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PUBLISHER + EDITOR + CREATIVE Hollie Woodhouse COPY EDITOR Boo Woodhouse CONTACT hello@sytamagazine.com

FRONT COVER Searching for Singletrack Page 38 Image: António Abreu

BACK COVER An Attitude for Adventure Page 66 Image: Ben Lees

www.sytamagazine.com Fwww.facebook.com/SayYestoAdventureMag :


Published by The Adventurous Kiwi Printed by Spectrum Print, Christchurch, New Zealand ISSN: 2422 8850 © Say Yes to Adventure. March 2016. All rights reserved. Nothing in whole or in part in the magazine may be reproduced 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 / SUBSCRIPTION Say Yes to Adventure is an independently published magazine. It is available for purchase at selected newsagents, bookstores and airport stores or you can purchase it online at www.sytamagazine.com. Visit www.sytamagazine.com/stockists to find one near you. CONTRIBUTION We collaborate with creative individuals from all over the globe. If you love adventure and have a story you’d like to share, simply send us an email; we would love to hear from you. Email hello@sytamagazine.com or visit www.sytamagazine.com/contributors for more information.






RED BULL X-ALPS Nick Neynens







EVERESTMAX 48 Dom Faulkner








DEFYING THE ODDS Hollie Woodhouse








DIGGING DEEP Tommy Wilkinson









Levi Sherwood performs during the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour at Plaza de Toros México in Mexico City. Image: Alfredo Martinez


We love seeing images of you enjoying Say Yes to Adventure magazine. Simply take a picture, upload it to social media using @sytamagazine and #sayyestoadventuremag and we will share the best images in Volume Five!

Image: Bill Irwin Arts

globe. I look back now and see it as quite a ballsy move, but I’ve discovered over these last few years that that’s exactly how I operate; say YES now, deal with the issues later... and there have been a few! There are still so many opportunities for growth and it’s this process that is the most exciting part. It’s crazy, it’s inspiring, it’s fun and most of all, it’s my passion. And if I had the chance to do it all again, I would.

thank you TODAY I TOOK some spontaneous ‘me’ time, and it’s always these moments that turn out to be the most valuable. Not surprisingly, this meant heading outdoors into the gorgeous Canterbury sunshine and hitting up some of our great running trails. It’s my happy place and where almost all of my problems can be solved (if it can’t be solved on a run, it can’t be solved at all!). I came back feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle whatever lay ahead. As we steamroll straight into another year, I hope you’ve managed to take some time for yourself and are ready for many exciting adventures in 2016. This volume celebrates our first birthday; a whole year (almost to the day) since ‘Say Yes to Adventure’ first came to fruition. It’s been a journey that has far exceeded expectations; a dream of producing a high quality publication full of inspiring adventure stories, images and illustrations from every corner of the

It’s this same ‘yes’ attitude that recently found me climbing Mount Alpha near Wanaka, while competing in the Red Bull Defiance multisport race. Seriously pushing some personal boundaries, I wondered how I was ever going to make it to see the finish line. But like everything, it’s as simple as one foot in front of the other and I made it. You can read more about my experience during this great event on page 70. And it’s this same ‘yes’ attitude that every other contributor to this magazine possesses – everyday people getting out there and living life to the max. Enjoy reading their inspiring articles too. Happy adventuring,

hollie@sytamagazine.com www.holliewoodhouse.com



For Jecca Boo xo This magazine could not have been possible without the amazing generosity of so many people. Special mention to everyone who has contributed their inspiring stories, images and illustrations. Also to those who always support me no matter what crazy idea I come up with next: Boo and Hamish Woodhouse (Mum and Dad), Flick and Sam Taylor, Ben Woodhouse and Gina Taylor, Sonia Dench, Daniel Fridd, Jacqueline Manson and Scott Waterman.

OPPOSITE PAGE: ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ – Giorenzo Ji is an artist, photographer and professional graphic designer based in Italy. He uses his own personal experiences and surroundings as inspiration for his work. www.tatabubu.tumblr.com




Kazakh horsemen have used golden eagles to hunt the Eurasian Steppe for centuries, but it is in an isolated corner of West Mongolia called the Altai that their ancient tradition is best preserved. Shielded by virtually impenetrable mountains, Russia looms to the north, China to the south and Kazakhstan to the west. This is old country; the land of Genghis Khan’s conquering hordes of nomads and horses, of grey wolves and golden eagles. I TRAVELLED BY plane from the nation’s capital, Ulaanbataar, to reach Khovd, one of the two neighbouring aimags (provinces), home to the majority of the Kazakhs in Mongolia. I’d come to see the Golden Eagle Festival, an annual celebration of one of the earth’s great apex predators as well as the bond between an eagle and its handler. There’s no official registry of Kazakh eagle hunters, although the 80 or so who would compete at the festival this year probably represent half of the total hunters in the Altai. Some are starting to call it an endangered custom, and it barely survives at all in neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Flying over the vast tracts of Mongolia offers an otherworldly sight. Gers (yurts) dot the expansive steppe in all directions. Lakes with white, frozen rims and braided rivers cut through a palette of browns, oranges and yellows. Even by Mongolian standards, it’s a harsh region. The long winters here see temperatures plummet to -30 degrees Celsius and the grassland basins are surrounded by peaks of perennial ice and snow. It is a primeval land, and a befitting habitat for the world’s largest subspecies of Aquila chrysaetos, the bird Kazakhs know as the berkut – the golden eagle.


Most Mongolians outside the capital are pastoral nomads, living in seasonal ger camps, herding livestock known as the five muzzles: goats, sheep, camels, horses and yaks (or cows). Not much has changed here over the last 1,000 years, so visiting the sparsely populated grasslands of the western steppe normally means staying with nomads, and it has become customary for the nomadic golden eagle hunters to welcome visitors to stay with them in the days leading up to the festival. Marco Polo wrote of golden eagles being used to catch wolves and foxes during his time in Eurasia

in the late 1200s. He observed that eagle hunters were essential providers of meat and fur in society, and known as qusbegi, lord of the birds. But Soviet expansion in the early nineteenth century had a devastating effect on traditional ways of life in Central Asia. The fleeing of nomadic Kazakh herders over the Altai mountains in the 1840s was a direct result of Soviet colonisation and the dismantling of nomadism. In the 20th century another wave of brutal Soviet agricultural policies tore apart traditional life on the tracts of treeless plains between the Altai and Ural Mountains, the Kazakh steppe. There are around 100,000 Kazakhs in Mongolia today, the largest ethnic minority in the new Mongol republic. Sheltered

from the tragedies of their former homeland, they have boldly upheld their cultural identity here, so much so in fact that it’s been listed by UNESCO as having intangible cultural heritage values. Eagle hunters have a number of methods to catch an eagle. While daring, the simplest is to scale a cliff and take a chick straight from the nest, but they can also catch an adult eagle by trapping it. Gin traps padded with hessian is one method used nowadays although often the strongest bonds are forged with eagles taken as chicks. At first, a freshly caught eagle will refuse to eat the food offered to it by their handler, but after several days, starvation sets in and it will succumb to the offerings in a haze


of weakness. This is the beginning of the food bond that will keep them together until the eagle is released back into the wild. For the eagle it’s an opportunistic relationship – they are not pets, and their relationship is not bound through affection. It is this source of food and protection that ensures the eagle always returns to its handler. Females are generally much larger than male goldens, and fiercer hunters. The Kazakhs have always recognised the importance of releasing them back into the wild to breed to keep the population healthy, so generally they’ll only keep an eagle for five years of a golden eagle’s 30-year lifespan. The first day of the eagle festival, on the outskirts of Bayan-Ölgii, dawns clear but windy. Dust storms

gather, blowing clouds of loose mountain debris down through the valley where the eagle hunters will compete. The festival’s main competition involves a test of the eagles' speed and accuracy as they target a dead rabbit attached to a rope leash called an ayak bau, which is held by the berkutschi (mounted eagle hunter). Their success on a day like today will depend on the strength of the eagle’s instincts and how attuned they are to their berkutschi’s whistles and calls. Golden eagles generally have seven hunting techniques they can deploy, depending on the prey and whether it is on the ground or airborne. Typically, across the mountainous Altai region, a golden eagle uses the high mountainous landscape

to its advantage, soaring and drifting on thermal currents along ridgelines, eyeing the lowland for any movement up to a mile away. When a golden identifies a target like a corsac fox, it will enter a long, direct glide, gradually closing in its wings as it gains momentum to increase its speed. These deadly missile-like flights can reach up to 190 kilometres per hour. Incredibly, if the eagle chooses to hunt in a stoop, or aerial dive – to hunt other airborne birds – it will fold its wings and form an aerodynamic arrow that can reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour. In this mode it is one of the fastest animals on the planet, second only to the peregrine falcon. As it nears a fox or wolf, the eagle will thrust its talons forward at the moment of impact,


opening its wings and spreading its tail feathers like a parachute. As the golden hits its prey, one claw will clasp at the snout, clamping it shut, while the other will pierce the skin and puncture vital organs. A golden eagle’s claws are 15 times stronger than a human hand, exerting a crushing hold almost twice as strong as that of a bald eagle. A single eagle hunter is an impressive sight, but 80 berkutschi gathered together, is a sight to behold. When hunting, eagle hunters dress in fur coats made of fox fur (called shash), or otherwise animal skin coats (tons), tied at the waist with decorative leather belts, along with a loovuuz, or fox-fur hat. But hunting with eagles is much more than looking the part

the most blood-hungry eagles ‘Only zero-in on the glint of fur and meat on the ground.’

– it requires dedication, discipline, months of bonding and a lifetime of practice. High up on the cliffface above a marked-off zone below, eagles are kept hooded until their bertkutschi is ready. Riding into position, they signal for the bird to be released. The leather cap called a tomaga, covering the eagle’s eyes, is lifted and the scene below swims into sharp focus. The wind makes the calls of the bertkutschi difficult to hear and some birds will be caught by strong wind gusts, disorientated, losing sight of the prey until they regather into a high soar to regain their bearings. Others’ instincts are stronger. Like a tracer bullet they reach the

target in mere seconds. Eagles are normally solo hunters, so the distractions below – a crowd of people – makes it difficult to focus. Only the most blood-hungry eagles zero in on the glint of fur and meat on the ground. The victors at the festival are given medals that will travel with them between nomad camps throughout the year. The most decorated eagle hunters are seen as the modern-day qusbegi, heralded in the Kazakh community, lords of an ancient realm. But while traditionally dominated by men, this year’s festival features a new generation of talented eagle hunters. Included


in the bunch are two remarkable young girls, giving hope that the tradition – an astounding partnership between animal and human – looks well-placed to adapt and to continue, hidden away in this primordial land of Altai Mongolia. A special thank you to my guide Bold Purevdelger of Oyu World Tours LLC.

Alexander Hedley is a photographer, writer and book publisher from New Zealand. His passion for experiencing new places takes him to remote places all over the world. www.alexanderhedley.com

RED BULL X-ALPS WORDS: Nick Neynens IMAGES: Kelvin Trautman and Harald Tauderer LOCATION: Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France

The Red Bull X-Alps is the world’s toughest adventure race. It’s a bold claim – but one it surely deserves. It’s difficult to think of another race that demands such a high level of fitness and technical skill or lasts so long. Nick Neynens represented New Zealand, finishing in 10th spot – 10 days and 18 hours later. He shares the last four days of the competition with Say Yes to Adventure.


THE RACE BEGAN in Mozartplatz, Salzburg on July 5 2015 with 32 athletes from 18 countries setting off, following a route via ten turnpoints in Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France, ending at midday, July 17. Of the 32 athletes who started, a record 19 made the finish, three were left in the race, five were eliminated and five withdrew. It was won for the fourth year in a row by Christian Maurer in eight days, four hours and 37 minutes. The rules are simple. Athletes race across the Alps by foot or paraglider via set turnpoints, usually a straight-line distance of over 1,000 kilometres. It demands not only expert paragliding skills but also extreme endurance. No technical or outside assistance is allowed, and each team consists of one athlete and one supporter. For Nick, this was great friend Louis Tapper. The supporter’s role is to help with logistics, strategy, food, medical support and also to provide psychological assistance to the competitor.

Day 9: Verbier, Mont Blanc, Annecy Walking up the valley beside Lac des Dix I was approaching familiar terrain. Last year I’d walked through the same spot on the Haute Route with some mates from Australia. The skies were overcast and I was blasé about the strong winds forecast and not surprised when they reduced in strength from the previous night. Reaching the first high col I saw Rosablanche, which I climbed last year. This time I had to keep off the glaciers (without a recognised mountain guide), which meant an extra valley to cross. There was virtually no wind at the col so I searched for an appropriate snow patch to launch from amongst the fields of broken angular rocks. Louis seemed anxious in his text message, warning me that other pilots were moving fast, overtaking me in the Rhône valley below. I responded before take off, “I bet they wish they were up here!” Some lift on the ridge gave me


hope – plenty of instability – but my glide west across a small valley was rather sinky. Landing on a gravel road I decided to walk up to the next pass as I was, with the glider bunched up. Reaching the top of a ski lift I asked the maintenance workers for some water, but there was none to be had, so I walked to the nearest patch of grass and launched. As so often happens, what was meant to be a long morning glide before the thermals started, quickly turned into a cross country flight. The air was buoyant initially until I crossed over to the Verbier launch, where I saw several pilots with wings laid out. I started sinking again and panicking, I headed back to where I’d launched. However, having lost height I couldn’t get back into the lift. I resumed, this time gliding straight into the valley, still annoyed at wasting crucial height. Spotting a cliff to my right I changed my mind again, made a right angle turn, and was relieved to find lift on the

shady cliffs, even if the Verbier pilots (including tandems) were now above me. Gaining a couple of hundred precious metres I pushed on for the next cliffs. Based on my experience with the flight so far I was unsure what to expect, so it was absolutely incredible to find my favourite thermal of the whole X-Alps; a sunny rocky spine in the lee of the flow from the Rhône on an unstable day. It was just classic, packing one hell of a punch and it really lifted my mood. Topping out only a few hundred metres higher I flew to the next sharp spine, initially thinking I could possibly soar with the wind coming from the Rhône. Arriving, I was propelled upward at an unnatural rate, only to drop at a similar rate on my very next pass. Something strange was going on. I turned with the tailwind and not long afterwards I went completely weightless for a couple of seconds. The wing was still open overhead but I’d been given a warning – this was a dangerous place.

Keeping plenty of ground clearance over the trees I scooted around to the sunny faces away from this junction of air masses. For the next few minutes I was still a little cautious as this situation was completely unfamiliar (free fall in a paraglider!?). But soon I was back on track. It was still a strong leeside condition, but at least it made sense. I flew up the peak and made a crossing over Lac de Champex, the Canada of Switzerland. Arriving too low to the spur to connect with the clouds above, I dropped downwind and managed to soar for a while before sneaking up the valley to the thermals. I would have preferred to take a short cut through the Fenêtre d’Arpette, the high col which I’d flown through last year, but I couldn’t get the height. Instead, I headed around the front to the less glamorous rolling grassy fields, landing there to check the map and wait for the next thermal. I walked five minutes up to the ridge


to have a look and make sure I got the next bit right. Overall I probably spent slightly too long on the ground but when I took off again I quickly found a good thermal and soon I was flying high amongst the jagged cliffs, with just one crossing needed to get me into the Chamonix valley. One critical crossing. Even without the strong meteo wind from the west, it would be howling over the Col de Balme. Manual (GER4) later said it was so strong he was walking with a steep forwards lean with speeds of 60 kilometres per hour being mentioned. Conversely to what the public often ask (“You need wind to fly, right?”), wind is the enemy and war is deception. I headed for the high peaks to a likely spot and voilà, after a very rewarding climb in the lee to get me from just below to just above ridge height I made the crucial move, entering the Chamonix valley. Stunning views of the long glaciers leading deep into the Mont Blanc

massif were enjoyed as I pushed down the valley in occasionally boisterous conditions, high in the mountains. Before reaching the Mont Blanc airspace I crossed the valley and crabbed along over dozens of day walkers on the Balcon Nord, a section of the Tour Mont Blanc. After some delicate soaring I gradually rose up over several roped climbing parties, and a steep valley wind facing cliff was my passport to the Aiguilles Rouges. This southeast range is most definitely a morning place, so at the first opportunity I crossed to the other side.

first attempt I knew I wasn’t going to make the headwind glide to get me over the ridge, so I quickly abandoned this and turned back for a valley wind convergence climb.

