New Zealandâ€™s first swimrun race Breca Wanaka, 25th March 2017
Claim your place at brecaswimrun.com
Matthew Hill : Beyond the Ultimate Jungle Ultra : Mikkel Beisner
OUR MISSION For Rangers are a dedicated group of individuals who are raising money for the welfare of rangers who risk their lives daily to protect Africa’s endangered species. They hope that by taking part in some of the hardest, most challenging endurance events on the planet, they can draw attention not only to the plight of Africa’s wildlife and the poaching crisis, but the hardships and dangers the rangers are exposed to in trying to protect our wildlife - and in doing so, raise funds that go directly towards rangers’ welfare. www.forrangers.com/donate
PUBLISHER + EDITOR + CREATIVE Hollie Woodhouse COPY EDITOR Boo Woodhouse email@example.com
FRONT COVER Kaleidoscope of Blue Page 96 Image: Brigit Beattie
BACK COVER Ascending Lembu Page 44 Image: Oli Broadhead
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Published by The Adventurous Kiwi Printed by Spectrum Print, Christchurch, New Zealand ISSN: 2422 8850 ÂŠ Say Yes to Adventure. December 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 / DIGITAL Say Yes to Adventure is an independently published magazine. It is available for purchase worldwide at selected newsagents, bookstores and airport stores and can be purchased online at www.sytamagazine.com. Visit www.sytamagazine.com/stockists to find one near you. We are available for digital download via PressReader www.pressreader.com. CONTRIBUTION We collaborate with creative individuals from all over the globe. If you love adventure and have a story youâ€™d like to share, simply send us an email; we would love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.sytamagazine.com/contributors for more information.
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SELAMAT DATANG Bas van Est
HELICOPTERS 68 Andrew Magness
WINNING THE BATTLE Sam Taylor
EXPLORING AORAKI Ryan Taylor
CHALLENGE THE MIND AND THE BODY WILL FOLLOW Annabelle Latz
SAILING FROM COLOMBIA TO PANAMA Emma Symon
ROAD TRIPPING Eva De Block
COLOURFUL TOWNS AND ISLAND SUNSETS Kyle Mulinder
NIGHT RIDING IN THE PORT HILLS Kirsten Sheppard and Nick Middleton
MAD RUNS AND ENGLISHMEN James NoorkÃµiv
RIDING FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN Alexandra Burnie
KALEIDOSCOPE OF BLUE Brigit Beattie
ASCENDING LEMBU Oli Broadhead
THE IRON WAY Mitch Collins
PEAKS OF THE BALKANS Sarah Webby
PUSHING MYANMAR James Holman
DELICIOUS BRAN MUFFINS Hollie Woodhouse TIPPING POINT Andy Reid
We are now stocked in newsagents worldwide! Visit www.sytamagazine.com/stockists to find one near you. Or purchase online at www.sytamagazine.com.
thank you international adventure magazine, in every sense of the word. I can't thank you enough for supporting me on this journey so far. I am extremely grateful. Looking back its been a heck of a year, with its fair share of lows, but most importantly, plenty of highs. As I write this I am sitting on a beach in Sydney, soaking up the sun's rays, watching mesmerised as the waves roll on in. It is the perfect spot to reflect on the year that's been, and all that I am grateful for â€“ my health, my family and friends and this exciting life I am lucky to lead.
Image: Scott Waterman
BRUISES, SCARS, TAN lines, jewellery and smiles. I considered photoshopping this image, but as quickly as that idea appeared it disappeared. It's not the best look with my heels and office attire mid-week, but it's exactly the way I like it. This is who I am.
By the vast array of inspiring contributions in this volume, there are many others who have plenty to be grateful for too. From an adventurous honeymoon and once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Viedma Glacier in Argentina, to escaping electrical storms on the Peaks of the Balkans trail that crosses the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo.
The day before this image was taken I had competed in the Clarence Bridge 2 Bridge mountain bike race, near Kaikoura in the South Island (hence the bruises). It is just one of the events I have entered over the last couple of months as I train for my next major goal, the 1-Day Kathmandu Coast to Coast, which goes from Kumara Beach on the West Coast to the Pier on New Brighton Beach in Christchurch. It's been a big juggling act as I fit in my day job, as well as creating this magazine, and training for a multisport event. It hasn't been easy but I believe hard work pays off and it will be more than worth it in the long run.
We also discover first-hand what it's like when a series of bad decisions in the Outback of Australia can seriously take their toll on the human body, all while pushing yourself to compete in an adventure race. Enjoy, stay safe and continue having amazing adventures.
From this volume forward we are now available for purchase in selected newsagents in 15 countries around the world. Double, triple backwards flip! A true
Hollie Woodhouse Founder + Editor + Creative
Note: This image was taken alongside the Clarence River, situated just north of Kaikoura in New Zealand. At 12.03am on Monday 14 November a devastating 7.8 earthquake hit the region. Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected in this truly magic part of the world.
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For Henrietta Elva Beattie 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, Meme Nix, Daniel Fridd, Jacqueline Manson and Scott Waterman.
SELAMAT DATANG WORDS AND IMAGES: Bas van Est LOCATION: Sumatra
“China Southern Airlines?” I ask. “ Yes, they have a 5-star rating and come in over $1,000 cheaper than the next best option,” my travel agent assures me. Travelling with an airline I had never heard of and practically flying five hours past my destination to then have to fly back down again had me in two minds about this option, but that figure on the bottom line was too tempting to pass up. I should have however prepared for my layover at Guangzhou Airport a bit better. What an atrocious place to spend seven hours.
YOU USUALLY ASSOCIATE a 34hour journey to at least somewhere high up in the northern hemisphere when travelling from New Zealand. However, I chose a journey of many stopovers and routes that would eventually take me to a place called Biha, located in the province of Lampung in South West Sumatra, Indonesia.
One of my best buddies Scott flew down to Sumatra a few weeks earlier and shared a quick update on what to expect when I touched down. “Get ready for a crazy car ride with a driver who doesn’t speak much English and is a loose cannon. Once you get here, it’s epic, though.” I was pumped and a touch anxious all at once.
As I exit the arrivals hall at Bandar Lampung airport, I hastily take in my new surroundings and gaze into the distance pretending to know exactly where I’m going. Just as I think the person at the back of the crowd waving and smiling is my guy, someone pops up right next to me holding up a Nokia phone with my name in a text message. “Bas? I take your bag, come, come.” For some peace of mind, I had prearranged a taxi with my accommodation which is possibly one of the best things to do when you go travelling, especially when you’re also carrying surfboards and photography gear.
It was a humid but balmy evening, and I knew I was in Indonesia when the smell of Sampoerna cigarettes was as thick in the air as the fumes from rush hour traffic flowing through the window. We took a variety of routes, merging in and out of mainstream traffic via bumpy back roads. Agus would occasionally reach for the coins rattling away in his door to pay the kids posing as freelance traffic wardens to allow us back into the hectic flow of traffic.
My driver’s name was Agus, and for the next six-hour drive to Biha, my life was in his hands.
