Say Yes To Adventure spoke to Will about the trip. It was a huge trip but how would you sum it up? “I’ve essentially been leading a dog’s life for the past eight months. I got up, I rode, I ate, I slept repeatedly and it never got boring! Coming back to work and the overstimulation of everyday life it seems crazy that I was able to sit on a bike for ten hours every day for eight months with only the thought of my next meal spurring me on. It was a wonderful way to unplug from the world, relax and enjoy life. “Despite this I was constantly out of my comfort zone as we never knew where we would end up one day to the next. If it was raining or we were tired, there wasn’t the option to take a day-off, we just had to get on with it. At the start of the trip we were always striving for comfort, but by the time we reached China I realised it was an enormously unhealthy mentality. Comfort kills you, it makes you lazy and annoyingly if the choice is there it’s irresistible, but take away that choice as we did and you have the time of your life. My fondest memory will always be the two weeks we did across Gansu Province in western China without a shower, sleeping rough in the desert, eating pot noodle and loving life.”
What was the high point? “The highpoint of the trip was probably when we made it to Qingdao on the coast of China. We hadn’t seen the sea in over three months, we’d cycled over 3,000 kilometres on one road through the Turpan Depression in western China (second lowest place in the world and one of the hottest, driest places on earth), survived almost exclusively on a diet of pot noodles and we hadn’t spoken to anyone in English in over 40 days. It felt like the worst of the trip was behind us.”
What was the hardest part of your trip? The schedule. Life was pretty relentless on the road. The hardest part of the trip wasn’t the actual cycling, it was the living when we were off the bike. Our trip was a full-time, seven-day-a-week job, with no holiday. We would often wake up in a wet tent, prepare breakfast, pack everything away into panniers, get it out again to dry when the sun was up, pack it all away again, unpack it all at night for camp, cook dinner and then do it all again, day after day. I’m sure we spent the best part of four to five hours every day doing some sort of packing or unpacking.
As the trip went on and the days started getting shorter, the schedule got more intense as we had to live quicker and cycle faster in order to do the distances required in day light. Throughout the whole trip there was actually very little time for reflecting on where we had been or what we had done. It would have been a lot easier if we hadn’t set a return date, but then it wouldn’t have been the challenge that we wanted.
What was the hardest country to travel through? Uzbekistan. Rubbish roads, horrendous food, desert and mosquitoes. There was not much to love. We were both very ill in Uzbekistan from the food. We lived for weeks on cold oats soaked in water and the best food we could find was stale bread, eggs and the odd watermelon. The diet took its toll on our energy levels and crossing the country seemed to take an eternity.
Which was your favourite country? Difficult question as every country was different. In Serbia and Turkey the people were incredibly friendly. Kyrgyzstan was memorable for its
was clapping around our ears â€˜Thunder and lightning was striking only a few meters off the side of the road. â€™
stunning scenery and mountain passes. China was a huge learning curve as everything was so unfamiliar. Japan was probably the highlight though. It had everything and the food was the best of the trip.
Which country was the friendliest, and which was the least friendly? The least friendly was probably Romania. We had high expectations of Romania, but I think we went through a dodgy part as everywhere we went we just felt like we were being eyed up by the locals on the side of the road and then chased by their dogs. The friendliest countries were Serbia, Turkey and probably China.
What was the biggest surprise? The hardship involved in our ride across America. We underestimated the terrain we would be crossing in the wild west of America. It’s a big country and because the infrastructure there is designed for motorists you can easily find yourself having to bridge huge gaps between food and water stops. When crossing the Mojave Desert we had a 300-kilometre gap to bridge with one food and water stop on the way. The shop turned out to be closed. So we spent a whole day cycling without food and water.
What was the strangest thing that happened? A night of Georgian hospitality. We had pitched our tents in the corner of a field just as the sun was going down. A group of men spotted us and came waltzing across the valley, clutching bottles of homemade wine. A few hours later we were back at their family home toasting Stalin and downing wine from cow horns. The next morning, feeling very ropey, we were served up a breakfast of cow hoof stew and vodka, which pushed both of our constitutions to the limit. Guia and his family were lovely but one night of Georgian hospitality was more than enough for us!
Where did you sleep? We carried tents and for about 60 per cent of the trip slept in these on the side of the road somewhere. We slept in some odd places – under motorways, in building sites, on rice terraces, office car parks and in city parks. Sometimes we didn’t bother with tents at all and just slept out under the stars. Sleeping was never really a problem. In America camping became more challenging because of the lack of daylight hours and the arrival of winter so we spent a lot of time in cheap motels.
Were you able to wash? Our hygiene standards definitely dropped once we entered the desert in Kazakhstan! We were rarely in towns and drinking water became increasingly precious as we entered the desert in the hot summer months. We got used to washing the important bits with about 400 millilitres of water and a sponge everyday. The longest we went without a shower was 12 days through Gansu province in western China.
What did you eat? In Europe we ate well. We had lots of sandwiches from Carrefour supermarket to start with. In Eastern Europe the food quality started going downhill, as there’s a lot of greasy sausage and pickled stuff. In Turkey the food was amazing (lots of kebabs and pides) and Georgia was outright gluttony – cheese and pastry everywhere. We had both gained a little bit of weight by the time we got to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. All muscle we tell ourselves. From there on food quality went downhill rapidly. In Uzbekistan there was very little edible food around and we were both very ill from eating in roadside chaikhanas. In China we subsisted on pot noodles from petrol stations for nearly 40 days. That was after we were served up a stew of chicken beak and foot smothered in burn-your-face-off chilli on the first day. In Korea and Japan the food was excellent. In America the food was good when you could find little 87
independent cafés, but we often had to live out of fast food joints (McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway etc.), as there was no other choice. We were thoroughly sick of them by the end of the trip.
How far did you cycle per day? We averaged 100 kilometres every day for eight months including days off. In order to have a day off we needed to buy ourselves time by doing extra distance. The furthest we cycled in a day was 225 kilometres and we averaged 122 kilometres per day on the days that we cycled.
When were you most scared? The most terrifying moment of the trip was our foray up into the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. We ended up in the middle of a huge lightning storm. Thunder was clapping around our ears and lightning was striking only a few meters off the side of the road. There was no shelter so we had to keep cycling up hill through the driving rain to the nearest town to find shelter. We both felt very lucky to be alive. We were also chased by dogs in Romania and Turkey and physically blown off our bikes by a huge cross winds in the desert in China.
How did people treat you along the way? Despite what the news would have you believe, it’s not such a big bad world out there. Ninety-nine per cent of people who we met along the way were very welcoming and friendly. In Turkey we could barely cycle ten kilometres without being invited in for a cup of tea. In Kazakhstan the long distance truckers would pick us up when we got stuck in the desert. In China, Korea and Japan we could leave our belongings unlocked and unattended for half a day, safe in the knowledge that some locals would keep an eye on them. In America people would stop their car on the side of the road and offer to buy us lunch. We’ve experienced all the best bits of human nature on this trip.
was against you, life was miserable, ‘Ifif itit was with you, you were flying. ’
Were there any encounters with wildlife?
it was against you, life was miserable, if it was with you, you were flying.