At cloud base I could fly very fast in a nice straight line towards the Chaîne des Aravis, passing the enormous cliffs behind Passy and sharing the air with a distant hang glider pilot. From here I saw low ridges and wind in front of me and decided to take a route to the north. Once I’d pushed into the valley wind I hoped to enjoy a good run of soaring ridges all the way to the Annecy turnpoint. On my

Annecy looked spectacular as I soared up the amazing limestone cliffs, the ‘Teeth of the Dragon’. It really is a paradise for free flight. There was no time to linger though as Louis, who had been at turnpoint nine fifteen minutes before me, had given me directions that gave me no cause for argument, “Head deep into the mountains.” I’ve got a reasonable grasp of the French Alps but very quickly I

After one last climb to make sure I’d gained enough height, I glided in fast to turnpoint nine. There was a breezy crosswind, which I think actually made landing easier but it was still quite a lift and took me three attempts until I was satisfied, not wanting to push it. I’ve seen some horrible X-Alps footage before, so with the camera crew there I didn’t want to become part of that club!


was heading into unfamiliar territory. I stayed high in the air amongst some light downslope wind, landing just after 8pm and only a couple of hours walk from Col de la Madeleine where I was headed. With the winding roads giving me a head start, I arrived at the col well before Louis, using my raincoat as a makeshift blanket. By the time the crew arrived I was fast asleep.

Day 10: Col du Galibier, Ecrins The plan was to take a long glide into the valley from first light and then climb up the other side to fly as the day heated up. The same film crew who had encouraged me along when I was coming dead last, were now following me again after I had managed to get back into the top ten. After a long glide I had around ten kilometres of walking up the valley before ascending towards the Col de Galibier. I was aiming for the eastern faces, but it turned out to be a hot, stable day, so Ferdy (Netherlands) had a distinct advantage

being much higher up the hill, despite being only three kilometres away. I tried really hard to break through the inversion around the cliffs where I’d launched, but after a few failed attempts I started sliding up the valley following the breeze. Louis informed me that Ferdy had climbed up to 4,000 metres and I was just over half that height and struggling. My hopes of getting within striking distance of the finish in Monaco were fading fast. I was flying really well, but I still needed to break through the inversion, so I decided to land and hike up the hill instead. Crossing the valley between Col du Galibier and Briançon I encountered a few tense moments before I caught the strong northerly wind back up into the mountains. I spent some time drifting around the high glaciers on the north-eastern edge of the Ecrins, with one eye on the amazing cumulus clouds high above. At least it was a therapeutic remedy, compared to what could have been a humiliating landing in the valley below. Circumnavigating the mountain to the sunny side I finally connected with high clouds late in the afternoon, better late than never. Happiness had returned while I was amongst the amazing scenery of the Ecrins that I’d been dreaming about flying for a while. Chasing the clouds south I had a brilliant run, deep in the mountains following the convergences of all the long valleys below, eventually making it out the other side to the familiar Serre-Ponçon lake. Here I had two choices – push south onto the Murgon, or float tailwind with the valley wind flow to the hill behind Embrun. I knew I would still need another climb to make Murgon work, but I decided to try it anyway. Unfortunately, I had made life difficult

for myself, getting washed over forested ridges and having to tuck in deep to survive. It was late; the valley breeze was still very strong but the thermals were dying. Trying the Embrun option, I found the slope was unfortunately too shallow for me to soar up to the hill behind and I dived off again, landing in the shade of a small clearing. Perhaps a little annoyed at returning to reality after the dreamy flight through the Ecrins, this was a low point of the race for me. Being overtaken kicked off my bad mood but I was also tired after ten days of early starts, and lately missing a few of the amazing hot meals I’d come to expect as standard. But I can’t really excuse what I did next – it was a relatively tight landing, but why did I have to drop my glider in the bushes?! I managed to get most of it out but it was over an hour before my supporters could reach me and finish the job. We had a meal, regrouped, and decided that it would be best for me to have a sleep in.

Day 11: Tinée Valley, Sospel It was a casual start at long last and didn’t that get some attention! Family members who were following me assumed that there was some kind of Live Tracking mistake. I reassured them with a message, ‘It’s more about where you land than when you take off ’, and started walking up to the Papillon as recommended by Jeremie, the sailplane pilot who had shown us the area the month before. It was another hot day (of course) but it turned out to be a lot more unstable than the previous day. In retrospect I could have benefited from an earlier start! All my immediate competitors had night passes so there was no way I could beat Manual (GER4, who started near me but took a more standard line


while I went east), Ferdy (NED, he finished that morning after walking non-stop through the night) or Gavin (USA2, he finished that afternoon after using his second night pass) unless I flew all the way and landed very close to Monaco and they didn’t. As Honza (USA1) later commented, “You can’t brute force your way through the race, you have to think your way through.” I took off and was immediately climbing at five metres per second in the dry arid Southern French Alps. I had a good run down the familiar Tinée valley and wanting to avoid the valley winds I eyed up the remote Rocky Mountains on the Italian border. They were great but soon enough I reached the maritime air mass with a corresponding drop in altitude, and what’s more, high cloud crept in front of the sun. I landed high, hoping it would quickly drift away. There was one last ridge to cross, followed by a valley that led to Sospel, which I knew was within striking distance of Monaco. I could have glided over to a doubtful landing in the scrub and bashed my way through the bush but, in the end, it would not have been any faster than waiting and flying again. Even though the lift was weak I still made the crossing, landing at roughly the same height as I had launched, followed by a quick walk to the next saddle. In the direction of Monaco, I saw a maze of rocky hills with some landings scattered around if you were an optimist. Surprisingly, there was no sea breeze whatsoever but instead a northerly blowing, which helped my launch. I took a long glide, updating my landing spot whenever I saw an opportunity to go a little higher. Landing below a pass I packed up as fast as I could and started walking. It was now after 8pm and

with another flight I had a chance of making Monaco that night. Manual had crash-landed into some trees breaking his tracker, but with his night pass activated he would probably still manage to reach Monaco that day. Unsurprisingly, there were no more launch possibilities to be seen and unfortunately, Monaco was just out of reach. Feeling in top physical condition I ran down some tracks using every last minute in the day. At 10:28pm, running along with my head lamp on, I suddenly stopped, only a few hundred metres away from my intended camp. The hillside had dropped away! I looked around for a route down but it seemed impossible to cross even for a mountain goat. Retracing my steps, I quickly found an alternate track and found my stopping point in time for the 10:30pm curfew.

Day 12: Finish in Monaco Just as I had enjoyed the sunset the night before, I enjoyed the sunrise while I wandered through the

rocky hills towards Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea. It was nice to get a friendly hello on the road from the race director, before getting lost at the golf course within a kilometre of my goal. Finally I romped in, Louis handing me the infamous jandals although I insisted that the (perhaps embarrassing) 12 euro runners get their share of the attention. Dan and Louis had thought of everything – they handed me a bottle of cold bubbly beer – and we enjoyed the cool of the sunrise before the heat of the day. Arriving in Monaco from the air is a magical way to finish. I would have hated to have to drive there from the mountains, but there were still mixed feelings at the race being over. Finally, it was time for the ceremonial flight down to the raft, and the main thing on my mind was trying to avoid exposing my gear to salt water! What was really great though was all the enthusiastic support from our followers, and a great feeling amongst the team for having come back from the dead


after the early elimination days and having put on a good show. Would I do X-Alps again? It was fun, so why not? The race itself was an amazing adventure and everything I’d hoped for but the real challenge is the preparation. Many people helped out, especially Louis, my official supporter, who had dedicated months of his life to this event. I think it’s important to keep a balance in life and keep a perspective on why we do what we do. So, rather than be fanatical about it, I’d just like to stay focused on having fun. Nick Neynens has been actively exploring the world, hiking and flying (vol biv) since he learnt to fly in 2007. He has travelled and flown in many locations, but always looks forward to returning to New Zealand's Southern Alps for its untouched rugged beauty. www.sharemyjoys.wordpress.com www.kiwiparagliding.co.nz F www.facebook.com/sharemyjoys

THE GRAPE WILD WEST WORDS: Annabelle Latz IMAGES: James Callahan and supplied LOCATION: United States of America


Image: Annabelle Latz

Image: James Bartle

Image: James Bartle

Image: James Bartle

When a Kiwi thinks of Arizona, images of cowboy hats, dirt roads, pick-up trucks, heat, canyons, and huge expanses of land come to mind. And correctly so. But add to that mix vineyards, wineries, green rolling hills and creeks, and the picture of this South-West state is complete. DOWN IN SOUTHERN Arizona lies Kansas Settlement, featuring a sleepy town called Willcox, about an hour from the Mexican border and 80 miles east of Tucson; my home for a nine-week grape harvest in 2015. The wine industry in Arizona began in the 1970s, with a huge increase in production in the past 12 years or so. Members of this industry are still finding their feet, working alongside pecan, pistachio, cotton, beef, dairy, fruit and crop farmers. Flying out of New Zealand at the end of July into Phoenix provided me with a temperature increase of about 50 degrees Celsius, as I left behind subzero temperatures of the South Island and landed in temperatures where the mercury sat somewhere between 40 and 45 degrees.

I was neither surprised nor disappointed with my first images of the Wild West; a main highway called Wild Horse Pass, dust devils (like mini tornadoes) in the distance and lots of massive cacti. I had the privilege of staying on a small ranch just outside of Phoenix for a couple of days, where I learned the vital Wild West rules like always checking your shoes for spiders before putting them on, and to ‘stop’ if I hear a rattle snake. A quick road trip north with winemaker James Callahan who I would be working the harvest with, involved him showing me the Verde Valley; a winemaking region amidst green rolling hills and creeks. It was then southbound to the winery and vineyard, owned by Sam Pillsbury who works hard to produce


fabulous grapes with James, where they collectively make the wine for Pillsbury Wine Company and also for his own label Rune Wines. James, Sam and I all lived in the house on the property, our hub of rest, laughter, friends, food and wine. Sitting at an altitude of just below 5,000 feet, thankfully things were a little cooler down south with days sitting on average around 35-40 degrees Celsius. But add acclimatising to those temperatures into the mix of receiving bins of grapes to be conveyed into the press (which often involved getting into the press to stomp down the last half tonne so it fits in), filling barrels with white grape juice, or filling big square plastic bins with red grapes and juice. We were also busy filtering last year’s wine for bottling, cleaning

all winemaking equipment after each use and timing everything right with the encroaching monsoon that will promise a savage dumping of rain in a very short space of time, partnered with lightning, thunder and sometimes hail. It all made for very full on hot days. As country music from the local radio stations blared out of the radio speakers, we harvested our chardonnay, viognier, malvasia bianca, syrah, petite sirah, grenache and mourvedre for nine weeks straight. Seven days a week, 15 hours a day, we took the sweet grapes and gently coaxed them along to ferment. We grafted like I’ve never grafted before. Press doors were heavy and had to be lifted and pulled, big bins of grapes had to be dragged and shunted from A to B, barrels had to be constantly filled and emptied and cleaned, red grape skins were plunged day and night and hosing down

equipment and floors was essential to keep flies and various bugs to a minimum during the heat of the day. The skies forever changed; whether it was a bright red sunset, an encroaching dark monsoon, or the mountains silhouetted against the morning sky, it never became boring to watch. Owls would hoot and coyotes howled, mounds of dirt would appear overnight as gopher snakes left their mark, cheeky road runners would sprint across dirt tracks and jack rabbits with their huge ears would hop around near my feet on my morning runs. Shamelessly cute road names like Dreamcatcher, Blue Sky, Flying Leap and Singing Arrow surrounded us, where pick-up trucks driven by cowboys with massive hats would burn up and down every day. The grapes would roll in at day break,


thanks to a very hard working crew of Mexican vineyard workers, some of whom became great mates during my stay. Needless to say, days were long and hot, we worked hard, and it was often 10pm or later before we dragged ourselves inside. But despite all the moments when fatigue caused tears and the heat created exhaustion, I wouldn’t opt for my Wild West winemaking experience to be any other way. I was amongst a pioneering bunch of wine industry members who have collectively embraced Arizona’s raw, rugged way of life, developing rules and creating methods as they grasp the ways of the desert culture including society and mother nature. It’s the funny moments amidst the chaos that are never forgotten. I vividly remember standing knee-deep in viognier grapes in the top of the

The canyon walls would change from ‘red to orange depending on the water, light and time of day.’ press, when a big pickup truck arrived hauling giant straw bales. The previous day we had all agreed it would be nice to have a swimming pool. Two hours later we had just that; the exterior made of straw bales, the floor and sides made of tarpaulin. This is the Wild West after all! We maximised our leisure time with as much integrity as we did our time crushing grapes. The occasional shorter day in the cellar we would grab with both hands and head for the nearest mountain range or canyon for a halfday outdoor adventure. Nearby were the Chiricahua Mountains, such a treat with creek walks, bush, cabins, bears, deer and a view of New Mexico. Mount Graham provided us with the Wet Canyon, pine trees, more trickling creeks and a couple of Pepsi cans from the 1970s, which we spied lying next to some rocks.

At the end of harvest, with the vines stripped of their grapes and all wine tucked safely away in barrels, James and I took off from the cellar for a few days of outdoor fun. With the boat on the back and his pick-up truck full to the brim of camping gear and food, we headed up to Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River, which lies above the Grand Canyon, the very north end of Arizona straddling Utah. I’ve never visited another planet, but exploring the winding canyons of Lake Powell is the closest I have ever come to feeling like I was. The canyon walls would change from red to orange depending on the water, light and time of day, some overlapping to form a giant cave at the top of a canyon where we’d hunker down for the night, setting up camp with a dwarfed semi-permanent sense of reality, while toasting marshmallows and drinking syrah.


We’d cast a fishing line in now and again, stop and collect dry wood from random beaches, which we’d lug onto the boat in any shape and form that would work. Waving at house boats, stopping for ice-cream and petrol at a refuelling station out in the middle of nowhere, or going for an early morning jog across the stateline to Utah – they were a fabulous few days experiencing something of nature I have never clapped eyes on before. Annabelle Latz is a writer and communications specialist who gets such a buzz from putting pen to paper and scribing about all things outdoors; from farming and grapes, to sport and adventure, and the entire tapestry of people and landscapes in between. t www.twitter.com/AnnabelleLatz