We reached the outskirts of the capital at dusk and entered a world of potholes, dodgy overtaking and smoke-filled villages. With a good few hours ahead I decided to brush up on my Indonesian and made notes as I quizzed Agus for
some new phrases. It was also a good way to make sure he wasn’t dozing off at the wheel. After a quick stop at a roadside restaurant for one of the tastiest and spiciest meals of my life, we knocked off the remainder of the leg and arrived late in the evening at the surf camp. The power had already been switched off for the night so with a head torch on I found my bearings and rinsed myself with a bucket of water before collapsing on the bunk bed with the sound of waves roaring in the distance. I woke up to loud knocks on the door the following morning. “You ready to surf bro?” It was my buddy Scott, and I threw him a very croaky but enthusiastic “Yeeeeeew” before I began assembling my boards. I intended to make this trip more about surfing and less about photography to try to rest the mind from an already hectic year, but en route to the surf break that very first morning I knew I was kidding myself. It was only a short drive away, with the option of taking the scenic route
over grassy meadows through an incredible palm forest for just an added ten-minutes travel time. Either way, it required a drive through a nearby village to cross the river via a one-man and scooter swing bridge. Kids would run from their homes sporting big smiles and their hands raised high to collect a high five as we passed by. The anticipation of surfing over the Indonesian reef again and the sensory overload of the beauty of this new place put me on an incredible high, forgetting about my rumbling tummy. We surfed for a couple of hours before returning for coffee and banana pancakes prepared by the lovely ladies in the kitchen. What a way to kick off our first day; the standard had been set. Each of the three meals that were included in our stay were enjoyed with a vista of the reef break out front, considered to be one of the best lefthand point breaks in Indonesia. There was also a watch tower to get a better vantage point for checking the surf, reading a book and soaking up those epic tropical sunsets – all of this and
my room for just $29 NZ a night. Our place was basic and casual, like most surf camps around there and I loved that. If you’re looking for hot showers and a pool, then this part of South Sumatra would be very slim picking. For the first few days of my stay, the conditions were incredible, which meant we could surf right through into the afternoon without the wind changing to the onshore direction. With the wide variety of surf spots in the near vicinity, we were spoiled for choice and spent at least a couple of hours before each meal in the water. I spent the remaining downtime pulling down coconuts, reading Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts (Shantaram) and making the odd visit to Nanung, owner of the local surfboard ding repair shop. After a few days, the swell began to taper off, and the wind became less favourable, so we decided to venture to a place that we had heard would work in those conditions, a mere two-anda-half-hour ride to the north. With a daypack, a couple of surfboards and
a scooter each we rode off just before sunrise, on Day Five of our stay. We arranged our six-scooter convoy to have those with working lights on their scooter at the front and back of the pack. The trip was relatively smooth for the first hour although you had to be extremely careful of potholes randomly appearing in corners and overtaking other early risers. It was hard to imagine this was the West TransSumatran ‘Highway’. Once the morning sun began to peer over the horizon, I could barely keep my eyes on the road. The initial dim lit rice fields and palm forests had come alive into a bursting vibrant green with golden sun rays dappling through gaps in the foliage, accentuated by smoke lingering in the air. Although time was not on our side, we had to keep a slow pace through the villages as we zigzagged through the crowds of people setting up wedding ceremonies and produce markets. Food carts were already in full operation with
floundered in the shallows with them ‘We for a while, and I realised I hadn’t felt that relaxed for a very long time.’ mouth-watering smells of grilled goods filling the air. Some of the surroundings were so incredible that it was a shame to have to pass through so quickly. Once we passed the last major village we reached the roundabout we had been told to take a left-hand turn at, entering an unpaved road with potholes the size of our scooters. The fresh morning air made way for humid and dusty conditions as we ascended our way into the hills. Clouds of dust and diesel fumes would indicate another overloaded truck ahead, struggling its way up the hill and pushing its carry limit to new levels. Imagine that for a daily commute! When we reached the highest point, we got our first glimpse of Pulau Pisang Island, or most commonly known to surfers as Banana Island, home to an amazing left and right-hand reef break. We found out later that on the day we had initially planned to take the boat over, the waves were huge and near impossible to surf. The guys who told us this ended up breaking boards and getting rolled on the reef without a single wave being caught, although their guide said it was ‘sweet’. After descending from the hills, it was just another 30 minutes to less populated villages and white beaches with thumping shore breaks before we reached the turn to the village which hosted Jenny’s Right surf break. All of the house fronts in the village were facing towards the road with their backs right against the water, just a meter above the tideline. We were slightly less stoked when we realised their drains for ‘all waste’ ended up in the very water we were about to surf in. Nonetheless, this small village hosted
one of the most inviting looking surf breaks I had thus far seen, and all of us were fizzing to get into the water. We arranged to park our scooters and equipment at a small eatery with accommodation, which had been set up for surf Tourism. I was carrying a good amount of photography gear, and there is no way you would leave anything in your scooter unattended. After lathering up on zinc and slipping on the much-needed reef booties, we stepped our way to the furthest point in the reef for a well-timed jump and paddle down the reef where the take off point was best. You just don’t want to think too much about what ends up in the water from those drains, but if the water clarity was anything to go by, we were pretty safe. When there was a lull in the sets, we would occasionally be joined by turtles or a school of black and yellow striped fish checking out the pack of humans bobbing around in their spot. Describing the serenity yet ferocity of such surf spots is hard. One minute you’re taking deep dives underwater to swim with the fish and seek shelter from the sun, and the next minute you’re scratching for the horizon as you work your way across the shallow sharp reef out of the impact zone after catching one of those turquoise dream walls. There were more surf spots within close range of Jenny’s, and we had a small glimpse at yet another postcard set-up, but it was time to get back before dark; a golden rule when travelling to such places. On the last day of my stay, the swell was on the rise and our go-to surf breaks were starting to max out, so we went on an adventure to find a
hidden gem. After a short drive from our camp and few dead ends, we found a dusty path through farmland which took us to the middle of Biha beach. We wandered south along the beach, and after a quick float around in an incredibly powerful shore break dumper, we didn’t find anything overly surfable. As we neared the southern end of the beach, there was a group of kids playing with leftover broken surfboards, catching the remnants of powerful sets breaking at the edge of the reef further out. The additional Indonesian vocabulary I picked up from Agus in the taxi was helpful to gain the kids attention and pretend I knew what they were talking about. We floundered in the shallows with them for a while, and I realised I hadn’t felt that relaxed for a very long time. During my ten-day stay, I felt like I had only scratched the surface of what was on offer within a two-hour scooter ride from our camp. The place felt free, unconcerned and relaxed and the majority of the locals were friendly when treated with respect. There were hikes, waterfalls and wave options galore with the general rule; if you can’t see the wave from the road, there’s probably no one surfing it. Bas van Est is a professional photographer from New Zealand. Outside of the city hustle he spends most of his time seeking coastal adventures around New Zealand and abroad. www.basvanest.com F www.facebook.com/vanestphotography www.instagram.com/basvanest basvanest.tumblr.com
WINNING THE BATTLE WORDS: Sam Taylor IMAGES: Supplied LOCATION: Africa
Posterity. This is the word most synonymous with worldwide conservation efforts these days. “We must save our wildlife for the generations to come. For our children.” These sentiments are as noble as they are necessary. IT IS EVIDENT that the only way that we will stop the illicit trade in wildlife goods is through a strategic, multinational and macro-economic approach that addresses markets and demands. Whether it be through the destruction or control of those markets is open to debate but, fundamentally, this is the only way to stop poaching for good.
We need to win the battle in order to win the war.
Cultural shifts, however, can take generations to affect change. International collaboration is laborious, with different nations each expressing conflicting ideologies as to how best secure wildlife in the long term. We need to be careful we do not focus on a solution that won’t happen overnight when we risk losing our wildlife in the morning. Because, as I write this post, we don’t have a long-term plan.
While advanced technology, both for anti-poaching and research, is fantastic, it does not replace loyal, motivated and trusted men. These are the men who, through constant monitoring and time on the ground with their charges, understand rhinos and their wider habitat and the communities that live near rhino populations. Rangers determine and make recommendations based on their understanding of each location and indeed, each animal.
As many as one hundred elephants are slaughtered each day. Simultaneously, up to four rhinos will suffer the same fate. If current trends continue, we have approximately ten to 15 years left with elephant and rhino. If we don’t have a long-term plan – then we need to create one. So, while governments and NGOs deliberate and plan how to end the illicit trade decimating our wildlife, we must focus on the tools at our disposal – the tools that grant them the time.
High Tech vs. Tried and Tested What tools do we have? Technology – certainly, and this is often pushed forward as the method to end the crisis. Drones, cameras, motion sensors; all sexy innovations, and donors are desperate to fund these.
The principal success factor is boots – trusted boots – on the ground. These men monitor the animals, make informed decisions and, ultimately, they have the power in their hands to keep these animals alive, or aid and abet poachers. Either they feel invested in the task they have before them, or they don’t. Technology should provide additional capacity – but it can never replace them.