Did you have problems with any vehicles on the road?
We actually had surprisingly few encounters with wildlife along the way. We had an altercation with a wild boar in Hungary in the middle of the night and came across some pretty nasty looking spiders. It wasn’t until America that we started to see lots of wildlife. Unfortunately it was mostly road kill, dead on the side of the road.
How did the bikes hold up?
Some of the driving in Eastern Europe was pretty ropey and the same in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Navigating our way across Istanbul was probably one of the worst bits of the trip in terms of road traffic. After Kazakhstan, cars and trucks were so few and far between that they were never really an issue. In Japan, our bikes were bigger than most of the cars on the road, so redressed the power balance slightly. We had to spend some time on the interstates in America, to cross some big gaps, which wasn’t fun. The roads in Louisiana were probably the scariest of the trip.
What was the weather like? Overall we were surprised by how little rain we had. The day we left London was probably the wettest day of the whole trip. Across Europe to Turkey was generally pretty wet, but after that, we hardly had any rain until we got to Japan. It rained once while crossing America. The heat was never really a huge problem, despite it topping 40°C in the deserts. We learnt to live with it, seeking shelter in the middle of the day when we could. The wind was more of an issue. We cycled through some very exposed places where there was no escape. In western China we were completely at the mercy of the wind. If
The bikes (Pearsons, ‘I may be some time’, touring bikes) did really well. We had quite a lightweight set-up as we planned to stay on tarmac roads as much as possible. That said, we were still carrying 25 kilograms of kit each. We changed the whole drive train once in Baku because of the wear from the wet weather in Europe. After that we changed our chains every 2,000-2,500 kilometres and the drive train then lasted all the way to Miami. The bolts on our pannier racks snapped a couple of times and we replaced our tyres once. My right brake leaver broke in New Orleans and Johan’s back wheel lost five spokes across America. We had our fair share of punctures, but solely from little bits of wire from blown-out truck tyres in the hard shoulders of the major highways. My bike frame did snap in half in China after a crash in Kyrgyzstan, but that was self-inflicted and nothing to do with the bike! The steel frame meant it could be repaired. 89
How did the trip affect you physically? We have both returned slightly heavier than when we left! That’s largely down to American food and their super-size portions. In Central Asia we lost quite a lot of weight due to illness. Endless pot noodles in China probably weren’t adequate nutrition, so by the time we reached Korea we were both pretty slim. It’s amazing that you can cycle
nearly everyday for eight months and still gain weight.
Do you need to be a strong cyclist to do a trip like this? No. Approximately one-third of the trip was about cycling and two-thirds about life off the bikes. You build your fitness in the first few weeks on the road and Europe is an easy place to survive, so it’s a nice way to relax into camping and life on the go. As you get stronger on the bike you become less tired when you’re off it making life easier and giving you more time to relax. Having said that it probably wasn’t until China that we properly felt relaxed about our routine.
How was it having two friends join you in America? By the time we arrived in Tokyo we were definitely ready for a bit of company as we had both become quite feral. If we’d flown home from Tokyo I think it would have been a huge shock, for everyone. We were both so excited
to see Anna (Will's girlfriend) and Reece ( Johan's friend) in San Francisco but also wary the trip was about to become very different. And it did. We rode as two separate pairs (Will and Anna and Johan and Reece) for the first month and then as a four for the rest of the trip. Group dynamics was the biggest challenge as it took a while for four people to synchronise and understand each other completely. It was probably only the last few weeks when we were truly comfortable cycling as a four. Having said that, we had a lot of fun and experienced people and places in different ways, making the last stretch across America more enjoyable than it otherwise might have been.
How much did it cost? All in all, the trip cost £10,000. This includes everything from buying all the kit beforehand (bikes, panniers, tents, cameras etc.), to visas, travel insurance and so on. This roughly breaks down as £3,000 pre-departure, £4,000 London to Tokyo (£25/day/person) and £3,000 (£40/day/person) San Francisco to 91
Miami. America was expensive and because we had a bit more fun along the way (Las Vegas casinos, American football games!).
Would you do it again? Yes, but in a different and less relentless way. By the time we hit Japan I felt like I was so in the zone and comfortable with life on the road that I could keep going indefinitely. It was a great feeling. But to be honest I probably won’t take on anything again that takes so long. I’ve got the confidence to survive pretty much most places now, so there’s nothing stopping me getting on my bike and heading for the hills for a week or so. Will Frazer is a 29 year-old from Northern Ireland. After completing this eight-month bike trip he’s now back at his day job with Farmers Weekly Magazine in London saving up for another adventure. www.ridingforrhinos.org
THE LAST BEST PLACE WORDS AND IMAGES: Isla Smith
The winters are cold, skiing is terrible and the wildlife is dangerous, or so the state of Montana would have you believe. Studying at Montana State University, New Zealander Isla Smith shares her adventures in the ‘The Last Best Place’. THEY DON’T TAKE too kindly to tourists round here. Bumper stickers read: "Montana Sucks – Now Go Home and Tell All Your Friends". But this is nothing but a desperate ploy to keep the ‘Treasure State’ of Montana, coined ‘The Last Best Place’, secret from the Californians and Texans, as well as the rest of the world. Montana is a place where the sky rolls forever, the plains meet the Rocky Mountains and where the call of the wild is too much for most to resist. I came across Bozeman, Montana, one day as I scrolled through the web, considering the possibility of a University exchange programme. Having lived in Christchurch, New Zealand my whole life, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to get away and see some of the world while studying for a Bachelor of Science. It did not take long to decide that Bozeman hit the jackpot. Known as ‘The Gem of Big Sky Country’, Bozeman is a town of 40,000 that brings together college students, outdoors enthusiasts, ski bums, ranchers and even storybook cowboys. With Yellowstone National Park on the back doorstep and two ski fields within an hour’s drive, not to mention the rivers, mountain biking and
hiking trails accessible right out of town, I decided that Bozeman was the place for me. Not to forget, of course, that the University offered some great courses in my field of interest, natural resource management. It’s all about priorities, right? After much preparation, I set off in July 2014. Travelling with my family we drove more than 3,200 kilometres from California to Bozeman. It was a unique and unforgettable experience and an incredible way to get a glimpse of life in the Western states of the US. Once I arrived in Bozeman and the family jetted off back to a New Zealand winter, I must admit I was nervous about what lay ahead. However, it couldn’t have worked out better, as I spent the long summer days running, riding bikes and trekking with new friends. The most exciting part was that I was not just training, but I was exploring, adventuring and soaking in the incredible scenery of Montana (classes weren’t that bad either, when I attended!) Since then time has flown by. Fall has come and gone and the long awaited winter has finally come to fruition, bringing snow tumbling down and sending temperatures plummeting to -20°C!