A trip should never start with a question... it should start with a lot of them. Strangely, contradictions increase my desire for adventure. When I thought about travelling to Verbier, Switzerland, I never imagined I would touch the ground in the autumn season when weather becomes uncertain and the mountains start becoming white, even though skiing is my strongest point. I also wouldn’t imagine that it would be the best time to explore some of the best singletrack right in the middle of Europe and realise that there’s never a bad day in Verbier. AS A MOUNTAIN biker I’m always searching for the next big adventure, anywhere in the world. Ten years ago I did my first mountain bike trip to Portes du Soleil in France, and since then my hunger for new trails and countries has only increased. I define this passion as a personal fascination with breaking down boundaries and adding another country to the bucket list; the bike is just the way I do it. When I arrived at Geneva airport with my ‘rides-way-better-than-me-friend’, Rui, I was excited to cross the border to Switzerland. We’d be sharing Bike Verbier chalet with other guests, all from the United Kingdom, which directly translates into good times on the trails, lifts and pubs. “Is it your

first time here?” I ask Steve, one of the British guys. He smiles back at me, “Actually, it’s my eighth time.” What the hell makes this guy come back to Verbier for eight years straight? I ask myself after being a bit caught offguard by his response. “What keeps you coming back?” Again he smiles, “We’ll talk at the end of the week” he says. “Shoes off boys, socks and bare feet inside the chalet please” says Lucy, Bike Verbier owner, welcoming us with three kisses, ‘French style’ as she says. Sixteen years ago Lucy visited the Verbier region during the winter holidays and ended up falling in love with Phil, her boyfriend and business partner. We soon understand that they complement each other. Lucy is the


true organiser but Phil... well, “He’s just like working with a naughty kid at school”, says James, one of the guides. Even so, that’s what makes it special during breakfast, uplifts and some serious singletrack delightfulness. All paths lead to the front yard garden where mountains emerge massively in front of the chalet. I feel small in the middle of these mountains but I feel freedom as well. A round and just baked cake is on top of a huge kitchen table. “Is that all for us Lucy? We have some pedalling tomorrow,” she smiles and cuts a big slice of fluffy blueberry highly-calorific cake for me and Rui. I’ve never felt so welcome. After riding pretty much the whole

time on Verbier, my mind couldn’t forget the high mountains on the other side, filled with fresh snow and red bushes. No bike parks, one or two fire roads and a couple of little houses makes it the complete opposite of the Verbier surface. “Can we go to that side?” I ask Phil during our first day while reaching the top of Verbier Bike Park. “Of course! It’s called Col du Mille and it's quite epic... if you feel that you want to go on an adventure!” says Phil pointing and explaining every bit of the trail at long distance range. He clearly knows the area like a dog knows his owner, but I can’t honestly distinguish the singletrack at that distance. I nod positively when he says that it’s better just to go there and let us experience it. I was definitely feeling the need to get a bit lost in Switzerland and I couldn’t sleep well the night before climbing up Col du Mille. Big baguette, extra chocolate bar, two bananas and two litres of water... and a ‘small’ slice of

blueberry cake from the day before don’t leave much space in my backpack. Of course I also have to pack all my photo gear. “Civilisation ends here, adventure starts now boys,” says Phil putting some rhythm up the fire road, clearly over excited to ride these trail once more. The uphill is mostly open fire road, zigzagging around old barns with no one in sight. The climb starts around 1,600 metres high and goes up to 2,500 metres with a perfect mix of pedalling and hike-a-bike, not directly straight to the top. The riding also leaves us breathless with each new step, making our bodies struggle. Reaching 2,000 metres altitude we come to an intersection, a transition between large fire road to singletrack wonderland above Etiez. Up and down it goes in blueberry territory. Right, left, right, left, left. There’s never a 90 degree corner where you need to slow down or almost stop, instead there’s enough flow to keep you on pace on the uphill sections and maintaining


speed on the downhill. Of course, all of this makes your breathing even more intense and your heart beat out of its comfort zone. I feel the need to ride this trail without stopping but I also feel the need to slow down, look around and look up to the next 500 metres of hike-a-bike to the top of Col du Mille Cabane. “Is that where we’re going Phil?” I ask. “Yes and I promise you a hot cup of coffee when we arrive on top,” he answers. With a pocket full of wild delicious blueberries, I manage to find the perfect balance on the next hike-a-bike section; one hand on the crank-set and the other hand just doing ‘pocket-to-mouth’ movements. As everyone knows, blueberries help reduce muscle damage after strenuous exercise and help in improving memory, two things that I surely need for the next day of riding and for the years to come. Riding this flat singletrack, the epic traverse gets even more special when we find a couple of horses trotting at a fast pace. They stop by our side on the edge of

the singletrack, smelling our clothes, backpacks and bicycles. After two minutes of patting them, the curious horses proceed on their way, running freely in the same singletrack, not looking back. As we arrive at the very windy and super-cold Col du Mille peak, I start pedalling faster and faster to get the well-deserved coffee that Phil promised me, only to realise that the hut closed the day before for winter season maintenance, a week earlier than usual. I just lie on the floor in foetal position, smashing a handful of fruit that is still in my pocket. Damn! The wind cut my skin and lips, as autumn changes to the winter season. “I can’t feel my hands but I love it”, sings Rui in a very low shivering tone, which makes it super-hilarious. Warming up our hands becomes a new mission for everyone before dropping the 1,800 metre descent to Liddes.

When you go for a normal weekend ride, freedom is merely an illusion. You have to get home on time for something; take the kids to piano lessons, or attend a boring corporate lunch. Starting from there, your ride is already compromised by your dayto-day responsibilities, scheduling and planning. Freedom is truly an illusion. As I set off pedalling behind Phil and Rui I understand what really frees the mind. I don’t really know where I’m going, how much uphill or downhill I’ll cover on my tired legs... I don’t really care. I just get my head up, breath the thin air at 2,500 metres high, and follow the only way back to the bottom of the valley: a singletrack. Natural features, huge ridges and gorgeous landscape make the riding unique and worth the uphill struggle. My hands are not cold anymore but I have loads of moments when I just can’t handle the bars. My legs are tired. My eyes are crying due to


excess of speed (I don’t want to be too emotional); but my heart is filled with joy once again. This kind of experience simply increases my passion and desire for adventure because, in the end, I’m just looking for freedom in these colossal mountains. I understand now why Steve comes back every single year to ride in Verbier. António Abreu was born to live in the mountains. He’s always searching for the ultimate adventure, surrounded by his friends, camera, notebook and bicycle. Writing, photographing, filming, riding; it’s simply the way he finds happiness. www.youtube.com/extremebiker F www.facebook.com/themadproductions www.instagram.com/madproductions

MOROCCAN STRUDEL RECIPE: Borana Lodge IMAGES: Hollie Woodhouse

Borana Lodge is famous for their bush brunch. After waking early to watch the animals on their morning game drive, guests are driven to a magical location under Acacia trees where they are served a full cooked breakfast while watching wildlife. This Moroccan Butternut Strudel is always a favourite. 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1/4 pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded, chopped in 1cm-sized chunks (about 4 cups) 2 teaspoons ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon turmeric 390g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 cup hot vegetable stock 2 teaspoons honey 2 tablespoons chopped coriander 9 sheets filo pastry Cooking oil spray 1 tablespoon sesame seeds 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and gently fry for five minutes. 2. Add pumpkin and fry for five minutes until softened. Stir in the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, then add chickpeas, tomato paste and stock. Cook for three or four minutes until thickened. Add honey and fresh coriander. Take off heat and set aside to cool. 3. Lay one sheet of filo pastry on a board and spray with oil. Top with six more sheets, spraying in between. Spoon the vegetable mixture along the centre of the pastry lengthways. Fold the short edges in and long edges over filling, spraying with oil to stick. Spray the top of the strudel. Scrunch up one sheet of filo and lay along the top. Repeat with one more sheet on top. Spray well with oil and sprinkle with sesame and sunflower seeds. Transfer to a baking tray. 4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and crisp and serve with mixed green salad. Makes: 6 servings Time: 45 minutes

Borana is one of East Africa’s original fully-hosted, family-owned eco-lodges. Located on the Laikipia Plateau with snow-tipped peaks and the glaciers of Mount Kenya to the south and a panorama of mountains and desert to the north, Borana provides an idyllic setting for any African experience. www.borana.co.ke F www.facebook.com/boranaconservancy www.instagram.com/boranalodge


EVERESTMAX WORDS: Dom Faulkner IMAGES: Supplied LOCATION: Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal


Ten years after the EVERESTMAX team completed a world first, expedition leader Dom Faulkner reflects on their achievement. Dom’s book ‘The Longest Climb’ offers a full account of the expedition. The book was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker prize in 2007. I’M ALWAYS CURIOUS when people say they’ve climbed a mountain. What do they mean exactly and from where did they start? It seems to me that we’re very quick to quote the height of a summit above sea level but when it comes to climbing it from that same reference we’re not quite so keen. On the north side of Mt Everest climbers will arrive in air-conditioned Land Cruisers to basecamp at 5,000 metres. Obviously the challenging climbing is still to come but you can’t deny that half the mountain has already been ascended. My view might be that of the purist, but it was this idealism that led to me standing on the shores of the Dead Sea just over ten years ago.  Actually our small team of five had decided that even sea level wasn’t enough, we simply had to go to the lowest point on the Earth’s surface. So here we were some 420 metres below sea level – our aim to make the first full ascent of Everest – a total climb of 9,270 metres.  I had been planning the expedition for several years since an earlier attempt on the mountain had partially blinded me with high altitude retinal haemorrhages. I was forced to retire and learn a painful lesson about the perils of climbing at these heights. Finding a team for this new venture hadn’t been easy and, although my new found colleagues shared my determination to carry it through, we were very inexperienced indeed. Jamie and Sarah, the two youngest members of the team had never even been to the

Himalayas, let alone Everest. However, the mountain seemed a very long way off as we lined up with the back wheels of our bicycles dipped into the salty water. Ahead of us lay a gruelling 8,000 kilometre cycle journey through some of the world’s most challenging terrain and politics. I wasn’t alone in thinking that if we even made it to the mountain we would have done pretty well. It only took us two days to get out of Jordan but even that wasn’t easy. A 1,200 metre ascent the first day was a brutal way to start, not helped by having to dodge the stone throwing efforts of the local children. We were soon crossing the border into Syria, something that would be unthinkable now. It saddens me to wonder what happened to all the kindness we encountered in this beautiful country, although even ten years ago it was obvious that its people were under duress. There was an undeniable tension everywhere we went, from the nervous hotel owners to the twitchy waiters in restaurants. This is the fear that a cruel dictatorship imposes and it was my greatest wish that Syria was about to make a change for the better. Sadly, I was wrong and I think now I will be lucky to visit again in my lifetime. We crossed the empty desert of the north, witnessing the majesty of Palmyra, formerly the eastern edge of the Roman empire and now controlled by ISIS. At the oasis town of Deir Ezzor we came to the first of our major rivers, the Euphrates. Soon after we were picked up by the security


police. They allowed us to continue but shadowed us all the way as we cycled the remaining three days to the Turkish border. The arrival of the first mountains in remote eastern Turkey were a cruel wake-up call. Where only a week earlier we had been in desert, the temperature plummeted and we found ourselves battling ice and driving winds as we crossed the Tigris. Just south of Mount Ararat we crossed into Iran and although the fierce weather continued we at last turned to the south. Iranian roads were well made and we started to push out the miles; just as well as we had 28 days to cross a country five times the size of France. Everywhere we stopped in Iran we were assured of a warm welcome and offers of food and a bed for the night. Of all the countries en route, this was the most welcoming. I will be sure to return and with Iran finally opening up there are a wealth of travel opportunities.  With mere hours left on our visa we crossed into a very tense Pakistan. The cities were in turmoil after the Danish press had published cartoons mocking Mohammed. With our safety at risk we raced across the Balochistan desert just a few kilometres south of Helmand, where fierce fighting was taking place against the Taliban. It wasn’t just politics that Pakistan threw at us. Our tent was flooded out, we were hit by a desert sandstorm and then arrested for coming too close to a nuclear facility. That aside, the Pakistani officials were committed to our cause

and despite every obstacle there was always help at hand. Depressingly we crossed the Indus River just 50 metres above sea level before entering India at the holy city of Amritsar and the Sikh Golden Temple. Here the frenetic pace seemed to melt away and we all visibly relaxed knowing that the complex politics of the Islamic world was now behind us. On expeditions of this length the next problem is never far away. In India it was the traffic. With small roads and little care for cyclists we played a dangerous game, all too aware that the simplest of accidents could bring a premature end to the expedition. With so little ascent to our credit after several thousand kilometres we knew there was a sting in the tail. It began after crossing the Ganges and in the beautiful forested foothills of Nepal as we

climbed relentlessly, winding our way through beautiful landscapes towards the border with Tibet. Here the gradient increased mercilessly and before long we found ourselves cycling at 5,000 metres across the Tibetan plateau. After three months our fitness wasn’t in doubt, but we had grown complacent. In Tibet our mileage was less than a third of what we had achieved at lower altitudes. Angry, dust laden winds blighted our progress and we finally collapsed into basecamp, already low on reserves and utterly exhausted. Although we were on one long expedition it felt like a second one was beginning. There was little time to switch focus but with additional team members joining us from the UK their infectious enthusiasm helped to lift our spirits. Within a few days we began the agonising first walk up to ABC


(Advanced Basecamp) at 6,400 metres, a total distance of 22 kilometres. A train of yaks carried our gear for the higher altitudes as we struggled for every breath and made pitiful progress. The north side of Everest is a massive exercise in stamina. We made this walk several times as each foray onto the mountain necessitated retreating all the way back to basecamp at 5,100 metres. It was only at this lower altitude that we stood any chance of finding an appetite and rebuilding our strength. With the help of our three Sherpas it took six weeks to establish three camps on the mountain, the highest at 8,000 metres and the edge of the Death Zone. We then played a waiting game while the jet stream winds continued to batter the summit. Worse was to come. Although there was no collective tragedy, 2006 was to go down as one of the deadliest on Everest. At least 13 climbers died, many

of them on our side of the mountain including the well-documented case of Briton David Sharpe who died alone on the North Ridge. When our turn came for a summit bid I was accompanied by Jamie and Sarah who had been with me since the Dead Sea. We were joined by our team doctor, Andrew Sutherland. Our small team of four was soon met with setbacks. Just below the North Col we found stranded Canadian climber Vince Waters. His rescue cost us dearly in terms of oxygen supplies as well as energy. Then came the news we had been dreading. A colleague of ours, French climber Jacques Letrange had reached the top but perished just below the summit as he began his descent. His wife Caroline had been in ABC awaiting his return. On the radio Caroline asked that if we found Jacque’s body we might try and retrieve

his wedding ring, which he wore round his neck. It was a surreal end to a journey that had lasted six months. I had begun with visions of completing a first and standing on the summit triumphant – a competitive approach that I now see as naive. In some ways it was fitting that the last few days of the expedition were cruel emotionally. I was reminded that there was no pride to be taken in ascending a mountain, irrespective of the journey there. Jacques was a better and more experienced climber than me and he was as unlucky as I was lucky. When I stood on the summit on the 21st May 2006 and completed the journey I found myself choking back tears – tears of relief, confusion, sadness and happiness; a heady blend that remains with me to this day. Dom, Jamie and Andrew made the


summit and retrieved Jacques’ wedding ring from his body. Sarah and Nic didn’t make it to the summit but Pauline did with her husband. Gerry Winkler, an Austrian climber also completed the Longest Climb the same season. Together with the three members of EVERESTMAX they are the only four people to have made the journey to this day. Dom Faulkner is an acclaimed adventurer, writer, photographer and speaker. He is best known for his leadership of EVERESTMAX, one of the most ambitious and successful British expeditions in decades and the first to achieve the last great overland challenge. www.domfaulkner.com t www.twitter.com/FaulknerDominic



Sometimes, the places that hold the most meaningful moments are the ones you don’t plan to go to. The unexpected encounters with people, cultures and hidden places are truly what makes an adventure. LAST YEAR, I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful Mexican state of Michoacán. Considered one of the richest states in the nation with the highest number of magic villages (magic villages are recognised communities that still hold authentic Mexican heritage and culture in their practices), Michoacán is full of colour and culture. While many believe that Mexico is either a very civilised society with busy highways and crowded streets or a barren, dry landscape with little opportunity; the real Mexico consists of people very much in

touch with their roots, traditions and beliefs. I was baffled to realise that you can still find untouched villages with doors open to foreigners from all over the world, and experience authentic language and culture; both in dry and luscious terrains. My adventure took me to a village called Parangaricutirimicuaro. Yes, a tongue twister all right, this is the Mexican village with the longest name. Did I also mention it holds one of the world’s natural wonders? A hidden gem of natural beauty that makes for the ultimate adventure!