Our Rangers Rangers are quite literally on the frontline of a war. As a result of growing consumer demand in South East Asia, rhino and elephant poachers have become ever more determined and motivated; using high-calibre assault weapons and sophisticated night-vision gear to operate at night. Poachers come from an underworld of illegal gunrunners, involved in all facets of gun crimes, including human trafficking and drugs. It has even been suggested in the global media that there are links between revenue from poaching and terrorism organisations. Those on the ground work long hours in testing and highly dangerous conditions, both day and night, monitoring the whereabouts and status of wildlife; armed anti-poaching units are deployed at night when the threat is greatest. Over 1,000 rangers have been killed globally trying to protect what’s left of our wildlife in the last 15 years. Without denigrating the significance of either, these losses are comparable to the number of British soldiers killed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Top-quality but essential equipment ensures that Rangers perform their job effectively and at minimal risk to themselves. Investment in these men and women and their welfare should
not be jeopardised by the introduction of, and investment in, technology for technology’s sake. Large sums of money and material gain are associated with the illegal rhino horn and ivory trade, and so an enormous amount of trust must be placed in the rangers, who could easily sell inside information as to the whereabouts of both wildlife and fellow rangers and scouts. We firmly believe that investment in the rangers’ welfare, both financially, regarding equipment and training, and personal investment in each man beyond his professional role, boosts morale and most importantly, loyalty to the cause.
For Rangers For Rangers is a dedicated group of individuals who raise money for the welfare of rangers who risk their lives daily to protect Africa’s endangered species. Rather than just tell the story, the For Rangers team hope that by taking part in some of the hardest, most challenging endurance events on the planet, they can draw attention not only
to the plight of Africa’s wildlife and the poaching crisis but to the hardships and dangers rangers are exposed to every day; and in doing so, raise funds that go directly to rangers’ welfare. In April 2015, a five-person For Rangers team ran the infamous ‘Marathon des Sables’, a gruelling sixday, 250-kilometre multi-stage ultra race through a formidable landscape in one of the world’s most inhospitable climates; the Sahara Desert. The concept is growing. Aside from individuals running marathons and tough mudders, we’ve also had a team of ten individuals who ran the infamous 230-kilometre Beyond the Ultimate Jungle Ultra in Peru. Two of our ladies rode 1,000 kilometres across Mongolia, and two men kayaked 1,000 kilometres down the Yukon River in Canada. To date, our adventures have raised almost $150,000 US for rangers’ welfare. As a result, new uniforms, socks, thermal imagers, first aid equipment and hydration systems were bought for over 200 armed rangers in the field. Funds were provided towards
an anti-poaching vehicle in the Mara, home of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and towards snake antivenom development in Kenya. For Rangers also recently contributed $10,000 to the families of three rangers killed in a recent contact with poachers in Garamba National Park in the Congo. Every cent raised goes directly to the welfare of the men on the frontline of the battle that will buy us the time to win the war to save our wildlife – for posterity. For more information and to find out how you can donate towards For Rangers, please visit www.runningforrangers.com. Sam Taylor is heavily involved in the charity For Rangers. He has now completed two ultramarathons while raising money and awareness for the rangers, and is currently trying to convince his wife to let him compete in more. www.forrangers.com F www.facebook.com/ForRangers www.instagram.com/forrangers t www.twitter.com/ForRangers
CHALLENGE THE MIND AND THE BODY WILL FOLLOW WORDS: Annabelle Latz IMAGES: Shutter Sport Nelson LOCATION: New Zealand
It’s called Adventure Racing. But the adventure starts well before there is a shadow cast on the start line. The adventure begins the day the team of three chooses a name and signs on the dotted line. The Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge is an adventure race for women that provides a solid and complex platform of curve balls and exuberance, and everything in between. RUNNING SUCCESSFULLY SINCE 2007 in New Zealand’s South Island and for the first time this year heading north to Rotorua, Torpedo 7 Spring Challenge is the brain child of world adventure racing guru Nathan Fa’avae and his wife and business partner, Jodie. It is, without a doubt, the largest adventure race on the planet, this year welcoming 1,350 women to Tasman, and 540 women to Rotorua. It provided a race day and months of training to be remembered, as competitors ground their way around the three, six or nine-hour events. Here are the words of Annabelle Latz, based in Marlborough, who this year signed up for Spring Challenge for the first time, battling out the ninehour race with her more experienced teammates Jodye Tomalin and Donna Bowers, who called their team Definitely Not Disprins. She looks back on the race day, crossing the finish line fifteen-and-a-half hours after she set off at 6am in the back-blocks of Collingwood, recalling the highs and lows of the race, and remembers fondly all the epic training days with other women in the region who joined the Spring Challenge force. Standing on the start line at 5.57am on Saturday September 24th, in a paddock somewhere near Collingwood wearing our wetsuits, bike helmets and sneakers, our team shared a final good luck and hug. With a twinkle in our eyes, a grin on our faces, and butterflies in our
tummies we waited for the start horn to send us on our way. We must have looked ridiculous. Definitely Not Disprins. Meaning we don’t melt in the rain. A good thing, because it rained. A lot. On paper, our race took nine hours. In reality, it took us a lot longer. Adventure racing is all about navigation, and one particular turn can make or break you. Our day involved a mixed bag of running, rafting along the Aorere River, mountain biking, hiking and running, more mountain biking, more hiking and running, a quick final paddle, then a two-kilometre dash along the beach back to the finish line at the Golden Bay Holiday Park. What a day; I don’t think any of us wants to see another muesli bar for a very long time. It is a long day to all be within such proximity to each other, and to observe the different emotions that surfaced at some point for all of us throughout various stages of the race was fascinating. The 14-kilometre raft went well; we were all in good spirits and paddled hard down the Aorere Gorge. The 11-kilometre MacKay Pass mountain bike navigation was relatively straight forward, even though the drizzle had set in. Stage Four, the ‘Search for the Naked Possum’ 12-kilometre hike was the time for the first big question. Accurate navigation is first and
foremost; pace comes next. We didn’t expect to be out there for the best part of five hours, and the first half of this navigation section went well, as we kept up with the middle of the race pack. But then, two of the controls had us beat. One, we could see but not get to, and the other… well, it’s amazing how much we tried to get the map to match where we so wanted the control to be! It was well into mid-afternoon by the time we reached the next transition area, each checkpoint clicked off; our wonderful support crew with all our nutrition and comfort necessities were close at hand. One of the biggest learning curves was to put behind us quickly what was now in the past, dwelling on what could have been was a waste of precious energy. Channelling energy into what was ahead for the next 24-kilometre ‘Gold Fields Fever’ was much more important. With a smile on our faces and an exchange of thanks to our support crew, we took our bikes and pedalled away. Given the rain Golden Bay had copped the week leading up to the event, we knew it would be a slog. And a slog it was. We found the first couple of checkpoints without too much bother, although we were kicking ourselves for listening to another team’s advice to dump our bikes and hike. In hindsight, it was a lesson about sticking to your own plan. Not to worry! But as the mud turned to clay, and the drizzle turned to rain, our trio became
is always enjoyable when people feel like ‘Life they are on a journey of improvement, learning
new skills, getting fitter and gaining confidence.’
– NATHAN FA’AVAE
progressively quieter, with only the occasional curse to make conversation. In a team of three, each member has her strengths and moments when she will turn to one of the others for help, whether it be practical advice or a lift of enthusiasm. Learning when and how you can help each other is so important, and we were pleased we had the discussion before race day; “When do you think you will struggle?” “What are you best at?” We all knew that emotions of perceived grumpiness, short sentences and outbursts of frustration expressed during the race could not be taken personally. We soldiered on, biked when we could, pushed when we had to, and celebrated when we clicked off another checkpoint. We were damp and very low in spirits when we turned into the paddock to meet our support crew at the end of Stage Five. Chaffing had reared its ugly head, our bikes were somewhat munted
with clay, and we knew our next stage for the 14-kilometre ‘Milnthorpe Mystery Tour’ hike would be taking place in the dark. And the rain. Dry socks, a bump of fuel from the back of the Landcruiser and we were off again. During the months, weeks and days leading up to Spring Challenge, we had been training to compete, not complete. But now, we were no longer racing to place, or even finish before dark. We were racing to finish.
acknowledgement that we were looking forward to the finish line, we knew we would be crossing at goodness knows what time, when it would be dark, and probably still raining. At the end of this stage, we ended up at the Old Wharf on the beach, almost in sight of the finish line. Our last hurdle was to paddle an inflatable kayak across the channel to the beach, followed by a two-kilometre jog up the beach to Golden Bay Camping Ground.