We spent some time here, marvelling in the breath“taking views right into the heart of the Rockies. ”
I’d love to tell you about all my exciting excursions so far in Montana and beyond, but there is nowhere near enough room. Instead, I’ve chosen one of the best. Over Bozeman Pass and through the aptly named Paradise Valley lies the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, a sub range of the Rocky Mountains and the ideal location for a weekend mission. I was joined by a fellow exchange student and good friend Andy, a like-minded partner in crime when it comes to anything involving the great outdoors. Our first challenge arose as we attempted to hitch a ride out of Bozeman, our packs heavily-laden with ice axes, a tent and helmets. As it turns out, hitchhiking is illegal in Montana and getting a ride was harder than expected. A few hours and truck beds later, we eventually made it to the trailhead, but a late start meant we wouldn’t make it to our intended campsite, Pine Creek Lake, until after dark. A dozen kilometres and 1,500 metres of elevation gain, we arrived and settled in for a cold, sleepless night. We were advised to take Grizzly Bear precautions – cooking away from the
campsite and hanging all food and rubbish from a tree overnight. The next morning we set off towards Black Mountain, carefully picking our route up a snow-filled gully before traversing the ridge above the Y-shaped couloir that is a popular ski run for the avid backcountry explorer in winter. Topping out on the summit ridge, we climbed to the summit at 3,335 metres. We spent some time here, marvelling in the breathtaking views right into the heart of the Rockies and back over the plains of the valley which we had climbed. We spent this night camped beside the lake once more, watching a blazing sunset turn the mountains shades of orangey-pink, before being replaced by a dark sky littered with brilliant stars. The following morning we made light work of the descent back down the trail. Here we were fortunate enough to cross paths with an American couple that had spent the prior year living in New Zealand, who offered us a ride back to town. No great mission is complete without a good feed, so Andy and I headed down town. After suitable celebrations it was time 95
to hastily complete the weekend’s homework, which seems to stack up painfully quickly in the American College system. My time in the US hasn’t strictly been limited to outdoor pursuits. Watching football in a sold out stadium that draws over half of Bozeman to support the University team, the Bobcats, certainly has been a cultural experience. American house parties, learning to tip correctly and constantly repeating myself while others enjoy my ‘unique’ and ‘chilled’ accent are just a few examples of life in small town America. And my adventure here isn’t over just yet. As I write this I look forward to Thanksgiving celebrations which round-out November, the opening of the powder filled ski fields shortly after, and more excursions into the hills of Montana. Isla Smith is a student, adventurer and multisport competitor, in no particular order. She spent the second-half of 2014 on a university exchange in the outdoor lover’s town of Bozeman, Montana, in the USA.
RUNNING THE WORLD WORDS: Hollie Woodhouse IMAGES: Richie Johnston and supplied
While on her annual trip back to her home town of Dunedin, Hollie Woodhouse caught up with Anna Frost to see what makes this woman so successsful on the international trail running stage. DURING JULY LAST year I was lucky enough to head to the Alps of Chamonix in France to spend a magical week trail running. Almost everyone who lives here or visits this place is in some way connected to the outdoors or adventure scene. Being a kiwi traveller, normally when you mention that you are from New Zealand, that tiny country near the edge of the world (no, not part of Australia) people usually reply with ‘oh, home of the All Blacks.’ So it was quite a surprise, and extremely refreshing to hear instead ‘oh, where Anna Frost comes from. Do you know her?’ It’s well known that New Zealand is small and usually the chances are that yes, I would know her, but not this time. I had heard of her, I knew she was a trail runner and quite a good one at that, but curiosity got the better of me and after a quick
search on Google I was slightly ashamed that I didn’t know more. This inspiring kiwi girl from New Zealand’s southern-most city of Dunedin is nothing short of a legend. Part of the Salomon Running Team, she spends most of her year traveling to amazing places to compete in trail running races, or the next event she would like to tick off her bucket list. Not only does she fly the flag for the kiwis, but more often than not she is standing on the podium at the end of the day too. Anna returns to New Zealand around Christmas time each year for a couple of months to unwind, give her body a muchneeded rest and catch up with family and friends. It’s normally her downtime as the northern hemisphere gets through its winter months, but she admits herself she’s
As an athlete I aspire to be the very best I can. As a “person I aspire to never stop learning, to never forget
that we have one life, that nature is our prime source of energy. Here we are always free. The world is our playground, with just one limit – our own. ” – Anna Frost
a sucker for punishment and always ends up competing in the odd race while she is home. She finds coming home quite weird. “It’s wonderful,” she quickly adds, “when it gets to the last race of the season, I need it.” She refers to it as being like a split personality; she sees herself as one person in the race season and a totally different person when she gets home. She puts it down to being so comfortable in her hometown, “I know the streets, and I don’t have to think when I am driving. If I want a good coffee I know where to go.” It’s these minor things that make life so calm and easy, it’s like being in a bubble. “Trail running isn’t as big in New Zealand as it is overseas. If I am in the Canary Islands, or Chamonix
in France, I get mugged!” People stop her in the street, wanting photos and autographs, but when she comes back home people struggle with the concept that she’s a runner who runs for a living. She enjoys the contrast of the two very different worlds. Having a huge support network behind her makes it a lot easier to travel to so many different places. Her friends from home are extremely supportive, even if they think what she’s doing is slightly crazy. “They’re all really proud of what I do and am happy for me, especially when I’m doing well!” Her parents always believe in her and have always told her that there shouldn’t be anything standing in her way. Travel shouldn’t be an issue in wanting to achieve her dreams. “My family don’t 98
have to be with me to be supporting me,” she says, “I know that they believe in me and think about me. I know they’re there with me with every race I do and I know they’re proud of me. You don’t just do it for yourself. You do it because they love you and you want to do well for them too.” But it’s really the Salomon team that are her rock. “They’re absolutely my family and my best friends as well. When you spend so much time on the road you learn a lot about each other and experience all your highs as well as your lows with them. That’s a really touching thing when you can see that and have that emotion with them.” It’s not just Salomon, but the whole circuit who are all together racing for the same values and passions that make them
want to compete. “The circuit’s really nice, everyone is so tight-knit,” she says. Plus she gets to travel to some of the most beautiful places in the world. From as early as she can remember adventure has always been a big part of her life. Born in Invercargill, her family then moved to Papua New Guinea where they stayed until she was five years old. She recalls snippets of these memories, “people with black hands with pink palms.” She accepted it at the time as the way they were living, but she had a sense it wasn’t normal. Being bought into this lifestyle of travel and moving around was an adventure in itself and would set the tone for the years ahead. She sees adventure as anything that involves an exploration. “It could be anywhere; exploring animals in your backyard or heading down to the beach to collect shells. It doesn’t have
to be huge. It’s about experiencing new things, seeing new things and I’m just lucky that what I get to see is so amazing.” While traveling for the good part of year does take its toll physically as well as emotionally, she still gets just as excited by going to new places. “It reignites the fire to know you are going to somewhere you haven’t been before. It’s about the journey as much as the experience.” She sees travel and running as going hand in hand. She can race while having an objective to her travel. She is fortunate to have sponsors who back her and believe in her enough to support her full time. They can see her passion for running and traveling, and are happy to share those experiences with her. “The great thing is that I’m always backed by a team who support me 100 per cent. That makes it a lot easier. It’s nerve wracking traveling somewhere new on your own, unable to 99
speak the language or know your way around.” She finds it so much easier knowing that someone is going to meet her there, or when she travels with others. “It takes so much pressure off; it enables you to just go.” It wasn’t until she entered the National Mountain Running Championships in Cardrona, just outside of Queenstown, that she gave running a serious thought. Coming in with a podium finish meant she qualified for the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy in 2004 and fell in love straight away. She recalls being there and thinking, “this is it, this is exactly what I want to do.” It opened her mind to the idea that she could turn this love into a career. A huge step for a young kiwi girl, she says, “I didn’t run particularly well in that race because I was too busy looking around thinking ‘wow’.”