On the 12th of May 1944, people of Parangaricutirimicuaro left their homes, food and cattle behind as they witnessed their village being engulfed by lava. The volcanic eruption of the young volcano Paricutín transformed their green and flourishing village into a black uninhabitable terrain. Miraculously, what remained was the main cathedral’s tower and altar, which protrude out of the lava boulders and can still be explored today. It has been marked as one of nature’s miracles and praised as the village that refuses to die.

is what you’d call a true authentic ‘This adventure in the heart of a village. ’ My curiosity led me to a small group of locals who have relocated near the cathedral. I was amazed that even though these people were only two hours away from civilisation, technology and well-established facilities, they had decided to remain in their rural, untouched, and green lands. It was a blast from the past as the women greeted us in their ancient tongue, which not even us Spanishspeaking Mexicans could understand. They not only hosted us with so much pride and generosity but they couldn’t wait for us to try their handmade purple quesadillas and show us their

brilliant rudimentary way of cooking. This is what you’d call a true authentic adventure in the heart of a village. What followed was the icing on the cake; a steep hike through lava boulders to the cathedral. Highlights were the 360 degree uninterrupted panoramic views and the complete silence. The location has been preserved as a National Heritage site and shies away from any touristic development. The fact that it has been preserved with so much care and respect both by locals and tourists alike, reflects the resonance and deep spiritual essence of this place. The volcanic event and what has


transpired since have become a pillar of faith for the villagers and a symbol to the world of the connection between people and nature, which proves it can never be broken. Pia Bacino is an independent filmmaker, photographer and illustrator who is about creatively exposing meaningful stories and connecting people through art and adventure. www.youtube.com/channel/ UCGD0lHKM3lxgwp4iDv6Bn4w/featured www.instagram.com/piabacino t www.twitter.com/PiaBacino




The thought of travelling to Africa and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro first came to me when I was about ten years of age. I remember being given a poster with African animals; lion, elephant, giraffe etc. It was a beautiful landscape of the African savannah and in the background of the image, towering over everything else, was Mt Kilimanjaro. I remember thinking “wouldn’t it be great to stand on that peak”, and subconsciously I set myself a goal to get there. IT WASN’T UNTIL 20 years later that this goal started to come into fruition. Africa had always been high on my travel list and when a couple of friends mentioned that they were planning a trip I was quick to jump on board. Although they were focusing on the safaris and wildlife, I made sure climbing Kilimanjaro was on my itinerary. Flying from New Zealand to any country is a bit of a journey in itself and central Africa is certainly no exception. After 36 hours of airports and plane food I landed in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, a little weary. Once I made it through the Ebola checks it was straight to the hotel for a nap. From Nairobi I joined up with a

group of travellers and jumped in an overland truck. We headed straight through Kenya into Uganda in search of mountain gorillas. Often called the ‘Pearl’ or ‘Bread Basket’ of Africa, due to its fertile soil and lush vegetation, I found Uganda to be an incredible place. The people were friendly, the landscapes were beautiful and we were fortunate enough to see chimpanzees as well as a family of mountain gorillas. One of the great things about the trek is that they limit group size to eight people and each group will follow one family of gorillas. We walked about three hours through the jungle to find our family, but once we found them it was an unforgettable experience. The silverback wasn’t overly amused by


our presence, knocking over trees and beating his fists on his chest. I like to think he was a little intimidated by me, but considering his fingers were a similar size to my arms, this is most likely not the case. After some whitewater kayaking on grade five rapids of the White Nile it was time to head back to Kenya. We took in a couple of safaris and were fortunate to see a lot of the wildlife you expect in Africa. On New Year’s morning a couple of us got up early to photograph the hippos on Lake Naivasha. One of the hippos didn’t appreciate being woken up and charged us in our little boat. After hearing how hippos are the most dangerous mammal in the world and can break

it more quickly meant there ‘Doing were no rest days, which puts a little bit of pressure on the body to adjust to the altitude .’

your back with a snap of their jaw, there was definitely a brief moment where my life flashed before my eyes. Just as well our driver was onto it! Tanzania was next on the agenda and much to our relief the roads were a lot better than the pot-holed dirt we had encountered in Kenya. We spent four days driving through the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater, watching the wildlife roam free in their natural environment. As well as the usual zebras, giraffes, warthogs and the rest of the cast from The Lion King, people put a lot of emphasis on seeing the Big Five. These animals, traditionally hunted for trophies, include lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard. We finished our tour on the historical and beautiful island of Zanzibar. A stone town, it was once the hub of East Africa’s slave trade, and it was a very humbling experience to see the conditions in which they were kept. I embraced the local markets a little too much and managed to get food poisoning from some dodgy fish. Our next day we were going diving and the conditions were rough. Fortunately, I was able to feed a lot of fish, which cleaned out my system quite nicely. Finally, it was time for Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t feeling overly confident as I jumped on the plane, as a combination of active travel, food poisoning and too much partying had left me rather jaded. The thought of climbing an almost 6,000-metre mountain seemed a big ask. Arriving at the base of the mountain brought about some new motivation.

Remembering how long I had been thinking about climbing this mountain, I just kept telling myself that the hardest part was getting there. You must climb with a guide and it is highly recommended that you have porters and a cook. I had a team of five who were outstanding. I also hired a lot of the equipment I needed, as I didn’t want to carry it around with me on my earlier travels. Perhaps the most crucial items were my trekking poles, which definitely saved me on the descent by taking a lot of the impact away from my knees. There are many different routes used on Kilimanjaro. I chose to do the Marangu route as it meant being able to stay in huts. I also chose to do it over five days as I was short on time. Doing it more quickly meant there were no rest days, which puts a little bit of pressure on the body to adjust to the altitude. The first day was quite easy; we started from the gate at 1,700 metres and walked the first seven kilometres up to our first hut, the Mandara (2,740 metres). This took us almost three hours, but can take a bit longer depending on how you feel. Because I had two porters carrying most of my gear and food I only had to carry a small day pack, which included my camera, snacks and wet weather gear. This made the walking very enjoyable and I arrived at the camp feeling great. One of the advantages of having a chef with you is not having to cook your own meals. I felt guilty letting my team do all the work, but it gave me a lot of spare time to read and enjoy the experience. Chapattis, rice, and soup


were common items on the menu and they were just the thing needed to reenergise for the next day. The following two days of hiking I found relatively easy. We worked our way up 11 kilometres to Horombo Hut (3,700 metres) followed by another ten kilometres to Kibo Hut (4,700 metres). Around 15,000 people climb Kilimanjaro each year, so we were always bumping into other people to chat to. There was a group of us with the same schedule, so even though we didn’t walk together, we would meet up at the huts at the end of the day and share stories of our experiences. By the time I arrived at Kibo I was starting to feel the effects of altitude. I was taking Diamox tablets, which seemed to be helping, but I was definitely finding it harder to breathe. Some people who arrived at Kibo hut were looking a lot worse for wear, so I was grateful that I was still feeling relatively strong. We were getting up at 1am to summit the next morning, so I headed to bed early to try and get some much-needed sleep. Unfortunately, due to the altitude and the fact that there were ten other people also staying in my room, I found it impossible to sleep. I was glad when 1am arrived and I could get up and on the move. At this altitude and in the middle of the night the temperature varies from -20 to five degrees Celsius. It’s important to have the right gear and keep warm up here as once you get cold it’s really hard to warm up. This was made clear to me halfway towards the summit. There was a beautiful moon in the sky, so I took my gloves of

to capture it on my camera. Within a minute my fingers were frozen and for the next hour I just couldn’t get them warm again. Even wearing two pairs of gloves made no difference so I took to walking a lot of the uphill with my hands down my pants. This may have looked dodgy to passersby, but it was effective and not long after, I started to get some feeling back. Most people had started their summit bid at 12am, but I started a little later as I knew I was quite a bit faster, not wanting to get to the summit too long before sunrise. It was an amazing sight watching a trail of headlamps snake their way up the mountain in front of me. Aside from cold hands I was feeling good and my guide and I were moving quite fast, although he was constantly telling me ‘Pole Pole’, which means ‘slowly slowly’ in Swahili. We passed a lot of the other climbers on

the way up and perhaps I was feeling a little overconfident, but as we reached the crater rim (5,861 metres) I was feeling the full effects of the altitude. It hit me like a slap in the face, making me lethargic and queasy. There was no way I was going to turn around at this stage though so I drank as much water as I could and we carried on. The crater rim looked beautiful with the moonlight shining on it, allowing us to see the full extent of Kilimanjaro’s size. In the distance I could see Uhuru Peak (5,895 metres), the top, so now it was just a matter of traversing around and keeping on going. The altitude was making what would have been quite easy an easy trek, something that was now quite hard work. We arrived at Stella Point, which is where many of the other tracks converge. I looked down behind me and saw a long line of climbers coming up. I was glad to


be ahead of them as the summit was looking very uncrowded. The last section seemed to take forever and my pace had slowed considerably. After finally spotting the famous sign of Uhuru Peak I knew I had it in the bag, and a massive sense of accomplishment came over me as took the last few steps to the top. We arrived at the summit at 6am, timing it perfectly as the sun was just about to rise. Feeling the rays hit my face after battling a cold night was a very pleasant feeling. After some high fives and a bit of yahooing, I took a bunch of photos at the top with my guide. There was a slight moment of panic as my camera battery went flat due to temperature, but after listening to some advice from a friend before I left I had packed some spare batteries just in case.

We spent the next 20 minutes on the top taking it all in before starting the journey back down, passing the majority of the climbers who were still making their way up. People were in a variety of states, some looking a lot worse than others. I gave a dehydrated climber a bottle of water as he was looking terrible, but what I didn’t realise was that in my other drink bottle was tea. Because my stomach was feeling crook I couldn’t drink any of the tea so I too started to get dehydrated on the way down. We managed to get back down to Kibo hut in two hours. Thankfully there was some scree that I was able to run down and by the time I got to the hut I was exhausted and had a raging headache. I told my guide I was going to have a sleep but when I lay down my head was exploding, so there was no way I was going to get any rest. After an

hour I gave up and got up to have some breakfast, which had been cooked for me. It looked delicious but I just couldn’t stomach it, my appetite long gone along with my coordination. My guide, seeing how uncomfortable I was, decided we should head down to lower altitude. I went to pack up my gear but even the simple task of doing up the zip on my bag was too much for me. I felt completely helpless, so was happy to be finally moving and I could focus on the simple task of walking. Within half an hour I started to feel better and by the time we got down to the rich oxygen levels of Horombo hut I was back to feeling myself again. A big meal and a decent sleep in the hut meant I regained enough energy to walk off the mountain the next day. I studied Outdoor Education at


university and one thing I remember is that for people to have these lifechanging experiences, there has to be the right amount of risk and challenge. Too much and people become scared and unsafe, too little and they get bored. For me, Kilimanjaro seemed to have the perfect mix. I was really pushed at the summit and definitely felt like it took me outside my comfort zone, but because of this I felt a massive sense of achievement and pride. It also gave my travel a sense of purpose and I left the continent feeling I had achieved everything I wanted to. Dan Cullen is a Kiwi who works as an Operations Manager for an adventure travel company. He loves to compete in multisport and adventure racers and grabs every opportunity to explore new places. www.instagram.com/dannocullen



Cold rain drenched down on us, rebounding off the rock walls. With cold steel in our hands and slick rock underfoot we made our way back down chossy gullies, rock steps and cliffs, rickety metal ladders and rungs. Down. Down to the scree slopes tumbling into the steep alpine meadows below. CLIPPED INTO HUNDREDS of metres of steel cable at 2,400 metres on an exposed mountainside is not the place to be in a thunderstorm. So when the second ominous rumble of thunder rolled and split through the clouds from a close but indistinguishable location, it didn’t take long before Elsy and I exchanged a charged look and we voiced our thoughts. Both having past experience in managing staff and clients in thunderstorm-prone environments, we had a healthy respect for rumbling skies. “Let’s call it a day.” It was time to get ourselves someplace less vulnerable. In others words, down. Fast. And so it was, we began our precarious way back down the via ferrata (path) with the warm sunshine of the morning’s ascent a distant memory in

the rolling mist with the occasional clap of thunder hounding us.

unsettled. Just how unsettled? We were about the find out.

Just like that, with an expected fivehour journey turning into a ninehour mission, our adventures and misadventures in the Italian Dolomites had begun!

We picked out a short and relatively easy trip close to home to warm ourselves and work out exactly what this via ferrata business was all about.

We’d arrived in the Dolomites only a few days earlier after working a short but hot summer season in central Italy, making our base in a small town right in the heart of the mountains between Bolzano and Cortina d’Ampezzo. The first couple of days were spent gathering information on via ferrata in the area and coming up with a game plan. With the help of some very friendly locals we established that some of the routes were still too icy from a hard winter and that the weather outlook for our stay did indeed look


The day had begun by winding up through tiny, isolated alpine hamlets and the car was alive with chatter and excitement for the experience ahead. Blue sky and friendly white clouds above promised us a nice day ahead. However it wasn’t long before the buzz of excitement was replaced with the steady, head-down rhythm of the ascent. As we emerged from the densely wooded slopes into gullies and clearings we were teased by brief glimpses of views unimaginable and mountains extending layer upon towering layer into the hazy horizon.

We did our best to divide our attention between the slippery trail ahead and the enticing vistas opening up as we moved steadily up. The experience of the approach to any new adventure or pursuit can be an interesting one, often passed over in the recounting. Approaches are frequently long, tiring and a lot less exciting than what lies ahead. However, I feel that without it most adventures would simply not be the same. So, we continued; nerves, excitement, questions of the unknown above us, puffing and stomping upwards with the brooding cliffs and swirling mists hovering over us. Over the next nine days, despite a poor forecast with periods of heavy rain and thunderstorms for nearly every afternoon or evening we ticked off adventure after adventure, from via ferratas beneath waterfalls, on knife-edge ridges at 3,000 metres, to a full-day adventure bike ride with over

2,000 metres of descent on everything from high alpine singletrack to wooded 4x4 roads. Although our trip landed us in the middle of an Italian summer it pays to remember that the Dolomites are without a doubt an alpine environment and no forecast is going to be all sunshine and perfect conditions. Nor is the predicated weather set in stone, ready to run like clockwork to the whims of the keen adventurer; especially when you have only a small ten-day window to get out there and amongst it. As always the mountains will do what the mountains will do, without much regard to the small speck of humanity struggling up its slopes with plans of grandeur. Some days we left the car in near perfect conditions to end in pouring rain or just as the first dagger of lightening split the sky. Other days we set out soggy and determined to be


rewarded with patches of blue and no need for a rain jacket. Then there were days we struggled on in swirling mists and more than enough of that wet stuff from the sky. Sometimes an attitude for an adventure is needed right from the outset; a willingness to step out the door into the rain, climb 1,000 metres to turn around again, do it in miserable conditions, only to get halfway. Or maybe you’ll get up there and it’ll be brilliant. You just have to give it a nudge. Either way it will be one to remember. Ben Lees is a Kiwi currently based in BC, Canada, who has been travelling for the last four years working as an outdoor instructor. You’ll most likely find him climbing, biking, skiing or lost in the backstreets of a new city with his camera not too far from his side. www.benleesphotography.co.nz F www.facebook.com/benleesphotography www.instagram.com/benleesphotography

Image: Miles Holden

DEFYING THE ODDS WORDS: Hollie Woodhouse IMAGES: Supplied LOCATION: New Zealand


Image: Miles Holden

Image: Miles Holden

Arms overflowing with sporting equipment, we headed for the administration tent to register and check off our compulsory items required to compete in Red Bull Defiance. I nervously looked around at the fellow competitors, overwhelmed by their fit, toned bodies and wondered if we belonged with this crowd. Excited jitters were only just winning over nervous butterflies as race organisers placed a big tick next to our team name – #11 Say Yes to Adventure – which included Scott Waterman and I. Because of Scott’s young age (26, although for some reason he thinks he’s only 25), it meant our average age was under 30, putting us in the ‘ Young Guns’ category. Thank you, no complaints here! WITH OUR GEAR checked off we received numbers for our paddles, bikes, bags and tops and were then handed a plastic bag with our race singlets. “One size fits all,” she told us. Really? An awkward silence followed as we both looked at her, then she laughed. So maybe we were about to prove that theory wrong. Seriously?? We had to wear these singlets that weighed a ton and almost covered my bike shorts, but were lucky if they covered Scott’s belly button. And to make matters worse, they were as wide as a bus! I’m pretty sure someone who doesn’t race in these events chose these (well I hope so anyway!). Thank goodness the following two days didn’t reach 30+ degrees; exactly what Wanaka had experienced leading up to the race. You couldn’t possibly get two more different people together if you tried – Scott is six-foot three (nicknamed the ‘human noodle’), skinny as a bean pole and with a very gentle and caring nature. Me on the other hand – fivefoot nothing, what people very kindly call ‘good power to weight ratio’ and I will admit, I don’t tend to shrink into the corner. We even swapped our 2XU compression calf sleeves we received as part of our race entry. Scott now has the small! They say opposites attract, maybe that’s why over the following two days we had an absolute blast (from my perspective anyway).

Rewind eight months – I was talking to Scott about upcoming races and asked him if Red Bull Defiance was one he’d be keen to do, and would he want to be my team-mate? A twoday multisport race, it requires two people to battle a total elevation of 5,238 metres (New Zealand’s highest mountain Mount Cook is only 3,724 metres) around Wanaka’s rugged but breathtakingly beautiful landscape. Consisting of seven punishing stages including running, kayaking, mountain biking, abseiling and claybird shooting, it covers eight private stations and DOC land, making it one of the most challenging sporting events New Zealand has to offer. It really is an event like no other, with over 70 per cent of competitors coming from off-shore. Not surprisingly Scott was instantly on board, so as we sat at my parent’s kitchen table and paid our entry fee, eight months seemed like a lifetime away. Race briefing was held at 5pm on the Friday evening, where we were told of a course change for the following day due to the predicted nor’wester. Instead of the 15-kilometre kayak into the Wanaka foreshore to finish the day, it was now cut short to five kilometres across Lake Wanaka, landing on the east side of Glendhu Bay, where we would get out and run the last 15 kilometres along the Millennium track


back into Wanaka. With nothing left to do apart from putting some food into our bellies and trying to get a good night’s sleep, we headed home in anticipation of the adventure ahead.