It was hard at this point to not have a brief reflection on all the hours of weekend training missions, not to mention the hard yards we had put in during our working week. Despite this, we were still determined to keep our chins up and keep the fun factor going. And that we did.
Just before we crossed the bridge onto the grass we paused briefly. Composing our breath, we gathered each other’s hands and shared a satisfied grin. Running up the finish chute was overwhelming with the announcer cheering us in, along with the Marlborough contingency of our support crew, fellow teammates and their support crews.
As we bounced off for the final stage of the day, we reflected on our efforts thus far. Sharing a laugh, a sigh, and an
We might as well have won because, within a blink, all the hardships of the day were forgotten. What was
remembered was the awesome effort we put in, formed by encouragement, honesty, positivity and hard yakka. Spring Challenge is not just a physical challenge, nor is it just mental. It’s a challenge for the human spirit, carefully selecting the best bits of what creates women to be the best they can be, and putting it out there with the elements and Mother Nature. We can’t wait to do it all over again.
A Word: Nathan and Jodie Fa’avae Anyone thinking about doing the Spring Challenge is practically there. Having the thought is the first step. The event’s popularity comes down to providing a welcoming and safe platform from which to try something adventurous in a supportive team environment. The Spring Challenge is more about the months leading up to the event, the lifestyle and perception changes. Come the event, and our goal is to create a safe but challenging
passage through the wilderness, to take people to incredible places. Every year we always learn and gather ideas for the next event. This year’s Tasman event was the biggest we’ve run, and we were exposed in a few places, especially when the weather turned. But our systems held up, just. Because every location is different it’s always a big adventure for us too – we can plan and plan but come event day there is always something you didn’t see coming, so it’s vital that you can be flexible and adapt fast. Tasman is a great region for Adventure Racing, mainly because there is so much wilderness area and more often than not the weather is good. Being able to organise and design an event course so close to home is a luxury, hence why we’ve run the Spring Challenge in Tasman three times now. That said, the appeal of exploring new places is a highlight of being course designer.
Next year’s events are taking place in Canterbury’s Geraldine, and the Auckland region. Check out www.springchallenge. co.nz for more details. Annabelle Latz is a writer and communications specialist, who gets 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. t www.twitter.com/AnnabelleLatz
FOLLOWING PAGE: Eva De Block is a quirky Belgian artist currently residing in Queenstown, New Zealand. After her master studies in graphic design and advertising, she left home to travel further and expand her possibilities as an artist, becoming more passionate about illustration and character design. For Eva drawing is a portal from reality; she can look at the world and express what she sees in her art. www.evedeblock.be F www.facebook.com/eliseatevedesigns www.instagram.com/evatheblock
COLOURFUL TOWNS AND ISLAND SUNSETS WORDS AND IMAGES: Kyle Mulinder LOCATION: Canada
Canada was the first country I’d ever travelled to. Many moons ago I spent a couple of summers living on Quadra Island working as a sea kayak guide, taking clients out on five-day trips in search of orcas, humpback whales, sea lions and more. This time, though, I was visiting an entirely different part of the country. NOVA SCOTIA WAS not at all as I expected. Located on the east coast of Canada, this maritime province is where I started my epic road trip journeying from Halifax, all the way to Prince Edward Island. All I knew before arriving was that Nova Scotia was famous for water sports like kayaking, so that was already a tick in my books. I was also lucky enough to bring my partner Lisa along with me, and I’m glad I did, as both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island make great destinations for travelling as a couple. We landed in Halifax, and I’m pleased to say that I managed to master (or survived, depending on how you see it) driving on the other side of the road. We couldn’t wait to start exploring and headed to the popular Halifax waterfront, located amid the downtown
area. Halifax ended up being our favourite place on our Nova Scotia leg of the road trip, with its fun and relaxed vibe. Along the boardwalk, you can find gift shops selling fantastically cheesy souvenirs and food outlets with all the best Canadian staples like poutine, lobster rolls and beavertails (what they call fancy waffles). Halifax is also home to the famous Alexander Keith’s Brewery – producer of my all-time favourite beer. Needless to say, that was a highlight. After leaving Halifax we continued our road trip along the scenic Lighthouse Route, stopping at Mahone Bay where we saw floating houses and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Town Lunenburg. It was incredible watching the sunrise reflect off the still water and colourful
houses. Everything was so vibrantly uniform; it felt like we were in a fictitious town. I have never seen a place that was so aesthetically perfect. Next stop on the road trip was Pictou where we were able to spend the night at Pictou Lodge before our journey onto Prince Edward Island. Lisa and I managed to fit in some canoeing. It was so peaceful and quiet, and with the greenery around us, it made the perfect backdrop for some stunning photos. Prince Edward Island is easily accessible via Confederation Bridge. From Pictou, we found out that we were able to catch a vehicle ferry across, which meant we were able to take in different views, compared to our drive back along the 13-kilometre stretch. We stayed the night at Charlottetown, the largest city and
capital of Prince Edward Island. There are pedestrian-only streets filled with live entertainment and plenty of great local beer and wine. We loved the old, historic charm and it was an excellent way to relax before our day of adventure ahead. We only had one day to explore all this amazing island could offer and wished we could’ve stayed longer. All photographers love a good sunrise shot, but I wanted one specifically at Panmure Island with the lighthouse, which meant Lisa and I were out of the door before 5:30am. To some this might sound too early, but actually we should’ve left earlier as the sun was already rising while we drove there. Despite that, I couldn’t help but stop along the way to capture the vibrant orange, pink and purple painting the
sky was putting on display for us, even though we were chasing the clock. We arrived at Panmure Island just in time to witness the most epic sunrise I had ever seen. We left Panmure Island and set off on our next adventure. If you ever visit Prince Edward Island, my absolute number one recommendation is to walk the Dunes Trail on the Greenwich section of PEI National Park. It’s an easy four-kilometre return track starting with open views of Saint Peter’s Harbour that changes into a forested path. We emerged onto a long floating boardwalk that took us on a winding path through to more incredible views. Once we reached the end, we were greeted with red sand dunes and a stunning beach. It was an incredible experience and the most
memorable part of my visit to Prince Edward Island. We spent a total of five days in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and what did we learn? They love their lobsters and lighthouses. Kyle Mulinder (aka Bare Kiwi) is an adventurer, storyteller, self-taught photographer and filmmaker. Originally a rural farm boy from the North Island of New Zealand, he became inspired while working as a tour guide and is now one of the country’s leading social media influencers and New Zealand’s official GoPro content creator. www.barekiwi.com F www.facebook.com/Barekiwi www.instagram.com/barekiwi t www.twitter.com/barekiwi www.youtube.com/user/barekiwi
RIDING FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN WORDS AND IMAGES: Alexandra Burnie LOCATION: Vietnam and Cambodia
It was 5am, and I was on my way to the airport. The dimly lit street lights emitted a soft haze as I stared out the taxi window. The roads were deathly quiet. Even the Australian morning birds had yet to rise. I wouldn’t normally have been up this early for anything or anyone, but today was different. Today I was travelling to Southeast Asia to cycle for the rights of women and girls. Thankfully, I was not doing it alone. I would be cycling 350 kilometres from Vietnam to Cambodia alongside 25 incredible women – women who want to see a better world for all. AS I ARRIVED at the departure gate, I met some of my cycling comrades for the first time – the others, who hail from all over Australia and two from the United States we would meet once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. Landing in Ho Chi Minh, my first thought was, “Jeez, it’s hot!” My second thought was, “Crap. This is what I’m going to be cycling up to 80 kilometres a day in.” However, my anxiety soon faded as my senses began to experience the pulsating hubbub of Vietnam. From tuk-tuks whizzing manically down the streets to the wafting smell of fresh pho (noodle soup) that locals consume, sitting on small plastic chairs, I soon forgot that I was in fact terrified of what was to come. It wasn’t my first time in Vietnam, but nonetheless, it was as enchanting and intoxicating as I remembered. Soon enough, we were whizzed away and taken to our hotel where we met the rest of the team and headed into town for a group dinner. Sitting amongst a group of women who want to change the world was inspiring to say the
least. It was a humbling experience to hear their stories and what inspired them to sign up for this courageous challenge. Each person had her own reason for joining the adventure, created by Inspired Adventures and UN Women Australia, and each was as awe-inspiring as the next. By joining this adventure, each woman had to raise at least AUS$3,500, which would go towards funding UN Women projects in the Asia Pacific region. The specific projects were aimed at providing economic empowerment to women, in the hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty and violence. I joined the adventure as a Team Leader, tasked with liaising between our Vietnamese and Cambodian crew, and ensuring everyone was happy and safe. As the Team Leader, I did not have to fundraise for UN Women, but as an avid believer in gender equality and female empowerment, I fundraised anyway, managing to raise over AUS$3,200. I had never fundraised prior to this adventure, and the sheer generosity of my friends, family and
even strangers was heartwarming. We headed to bed early in preparation for our first and modest 40 kilometres of cycling the next day. There were certainly a few nervous jitters in the air as we headed to the starting point of the day’s cycle and to pick up our bikes. The team had all trained hard for the challenge, and each and every one had varying abilities. But we all knew this was not a race. It was a personal challenge, and no matter what, we knew we’d come out on top. Soon enough, helmets were on, seats were adjusted, nervous smiles were shared … and then we were off. Cycling between quilted rice fields and farms along the Mekong Delta, we found serenity under the shaded trees and smiling children who greeted us along the way. This was considered one of the easier cycles, and a way to prepare for the challenge that was to come. We completed the cycle with no dramas, before spending the afternoon floating on the Mekong Delta, stopping to visit local factories and businesses dotted the edges of the river.