Image: Chris Ord
Heading to the UK and Europe in 2005, she was sponsored by INOV-8, and travelled the world following the World Mountain Running Grand Prix. Each race is basically running straight up a hill (or mountain), which are generally anywhere between 10-18 kilometres in distance. “It’s a cool circuit because you can race all the time, it’s not demanding on your body.” Wanting to take a step forward she entered the Skyrunning scene after Salomon offered her the chance to go to Nepal in 2009 to compete in The Everest, her first mountain marathon. She leapt at the chance and hasn’t looked back. Everywhere she goes is amazing, but her highlight is when she sees someone succeeding. It doesn’t have to be the leader, or the elite athlete either; it’s when the everyday person achieves his or her goal. It’s those moments that really stick with her. “Yes the places are incredible but I think it’s seeing those emotions, that’s the thing that stays in your memory,” she says. She is aware of the people who line up behind her,
who have sacrificed so much to get to the same start line, “just normal people doing extra-ordinary things.” Everywhere she travels offers something new. Dunedin was at the top of her list, but she finds each place offers something new. “If I have to chose one place other than New Zealand it would have to be Nepal. It’s absolutely mind-blowing and every time I am there I feel so lifted. The mountains remind you of how tiny and insignificant you are, and I love that. It’s a really important thing for humanity to have as a reminder that we are such a tiny part in such a huge scale,” she says. The people who have so little compared to the western world are some of the nicest people she knows. “They are so loving, they have so much to give and it’s such a humbling experience.” Last year, 2014, was a hugely successful one for her. She won numerous races, some with race records, but she says the highlight was managing to get to the end of the year and still be able to run. 102
“My goal was to get to the end without an injury. I had races planned but for me in the end if I came 100th in every race and I finished healthy, I would have been happy.” She believes this is because she removed the pressure to win, which meant she approached each race in a fit and healthy state of mind. She completed her first 100-miler (161 kilometres), which she says was “a very, very awesome experience.” She loved it, but she’s quick to tell me that doesn’t mean she is now a 100-mile runner. It’s not all running that consumes her life though. It’s not hard to believe her when she says she’s not very good at sitting still. In her down time she likes to get out on her bike, go standup paddle boarding or play in the sea. Even when she is in the mountains training she likes to come home and do yoga, or go for a swim, adding, “I’d like to read more, I don’t read enough.” She also has a very creative side to her, making her own jewellery from everyday objects she finds on her travels. “A lot of the stuff I have found on the beach, so there are maybe
only one or two things of each.” She is limited to one little cookie jar filled with her creations when she is on the road, “so if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go.” Looking ahead to 2015 she’s excited about races she has planned, including Transvalcania in the Canary Islands, where she currently holds the race record. Also on the list is the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run based in Southern Colorado’s San Juan Range in the USA. It’s a race that she has always wanted to do after running over parts of the course a few years earlier. Consisting of 100.5 miles in length, with more than 20,000 metres of elevation change, the fastest women usually come in in a little over 26 hours. Extremely hard to get in to, you have to enter through a ballot system to secure your place. Having a 1.1% chance of getting a spot, she managed to somehow defy those extraordinary odds and find her name on the starting list. “I was so excited,” she says “I couldn’t wait to tell our photographer because I had talked about it non-stop.”
She’s still a kiwi girl at heart though, with the idea of coming back to New Zealand and settling down someday. “Dunedin is home and a really special and comfortable place. I love Queenstown and Wanaka too, so I don’t really know where just yet.” But in terms of her life, she feels there’s still so much left to do. “I’ve got my teaching that I can’t wait to go back to. I’d like to get in to more personal training, especially helping young mums with their babies.” She believes this is an area with a lot of opportunity that isn’t getting touched on enough just yet, not only in New Zealand but overseas as well. She wants to keep traveling too; non-running travel that is. “I love the feeling of traveling with a tiny backpack, just some light shoes on your feet. Just going and not having to think about anything in the long-run.” Not surprisingly though she does have some running travel planned, but with a slight twist. Later in the year, along with Tour de Trails, she will front an eight-day tour through the remote Himalayan ranges in Bhutan, covering 103
between 20-30 kilometres per day. Having one of the world’s best trail runners as your guide, it doesn’t get much better than this for anyone with a passion for getting off-road. Anna is an extremely talented individual and a great role model to both young and old. So it comes as no surprise that she has just been made an ambassador for SisuGirls, a social enterprise whose mission is to inspire and encourage girls to be determined, brave and resilient. This aligns perfectly with her belief that there is a huge opportunity for kids to be empowered and motivated through sport and adventure. Whatever she tries her hand at; you can guarantee that she won’t be sitting down relaxing. “I don’t have time for that,” she smiles. www.frostysfootsteps.wordpress.com F www.facebook.com/annafrosty www.instagram.com/annafrosty t www.twitter.com/annafrosty
CAVING IN CANDLELIGHT WORDS: Nick Morrison IMAGE: Josie Acland
Personal trainer Nick Morrison spent six months exploring South and Central America and working on his beard. He journeyed deep inside a Guatemalan mountain, with only a candle to light the way. TWELVE KILOMETRES FROM the remote village of Lanquin, in the region of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, is the natural wonder of Semuc Champey, a 300 metre succession of cascading turquoise coloured pools that sit above the raging Cahabรณn River. I had heard stories from fellow travellers who had explored the caves previously, but it wasn't until we were handed a 20 centimetre candle and told to leave our valuables behind, that I realised the stories I had heard were in no way falsified. After lighting our candles, we followed our leader deep inside the mountains. The absolute darkness struck me. Once we had walked approximately 20 metres into the cave and took a turn around a corner that the light from the entrance was virtually gone. It amazed me how much light a candle could omit and I quickly learned that it was better to hold the candle behind your eye line, so as to not blind yourself. We were waist-deep in water almost immediately and within 100 metres some were swimming. I was just able to tiptoe. While it was comical to see some of the group doggy-paddling along with their candles in their mouths, the amusement was shortlived as I knew my turn would come. As we bumped and scrambled our way along, a level of camaraderie formed amongst the group. Messages were passed down the line warning
of submerged stalagmites and sudden drop holes to avoid. Being at the front of the group, I took my fair share of knocks to the shins. As if swimming underground with a candle in your mouth wasn't enough, we were soon climbing home-made rope ladders, of varying levels of construction. Clinging to the side of the cave with trembling fingers, candle in my mouth and hot wax dripping on your face is strangely bearable when the alternative is complete darkness. A highlight for me was an Indiana Jones-style rope swing through a raging waterfall. The approach to the waterfall was a tiny gap in the cave wall, so we were forced into single file. When it came to my turn, those who were in front of me were nowhere to be seen. I was blinded by the spray from the waterfall, trapped by raging water on one side and feeling the pressure of the rest of the group waiting behind me. Disorientated and unsure of my next move, our guide suddenly appeared, swinging through the waterfall, holding on tight to a piece of rope. I faintly heard something about holding on and not stopping, so I reached out and took hold of the rope and before I knew it we were swinging through the water, battered by its rush and force. We popped out the other side, before the guide pointed up another precariously positioned rope ladder and 105