Day One – 43km mountain bike along Minaret Station + 9km run over Rocky Mountain, including 60m Special Stage abseil + 5km kayak over Lake Wanaka + 15km run along the Millennium Trail All too quickly 6.30am arrived and Scott and I were lining up to board the bus to take us to the barge, which would transport the competitors and their bikes across the top of Lake Wanaka to Minaret Station and the start of Day One. Kitted out in our cycling gear, we also had our kayak life jackets for the crossing and a few extra layers to keep the body warm. The nor’wester meant the lake was choppy and with rain clouds threatening overhead the nerves were starting to take over. The 40-minute trip was gone in no time and without any fussing around, 100 excited competitors sat on their bikes waiting for the starting hooter to sound. Mountain biking has never really been my thing, and I wondered if I’d pushed the boat out a little too far in this race. The first ten or so kilometres were fine, a 4WD undulating track which was completely rideable. I’d told myself I had to keep riding through the pain, and only get off a) when I fell off or

Image: Lukas Pilz

b) if Scott hopped off first. This didn’t quite work to plan; I didn’t crash but there are a few new bruises on the legs. At one point I even managed to ride further than Scott (we don’t count every other time he rode further than me). I’d also told myself that brakes were for wimps and sometimes it’s far better to just let the bike go (within reason!). So while I didn’t win any speed records, I rode all of the downhill and tried to keep the walking to a minimum. That was until we hit the river crossing, followed by one almighty uphill slog. Singletrack, mud, slippery grass and steep vertical gain. Once we finally made it onto more solid ground Scott even took my bike at one stage and pushed both of ours together (I had chosen my teammate well). I considered apologising for slowing us down, but that was going to get us nowhere, so I just sucked in more air and made sure I kept up. Just under three and a half hours later we cruised down the last section of

a singletrack, met the West Wanaka gravel road and rode into the first transition. Was I glad to leave my bike behind! In a very common theme for the weekend, we were greeted by our amazing family and friends who had come to support us, offering advice and friendly smiles just when we needed them. A quick change out of the bike gear and it was on to the first run section of the day, nine kilometres up and over Rocky Mountain, a quick 60-metre abseil down and a run back along the flat to our kayak. I had no idea what was in store on this leg and wasn’t expecting it to be so steep. I struggled to find a rhythm, not helped by both of us getting cramp (thank goodness for Cramp Stop). I was so pleased to make it to the top that I wasn’t at all nervous about the abseil, like I imagined I would have been. We had to wait at the top for the lines to become available and were stoked we both got to go down at the same time. This abseil turned out to be the


absolute highlight over both days. The nature of the race meant it was a superfast safety briefing – “Left hand here, right hand there, push the rope through here, pull the rope like this, off you go!” Right, OK, don’t look down! We both were straight over the edge with yelling and yahooing from the supporter’s club echoing in the valley below. In a flash we were at the bottom, careful not to touch the carabiners, which were now super hot, followed by a quick run/jump/leap (my legs were too short for most of the rocks!) to the bottom where we took the harnesses off. The final four kilometres left of the run along the flat to the kayak transition was great, still buzzing from the abseil and helped along by our fantastic support crew. We reached the last main transition for the day, where we pulled on life jackets and spray skirts, fuelled up with electrolytes, some Red Bull (of course!) and our own ‘Pub Lunch’ – a concoction we’d designed, which

included pork scratchings, salted cashews and tamarind almonds – exactly what you’d find on the bar at your local, with plenty of salt making it perfect for any endurance race. We both really enjoyed the kayak leg and wished we could have cruised all the way in to the finish, but instead it was a quick 30-minute trip over to the other side before pulling the packs back on and heading off to run the last leg of the day. 15 kilometres is quite a run at the best of times, 15 kilometres after a bike, run, abseil, run and kayak had my legs letting me know this wasn’t going to be a cruise into the finish. We did manage a steady pace though, helped by Scott pulling me up the hills to keep up with him! It’s always such a relief to see the finish line, crossing in a time of 07:52:16 to clapping and cheering. I was exhausted but happy. After some big hugs all around, we headed to the lake to wash the encrusted sweat off our faces and to provide some relief

to our aching muscles. I looked up behind the Wanaka township to see Mount Criffle and the Pisa Range, Mount Alpha and Mount Roy. What had I signed up for!?! Did I really want tomorrow to come?

Day Two – 20km kayak over Lake

Wanaka/Clutha River, clay bird shoot Special Stage, 28km mountain bike along the Pisa Range, 25km skyline run along Mount Alpha and Mount Roy The first stage of the day started with a 20-kilometre kayak straight off the Wanaka foreshore, around Eeley Point and down the fast-flowing Clutha River. It was raining softly but was still warm due to the nor’west, with a few waves appearing but nothing too major. We arrived fresh and ready at 6.15pm for a 6.30am start. A quick change to the pedal lengths for Scott (there was no changing mine, they were already as short as they could go!), we pulled on our spray skirts and were ready for the day ahead. To say our start was like a fine-tuned machine would be a


massive exaggeration – I forgot to put the rudder down, I couldn’t get my spray skirt on and we were beached, making take off rather slow – but we got there and quickly found ourselves cruising along at a steady pace. It was a relief to hit the river with the flow quickly increasing our speed with an uneventful but pleasant couple of hours kayaking, and I only told Scott once what line to take! Poor Scott, he did an awesome job, even with me forgetting to lock the rudder in! We pulled into the beach, quickly changing out of our kayaking gear, lifting on our packs before running a few kilometres along the river track and up the steep hill to Oxbow and the second Special Stage of the race – clay bird shooting. Scott has a pretty good eye. OK, I lie, Scott is a champion with a gun. I guess his past career in the Army has a wee bit to do with that (again, great choice on the teammate!). We only had to hit one clay, but there were two chances, with

Image: Miles Holden

two shots allowed per clay. We agreed I would step up first, have a crack and if I missed Scott would step up and annihilate it. And that’s exactly what happened. It was far from my finest moment; I closed the wrong eye, I didn’t even hold the gun correctly. To be honest I don’t think I even saw the damn thing! Just ‘bang, bang’. Up stepped Scotty and blew the clay apart with his first shot! So we avoided the two-minute time penalty and ran off in search of our bikes for the next stage. I was pretty confident my mountain biking skills hadn’t got any better over night and I’d spoken to a few people who had done the race previously so knew we were in for one hell of a grind up to the top of the Pisa Range, a total of 21 kilometres uphill and 1,278 metres in elevation. Scott had made a brilliant tow out of an old tyre tube and two pieces of rope with a carabiner attached to each end, which we tied around his seat post and my handlebar stem. We decided to set it up right

from the start heading out of transition – what a lifesaver. I don’t actually know how much extra energy he used pulling me, some people say about 10 per cent (most likely more!). But for me it was a mental thing; knowing it was there providing just that little bit extra when I needed it meant I rode far more than I would have ever done by myself. It wasn’t technical riding, it was just a long, slow uphill grind on a 4WD track for the best part of two and a half hours. We rode about 85 per cent of the hill, more than holding our own. I would hate to think what my state of mind would have been like without it! The last section to the top was covered in fog, with the Red Bull Media crew videoing us and loving our home-made device. Downhill… you beauty. Moving fast and standing out of our seats gave our bottoms and legs a rest, stopping only for the occasional gate or stile to climb over. I was hot (as much as I could) on Scott’s tail, with him yelling out when


rocks or holes were approaching. I was just following exactly where he went… so when we came to a sign that said ‘Steep Grade’ and he kept riding, I just followed. Holy moly, crikey dick and every swear word under the sun! I still get sweaty palms thinking about it, but I’m glad there was no time for this and just went for it. By the time I realised this was far steeper than anything I had ever ridden, there was actually no chance of stopping even if I wanted to! You know when I said that brakes were for wimps? Well… I had both brakes on as hard as I could with my back tyre sliding out from under me, but somehow I managed to get to the bottom still attached to my bike. Scott looked back, just as surprised as I was to see me right there behind him and laughed. Thank goodness he didn’t think that was a walk in the park either!! We cruised the last kilometre into the Cardrona Valley and the final checkpoint of the race, thankful the mountain bike leg was over but also

Image: Miles Holden

Image: Graeme Murray

Image: Miles Holden

pleased with how we had gone. OK, so I know Scott was towing me, but I felt I had put in a good effort to stay with him! Jacqs and Nathan from our support crew greeted us with friendly smiles and words of encouragement, informing us we were tracking really well and were sitting in the middle of the pack (far better than day one!). In fact, they were at home watching a movie when they checked our tracker, only to find we were already on the descent! They boosted for their car and only had to wait five minutes for us to arrive. Another good transition had us leaving at the same time as two other teams who came in ahead of us. We decided to use the tow rope right from the start for the run too.

and I definitely wasn’t complaining, considering he was towing me up the hill! Scott kept me entertained with his many army stories, always starting off with “Back in the war…” They sure helped take my mind off the job!

Ahead of us we had a gruelling final stage – a massive 27-kilometre/1,848metre elevation singletrack run up Spots Creek to Mt Alpha and Roy’s Peak before a jarring descent and lakeside trail to the finish line in Wanaka township. Scott’s stepdad had told us to ‘play to your strengths’ and at that moment, our strength was Scott!

We hit the ridgeline and passed the checkpoint cutoff with an hour and a half to spare. Those who didn’t make it here before 3.30pm were short-coursed down a different ridgeline, making the run leg shorter. Our aim was to complete the full course, so we were both stoked to smash that goal. With the steep uphill now behind us we ran the flats and downs and walked the ups. The terrain was awesome; singletrack and rocky, and when the clouds decided to part we were met with 360-degree views over the Wanaka region, making the climb more than worth it. Hitting the Mount Roy trig and the end of the ridgeline we picked up Phil, an Aussie guy whose team-mate had pulled out due to severe cramps. Race organisers had told him he needed to descend with another team and we were the first to come along.

We quickly settled into a steady pace with the legs moving well, taking on more electrolytes and some ‘Pub Lunch’ (damn that was good, until it got stuck in my throat resulting in a coughing fit). It didn’t take long for us to pull away from the other two teams and even catch and overtake another. It really was mind over matter; one foot in front of the other. A friendly “Go team Say Yes to Adventure” from volunteer Guy McCone halfway up put a smile on both of our faces as we charged past him feeling good. We could see a steep zig-zag grunt ahead of us, so after a quick drink in the stream nearby it was head down and moving forward. For a solid six hours I checked out Scott’s rear, not a bad view

While very happy to be on the downhill, I could feel every muscle in my body as I ran, making it a slow but steady journey down to the car park below. Popping out of the bushes about a kilometre from the bottom were Jacqs and Nathan, an awesome surprise and a boost just when we needed it. A final stop at the road to refill empty water bladders and we were off – five kilometres of mostly flat left to go. It was tough going, we were both shattered knowing we had left everything out there, feeling every single 155 kilometres we had covered to get ourselves to this point. Conversation was at a bare minimum, with the occasional ‘You OK Hollie?”, “Yeah, you?”, which was said many


times over the two days. Hitting the Millennium Trail, which we had run the previous day, I was deep in the hurt box. Sugar, I just needed enough to get me through the final section. A sugar-laden Jet Plane and a chocolate Scorched Almond were the answer, and just as I had devoured those, more support crew members appeared ahead of us. They were a godsend, even if we didn’t talk back or barely smiled! I knew they would report back that we were struggling but I thought ‘bugger it’, we were so close, by the time we crossed the finish line our smiles would surely be back! At last we hit the lake edge, running the final kilometre by ourselves while the others went ahead to meet us at the finish. We crossed the finish line in a total time of 18:14:27. Relief, elation, joy, a big fist pump and a ‘Hell Yeah!’ Red Bull Defiance 2016 was done and I couldn’t have been happier. To add icing to the already sweet, sweet cake, we managed to climb a few places from the previous day and win the Under 30 category! Not bad for Scott’s first-ever multisport race. And no Scott, it wasn’t beginners luck. Team Say Yes to Adventure is off to a pretty damn good start. Hollie Woodhouse is the publisher of this magazine. Not one to say no to adventures, she sometimes questions her sanity as she keeps entering events that push her boundaries. Next up is a five-day ultra through Peru’s Amazon Jungle. www.holliewoodhouse.com F www.facebook.com/theadventurouskiwi www.instagram.com/holliewoodhouse t www.twitter.com/holliewoodhouse



THE ENGINE NOISE is loud, but I can hear the pilot’s voice through my headphones as he checks for the all clear with traffic control. As we take off from Cambridge aerodrome in Hobart, Tasmania, we embark on a surreal 50-minute flight that starts above a densely populated island capital with highways and stadia visible, and then starts to resemble something more like the beginning of ‘Jurassic Park’. We fly over Australia’s most southerly settlement and road in the form of Cockle Creek, but where we are going to there are no roads. The only access is by foot, by boat, or for us, in our Cessna 206. Our adventure, in the 600,000 hectares of wilderness that is Tasmania’s South West National Park, had begun. We fly in from the Southern Ocean into a landscape that is both beautiful and unique. There are jagged mountain ranges, wild rivers and ancient rainforests but the land is

predominantly covered in buttongrass moorland. Our pilot points out the white gravel airstrip in the distance and my girlfriend Beth and I share a look of excitement, but also anticipation, knowing that very soon we will be the only human beings for miles in any direction. This only really sinks in when we are standing on the runway watching the plane disappear over the horizon and we are met by that complete silence that is often so hard to find in the world we now live. We had agreed with the pilot to be back at the airstrip in three days’ time to be picked up, but we also had to be ready if there was bad weather and he was unable to get to us. This seemed a long way away at the time and unlikely to happen in our minds so, with little worry, we set off with our 25-kilo packs on our backs and smiles on our faces. The South West Wilderness of