Our second day of cycling wasn’t as forgiving. After crossing the Vietnam and Cambodia border, we hopped back on our bikes and cycled to the beachside village of Kep. It was another modest 40 kilometres, but this time we cycled beneath the unforgiving midday sun. This was the first of a series of events on this adventure that changed my life. Most days we rode in 45-degree heat and across red sand roads whose dust clung to our bodies like wet cement. When it’s so hot you feel like you can’t breathe, your legs are burning from heat rash and salty sweat stings your eyes, there comes a point where you just want to stop. You think to yourself, “I can’t do this. Can I do this? No, I definitely can’t.” But then you just keep spinning those pedals over and over and over again until you realise, “OK, only five more kilometres. I can do this, right?” and then... you’ve done it. It’s moments like that when you realise that you’re far more capable than you could ever imagine.
The second thing that changed my life was learning that it is most often those who have the least who give the most. Most of our adventure was spent in Cambodia, and what we learnt about Cambodians is that despite not having much material wealth, and often living in heartbreaking circumstances, they are some of the most generous, welcoming and positive people. On our longer cycle days, we took regular rest stops along the way. More often than not, our rest stops would be at the home of one of the families in the local chick communities. On a particularly tough day of our trip, we were riding 76 kilometres from Kep to a town outside Phnom Penh. At the halfway mark, I was exhausted. It was 45°C and the humidity was stifling. My legs were tender, I was sweating from places I didn’t know it was possible to sweat from and my hands were throbbing from gripping the handlebars too tightly. At this point, it would have been easy to jump in the support vehicle following us and
travel the rest of the way in sweet airconditioning. It’s what I wanted to do. But I didn’t, and half the reason was because of the family whose home we stopped to rest at before finishing the final 38 kilometres. Here was a group of dusty, sweaty and smelly women turning up to their homes, using their ‘happy house’ (toilets) and their outdoor spaces. It was an utterly sobering experience to be welcomed into their homes so graciously. Many times on the adventure I would think, “If only more people in the world were like this.” This one particular elderly woman was fascinated by my red hair, and pointed at my camera and motioned for me to take a picture of us together. She looked at the picture I took and started laughing and gave me a big hug. It was in that moment I decided I wanted to keep riding. After all, it was for her and her daughter and her granddaughter I was here. It was for them I was getting out of my comfort zone and pushing
myself to the limit. I was riding for their rights. So I kept cycling. And the third event that changed my life? Meeting and cycling with a group of passionate and inspiring women who wanted to see a better world for women as much as I did. These women were all from different backgrounds, from law, journalism and teaching, to physiotherapy, government work, a yoga teacher and three grandmothers! Each person on the ride had her own reason for taking on the challenge, but for many, it was a deep desire to fight the widespread gender inequality in Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet what we all learnt was that it’s not an easy feat. Personally, I came home from the adventure feeling confident I wanted to make a change, but powerless to make a difference. At times, it can seem impossible. So I’d like to ask you some things that were posed to us on our ride: How do you change such overwhelming poverty? How do you even try to eradicate gender inequality?
How do you stop the cycle of violence? I honestly wish I could answer these questions. Wouldn’t it be great if I could? But I can tell you this – an inspiring analogy that was told to us. The world is like a river, rushing forward, full steam ahead. Every person on this planet enters the river with his or her own values, morals and changes they want to see in the world. Wherever you stand in the river, to at least some extent, even if it’s small, the river will change its course. The more people who stand with you, the more powerful the force of change becomes. But even the smallest of changes to the flow of the river has ripple effects. So there then comes a time in your life where you must decide: do you walk the path society deems the best way to live a fruitful and prosperous life? Or do you jump with reckless abandon into a life that challenges you – a life that helps change the world? I know what I would choose. But knowing is simpler than doing. It’s not an easy
thing – to go left when everybody else goes right. Yet I am a firm believer that if something scares you and makes you think, “Can I really do this?”, then you should run at it with all the strength and resolve you have. I must admit I’m yet to follow my advice, but one day I shall. The will and the urge to go left grows inside me every day. And I just know, that day will be extraordinary. Alexandra Burnie is a creative Australian traveller, whose passion lies in humanitarianism, travel and telling stories. She holds a Communications degree majoring in Journalism and is currently completing her Master of Arts in Creative Writing. She was bitten by the travel bug a long time ago and has since gone on to hike the great Canadian Rockies, swim in the Great Barrier Reef and cycle 350 kilometres across Vietnam and Cambodia. www.alexandraburnie.com www.instagram.com/alexandra.r.b_
ASCENDING LEMBU WORDS AND IMAGES: Oli Broadhead LOCATION: Sumatra
“Pancakes, we are making pancakes, pancake time in the jungle toooooonight”, sang Roy. We had carried flour, two cans of milk, and half a dozen carefully wrapped eggs for this occasion; pancake night at Ridge Camp Five (later re-christened Pancake Camp One), our only break from a monotonous diet of boiled rice and dry chillies. MY SURROUNDINGS WERE not exactly how I had pictured them when we first came up with the idea of a biological mega-transect in Sumatra, a densely forested island of the Indonesian archipelago, which lies slap on the equator. Images of Tarzanesque rainforests had sprung to mind, a botanical wonderland permeated with sweat-in-your-eyes, steam in the shade, sick-to-the-stomach tropical heat. But basecamp at 2,500 meters on the flank of the as-yet-unclimbed Mount Kurik (approximately translated to ‘Mount Wild Chicken’) was freezing – a solid 30°C below what we had prepared for. The trees that surrounded our tent were stunted, sickly, and all were suffering from systemic parasitism by leeching moss. This was the result of an unexpected and last-minute rejection of entry permits, meaning that the only
area of forest we had permission to enter was two kilometres higher than the one we applied for. We were ten days into a biological survey of a montane forest region in Aceh, Northern Sumatra. Departing from Uring, a village of corrugated iron, amicable ducks, and less-thanamicable water buffalo, we had waded for two days up one of the many seasonal rivers that dissect the landscape. We trudged through the humidity and heat of the low altitude rainforest, and hacked through the thickets of Rattan (these climbing palms are as thick as your thumb, and are studded with inch-long spikes. Their woody stems can extend 70 meters through the undergrowth; usually at eye level. The vital income tribesmen get from harvesting it for
cheap furniture is hard and painfully won). From there we followed a series of ridges into stands of colossal silver-barked pines, festively adorned with pendulous pitcher plants. After a week we arrived at the 3,080-meter Mount Kurik; unclimbed and surrounded by 625 square kilometres of unresearched forest. There is a strong argument that no ecosystem is truly pristine, due to the effects of air pollution, acid rain, and anthropogenic global warming. Despite this sobering thought the area is about as close as you can get to zero human impact, with only two previous expeditions: Dutch colonial surveyors in the early 20th century, and a team of Sumatran mountaineers in 2013, led by Said, our current navigator extraordinaire.