in an instant had disappeared to help the next subject. Thankfully he had planned ahead and there were candles positioned in the wall of the cave to light the darkness. We scrambled, swam, climbed, swung and etched our way for about a kilometre into the mountainside. We soon reached a deep pool and the guide jumped in first to check its depth, followed by those who were brave enough, or stupid enough. For some, this was too much of a challenge and they stayed above to keep the candles lit. It never occurred to me what would have happened if all the candles had gone out. Turning around, we retraced our steps, sliding down rocks and shimmying down rope brides before swimming through the deep water, only this time with the added bonus of waxy teeth. Before we knew it daylight appeared again. I was sad it was over so quickly, but others in the group were relieved to have brought the experience to a close. I still have my candle. Nick Morrison is a Kiwi guy with a passion for travel, sports and adventure. He can cross 35 countries off his list so far, with plans to keep adding more. www.nickmorrisonfitness.com
RIVER SURFING REVOLUTION WORDS AND IMAGES: Paolo Marchesi
Paolo Marchesi went in search of the souls who ride waves gushing through land-locked states. He found the Lochsa River. ONE OF AMERICAâ€™S best kept surfing secrets lies in Missoula. Deep in the landlocked state of Montana, local residents are taking river surfing to a new level. While working on a photo shoot in Montana, I decided to stop by Strongwater Surf Shop, the only mountain surf shop in the US. Chatting with co-owner Kevin Benhart Brown, KB as he is better known, he assured me that Missoula is turning into a surf town. That unexpected statement sealed the deal for me and I had to see for myself. As soon as I entered the shop, I was overwhelmed by the friendly atmosphere. The river surfing crew seemed different to their coastal counterparts, it was all about
camaraderie and encouragement. KB and fellow river surfer Luke talked me into driving two hours to the Lochsa River, to check out the Lochsa Pipeline, one of the best river waves in the area. As we talked, in a surfing shop nestled in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, I watched them make their own surfboards: shorter, wider, fatter boards, designed for a river wave. I had to see more. The pair were planning to close the shop at 5pm, drive for two hours and would surf until dark, which would fall about 9.30pm if they were lucky. Then theyâ€™d drive two hours back to Missoula. It was the sign of a beautiful obsession. 108
The Lochsa was running strong when I arrived. I took photos of the wave and started looking out for the Strongwater guys about 7pm. By 8:20pm I decided they were a no-show. Then just as I started my drive back to Missoula, thinking I had wasted four hours and plenty of gas, I saw a pickup truck heading my way up the road, loaded with boards and a guy giving me the Shaka sign. Undeterred by the darkening skies, by 8.45pm they were in the water and I was watching and photographing them rip it up. I was amazed at the wave time they were getting. On a good ocean wave I might get six to ten seconds of riding and in a good session I might catch eight to twelve waves. Two
the sign of a beautiful obsession ‘It– sowasfamiliar to me – of something you love with a passion. ’
had the record hold down. Of course, ‘Ithealso rookie had to have that record. ’ minutes of riding on a very good day. Instead, these guys were getting weeks of wave time in one short river session. I was impressed by their surfing. They weren’t just sitting on the wave like river surfers I had watched in previous years, they were ripping it. At the end of their session we sat in the parking lot and chatted well into the night. Their enthusiasm was contagious. The following weekend there was an informal event at Pipeline. KB and Luke were going to be there and other river surfers were coming from as far as Jackson, Wyoming. I decided to make a five-and-half hour drive to check it out and this time not only to shoot, but to surf. I also wanted
to photograph KB back in the shop in Missoula, shaping one of his boards. It was a good thing I had my camera because my river surfing skills sucked, or rather, my wave-catching skills sucked. I made so many attempts and only a few times managed to catch the wave and get up. The next day, I was so sore I could barely move. I also had the record hold down. Of course, the rookie had to have that record. I was under for what seemed like hours, pushed by the current. As much as I pulled on my leash, trying to use the board’s buoyancy to come up, nothing happened. The current simply didn’t want to let go. As I finally took a gasping breath and 111
reached the surface, I heard one of the river surfers say, “Dude, that was nuts, I’ve never seen anything like that before.” The next day, I went back for more but in the back of my mind I was wondering who would have rescued me if the river hadn’t let go. Paolo Marchesi is an Italian Photographer with too many passions. He likes to surf, flyfish, travel, climb, hunt; pretty much anything to do with the outdoors... and he loves telling stories. www.marchesiphoto.com F www.facebook.com/marchesiphoto www.instagram.com/marchesiphoto t www.twitter.com/MarchesiPhoto
THE GRAND EUROPEAN TOUR WORDS AND IMAGES: Rod Wilson
In 1966 Rod Wilson left New Zealand aboard the Achille Lauro, bound for a motor scooter rally near Bathurst, Australia. He never stopped. After a year in Australia he travelled overland from Durban, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt, and in 1973 wound up in Europe as a tour driver for Atrek Travel, guiding one of the earliest tour groups into the Soviet Union. NONE OF THE travel companies back then were exactly flash. Most of the drivers were travellers like me – Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, all out for a big adventure. Touring with a company like Atrek wasn’t an expensive way to go. Our 11-week trip through 16 countries cost $NZ526 plus $79 for the food kitty and $11 for visas (£198, £31 and £4). You took your spending money on top of that, making a bit on the side by smuggling US dollars into the East to change on the black market. We made quite a good profit as the official rate in the Soviet Union was two Roubles to the NZ Dollar and we could get five times that on the black market. Atrek used six-wheeler Ford Transit vans. They had a bench seat across the front and four rows of bench seats behind. We packed 15 people into the vans, mountains of food under the seats and all the tents, pots, pans, stoves and rucksacks flung up on a huge roof rack until the springs
groaned under the load. The vans were grossly overloaded. This was fine in Western Europe, where there were smooth tarmac roads and garages in every town. But such luxuries became less and less frequent the further east we went. The fun began almost as soon as we crossed into Eastern Europe through the Iron Curtain, the physical and ideological divide that split the continent in half after World War II. Bulgarian guards spent an hour examining documents; Romanian officials were more thorough and took two. But the Soviet guards at the Ukrainian border really knew how to make a tour group feel welcome. First, one of the guards collected all the passports and took them into a back room for a couple of hours. I think they phoned the details of every passport through to Moscow for clearance. Other guards checked the van. Everything had to come off the roof 112
racks – the tents, the bags, the cooking gear. Everything had to come out from inside the van – the food, the games, the books. We stacked everything by the side of the road. All the bags were opened and the toothpaste sniffed and tasted. All the cameras were turned this way and that, and passed from guard to guard. All the girls’ beauty gear was admired in meticulous detail. Meanwhile, yet another detachment of guards took the panels off the van. They brought out little dentists’ mirrors on sticks to look under the chassis, into the engine and behind the spare wheel. For six hours, 15 western travellers sat by the side of the road, playing cards and listening to Beatles tapes, whilst the defenders of the State looked for goodness-only-knows what. We were the first European tour bus to enter the Soviet Union by this route and we probably made their day. Once we’d finally got our clearance from Moscow, or wherever, everything had to be reloaded and on we went,
COPENHAGEN MINSK KHARKOV
BUCHAREST FLORENCE KAVALLA
PLATAMON CORFU ATHENS
with the Intourist guide squashed in the front. The guide’s job was to make sure we followed a set route and to report back at regular intervals. In Russia, we weren’t allowed to deviate: we had to reach set points every day and as we passed the control boxes, we could see the guards lift the telephone and phone ahead to the next. We could be fined if we were late. Actually Russian cops could fine you for anything, including £8 for having a dirty van. Our aim was to cover about 400 kilometres a day and spend longer in big cities like Moscow and Leningrad (modern-day St Petersburg). In theory, we could drive that distance without too much trouble. In practice, it was just about impossible. Thirty kilometres across the borders the roads got rougher, the average speeds slower and long days longer. Sometimes the roads were sealed for short distances; mostly they were dirt. We bounced in and out of potholes and steered round