Tasmania is rich in history and evidence shows Aborigines have visited it for at least 25,000 years. More recently the famed Deny King came out to live in the wilderness to mine tin and was the one who built the airstrip and walkers’ huts in Melaleuca, the locality that we were setting out from. We had consulted our maps and decided to head for the South West Cape and get as far as we could, while leaving enough time to return to catch the plane and not be left in the wilderness forever. We were walking in mid-September 2015 and had one of the first flights out to Melaleuca. The walking season hadn’t started yet, meaning that some of the paths had become overgrown or completely submerged in the boggy habitat over winter. We had sturdy walking boots but they were only ankle high and could not protect us from sinking in mud up to our knees, so pretty soon after starting our journey we both had




thoroughly sodden feet. We didn’t care though, the sun was shining, we were alone in the vast wilderness with our tent, sleeping bags and stove and we could go anywhere we wanted. With our heads held high, we jubilantly strode onwards into the unknown, hungry for adventure. Eight hours of walking later, with a brief stop for lunch, we arrived at New Harbour; a stunning bay with headlands on either side, a white sand beach and a river that came bending down from the mountains to meet the sea. Hidden amongst the trees there was a metal box containing a log book. It was strange to see after hiking nearly 30 kilometres with no sign of humanity, and even stranger seeing the last person to sign in had been there over five months previously at the end of summer. It was an amazing feeling setting up our little tent on our own private beach with only a few oystercatchers and gulls for company. The world was ours! We

had only to settle in and make some supper. The food on our trip was a mix of porridge, pastas, trail mix and cereal bars, all cooking done on our stove. There was plenty of water available from the rivers that are stained a dark brown from the tannins present, but are safe to drink from. If we didn’t feel like the King and Queen of the world before, I pulled from my pack a bottle of Oyster Bay sparkling wine and we sat sipping it out of our enamel mugs, watching the last of the sun fall upon Smoke Signal Hill. There was a limit to the weight of our packs that we were allowed to take on the plane and mine was over the limit. I had to take out a couple of bottles of water to reduce it, knowing that I had the bottle of fizz in there, but still hiding it from Beth. I had to carry the heavy bottle all day, so we had less water and the alcohol dehydrated us. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best idea for a multi-day trek that required a certain level of physical


ability. But who says you can’t have a bit of adventure and be romantic at the same time. The next day we carried on in the direction of South West Cape. The geography of the area from New Harbour to the Cape consists of bays and headlands with beaches and there is usually a river coming down from the South West Cape Mountain Range and flowing into the sea. The land here is mainly covered in dense, ancient rainforest. To move onto the next bay we had to hike up through the jungle and come back down to the beach. It was hot, sweaty work and we learned, when deep into the forest, that there was a very large number of leeches present. Now my girlfriend is incredibly brave, braver than me in fact. I don’t think there is anything she cannot deal with. Unless that thing is leeches. I did not know this until we found that our boots and ankles were covered in the black creatures waving their suckers in the air desperately

trying to latch onto us somewhere so they could get at our blood. After trying to remove some we decided the best plan of action was to increase the walking pace considerably and to not look down. If Beth couldn’t see the large number of leeches climbing up her legs how could she be scared of them? When we eventually came upon the magnificent Hidden Bay and its white sands we first had to go through a serious ‘de-leeching’ process. I cleared the boots, then socks and then legs and only then could we take in the picturesque scene before us. Here there were some lovely waves rolling in from the Southern Ocean and we wished we had surfboards, though getting them there could prove problematic. We did go for a swim but only a quick one because we suffered from brain freeze as soon as we dunked our heads into the frigid waters! Being so far away from the rest of humanity we thought it would be a crime not to spend the rest of the

day with no clothes on. A walker had written in the log book at Melaleuca about being naked at some point and what he would have said if someone had come across him: “I am not a nudist; I just happen to be naked at the moment.” I think this is a perfectly good explanation that I would’ve given if someone had come across us. Not that they would have! That night we decided to climb up onto the headland above Ketcham Island so that we had a commanding view of all the headlands, islands and the ocean. Knowing that there was nothing between us and Antarctica, not too far away, was an incredible feeling. From our hilltop camp we had a reminder that there were other people in the world because we could see Maatsuyker Island, five and a half kilometres off the coast and the lighthouse on it. It is the most southern lighthouse in Australia and as it got dark we could see it flashing to us. We were further away from civilisation than we had


ever been and there was still a sign of humanity. Not that it mattered to us as we cooked our dinner of pasta washed down with apple juice while surveying our kingdom. The plane was supposed to land the next day in the morning, so we were going to try and get the whole way back to Melaleuca and sleep in one of the walkers’ huts and then be ready at the airstrip for its arrival. It was a long walk and towards the end my legs wanted to collapse even though our packs had become lighter as we’d eaten our supplies. The occasional wedgetailed eagle that came and landed on a rock next to us, was encouragement to keep on moving. We plodded into camp very tired, but almost forgot about it completely when we were greeted by other human beings! A group of wardens and scientists had been flown in the day before and it was very lucky for us. We had enough food for that night but a

patch of bad weather came in, just as we had assumed it wouldn’t and the plane couldn’t get to us, just as the pilot warned it might not. If the wardens and scientists hadn’t been there, then we would’ve had to try and find more food and I don’t think that buttongrass would have given us much nutrition. From a possible bad situation, we chanced across a lucky situation and the next night the researchers kindly took us in and we had a lovely night of curry and beers in a warm cabin. We even went ‘frogging’ with them that night, which involved wellies and head torches and catching frogs to swab and collect samples. The next day we were down on the airstrip waiting to hear the faint hum of the engines of our plane that we still were not sure was going to turn up. Eventually it appeared as a small dot on the horizon, growing bigger and with it the return to the hustle and bustle of modern life. We said goodbye to the scientists and to the

World Heritage wilderness that we had grown so fond of. This flight took a path over the mountains, which remained rugged and wild for some time, before eventually seeing the occasional building. We had the same surreal experience, in reverse, of leaving the wild behind us and returning to civilisation. Just as our trip was a beautiful escape, we were now returning to our every day routines, to people, work and technology. Our lives are not bad by any means, but I will look back fondly on our trip. Our days in the South West were one hell of an adventure. There is something incredibly satisfying about being able to pack all you need to survive onto your back and travel with it. You get a small sense of what it would be like to be nomadic and go anywhere and set up home again. Obviously we didn’t have a lot, just what we needed, and we weren’t going very far in comparison to a lot of trips, but it made us realise how much in


modern society is superfluous. We had just the things we needed to survive and we were as happy as ever exploring the beautiful world in which we live. I am not going to move out of my house and live in the woods from now on and I love having access to the internet and a hot shower, but I think it is good to be aware that these are not things that one has to have to be happy. In fact, sometimes the best way to find happiness is by getting away from these everyday luxuries. Sam Gore is a 21-year-old adventurer who travels the world photographing and writing about his experiences. He is based in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, where he studied Marine and Natural History Photography. www.samgorephoto.com www.instagram.com/samgore94

THE TIGER CHALLENGE WORDS: Gordon More IMAGES: Gordon More and Amory Macleod LOCATION: Kenya

The idea to ride motorbikes to Lake Turkana was first conceived at 14,000 feet at the foot of Mount Kenya while on a short motorcycle ride. The plan for the adventure was simple; beginning in Nanyuki, we would ride to the edge of Lake Turkana in Kenya’s far North and return home again, eating at local communities along the way and taking only the bare necessities needed to survive. THE TRIP CAME together very quickly with the two founding members, Piers and me, seeking out suitable intrepid adventurers to join us. During this search, either the make of the motorcycle or the short time-frame put off most candidates, resulting in only one other brave (or crazy) addition, Amory. The local community wasted no time in telling us we were mad. We decided to conduct some local market research regarding the model of motorcycle that would be needed to be purchased, and ultimately sold. This involved asking the local ‘Boda’ drivers (motorcycle taxi) their preferred make and model of bike of Chinese origin. With a unanimous answer, the ‘Tiger 150cc Double Shock’ was the steed of choice. Searching for the Tiger began with a trip to Meru, a township where we were assured by the local hardware salesman that we would meet ‘Mr. Tiger’ and would be able to negotiate for the bikes required and if we were lucky, end up with some Tiger merchandise too. We soon discovered that ‘Mr Tiger’ didn’t exist and the showroom attendant was not particularly useful either. We also discovered a larger hurdle; Tigers in

Kenya are not sold with licence plates and documents, requiring us to purchase the motorcycle first and then wait for delivery. Not willing to take this risk, our trip to Meru wasn’t deemed a great success and so began the nationwide search for three bikes with plates attached and documents available. Eventually, with only a number of days to go before our departure, three Tigers were sourced in nearby towns of Nyeri and Nanyuki. We set about preparing them for the trip, although the rules were that no major modifications were permitted. Minor adjustments included stripping the front and back ends and tightening and greasing the components, followed by a quick test ride in the local area.

bemused, quite possibly to see if we really were going to head off to the northern deserts, carrying only the clothes on our backs, first aid, water, beer, camp beds and chairs. The reason for the small amount of equipment was to make the trip more entertaining and also to ensure that what money we did spend on the trip would end up in the hands of the communities we passed.

Final preparations were made the evening before in the new rally garage, where first aid kits were assembled by nervous wives and tyre pressures checked and checked again, with a very curious Australian, new to Kenya, looking on in horror. The time for departure was set for 6am the following morning.

The first section from my house to Merrile is asphalt and was relatively uneventful. The next section of road from Mirelle to Laisamis was under construction and provided the first opportunity to learn about the handling of these particularly awkward machines. Within a couple of kilometres the front mud guard had broken off Pier’s bike, which was unceremoniously discarded, with important brake and clutch lines being cable tied to the front shock, which in time impaired the function of the bike. To be honest this didn’t make too much of a difference as the drum brakes on Chinese bikes are pretty pathetic at the best of times.

Amory and Piers arrived at my house with their Tigers roaring, while children and house staff watched on

The first stretch of unknown road lay ahead, where we turned left at Laisamis and headed west on the



Ilaut, South Horr road. We had been given directions by a friend working in the area and had the chance to stay at his construction camps if necessary, so that was the goal for the first night’s campsite. We turned left on to this road and I managed to fall off in the first piece of sand that we encountered, much to the amusement of Piers and Amory who also very quickly followed suit. We soon learnt that the performance of a Tiger was dramatically different from that of a KTM or Honda that we had lying around home. The main differences were the lack of power, vast weight, unbelievably poor design and therefore balance characteristics. We quickly understood that a new riding style was needed to be adopted and thus we set off on a very steep learning curve for the next stage. This section of road was a baptism by fire. It was pure sand, the temperatures were starting to climb now that we were reaching mid-morning, losing count of the number of times we fell

off, and in the process burning all three clutches. An hour passed and we had only completed 15 kilometres, exhausted, sweating, swearing and wondering what we were doing here, we had a rest under a tree to gather our thoughts. We decided that this trip was not for everyone, especially not the faint hearted. There went our hopes of a large charity event. To quote Amory “most people would have surrendered now and called the helicopter to collect them.� We arrived at the first construction camp at 1pm, with the only other event of the morning being Amory falling off whilst trying to overtake a tipper truck in a cloud of dust and pot holes full of powder. At the construction camp we filled our water bottles and decided that we still had too much time left in the day to stop now, so we gathered some directions for the onward journey, headed to the local village to find fuel and then hit the road. We were soon to find that fuel is extremely expensive


in these areas and negotiations must be carried out before filling the tanks for fear of being ripped off. The other amusement was that there were no fuel stations, so it was measured from jerry cans and delivered in one-litre used water bottles. After the village we had to take a right turn along a new road that was apparently not in great condition but in theory was a short cut. Once we reached the turn, we encountered powder dust that was deep enough to cover the engines. We ploughed on at crawling speed for fear of falling off and damaging the bikes. We even tried to ride through the thorn trees to the side of the road, but we were not covering the distance needed. A small meeting was convened and it was decided we would probably end up with punctures and broken bikes if we continued on the 60 kilometres of terrible road so we backtracked the three kilometres we had come and carried on to South Horr via the main road. Reaching South Horr in the early

evening we decided to have our second meal of the day in a less than salubrious venue called the ‘City View Hotel’ where we were hosted extremely well by very curious, yet polite village folk who fed us tasty local fare. It was so good we even took a ‘take away’ in carry bags strapped to the back of the bikes for our evening meal. We set off again as the sun was beginning to set to try and find our first campsite. This meant heading on until civilisation ran out and looked for a dry riverbed (lugga) to hide out in. We rose at first light and resurrected the fire to heat some coffee in the pot bought on the way, using empty beer cans for mugs. Within the first hour we encountered armed individuals on the road and atop hills who blocked our path, but once they realised we were not local boda drivers, allowed us to continue on our way. These situations can always be a little tense. The road was good and we started to enter the lava fields to the south of the lake, which resemble what most

people would imagine the moon to look like. Our first glimpse of the lake was magical, as we had achieved our initial goal of reaching Turkana. There was however a nasty surprise awaiting; the road surface. It had now turned to tennis ball-sized round lava that could only be described as hell to operate a Tiger on. We could however see our night stop of Loyangalani, an oasis in the distance, so we pushed on across the horrendous surface after having a quick wash in the lake on the way. On arriving to Loyangalani we fuelled and set about finding suitable accommodation. The choice of two ‘resorts’ would be a generous term. We settled on the Oasis Resort, which had the luxurious benefit of a swimming pool and shade provided by palm trees, but had not seen a guest in three months and was a pretty sad sight. The heat and wind in this part of the world was extreme. Again we rose early and were provided with a take away breakfast and discussed if we were wise heading


north, into an unknown bleak desert with less than operational clutches. This turned out to be the best decision of the trip. Sporting pretty serious hangovers from a night on warm beer, the route initially took us along the lake then branched northeast through a very wind-swept barren landscape. At the few settlements we passed we gathered directions and distances to the main landmarks and townships. The roads through the desert were not well marked with tracks spreading out in every direction, so it was a case of taking the most used one and hoping for the best. We passed our only car of the day mid-morning heading in the opposite direction. We were truly on our own. The sandy sections of desert proved challenging but by this stage we were becoming accomplished operators of Tigers. On reaching North Horr we took on fuel again, and soon discovered that during our stay in Loyangalani

Chalbi is an inhospitable expanse of ‘The soda pan where temperatures soar and is devoid of any form of life ’ .

someone had stolen fuel out of one of the bike’s tanks. Also during our time fuelling, the town’s folk managed to steal the SD cards out of our music machines strapped to the front of the bikes, rendering us music-less for the remainder of the trip. There is someone cruising around North Horr now listening to a questionable array of country music. After a soda and purchasing our supper we pushed on. It was now mid morning and we had the vast expanse of the Chalbi Desert to cross. There were two routes to choose from; the all-weather longer road that skirts the edge of the desert or the seasonal shorter route through the desert. We chose the latter. The Chalbi is an inhospitable expanse of soda pan where temperatures soar and is devoid of any form of life. The road surface again is loose, which often meant cutting a new track. At the oasis of Kalacha we had a look at an old derelict lodge and then rode on to a small village to seek lunch. Here we were served a delicious stew that was only really enjoyed by me, who managed to eat it all in seconds, while the other two found the floating lumps of boiled goat fat a little difficult to swallow. We were now faced with our next decision. We had three options; stay the night in Kalacha, rest the afternoon there and head to the desert later or head to the desert now at 2pm, the hottest time of the day! As usual with

three hard-headed adventurers we chose to head in to the desert and keep putting kilometres behind us. With basic directions to follow, which entailed looking for three stones on the side of the road and a turning right, we headed off. The heat was intense and we needed to keep moving to keep cool. Tempers during this heat can fray very easily as we soon discovered when Amory wanted a photo opportunity with all three bikes atop a soda mound. We found the stones and a few hundred metres further, a turning to the right which we assumed was our route so took the gamble and headed that way. We dropped out of the Chalbi Desert and in to a new desert called the Kaisut, which is known for its red soil. We reached a village called Kargi, where we had another soda, met the chief who was aware we were coming and fuelled the bikes with the last drop left in the village. The people here were less than friendly and the fuel price inflated. That evening a flood dam by the road was finally found and with a bit of inspection we saw that we could conceal ourselves behind the wall and set up camp. Prior to reaching here, another photo opportunity was taken and instead of returning to meet the others, I decided to rest in full gear on the side of the road while the others caught up. After 11 hours in the saddle one’s back and backside becomes a


little tender and the odd rest or walk about is always welcome. After another early start and coffee, we set off with the aim to get home. Along the way we encountered trucks buried in the sand, beautiful rocky outcrops and finally the long 200 kilometres of asphalt towards home. On the way out this route was exciting, but returning, tiring and long. The only event during this stretch was Amory falling off at 80 kilometres an hour due to a front puncture and skidding across the oncoming traffic lane on his elbows. Luckily with not too much damage to rider or bike, we found out that the tyres used on these bikes are as thin as paper and you can remove the tyre from the rim with your hands. So 50 kilometres per hour was the return home speed to ensure we all got back in one piece. We finally arrived home at 2pm having been out for four days and three nights with a little over 1,000 kilometres travelled. We have more trips plans to other untouched parts of Kenya. The same rules will apply! Gordon More is a farmer based in Timau, Kenya. He enjoys travelling and has used kitesurfing, skydiving, flying and motorcycles to visit, see and experience new and exciting parts of the world.


In March 2015 I was in Te Anau for the Routeburn Classic race. I had grand ideas of coming out of nowhere (straight off the back of GODZone) to win the race. Naively, I thought I had it in the bag, but in reality I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to recover properly. This meant I was a nervous wreck before the start, which consequently lead me down the path to what I felt (even though I finished 4th) was a sub-par performance. AFTER SOME MONTHS of recovery I focused my training on the Luxmore Grunt, which involved a 27-kilometre grind and 800 metres up to the Luxmore Hut and back and the first part of the Kepler Challenge. Being associated with the Kepler it has some prestige associated with it, something that outside of running circles is pretty rare. I was determined to have a good showing and having come close to several of Phil Costley’s records in various races (he currently holds the Luxmore record), I set that as my target. When I woke early on race morning I was relatively calm, a little bit nervous but most importantly, confident. I knew I was ready. Now it was just a matter of getting to the start line. This proved to be a little more interesting than I would have liked. The bus either missed us on its pick up round, or never showed up… luckily an extra van rolled up 15 minutes later. I bustled for my position in the centre at the front of the start line, alongside Kristian Day and last-minute entry Grant Guise, also favourites in the

race. Immediately after the starter’s gun went off the three of us emerged to the front quite easily. I found myself leading the pack to begin with, deciding to hold back and cruise along at the pace of Grant and Kristian. This lasted for only a few minutes before I realised that this was not a pace that I was comfortable with and it was time to take charge. I pulled away and put some distance on them almost immediately, before gradually edging out enough of a lead so they were out of sight. I was feeling strong on the initial flat section. I am typically strong on the up hills so I felt it was just a matter of consistently pushing myself at a sustainable pace, meaning that if anyone was going to pass me they were going to have to work for it. The gradient of the track allowed me to run all of the uphill section and I quickly caught the tail-end of the Kepler runners who had set out an hour beforehand. They gave me some awesome encouragement and it really kept me going. Hopefully I didn’t make it look too easy because it most definitely wasn’t!