Our four-person team encircled the spluttering fire; it was the night after our arrival at the base of Mount Kurik. Said was poring over our route plan, Iris was jotting down the day’s biological observations, and Roy was stretched out on his roll mat, clutching his bandaged hand to his chest. Yesterday’s attempt to summit had failed, and we didn’t have the equipment necessary for a different route. Maps of the area are vague at best and tend to contradict one another. We had expected a steep ridge to Kurik’s summit and had found a vertical rock face. On the descent, Roy had hacked at a moss-covered tree stump with his machete, but the ‘stump’ turned out to be a concealed boulder; his machete slipped and cut his ring finger right through to the bone. Grimacing, he washed it with surgical spirit. I pulled out my makeshift medical kit, and we bandaged it up as
best we could: a tampon to absorb the blood, a condom to keep out infection, and duct tape to hold it all together. The finger had swollen in front of the ring, but we didn’t have the tools to remove it. Roy is a devout Muslim, and the expedition unfortunately overlapped with Ramadan. He stoically refused to ingest painkillers or antibiotics until sunset. The cold didn’t help; the morning after the summit attempt I emerged to find Roy shivering by the fire. “How did you sleep?” “I couldn’t, I sat and prayed for day”. Our breakfast was boiled rice, flavoured with ‘Saus Pedas’ – Indonesian chilli sauce that melted my tongue but left Said and Roy nonplussed. Optional extras included salted fish (delicious, and purchased for a few pence a kilo), and Chinese crackers. The crackers are bought as brittle yellow disks and
fried in palm oil, which had frozen into a waxy solid and had to be sliced off in chunks. My yelps as the rapidly expanding crackers threw off scalding oil were a source of constant entertainment to the others. After meals were over the long-tailed wood rats would arrive, hopping into camp in search of leftovers. They had never encountered humans before and would ignore us completely. On the second night, one had managed to gnaw its way into our supplies. From then on we slept with the supply bags by our heads. The day after our failed ascent of Kurik was Iris’ birthday. We had bought a sachet of jelly as a portable substitute for birthday cake, matches filled in for candles, and the guest list was ultra-exclusive. Our impromptu party-breakfast occupied most of the morning. In the afternoon we explored the river adjacent to basecamp. The hunters from Uring rarely travel more
As we climbed above the ‘ cloud line, the landscape fell away in front of us.’ than three days walk into the forest, and so we were almost certainly the first humans to walk its banks. The water level had been noticeably falling since we arrived; we later learnt that the locals had usefully but unimaginatively named it ‘The River that Sometimes Dries Up’. The now-empty riverbed was strewn with sinuously eroded boulders, flanked by high, elephantgrey cliffs pitted with caves. I crawled to the back of one; the sandy floor was scuffed with numerous unidentifiable paw prints, and the air smelt bitter. There was a sense of thrilling childish adventure in exploring this forest, a feeling of isolation mixed with the intoxicating knowledge that around each corner, in each cave, and under each rock there might be something entirely unexpected. With Kurik off the cards, our attention turned to Mount Lembu. We had enough supplies for a few days at basecamp and had buried food for the return journey en route. Gunung Lembu was first summited by the Colonial Dutch. Said and Roy made the second ascent in 2013. With Roy stuck at camp, Said, Iris, and I decided to have a shot at making the third ascent. We left just before dawn; below the canopy, the forest was still dark. Moss carpeted everything, obscuring the ground, tree trunks, and branches.
Trekking through the twilight graveyard was more like an assault course than a hike – the smothered trees were either dead or dying, their fallen trunks formed tunnels and ladders, and the majority of our time was spent crawling under or climbing over these. The mosses can be several feet thick, like waterlogged sponges; getting soaked to the skin was inevitable. They come in rusty blood red, ochreous yellow, or a green the colour of mildewed bones. Windswept ridges provided dry respite, but with no overshadowing canopy to compete with, the undergrowth was almost impenetrable save for the narrow tracks. These, we guessed from piles of rabbit-like droppings, were the paths of Sumatran serow, a rare species of antelope-goat unique to the island. As we climbed above the cloud line, the landscape fell away in front of us. Thick forest and rolling mountains ran to the horizon and when the wind dropped we could hear gibbons and monkeys calling from the valley far below. Looking down on the canopy from above, it was hard to believe the cramped, damp, windless understory that it obscured. Yet when there, it had been impossible to picture the vastness of the area we were crossing. Now, from our new vantage point, we had a clear and daunting picture of how far we had come and how far we still had to go. Said pointed out Gunung Leuser
in the distance, the tallest mountain in Sumatra, and the centre point of the largest ‘wilderness’ reserve in Southeast Asia. Ecotourism and scientific research are heavily focused on Leuser, to the detriment of the unprotected forests and subsistence farming communities to the North. I had the distinct impression that Leuser might be a governmentfunded distraction, a protected area just big enough to limit criticism of their forestry and mining policies throughout the rest of Indonesia. We reached the summit after six and a half hours. The ridge leading to it had sheer drops on either side, their edges camouflaged by loose earth and moss. White fog and thunder filled the space beneath. We saw no sign of the Colonial Dutch team until the concrete pillar that marked the peak. Said dug through the layers of encrusting moss with a penknife; March 13th, 1931 was
inscribed at the base. The Dutch survey team had indeed reached the summit, but we had found no evidence of them along our route. Either they had come a different way, or the forest had swallowed all trace.
The sporadic cackling of Thompson’s leaf monkeys occasionally interrupted the singing. At around midnight the calls turned to panicked crashes and screeches, the result of an ambush by an unknown nocturnal predator.
Stumbling back into basecamp in darkness, we were greeted by blaring music from Roy’s battered Nokia. Surprisingly, for a fundamental Muslim who grew up in a war zone, his favourite artists are Miley Cyrus and Pink. “There’s always gonna be another mountain. I’m always gonna wanna make it move. Always gonna be an uphill battle. Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose,” echoed from the surrounding tree-ferns. At some point, Roy quietly explained his love of Miley and Pink. “I have seen bad things done to women, but these are strong women. I think maybe she (Pink) has been hurt before, but she is strong; the world needs more strong women.”
Oli Broadhead is a 21-year-old explorer, photographer and amateur filmmaker. He recently conducted a five-week megatransect in North Sumatra and has walked coast-to-coast across South India.
With a week of hard trekking ahead of us to get back to Uring, I fell asleep to a hypnotic mix of the sounds of a forest at night, Miley Cyrus, and Roy chanting the Koran.
www.olibroadhead.com F www.facebook.com/olibroadheadphotography www.instagram.com/oli_broadhead t www.twitter.com/Oli_Broadhead
DANCE TO THE BEAT OF YOUR OWN DRUM.
BRAN MUFFINS RECIPE AND IMAGE: Hollie Woodhouse
The smell of muffins cooking always brings me back to my childhood with good memories. This is a quick, easy and healthy recipe that can be whipped up and in the oven in just a few minutes. These muffins are handy to have for a morning tea treat or when you need some extra energy on your adventure. They also freeze well – take out of the freezer an hour before serving to thaw or reheat in the microwave. A great way to add fibre into your diet! INGREDIENTS 2 cups bran 1 cup flour 1 t mixed spice 1 t cinnamon
1 cup sultanas 1 1/2 cups milk 1 t baking soda 6 T golden syrup
INSTRUCTIONS 1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease a 12-hole muffin pan. 2. Combine the bran, flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, and sultanas in a large bowl. 3. Place milk and syrup in a separate bowl and warm in the microwave to help combine. Add baking soda and stir well. 4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture. Use a large spoon to fold the mixture together until it’s just combined. Make sure that you don’t over-mix it. 5. Spoon the mixture into the greased muffin tin and bake for about 1015 minutes, until risen, golden and springy to touch. 6. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for one to two minutes, then remove the muffins. Place on a wire rack to cool.