gravel patches and mud holes. On occasion, the entire group would have to get out and walk or push the van through the mud. Although the vans were relatively new, they weren’t exactly Rolls Royces. One of the main bearings failed in Istanbul. The battery packed in between Moscow and Leningrad. The vans were fitted with (tubeless) re-treads that weren’t designed for rough gravel and corrugated clay. It wasn’t long before the treads began to lift and the tyres to blow. The first puncture was in Kiev, the second in Kharkov. We had two for the price of one outside Moscow. As we only carried one spare tyre, I began to worry that we’d never get back to the West. But once past the border everyone, even the officials, were incredibly friendly and helpful. The police would flag down passing motorists to see if they had a spare (none did – Ford Transit tyres were quite a different size from the Russian standard). One policeman took us to a 113
tractor factory outside of Kiev where they tried to vulcanise a truck inner down to size. Another officer helped pump our tyres with the hand pump off his motorcycle, sweating in the heat of the Russian summer. The electrics died in Leningrad and the van would go no further. I sent my party on by train and arranged a tow from a Russian truck. Sixteen kilometres from the Finnish border, the driver stopped, undid the tow rope and turned around. He was allowed to go no further. I waited for a day until a second Atrek van arrived and towed me into the West. We stopped at the first garage in Finland to fit three new tyres, a battery and service the engine until it was fit to drive back to London. I don’t think Atrek made much profit from that first tour. Rod Wilson lives in the sunny Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Still a keen traveller, there are a few more places he would like to tick off his list.
338 KILOMETRES OF FREEDOM THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL WORDS AND IMAGES: Eric Leifer
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded “to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ” ~ John Muir DRAWING WILD-EYED wanderers and scruffy-haired folk from around the world, the 338 kilometre John Muir Trail has a reputation of immeasurable proportions. Featuring on the bucket list of nearly every serious lover of the outdoors, it is not only a showcase of the sheer perfection of natural world, but highlights some of the best wilderness in the United States. America’s most famous trail has become an incredibly popular destination in recent years, with the permit office in California’s Yosemite National Park reporting a record number of applications in the last two years. For those who fail to attain a permit, or for the individual who lacks enough foresight to apply in advance, there is still hope: a limited number of permits are available the day before a departure date. I fell into the latter category and decided to test my luck and head to the back-country office to join other chaotic and confused comrades in grabbing a walk-up permit. I arrived at a somewhat respectable time of 5:30am, two hours before opening, and found myself the 11th person in line. A trio of Germans, representing the front of the pack, had been waiting since midnight. I got lucky with my solo status and after sorting through the paperwork, I hit the trail. The first week quickly turned into a fight for survival. The trail was dusty, busy, and excessively steep. My pack was heavy and I began to curse every single piece of equipment in my bag. Unnecessary straps were cut off, frivolous gear thrown in the trash, even the end of my toothbrush was sawed down to a nearly-unusable knob. By
the time I reached Tuolumne Meadows on the third day of the trip, I had mumbled nearly every unmentionable word in the English language. Hordes of tourists and gas-guzzling motor homes dominated Tuolumne, as backpackers grabbed a burger or ice cream and other supplies before quickly escaping back into the wild. Back on the trail things changed quickly as the crowds suddenly vanished and the hills rose to unimaginable heights. With every step the trail, and those who walked upon it, became increasingly wild. It became a social experiment as people from all walks of life were thrown together on the same path in the wilderness. Some were running away from their woes, many were on a meticulously planned dream trip, while others, like me, were simply killing time. I crossed paths with a Frenchman named Pascal heading northbound with two mules, taking the scenic route to Puerto Montt, near the southern tip of Chile, an unfathomable 22,530 kilometres away. I shook his hand in wonder and for the next two days, contemplated the sheer immensity of his journey. As I entered my second week on the trail, the days began to blur together. The standards of society slowly vanished, as teeth brushing became less common and my beard grew increasingly erratic. I soon met two other solo hikers, Nick and Kim, who were in a similar mental and physical condition and we joined forces as a nomadic trio of dirt, sweat and glory. Both were locals, recently graduated from the world of academia and on a victory march of sorts. We rambled 116
onwards and pushed past the 160 kilometre mark with ease. Gorgeous alpine lakes and sweeping granite vistas became commonplace and we’d devour 600 metre climbs for breakfast. The 172 kilometre mark was a huge milestone in the journey as we reached the Muir Trail Ranch, commonly regarded as the halfway point of the trail. For most people this is the final resupply until Mount Whitney and the town of Lone Pine, awaiting your distant arrival some 180 kilometres away. We overloaded our packs with food and headed into the wild once more. This was truly where the John Muir Trail began. The terrain increased in magnitude and difficulty, with each pass becoming bigger than the next and the route consistently hanging above the 3,000 metre elevation mark. Over the next week, we personified each climb, vilifying them like dictators, high school teachers or tax collectors. This was rather easy considering the passes are named after prominent wilderness men of the early 1900s. The reality and realisation that we had been walking for nearly three weeks sank in as we pitched our final base camp beneath the northern shadow of Mount Whitney. In an attempt to lighten our packs we feasted on our remaining food and slowly drifted off to sleep with the setting sun. I briefly woke from my slumber, startled at first by the sheer magnitude of my surroundings. The stars seemed strangely close that night and the darkness deeper than usual. For a moment my thoughts seemed to come from a child’s wandering mind,
convinced that if I reached out my hands far enough then perhaps I could touch them, even bring a few of those distant jewels into my arms and hold them closer. After 19 days my sanity seemed to waiver as I began to understand how all those famous poets could write such beautiful things with seemingly effortless grace, such timeless combinations of words that are so infinitely relative. For when you are surrounded by such an inspiration you simply reflect it back onto a piece of paper. I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Muir. I slowly closed my eyes and faded back into the night, the stars still floating high above. We rounded off the final climb in the morning with ease, floating to Whitney’s 4,420 metre summit by 10am. Yet somehow it felt rather anti-climatic. The hordes of weekend warriors who were surmounting Whitney from the south side flooded
the trail, updating their Facebook status and fiddling on their cell phones upon completion. The shock and thought of leaving the wilderness suddenly began to sink in. After that long in the wild, it can be incredibly difficult to leave. Alas we shuffled down the final short stretch to the Whitney Portal, drank a beer and hitched a ride into the sleepy town of Lone Pine. We were off the trail and back to reality. I certainly was not ready. I don’t think any of us were. The following day we all said our goodbyes and quickly scattered, taking nearly every mode of transportation to make it home. Some resorted to hitch hiking while others united with their vehicles. I opted for the bus, the pinnacle of public transportation, full of mostly shady locals but also boasting a few John Muir Trail hikers. I noticed two Korean men in particular, who we had camped by nearly every day, were among the motley crew. Although they spoke only broken English they didn’t need to say a word. You could see the 119
same shock and bewilderment in their eyes. They got off in Los Angeles and caught a direct flight to Seoul. Reality sinks in eventually, for some more quickly than others. So where am I going with this story? Nowhere at all really. Often it is not about the destination but instead the journey to it and the lessons learned along the way. Whether your journey is three days, 12 hours and 41 minutes, like the men who just set the speed record for the John Muir Trail or three years like Pascal’s epic timetable, it is entirely irrelevant. You can learn more in a single moment of inspiration than an entire lifetime of contemplation. I, for one, prefer to wander. Eric Leifer is an American explorer, storyteller and photographer based on the Big Island of Hawaii. www.canyonchronicles.com F www.facebook.com/eric.leifer
“NO MYSTERY, NO ADVENTURE” WORDS: Mike Libecki IMAGES: Keith Ladzinski and supplied
Mike Libecki finds new friends and first ascents in East Greenland.