I reached the open top around the 55-minute mark. Emerging from the bush there was a bit of headwind and the temperature was definitely cooler, so I rolled my sleeves down to keep comfortable. The cool air didn’t help the stitch I had been battling most of the way up, or the cramping calf muscles, so I took the opportunity to take in a Leppin gel as I negotiated the crowds of people on the narrow board walks. I started to worry a bit as without Cramp-Stop or some electrolyte drink this was most likely going to be the biggest threat to my current lead. In no time at all I reached the Luxmore hut, rounding the corner and being greeted with one of the largest gatherings of people at an alpine hut I have seen before! Now it was just a matter of figuring out where to go to turn around! Luckily there was someone in a tiger costume (love New Zealand!) who I found to tag before heading back down the hill. In all the commotion I forgot to grab a drink! It took me an hour and five minutes to get to the hut, so after some quick math in my head while I ran, I figured

I needed to make it back down to the bottom in 25 minutes for a chance to crack the current record. I passed Kristian first on his way up and knew I had a good lead, followed by Grant a bit further back. I was confident, baring any mishaps, that I had it in the bag. As I entered the bush line I passed the person in fifth place, who informed me that I was on record pace, which got me all the more excited. The majority of the top section of the descent had a steady stream of people still coming up – some of who I knew but most I did not, but they all sounded like they were cheering me on. This made me even more excited and made me run even faster! Eventually the enthusiasm caught up with me and the cramps decided to come back again. There were less runners towards the bottom of the hill and I was slipping behind on my target

time, but it did mean that I had a rare moment to reflect and soak it all in before the final flat section of the race. At the last drink station, six kilometres out from the finish, I made sure I stopped and had some sports drink to alleviate the cramping. Unfortunately, my legs were not too happy with me from the beating I had already given them. They felt like lead, but I was running scared as I knew Kristian could have it over me at any second on the final section. I soon realised the idea of breaking any records wasn’t going to be an option, but I was still confident that I could blast out a pretty good time if I just kept the legs ticking over. The finish finally came into sight and I put in a final effort to get there as quickly as possible, if only to end the pain! I was looking forward to breaking the tape, but it turned out they weren’t expecting me to finish so quickly, as


they didn’t manage to get it up in time. I crossed the line in 1:56:26, finding out later that my time was the 4th fastest on record. I still had the same lead on Kristian as I had at the top and finished almost ten minutes ahead of Grant in third. I had one of those days where everything I did leading up to the day put me in a good place, with everything working to plan throughout the race too. That was possibly more satisfying than winning itself ! Tane Cambridge is a keen orienteerer, runner, multisporter and adventure racer, just to name a few. When he’s not outside tackling the next adventure he works as a Mechanical Design Engineer based in Christchurch, New Zealand. www.tanecambridge.wordpress.com



Between us, we’d planned this with our usual alarming efficiency. A few cross-hemisphere WhatsApp messages, an hour of research and we were set. We’d tackle the Old Ghost Road on our bikes, with one complete novice and a rider with the use of only one arm. Easy. HAVING SPENT THE last two and half years adapting to life with a complete brachial plexus injury and barely touching a bike, perhaps diving into an 85-kilometre ride on a mate’s bike with four friends, both old and new, was optimistic. However as far as I was concerned I’d ridden enough with one arm to know that coupled with my years of previous experience, my brain would get me through this, even though at times it might be painful. We’d spoken with friends who’d ridden the trail before and they thought that while the odd section may be hard for me one handed, I should just about be able to manage it. I’m from Northumberland in the North East of England, bordering Scotland. It’s very rural and we’re much like Kiwis up there – very proud of our toughness and ability to get on with

things. I’ve spent some time in New Zealand over the last four years – one as an able bodied former downhill racer, lucky enough to see the world through bike racing, and a few as a guy learning to take photos with the help of some very talented friends. Now it was time to combine both elements with a touch of mild adventure – riding, capturing images and having one hell of a time. And so that was how we came to our journey amongst the ferns, beech and high alpine of the Glasgow range in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, negotiating our route between the now lost towns of Lyell and Seddonville. As Europeans settled here, they brought with them their ideas for commerce and financial gain – the Gold Rush of New Zealand may not match the American tales in terms of publicity,


but the souls forging tracks up hills and down dales in search of riches were hardy folk. Lyell, the starting point of our threeday journey was itself a town built upon the search for that ever so desirable commodity. However, as the old saying goes, the people who gained the most out of the gold rush were the pick axe salesmen and not the prospectors. Now vanished from the map, Lyell, deep in the Buller Gorge is where the community-built Old Ghost Road both starts and ends. An 85-kilometre, multi-use, end-toend trail was built by a team committed to completing the former mining trail. It was started but never finished in the 1800s, with the aim to connect Lyell and Seddonville. In collaboration with the Department of Conservation, the Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust

took tools to earth in 2007 and finally finished this masterpiece in late 2015. Choosing mid-January seemed the safest option to embark on our ride – lots of daylight, good temperatures and dry terrain. Keen to remove ourselves from the constant harassment courtesy of the blood-thirsty sand flies, we eventually put wheel to dirt at around 3pm. That was around five hours later than we had planned. Nevertheless, as we began the 30-kilometre, 1,200-metre ascent up to Ghost Lake it was hard not to get caught up in the romance of such a trail. The toil that the folk of the mining era had to endure was clear to see – equipment left behind and even a pair of weather-worn boots lining the trail side. Yet the romance soon dissipated. With barely one kilometre gone, things looked bleak. Annie, really a novice mountain bike rider, but well versed in the outdoors, had fainted. This was a real, out cold, faint.

We were carrying big weights in our packs, some up to 13 kilograms and it was hot. Remarkably after some sweets, electrolytes and a reminder to drink at every opportunity, Annie looked like a revitalised woman and we pressed on. As we later said, perhaps it was just what she needed! Exposed ledges, a fine singletrack and tricky, loose climbs were standard en-route to Lyell Creek Hut, where we took stock and grabbed a vital feed. For some reason, my sardines seemed to encourage the rest of the group into moving on, so our rest was short lived. The evening light was now firmly with us, but the golden hues belied what was ahead – around five kilometres of tough, prolonged dry river-bed climbing. As I dug deep and used all my leg power to get up this thing I was taking stock. This was painful; yet like a singer rediscovering their voice, elation was running through my veins. I was back out there with friends and on some fine trail.


Although we didn’t know it, we were soon to be in a minor sticky patch. As the light faded we finally reached the high alpine we had been yearning, although we were now shrouded in a damp, cool mist and the light was fading rapidly. Riding a three-kilometre descending ridgeline at 3,500 feet in the dark was not something I’d really considered and truth be told, I was a bit intrigued as to how this would play out. With a head torch barely lighting ten feet of trail in front of us, we weighed it up as a group. It was decided it was time to release some adrenaline and give it a bash! Riding with one arm creates certain steering stability issues and despite my Hopey Steering damper working overtime on the loose rock, twice I nearly left the trail into what looked like an abyss, surely with only one outcome. The trail was not that technical, but what would it be without the odd mishap! We’d made an easy adventure a slightly harder adventure and the combination of bikes, loose


rocks and weak head lamps weren’t really working. With one kilometre still to go we decided we would walk. Catching up with Frenchie Max and Brit JT, who had gone ahead as point men, we arrived at our first-day end point, Ghost Lake hut. It’s hard to describe the elation that survival brings. Some would call this the adrenaline junkie theme but I’m not sure. We all have varying degrees of self-preservation but this ride shouldn’t have reached that stage. Arriving to a stove-warmed hut with a fresh brew, chorizo and brie after escaping the ridge was one of those wonderful moments to savour. With two days to go, dead legs and fairly raw down below, things were looking good! Keen to avoid repeating our late start of the previous day, the next two days’ riding proved to be a relative doddle as we rose early, stopped regularly and conversed with other trail users. Over those remaining 55 kilometres we scanned the wide-ranging vistas,

found swimming pools to refresh in and enjoyed some sublime singletracks. We stayed in huts that must rival any in New Zealand for purpose suitability and finally we gorged till we couldn’t walk out of the Rough and Tumble lodge without a hand resting on our duly satisfied bellies. The diversity of the Old Ghost Road is something to behold. The trail is challenging but not too technical. The route is relatively summer-safe and marked in its entirety. All of this is secondary though – what it offered to us as a group simply couldn’t be measured. They say bonds formed in the higher places of the world can run deep. While we may have not been that high, that far or that deep into the wilderness we certainly re-affirmed some friendships. Perhaps it was the Neanderthal-like grunting that accompanied every great turn, or the grimacing on our faces as we battled the climbs and the ferocious sand flies. Maybe it was the way we became quickly acquainted with how each other’s nether regions held up to saddle time through over-detailed conversation.


Whatever it was, we were out there, near the top of the South doing what we love to do. The bar had now been set. Knowing that my ability allows me to do this type of ride, rather than a disability stopping me, provides a strange sense of calm satisfaction. With friends by my side, the world suddenly seems to open up again. It’s time to stock up on the chamois cream, we’re heading back to the mountains. Tommy Wilkinson is a commercial photographer and storyteller based in the hills of Northumberland, United Kingdom. He has a deep affinity for the outdoors, adventure and creating images that seek to inspire. www.tommywilkinson.co.uk www.instagram.com/tommyawilkinson t www.twitter.com/TommyWilko


“I don’t want to go back to life. I’d kill to go back to the beach today.” “ You know there’s no point in going for holidays when it’s going to haunt you for the rest of the time you’re not on holiday, right?” “Well, no, that’s the point.” She carried on, “Anyway, then there’s this thing about books. You know they’re like little windows that open up to the world… Flip open a book and the whole world is yours. And you can be wherever you want to be – at least in your head.” So idealistic. So naive. But again, it’s summer. It’s the time of the year to be idealistic and naive. “I just don’t get why we’re all so unhappy with where we are, you know?” I said. She looked up at me. “Because we are indoors – and it’s summer outside! And we’re not in Bahamas, or Bali or elsewhere.” “At least we are indoors in a bookstore.” “That’s a consolation. But it’s still not Barcelona.”

Ben Ningtoutao is an artist, story-teller and designer, hailing from the Naga tribe in North East India, now living in New Zealand. He takes inspiration for his work from travels, city scenes, people watching, books, movies and everyday conversations. And Tumblr and Instagram! www.oh-ben.tumblr.com F www.facebook.com/ohbenning www.instagram.com/ohbenning t www.twitter.com/ohbenning



Attempting Mt. Rolleston was going to be my first proper outing into the world of crampons, ice axes and allround epicness of mountaineering. Having done a snow skills weekend a month earlier, where we were taught the basics of man-handling your axe, swinging your axe, thrusting your axe and various other wholesome, euphemistic axe-based activities, it was time to put the practice to the test and climb a mountain. I had enlisted the help of some eager, more experienced friends to provide pointers, tips and moral support when things inevitably got ‘a bit real’. ON FRIDAY EVENING five of us travelled through to Arthur’s Pass, a small township at the base of Mount Rolleston, nestled in the alpine pass between Christchurch and Westport in the South Island of New Zealand. Over dinner we decided that based on the length of the route we were going to do (about eight hours), it was best to attempt it ‘Alpine Style’. Had I realised that this meant getting up at 3:30am instead of having a bowl of muesli and a morning’s session of yodelling, I may not have been so enthusiastic to agree. Roll on 3:30am, which comes far too soon regardless of what time you go to bed, and after 45 minutes of faffing about getting breakfast sorted, some final pre-climb checks and a cheeky yodel to everyone’s dismay, we were parked up and ready to start the trek by 4:30am. Our route was to head up the Coral Track to Rome Ridge, then follow the ridgeline to Low Peak, Middle Peak and finally High Peak (and yes, although not overly original, the peak naming convention is entirely accurate). Our decent would be via the Otira Slide, back to the Highway 73 and hitching a ride back to the car.

The Coral Track doesn’t take any prisoners and after eight or nine steps from the car it becomes noticeably more vertical and happily kept us scrambling for a good hour or so until we got above the tree line. The one positive of the track, other than its lovely sounding name, is that you ascend quickly so you’re above the tree line after only a brief hour-and-a-half of gruelling, thigh-burning lunges. Getting above the tree line also meant that we got our first taste of snow and the crampons and ice axes came out. We hiked up a snow-covered slope and onto the beginning of Rome Ridge, just in time for the sun to decide to make an appearance and with it bringing the amazing contrast of light and shadows across the surrounding vista. It also brought an opportunity for us to spend 20 minutes taking photos with the added bonus of defrosting my water bladder drinking tube, meaning I was finally able to have a drink! With the obligatory photos out of the way, we made a start on following the ridgeline to Low Peak. It’s an incredible experience being out first thing in the morning with the hard


snow crunching under your feet and the features of the mountains slowly changing around you as the sun moves higher into the sky, dragging the shadows with it. It was around this time after the horrors of the initial lunging workout had worn off and been replaced with a healthy dose of endorphins, that I began to slip into thoughts of why people spend so much time mountaineering? Similar to how skiers/snow-boarders go on about the awesomeness of powder, or surfers with riding barrels or, I don’t know, someone uses the internet a lot and has large bandwidths; I’ve found I can’t really relate until I’ve experienced it myself. So hiking along, enjoying the views and newly acquired empathy for World of War Craft internet players, I hadn’t really noticed, or maybe appreciated is a better term, the slow approach of Low Peak, which despite its dull but unambiguous name, is a lot more intimidating than I had first appreciated. It didn’t help matters that, due to a slightly sketchy ridgeline and accompanying cornices, we had to descend and then traverse around a section of the ridge, meaning Low Peak loomed even more menacingly over us.