TIPPING POINT WORDS: Andy Reid IMAGES: Louise Foulkes LOCATION: Australia
One of the theories expounded in Malcolm Gladwellâ€™s brilliant book Tipping Point, is how an accumulation of tiny errors can lead to catastrophic consequences. The following account sets out the sudden and unexpected collapse of a team of well-prepared, high-performing athletes on the first trek on the first day of 2013 XPD Expedition Race in the Outback of Australia. It is a good example of how this theory can play out in practice. Even though this all took place three years ago, the events of that first day will be etched in the minds of this team for the rest of their lives.
THE XPD IS one of the world’s premier expedition adventure races in which teams of four navigate their way around a course in some of the most untouched and spectacular landscapes of Australia. Their unsupported journey on foot, mountain bike and kayak extends over several days. The 2013 XPD was probably the most ambitious year of the XPD to date, with a planned 750-kilometre journey through the outback of Australia including a 50-kilometre crossing of the whitest salt lakes on the planet, Lake Frome. Team Osprey Packs was one of three New Zealand teams to cross the ditch to take part in the 2013 event. New Zealand is renowned for its adventure racing prowess with several World Champion teams to its credit, including Seagate and Orion Health. Admittedly, Team Osprey Packs was in a slightly different league to Seagate, indeed in a different league to most adventure racing teams, but we were enthusiastic and had a wealth of experience in the outdoors. Our team consisted of Andrew MacDonald, a former two-time New Zealand spear fishing champion; Steven McLeod – you can count on one hand the number of people who have completed the legendary K4 cycle ride twice, Steven McLeod is one of those people. Blair MacKinnon, who has completed both the Coast to Coast and Ironman events was the third member, and me, a former winner of the school obstacle race. Some of the team had also recently ‘bloodied’ themselves in the inaugural GODZone Expedition Race in the
South Island of New Zealand. So how did this team fail so spectacularly on the first day to the point of near demise of one team member and the potential collapse of the rest of the team? We hope the following account is helpful to teams preparing for other World Championships, or any other adventure race. The secret to success in adventure racing is largely down to experience and good preparation. We have already ascertained that the team was relatively inexperienced with only one expedition race under their belt. However, we all have to start somewhere, and the team endeavoured to be as well prepared as it possibly could. As well as the physical training required for such an event, the team spent many weekends together working on teamwork, another critical ingredient of the sport. The other crucial component of expedition racing is logistics including everything from gear through to dietary requirements. Our planning was second to none, after all, our captain was a project manager in his day job resulting in spreadsheets for Africa. We even visited Nikki Hart the ‘Evil Diet Witch’ in Auckland and pre-ordered special food requirements from various outlets in Port Augusta, South Australia, the XPD base for the event. So come September we were pretty damned well prepared. On top of that we had a unique advantage, one of our team had Aboriginal lineage. As well as the generosity of Osprey Packs we had also managed to secure a couple of brand new 29-inch Specialized S-Works hard tails for
the team. These needed to be picked up from the Australian distributors in Adelaide on our way over. I couldn’t believe how light they were; you could pick one up with your little finger! It’s a huge achievement just to get to the start line of one of these events, and we were feeling excited and pretty pleased with ourselves when we eventually arrived in Port Augusta. There were still three days until the start of the race, and we seemed to have everything under control. Or did we? We eagerly headed down to ‘race central’ on our new S-Works to register and mingle with the other teams and soak up the Olympic village-type atmosphere (if you haven’t guessed, none of us has actually been to an Olympic village). Our fellow Kiwis ‘Girls on Top’ and ‘Bivouac’ were there along with 30 other teams, mainly from Australia, but included a couple from Japan and Europe. It will be no surprise that there was plenty of friendly rivalry and banter between the Australian and New Zealand teams. Some Aussies approached us to look admiringly at our bikes. We casually let slip that we were fortunate indeed to be sponsored by the Australian distributors. You could interpret the thought processes of some them tangibly. Something like, “WTF, never heard of these guys, how on earth do these crusty old Kiwi bastards manage to secure the top-ofthe-line $10,000 mountain bikes from an Australian outfit? Well, they are from New Zealand and maybe they are really good?” This was certainly the impression that we were trying to subtly portray. This was usually followed with advice
such as, “You better watch out for snakes, there are some real nasty buggers out there. The eastern brown is rife in the area and is as deadly and aggressive as they come, particularly at night!” Perhaps this was to undermine our confidence, and I have to admit that it worked brilliantly. It became our main topic of conversation for the next few days and led to a couple of sleepless nights. Unfortunately for legal reasons we cannot disclose our exact arrangements with our bike sponsor, suffice to say that our teammate responsible for film production and sponsorship may have oversold our credentials. It was terribly hot with temperatures in the mid 30s, a stark contrast to the winter temperatures in the low double digits that we had been experiencing in Auckland. We were told that there would be a day's coach travel taking us to the start line in Arkaroola in the northern Flinders which left us two days for final preparations.
Error One “Make sure you all have your tubeless tyres on for the event,” we were warned at registration. “The thorny shrubs in the outback will play havoc, and tubed tyres will be useless”. Somehow we had missed that sage piece of advice in our pre-race briefing notes. Never mind, we would nip around to the local bike shop and replace our tyres with tubeless tyres. Bugger the expense! The good news was that there were three bike shops in Port Augusta, the bad news was that none of them stocked tubeless tyres! OK never mind, let’s move to Plan B. We needed to reinforce our tubed tyres with truck rubber. It would almost double the weight of the ultra-light S-Works but adventure racing is sometimes about compromises and sacrifices had to be made. It would hopefully provide a good defence against the dreaded thorny shrub (that is another ‘17 punctures in one day’ story). The team mechanics were dispatched to source the truck
rubber and make the appropriate modifications to our tyres. This might all sound very simple in practice, but the whole exercise took out two of our team for an entire day! Meanwhile, we needed to prepare all our other gear and food into the various boxes, based on the course outline provided to us by the race organisers. This is always a massive task and one that is critical to get right. It’s no good arriving at a transition to find you have packed the wrong gear for the stage. So the whole exercise requires intense concentration and takes a good day. On top of that, all the groceries and pre-ordered supplies needed to be collected.
Error Two Moments after we had relaxed into the eight-hour coach ride north to Arkaroola, I had one of those ‘Oh shit’ realisations. I had forgotten to pick up one of our secret weapons against dehydration in the outback; our preordered chia seeds. Today chia is pretty
well mainstream, you can even get peanut butter and chia, but back then it was relatively new. It is a superfood, used by the native Indians of South America, with water retaining qualities that enable superior performance in extreme conditions. Bugger, I had to confess my mistake to the team. They took it quite well I thought, although I could see the disappointment on Steven’s face as he was practically living on the stuff at the time. In certain lights, he was beginning to look a little Peruvian! As we headed north, the temperatures increased. We were warned that the area was experiencing unusually high temperatures for the time of year and instead of averages in the mid 20s, we were to expect temperatures in the mid 30s and possibly 40. I felt a further pang of guilt for forgetting the chia. We arrived in Arkaroola, a small aborigine settlement, in the late afternoon. The race was due to start the next morning, with an evening meal planned, a kind of the last supper for
teams. We pitched our tents and headed down to the base for a lovely evening of food and entertainment. We all made the most of the buffet as we knew that this would be the last decent food we would be eating for several days.