“LIBECKI! I HAVE never been so bleeping scared in my life!” Ethan Pringle yells from 25 metres above me. I am lost in the view of electric-blue icebergs floating in the sea a mile away. We are almost 460 metres up – not even halfway to the top – on the side of a sheer granite tower in a remote fjord on Greenland’s east coast. Around us, spear-tipped summits stab into thick, grey-pink clouds. If those pillows decide to release their cargo, hopefully the chilly breeze will turn the rain to snow. We can climb in snow, but rain will just soak us into hypothermia and force a retreat. Our plan is to climb nonstop until we reach the summit. We have already been climbing 14 hours. It dawns on me that it may take longer than the 48 hours we’ve planned before our continuous momentum gets us to the summit. Suffering is a sure thing. Ethan has just danced through a spectacular, pinky-sized 5.12 crack, making it look like 5.9. He yells again, “But I am having so much fun! I’ve never been so psyched!” At that moment, I know we’ll not only get to the top of this tower in killer style, we’re also going to get along just fine. This was the first time Ethan and I had shared a rope. We had only met once before this out-of-the-ordinary expedition. At base camp below were two other members of our team, who were also strangers: Angie Payne and Keith Ladzinski. I knew of Ethan Pringle, a leading U.S. sport climber and boulderer, but we only met once at a marketing meeting at the California headquarters of Mountain Hardwear, one of our mutual sponsors. We were there to discuss a collaboration where we would combine the skills and strengths of several diverse climbers and join forces
somewhere in steep, remote rock mountains. My job would be to take younger climbers who are crushing in their respective climbing genres and bring them on a Libecki-style expedition. It sounded like fun. And who could resist another expedition, paid in full, to go somewhere beautiful and climb first ascents? However, I was not abiding by the three unofficial rules for expeditions: First, go with your friends, second, go with your friends and thirdly, go with your friends. On expeditions into deep wilderness, emotions are laid bare. People get scared. Dynamics among the team can go in any direction. A successful expedition can be judged by how close you get, how deep the trust becomes and how well you know your partners when you leave. I know of unsuccessful teams that began as strangers on expeditions and ended with a semi-serious attempt at murder with an ice axe or just-boiled coffee thrown in a partner’s face. Even a heated argument over someone brushing their teeth too loud. Neither Angie Payne, one of the world’s top women boulderers, nor Ethan had ever been on a remote climbing expedition. Then add another stranger to the mix: photographer Keith Ladzinski. He would follow us with his cameras and capture the drama, beauty, or adventure among these strangers in the remote fjords of east Greenland. Going on an expedition with people you do not know can be a recipe for disaster. Or, perhaps, it can be the beginning of new friendships and incredible success. I believed we’d experience the latter. I have always said, “Without mystery there is no adventure.” On this trip, it was more like, “Without strangers there is no adventure.” 122
We all met in Iceland en route to one of the dozens of fjords unexplored by climbers on Greenland’s east coast. I arrived directly from a solo expedition in Franz Josef Land, Russia, where I narrowly avoided being a polar bear’s dinner. Ethan came from Norway after completing a new 5.14 project. Angie arrived fresh from bouldering competitions in Colorado. Keith came along with Angie, after finishing one of his award-winning films. I had met Ethan and Angie once before. In Iceland I shook hands with Keith for the first time. Thank goodness I am an extrovert. Icelandic beers soon had us all laughing and psyched for the flight to Greenland in the morning. This would be my seventh expedition to Greenland. For me it was going to a second home, for them a strange and unknown land. At the end of our two-hour flight to Kulusuk, the pilot attempted to land but pulled up at the last minute; he could not see the wet tarmac through the rain and clouds. Our stomachs dropped like we were riding a roller coaster, but I could see this was no laughing matter for Angie. She was already way out of her comfort zone. In the Inuit town of Tasiilaq, bright red, yellow and blue houses were surrounded by a cobalt-blue ocean and snow-white icebergs. Timelapsing wisps of grey fog slithered by, adding to the fairytale scene. Dozens of Greenlandic huskies stood barking by abandoned fishing boats when we stepped off the helicopter. I smelled the familiar scent of seal blood – the dogs were being fed their favourite meal. Soon we were at my friend Hans Christian Florian Sorensen’s house. A local doctor, key contact and support person for many expeditions, he is one of Greenland’s heroes. Originally
me it was going to a second home, â€˜For for them a strange and unknown land.