Wading through snow that was thighdeep at times, we made it to the base of Low Peak and re-grouped for some brunch and an assessment of the first section of technical climbing, by which I mean using ropes to prevent us from falling off big scary drops. It was at this point one of the guys decided that instead of getting the ropes out (which would have been nice since I had carried them all this way) we could down climb and traverse around the technical section and head directly to Middle Peak. As it was now midmorning and we had already been out for six hours, the opportunity to save a bit of time was welcome news, and so the down climbing began. Now, I don’t know if I’ve repressed some childhood memory when something bad happened while down climbing, or I watched some low budget '80s action movie at an impressionable age where the protagonist spends the entire film down climbing while terrible things

happen, but for whatever reason, I don’t cope well with down climbing. I feel these ‘issues’ are made more problematic when the down climbing involves steep slopes consisting of rapidly melting snow and a run out comprising lots of free fall and jagged rocks. Obviously picking up on my happiness of melting the ice in my water bladder pipe earlier on in the day, it now appeared that the sun had taken it upon itself to melt everything around me, including the snow that my life currently depended on. It may be argued that I might be hyping this up a little, especially as everyone else in the group wasn’t fazed and just got on with it, but evidently they hadn’t seen the movie ‘Down Climber!’ in their younger days. So anyway, after sweating and shaking my way down (which was probably only 20 metres or so) we then traversed a little and started ascending again, on the still slushy, useless snow that was melting all around us. It was around


this point that I realised that it wasn’t just down climbing I didn’t enjoy; it was the whole possibility of ‘dying on the side of a mountain’ element of mountaineering. Conveniently, it was also around this point that my crampon fell off. I feel I have set enough of a scene not to bother you with the relevant, long list of negative adjectives I felt at the realisation of only having one crampon, but for those less insightful, I wasn’t happy. Thankfully, my mate (who was soon to be described as my hero) was able to casually climb up behind me and come to my rescue. While I was currently pinned to the snow face, gripped in my own fear, legs shaking wildly, my mate/hero politely asked me to raise the offending leg in question so he could reattach the crampon. I lifted it about an inch, which I felt was ample. Apparently it wasn’t. On a second, well-mannered request to lift my leg a bit more, my response wasn’t overly positive. ‘Hero’ considered my wellarticulated and thoughtful response and

The avalanche scars across the valley ‘created an atmosphere of intimidation as we set off on the home stretch .’

replied, ’You still need to lift your leg a bit’. After several minutes of bartering over the amount of ‘lift’ required to commence reattachment, he decided to take more decisive action and just lifted my foot himself and reattached the crampon. All set and ready to roll again, it was just a matter of continuing up the steep, consistently slushy, consistently useless snow for another 45 minutes until we made it to the top of Low Peak. Arriving at a point of relative safety above the freezing level and back onto good solid snow, I was finally able to relax a little and allow my fear-induced sweat-covered clothes to dry off somewhat via the means of wind chill. Meanwhile, the rest of the group took the opportunity to bathe in the warmth of their own comfort zones and I tried to recall if I had left mine at step eight or nine in the car park many hours ago. Middle Peak was now in sight and with a new sense of purpose in my life after surviving the morning’s ordeals, we trudged on. Although some sections were quite steep with terrifying drops in all directions, there was only the one section that really caused any issues, and this time instead of it being slushy, melty, good-for-nothing snow, it was now stubbornly icy. Suddenly we found ourselves climbing up what felt like a vertical ice rink, really having to swing the axe and dig the crampons in. As much as I felt a sense of awesomeness swinging the axe like they do in the movies (such as Down Climber! for instance), the whole experience was slightly undermined every time I made the mistake of looking down and was reminded of the very large, steep drops all around me. However at that point we were committed and with the only other option involving down climbing off the mountain, it was a case of just getting on it with. Developing a rhythm and trying my best not to look

down, we ascended the glassy slope to summit Middle Peak. You don’t actually see Top Peak until you reach the top of Middle Peak (similar to how in movies you don’t hear the chopper until you see the chopper), which is a little disheartening as it was probably about a two-hour return trip to summit and back. ‘Two hours’, I hear you say, ‘What’s the problem?’, which normally I would agree with, but at this point we’d already been out for about ten hours and it was another three to get off the mountain. To put it in context, at the top of Middle Peak three guys who had been doing the same route with skis attached to their bags caught us up. When we asked them what time they had set off, they replied that they’d had an early start, leaving Christchurch at 5:30am. Christchurch is about two hours away from Arthur’s Pass, meaning we had a three-hour headstart on them and they still caught us up. I think it’s fair to say that we may have faffed about a little too much on the way up, lunched longer than necessary and spent too long in cramponreattachment negotiations. After a bit of a debate, well, possibly not a debate as we were all in agreement, we decided to forego attempting Top Peak and start our retreat down the Otira Slide, which meant more down climbing! I courageously opted to go last out of a sense of selflessness for not wanting to hold anyone up (although once we got going I quickly realised this may have been slightly more selfish than intended as if I was to fall, I would probably take out everyone below me). Several minutes later of methodical axe and crampon placement, I had moved about four metres and really needed to up my game as I watched the rest of the team disappear down


the slope. While trying to speed things up a bit, I started to take note of the surroundings and it appeared that I was entering the slushy, melty, useless snow zone again. With the sun being on the slope all day, some significant melting had occurred. During a quick assessment of the situation I could see and hear the snow dripping, slipping and sliding off the mountain. This seemed to be the incentive I needed to get the down climbing over with and make it onto sturdier ground. Bounding down the slope (which again I should point out, put me at about the same speed as a competent person going at a leisurely pace) we regrouped at a nice plateau and took stock of our surroundings. This was obviously a popular avalanching spot judging by all the debris about the place. The avalanche scars across the valley created an atmosphere of intimidation as we set off on the home stretch, following the valley river from the mountain, towards the road and back to relative safety. I trudged along at the back of the group while the others ahead of me chatted pleasantly amongst themselves. Evidently my innocent and inexperienced legs were not accustomed to 14-hour days of ‘Alpine’ up-climbing, down-climbing, traversing, crampon-falling-off-ing and avalanche avoiding. It was going to be a long winter season. Ian Middleton, originally from Wales, has been living in Christchurch, New Zealand for the last two years. During this time he has been attempting to integrate himself in the local Kiwi culture via climbing mountains, wrestling with skifield T-bars and opening beer with anything other than a bottle opener.


It was certainly a rough start to the day for some of the boys; a combination of locally-produced rice wine, onedollar beers and one of the crew taking bad water straight from the homestay tap during the night, meant that jumping on our touring motorbikes for the day could have been a little unappealing. But this was a family adventure one year in the planning. Dad and his three sons on tour for six days and six nights in Northwest Vietnam and there was little that could have broken the enthusiasm as we started up our bikes. MOST WOULD ADMIT that it is difficult to bring family together for such a stretch of time these days; life is busy, children live overseas and often priorities go towards spending time with mates on overseas adventures rather than parents. However, in honour of marking the year of a 30th and 60th birthday in the family, and in the spirit of Ewan McGregor’s ‘Long Way Round’ a plan was hatched late in 2014 to tour Northwest Vietnam by motorbike. A good friend of Dad’s had for years defined an adventure as ‘a known destination, a degree of planning and an element of risk’, and this accurately summed up the initial days of our own adventure. Our destination? Lao Cai City in

Northern Vietnam, bordering China. Planning? Done. Risk? Unlimited. We had all backed ourselves as novice motorbike riders, even though none of us held a New Zealand motorbike license or even owned a bike. This didn’t seem to matter though as we left our central storage garage on Day One with our excellent guide Hai Phung, and set off into the morning Hanoi traffic. The instructions were brief and to the point; “Just use your horn, don’t hesitate at intersections and ignore the traffic lights”. Great advice as it turned out, weaving in and out of the city rush hour congestion, dodging every kind of vehicle imaginable – including scooters carrying multiple live pigs, concrete trucks leaving a trail of material behind them, and my favourite being


the guy transporting huge PVC pipes extending well in front and well behind his motorbike. If there’s room on your bike in Vietnam, you can and will carry anything, including your whole family, as was often the case. This intense induction to motorbike riding in Vietnam couldn’t have been any better for confidence, and it wasn’t long before each of us carried huge smiles and were cha-hooing our way along the motorway at 80 kilometres an hour. It would have been useful to remember this feeling during the challenge that Day Three would bring us, leaving the simple yet stunning homestay we had been hosted at. It is worth expanding on the term ‘homestay’ – this truly was

a lovely local family’s home and we were the guests of honour. An evening of sunset beers overlooking the rice paddies, followed by an authentic Vietnamese meal prepared in the home kitchen, and then chased down with rice wine brought to us by a man on a bicycle. Surely there was no reason not to drink his authentic rice wine out of a recycled Vodka bottle? Guide Hai told us that Day Three would be challenging, off road for 80 per cent of the time, climbing on our bikes to 1,000 metres above sea level, and to make it more difficult, it had rained overnight. Two minutes after leaving the homestay we were already off the road, tackling a steep and rutted goat track through the bush. This wouldn’t be a day without incident and within 30 minutes Dad had (at slow speed) slid his front wheel out in some mud and taken his first dive of the trip. No injuries, apart from a casualty for the mirror of his beloved classic Russian Minsk bike. We had

given Dad the Minsk because he wanted a classic and traditional tour experience, while the boys rode on brand new Hondas. But the Minsk, just like its rider, wasn’t the most agile and on numerous occasions took on the Vietnam dirt. Clambering our way up the wet and slippery goat track trails, we would pass local people carrying bags of rice, crates of chickens, or herding their prized cattle to the makeshift holding pens that were near their homes. Looking down the slopes to the rice paddies we would often count ten to 20 people bent over and working on the October harvest by hand, which as Hai would tell us, occurs twice a year. These people are not harvesting to sell their product however; it is for their own family use and shared amongst the community. The demographics is one thing that strikes you initially – all of the people in the fields are in their latter years, with nearly no young or middle-aged family members around. They would all


be in the cities, Hai tells us, trying to earn money for their families, gaining an education and trying to create a better life. As we rode through the day, covered in mud and in the humidity, local people smiled and waved to us as we went by. You wonder what they must think of these tourists riding motorbikes in their back yard, and whether they hold any prejudice given the history of war and US intervention in their country. But it must be said that a highlight of our adventure was meeting and trying to converse with these people along the way; some of the kindest, friendliest and most welcoming people we had ever met. Nick Vanderkolk is a Kiwi based in Singapore who works in the Dairy/Finance industry. Although Singapore doesn't quite offer the same outdoor lifestyle that Nick was used to in New Zealand, he still manages to find many adventure opportunities within a two-or-three-hour flight.


The Tarawera Ultramarathon has quickly become one of the iconic races for both New Zealand and international ultra runners. This year’s event saw runners from 38 countries travel to Rotorua to compete, with a total of 1,320 runners entering as either individuals or a team. Due to logging in the forest, some slight changes were made to the course, extending the three different categories to 62 kilometres, 87 kilometres or 103 kilometres. MY PREVIOUS TWO attempts to reach Kawerau, where the Tarawera Ultramarathon traditionally finishes, were stymied due to extremely poor weather. In 2014, the fire danger was so high that we weren’t allowed to enter the Kawerau Forest, resulting in the runners turning around at Tarawera Falls, doubling back and finishing at either Okatina (85-kilometre course) or for the 100-kilometre competitors, Lake Okeraka. Attempting the 100 kilometres, I made the decision to end my day at Okatina. The following year, entering the race with unfinished business, Cyclone Luci was scheduled to arrive on the same day. Race director Paul Charteris was forced to make the difficult decision to shorten the course for safety reasons.

Even though Cyclone Luci didn’t end up hitting Rotorua with as much force as predicted, it was still a cold, wet day on the trails. The right call was made to shorten the race, although many of the competitors were disappointed they could not complete their planned distances, which they had spent so long training for. Taking the next year off, I was determined to complete my goal – come rain, hail or shine – and make it to the finish line of the 100-kilometre race. There was a lot of debate about the weather and what compulsory gear would be required for the race. After all, as we had previously discovered, you can’t trust the weather forecast in New Zealand for more than 24 hours in advance. Unfortunately, the predicted


rain came through on Friday night and never really let up throughout the race, with only a short break in the middle of the day before the heavens really opened later in the afternoon. The start of an ultra race is unlike any other; dramatic spotlights shine on the start gantry in the pre-dawn darkness as racers gather. There is so much nervous tension in the air that no matter what your goals are or how prepared you think you are, the butterflies always start as you realise the mammoth task in front of you. I knew that I could go the distance, it was just a question of making it through the last cutoff point in time. I wasn’t racing with a specific time in mind, but to merely complete the

distance. I was also running with my camera in order to capture the experience from inside the race, which always adds a significant amount of time to my end result. As soon as the gun went off, the elites disappeared up the hill into the darkness, leaving us mere mortals behind to slowly fight our way through the first sections of trails, which were significantly more congested and slower than in the previous years due to the slippery conditions. Racers were not only going slowly up the hills, which is normal for a race like this, but a lot were cautious going down the more technical sections too. It was at this point I knew this race was going to be a true test of my character. Little did I know how deep I would have to dig to get across the finish line. Once we popped out on to the first section of the fire road, there was more space and everyone was able to spread out. We went at our own pace,

allowing plenty of opportunities to pass. The only compulsory equipment required by the competitors for the day was a seam-sealed jacket, with runners warned multiple times that there would be random gear checks along the way. Unfortunately, some didn’t take the warning seriously enough and were disqualified from the course just before the first aid station at Blue Lake! For anyone who has not done an ultra, aid stations, in particular the Tarawera Ultramarathon, are truly unique. They are literally a smorgasbord of food and drinks – from the typical electrolyte drink to the more adventurous Coke and Mountain Dew, and my personal favourite, Ginger Beer. There were bowls of fruit including bananas, watermelon, apples and oranges, as well as chips, pretzels and sandwiches with a variety of fillings. At some of the later aid stations there was even pizza, chips, pickles and, of course, various jelly beans and gummy treats.


Many of the aid stations adopted different themes too, including The Wild West, Christmas, Star Wars (complete with Princess Leias) and my personal favourite, a 1960s-themed station. When you arrive, even if you are battling the demons, you can’t help but smile, allowing you to temporarily forget any aches and pains or doubts that may have been running through your mind. The volunteers are incredibly supportive, going above and beyond to help save the day for many racers, providing the motivation needed to get across the line. My darkest point of the race came while I was going through the Western Okatina section of the course. I was moving extremely slowly along the trail with my mind beginning to enter a deep, dark tunnel. I kept looking at my watch as my pace steadily got slower and slower, with the doubts I had at the start about being able to make the cutoff in time increasing. But I kept on going and focused on what Jason

Schlarb, one of the elite runners had told me about how he dealt with his dark patches in a race. He said when he first started doing ultras he really struggled and it wasn’t until recently that he focused a lot on the power of ‘positive thinking’. With this in mind I realised things weren’t that bad after all and managing to pick up my pace, I began to catch some of the runners who had previously passed me. When competing in any endurance race like this, conversations between runners vary depending on the time of day. Early in the race I heard one woman ask another, “What distance are you doing today?”, responding with “I’m ONLY doing the 60-kilometre, but I’m considering doing the 85-kilometre next year.” Later in the day, typical conversations took place when one runner passed another and

asked, “How are you doing?” The responses ranged from gushing about how great the trails were, even in the rain, to how tough the course was, with the odd one offering no response at all. I even passed two runners near the summit who were listening to commentary from the Black Caps' live cricket match. They were more than happy to cruise along at their own pace, using the radio to help take their mind off their troubles. A little like me, they just wanted to finish. By the time I reached the Tarawera Falls, rain had swelled the Tarawera River to almost flood levels, with the thundering water not only drowning out my foot falls, but it was so loud that I had to almost shout to be heard by other runners on the course. I was in a good frame at this stage of the course, knowing I ‘only’ had a marathon left


to go. Although I had never been on the last part of the course, I’d been told that it was mostly fire roads. As long as my legs held out, I was still on target to make the cutoff point in time. I was also picking up Sheldon, my pacer, who would help keep me going and distract me from the fact that I had just run 60plus kilometres. The remaining section through the Kawerau Forest was totally foreign to me. With no muddy slippery trails, roots and rocks to slow you down, passing the Tarawera Fall is when the ‘real’ race begins. In the previous year the top two men in the 100-kilometre course were literally shoulder to shoulder leaving the falls, increasing the pace so much that at one point they were putting down three-minute kilometres. This year the race was not so close, with the winner Jonas Buud

from Sweden, finishing in 8:00:53, 20 minutes ahead of second place. Obviously, I was nowhere close to doing that, but I was able to significantly pick up my pace and I made it to Tikoki aid station and the cutoff with 45 minutes to spare. Running through the aid station, all those dark thoughts and questions that had been floating around in my mind disappeared and I was able to relax for the first time in the entire race. It was now just a matter of when, not if, I would cross the finish line. Talk to anyone who has done the race previously and they will most likely mention the ‘loop of despair’ as though it’s the toughest section of the course. Admittedly, mentally it probably is the hardest point in terms of the distance (80-kilometre mark) as you still have 20

kilometres to go. With a steep technical climb followed by a fast downhill section before heading back to the Awaroa aid station, I personally didn’t find it too difficult and didn’t think that it deserved it’s intimidating title. The last bit of the race was just a matter of will power; one foot in front of the other and not allowing myself to walk. I was surprised at how well I felt with only five kilometres left to go. Yes, my legs were tired, I knew I had some serious blisters on my feet and while part of me just wanted to stop, I managed to keep moving forward. With only three kilometres left on the clock, I decided the pain to the end was going to be the same, no matter what my pace was, so I summonsed up the last bit of energy and ran to the finish. I crossed the finish line in just under 17 hours, more than double that of the


winning time, but I'm sure just like everyone who crossed that line, I felt like a winner. As I crawled into bed just before midnight, totally exhausted, a smile crept over my face knowing I had finally made it, third time lucky. Mead Norton is an Outdoor Lifestyle Photographer based in Rotorua, New Zealand. When he isn’t outside taking photos, you can find him enjoying the trails, playing in the surf or enjoying the country life with his family. www.meadnorton.com F www.facebook.com/Mead.Norton.Photography www.instagram.com/meadnortonphotography t www.twitter.com/MeadNortonPhoto

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Say Yes to Adventure – Volume Four  

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