IMAGE: Josh Helling
I had hoped to go into one of the areas I had researched on a previous expedition. Unfortunately, sea ice had moved down from the north and the seas were unusually rough. Even the most experienced fishermen in the area refused to head in that direction. Fortunately, Hans Christian suggested an area he had seen the previous summer. Very little climbing had been done in this region and none of the most prominent rock towers had been climbed. We sipped hot coffee and looked at maps and photos in Hans Christian’s living room, where walrus skulls and narwhal horns three and four metres long provided the decorations. Ethan’s mouth literally hung open, exclaiming “that wall is freaking huge.” Angie noted the endless beautiful boulders on the talus fields and glaciers below the cliffs and scooted her chair closer to the computer. We hired a fisherman to take us north to the fjords in a six-metre-long boat, dodging icebergs as we moved along the coast. Ten hours later, we were near our destination, but fog had settled,
wrapping itself around the towers. Unsure where to land, we searched for icebergs with the boat’s spotlight as we tried to find a place to drop anchor and wait for the fog to lift Grey. Rain. Wind and waves. The captain fired up the engine and half an hour later, we could see towers through wispy layers of fog. We unloaded our bags on to the granite slab shoreline as mist turned into pouring rain. Soon we were soaked as we scouted the spongy ground for a suitable base camp. Purple flowers glowed from bright green moss dotted with shiny dew diamonds. We were surrounded by huge, steep granite towers, our tents crowded by boulders the size of small homes. The sharp needle of first ascent longing pricked into my veins. After setting up our cooking tent and crafting a stone kitchen out of large granite flakes, we settled around a stove and a few hot cups of coffee with a touch of whiskey. This was perfect – the weather forced us to be tent-bound and get to know each other better. We 124
sipped our steaming drinks, listened to raindrop drum beats and talked about life and all the unclimbed rock that waited somewhere out in the mist. For the first time I could feel camaraderie flow among the team. The following morning the rain finally slowed. Angie made it clear that she wanted to focus on bouldering. But I wanted to get her tied in for a big first ascent, to feel the glory of standing on a high summit in one of Earth’s remotest locations. Soon after we arrived, I had hiked to the base of the most prominent tower in the cirque. A proud father who always misses his daughter on expeditions, I called it the Daddy Tower. A system of splitter cracks and corners went directly up the steepest, longest part of the huge northeast face. According to maps and my altimeter, it was over 1,066 metres tall. Just as I was about to walk down in the rain, Ethan showed up. He was fired up. “Do you think we can climb that line? How long do you think it is? Dude, that is huge!” Ethan said, gazing up in awe.
“That is the best line here, maybe the best I have seen in all of Greenland,” I responded. “We are going to climb that route.” But first I wanted to do a climb as a team and I suggested we try the long, but seemingly technicallystraightforward, ridge on the back and left side of the main face. We packed enough for two days and an easy threehour hike brought us to a small patch of green grass and lavender flowers, a cozy bivy site 300 metres above the ocean, near a hanging glacier. The team was beaming. Vanilla glaciers wound down the mountainsides across the fjord, and massive icebergs drifted in grey-turqoise ocean. I could smell the fresh scent of rain. Keith’s camera never stopped devouring the scene. Angie said, more than once, “this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.” The next morning, we had to cross over an 80-metre-wide glacier to reach the tower’s base. Mazes of 12-metredeep, one-and-a-half-metre-wide open
crevasses criss-crossed the bare ice like tiger stripes. I feel comfortable on these kind of glaciers, the crevasses were like welcome smiles. To Angie they were more like frowns of doom. “This is insane! Is this safe?” Small stones and dirt had sunk into the glacier’s surface, leaving spiky points of ice that worked like grip tape on a skateboard. I assured Angie that the glacier was actually quite safe to cross, even though we were without crampons. The drizzle turned to soaking rain. We made it across the glacier and stared up at a steep talus slope of loose, geometric puzzle pieces. Angie was nearly paralysed in fear as we neared the base of the tower. We hiked up the talus to get to the base of the tower. “Are we going to die in here? I am not psyched right now.” Angie made that very clear. And, rightfully so – it was dangerous terrain. But pushing beyond the edges of fear is a necessary variable in the equation of first ascents. Then, just as 126
we started to harness up, pouring rain shut us down. During the descent, Keith and I began trundling boulders down the slippery slopes, simply for the childish pleasure of it. We kept finding bigger and bigger boulders to send crashing down. Then Keith slipped after we both pushed off a huge boulder and he tumbled head over heels. He soon came to a stop, but it could have been very ugly. Angie shouted, “I am not going to die out here!” We walked in silence back to our luxurious base camp. Angie told me later just how frightened she became several times on this journey. She even shared with me later that, when we got back to our camp that day, she went in her tent and cried. Though by evening hot chocolate mixed with whiskey had us all smiling again, laughing at the last two days. But for me the taste of defeat lingered and I badly wanted to get the first ascent of that gigantic tower. The following morning revealed blue skies, freshly cleaned by the rain.
Image: Andy Mann
I was up early making coffee. Our conversation quickly led to the hunt for sweet new boulders. Not for me, though – my thoughts were on a completely different wavelength. “Hey guys, I am going to run back up to that route we got rained off and try to solo it. I can be up and back in a day”, I said this casually, hoping no one would mind if I took off for a bit. But the team was startled by my decision. “Dude! Libecki, you are crazy!” Ethan commanded. Angie chimed in, “You are nuts. Are you serious? Really?” Eventually they came around. When I was gone, Angie named a boulder problem after me, Libecki Lives. An hour later I left with a rope, a bit of pro, Clif Bars and water, my Year of the Dragon mask, and my iPod rocking to a live Grateful Dead concert from 1977, fuelling my psyche. I sang out loud to the rocks and icebergs, “Fire, fire on the mountain…there’s a dragon with matches that's loose on the town…” The route was not difficult, mostly 5.6 and 5.7, but I dragged the rope behind me in case it got too scary. More than
halfway up, I arrived at a section that I had to stop at and consider for about 20 minutes. Above was steep, flaky rock for about 120 metres. The last time I free soloed anything seemingly dangerous was the same day Derek Hersey fell from the Steck-Salathe to his death in Yosemite Valley, back in May of 1993. I was soloing Commitment in Yosemite when he died. Free soloing gives me the chills, especially now that I am a father. Still, it appeared manageable. I had been in this position many times before. Sometimes all of my experience boils down to one decision, one moment. I rely on this experience just as a surgeon would to make calculated decisions. I thought of Angie, and her valid fears. I have had to overcome many fears throughout the years, I still do on every expedition. I have just found ways to make friends with fear; it keeps me safe. I started up a set of triple cracks and climbed steadily but cautiously until I could pull onto a ledge below a fourth-class ridge, full of adrenaline. I pulled up the rope behind me and headed for the top. 128
Expeditions are like short-term marriages. Sometimes they go bad, but when they’re good, they create friendships that last a lifetime. Ethan and Angie’s willingness to dive into first ascents and wilderness exploration reminded me of my own first expeditions. I saw their eyes light up from Greenland’s raw beauty and unpredictable power. I was inspired by their physical and mental strength – especially Angie’s. Even though we’d been thrown together as strangers, this expedition was far more than a marriage of convenience. I feel honoured to have been on such a journey with Ethan, Angie, and Keith, but even more honoured to call them my friends. Mike Libecki has a goal to survive 100 expeditions by the time he is 100 years old. He has 60 years and 53 more expeditions to reach these goals, as of now. www.mikelibecki.com F www.facebook.com/mike.libecki v www.vimeo.com/user28938377
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Say Yes to Adventure is a beautifully-designed magazine featuring inspiring stories, photographs and illustrations all based on a common the...
Published on Mar 2, 2015
Say Yes to Adventure is a beautifully-designed magazine featuring inspiring stories, photographs and illustrations all based on a common the...