Error Three The start the next day was going to be from a nearby hilltop. The organisers had arranged a moving memorial service for the Japanese team who had tragically lost two of their teammates in a freak kayaking accident earlier in the year. The start would follow straight after. The first stage of the event was a 29-kilometre trek through the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. The trek was largely through a dry river valley in the outback with a few marked water holes noted on the map. We were warned not to rely on these waterholes as some might have dried up. Water management on this stage was going to be critical with temperatures already in the high 20s at
7am in the morning. We decided that we each needed to carry four litres of water and top up at water holes where we could. We were told that we did not need to take our compulsory gear to the start line at the top of the hill and that we could pick it up at the race headquarters on the way back down the hill. Great, we thought, let’s conserve our energy as the heat was already starting to sap us. We took most of the gear and all of our water out of our bags to climb the hill to the start line. This was a big mistake. When we arrived at the top of the hill, after a 50-minute climb, the other teams were all sipping on their water keeping themselves well hydrated. “Where is your water?” one of the Australian teams asked. “Back at the base,” we said. “Have you not raced in Australia before?” they replied, with shocked expressions on their faces. The race started at 8am sharp and the temperature was sitting at 30°C.
One of our teammates, who will remain nameless, has a gear fetish. He loves innovations and shopping at Bivouac for the latest and greatest. He has a particular penchant for lights of any description. It would be fair to say that he has accumulated enough lights over the years to illuminate a small New Zealand town.
We came to our first marked waterhole at 11.45am (temp 33°C). The colour of the water was a dark and particularly disgusting shade of green. We still had a plenty of water from our original supplies and decided to give that water a miss. There was another water hole marked on the map a further one kilometre up the valley. We could refill there.
His latest discovery, about four weeks out from the XPD, were the Hoka One One trail running shoes, with incredible cushioning through their two-inch soles. One of the major obstacles to successfully completing an expedition race is foot management, and the Hoka’s looked like a promising solution. They also had the advantage of adding to the team’s height and made us look quite formidable. We quickly ordered a set for the team, again, bugger the expense, they might just get us through. They arrived in time, but not in time for us to wear them in. I wore them around home for a couple of days, and they were as comfortable as my slippers. They were very similar to my platform shoes of the 1970s which were incredibly fashionable back then. I must admit that they felt a little unstable and I could see the potential for rolling an ankle. No worries, I had my trusted Salomons to fall back on if they became an issue. At 9.20am (temp 32°C) the first incident occurred. One of the team rolled an ankle on his new Hoka’s and fell down a steep bank, injuring his leg. It was a little demoralising as many teams passed us as we dressed his cuts. One was deep, but the rest were relatively superficial. We probably lost around 30 minutes and were now towards the back of the field. I don’t need to point out that the moral of this story is never to race with untested gear.
At 12.15pm (temp 35°C) we arrived at the next water hole, only to discover the water was as equally undrinkable. We came to the realisation that the water might not get any better so decided to fill up a few bottles with the slimy gunge and popped some purifying tablets into them. The critical error here was that we were already subconsciously conserving water rather than keeping ourselves hydrated.
Error Six We stopped at 1.30pm (temp 37°C) for a break and some lunch and found some shade under a Eucalyptus tree to protect ourselves from the searing heat. The canyon we were travelling through seemed to be only magnifying the sun’s rays. There was a surreal beauty to this environment, and it was nice to stop and take a little time to appreciate it. We were still in good spirits despite calculating that there was now only one team behind us. Our route choice had not been optimal, and with the other delays, we were falling behind. Our 20-minute lunch stop included a swift power nap from which we wearily picked ourselves up before heading off again. Thirty minutes later (temp 38°C) we decided to look at the map to check on our progress. Who has the map? There was a deathly silence. Bugger, we must have left it at our lunch spot. Without the map, we would be
completed scuppered and our race would be well and truly over. OK, its only 30 minutes away, we will have to go back and get it. Andrew, our holder of the maps and navigator extraordinaire, volunteered to go back and retrieve the maps. He quickly headed off and amazingly, in what must be one of the most inhospitable environments on earth, the rest of the team let him. We had broken the cardinal rule of adventure racing. Cracks were beginning to appear in our team dynamics. It was hardly surprising given the extreme and intense conditions in which we found ourselves. Blair and Steven tried to find some shade to hide under, while I chose to rest alone. The heat was getting to me, and I was beginning to feel frustrated and irritable and needed some time on my own. Andrew had been away for some time, and I was starting to worry about him. I should have gone with him. Had something happened to him? Was he having trouble finding the maps? To take my mind off things I pulled out my bottle of chocolate that I had mixed the previous evening. It was like drinking hot chocolate! If these temperatures could boil a chocolate drink in my bag what on earth would they be doing to the inside of our bodies? Eventually, after an hour or so Andrew reappeared with a smile on his face clutching the map in his hand. Still no sign of the team behind us, they must be having their own challenges. At least we are not last, we cheerfully agreed.
Error Seven As part of our team dynamics, we have a scoring system for telling each other how we are feeling. It’s a zero-to-five scale with five feeling good, four feeling not bad, three is struggling and may
Image: Andy Reid
need some help, two is feeling crap, and we need to stop to sort the issue. A one is a profoundly serious problem and zero, well that is self-explanatory. We don’t usually resort to using this much on Day One of an event, but we should have, given the conditions. Unbeknown to the rest of the team one of our teammates was seriously struggling and by 3.30pm (temp 39°C) he was probably sitting at a two, and had used all his water. We should have all been communicating regularly. If the truth be told the rest of us were probably now threes and headed towards a two. At 4pm (temp 40°C) we arrived at the next water hole. It was completely dry. We did a quick check on our remaining water supplies which amounted to only four litres amongst the four of us. Some of the team may have felt a little possessive of their water, after all it was our personal responsibility to ensure that we carried enough and managed our intake appropriately. They may have had secret thoughts that other
team members had been guzzling back a little too freely and that if they ran out then, it was just too bad. These thoughts may seem a little selfish under normal situations, however, given the extremely limited supplies of this lifegiving nectar, in the searing heat of the South Australian desert, it’s amazing how strongly one’s survival or selfpreservation instincts kick in, and it is an absolutely natural emotion.
Error Eight The next marked waterhole on the map was about three kilometres ahead, which at our current rate of progress was about two to three hours away. Unfortunately, there was a checkpoint to retrieve which was a 60-minute in and out around the surrounding hills. We could either leave it and be eliminated or go for it and stay in the race. None of us wanted to be out of the race on the first day. We decided to vote and agreed three to one that we should go for the checkpoint. The three included our teammate who was struggling badly. Through this decision-making process, I could sense
further cracks developing in our team dynamics. In hindsight, the decision to go for the checkpoint, given our circumstances, should have been a unanimous one. We misguidedly headed into the hills to retrieve the checkpoint. The uphill slog was energy sapping, and our struggling teammate could barely keep up. At 5.30pm (temp 36°C) we got back to the dry river valley, by which time our water resources were down to one litre, and our teammate was sitting at a one on the scoring scale. He started to cramp badly all over his body, even his chest and there were signs of froth coming from his mouth, accompanied by loud moaning. We placed our groaning teammate in some shade and pooled our remaining water, mixed it with some SOS electrolyte and encouraged him to drink it down. It was serious; I think at this point there was a collective realisation that we were really in the shit. The accumulation of eight or so small errors had finally taken its toll, and we
had reached the tipping point. It was tangible, and things could only go one of two ways from here! We started to process our options. The light was beginning to fade, but the temperatures remained in the mid 30s. We had no water, and there was a good three-hour walk to the next marked water hole, which may or may not have water, and our teammate was incapacitated. In an expedition race, each team carries what is known as a 'Yellow Brick'. As well as carrying a GPS tracker which tells the world where you are, it enables teams to send out distress messages. One option was to activate this and ask for help. Our teammate was lying flat on some rocks and had gone very pale and still. I reached over, placed my finger on his neck and checked for a pulse. It took a couple of attempts to find but it was there, and I could hear him breathing gently. He was sleeping peacefully, and we left him to it while we continued to
contemplate our options. After another 15 minutes, we heard a few grunts coming from our teammate, and it would appear that the SOS electrolyte mixture was doing the trick. I can’t tell you how relieved we all were. He had stopped cramping and groaning, was beginning to talk and even cracked a small joke, something about shooting him and putting him out of his misery. Fortunately, we didn’t have a gun with us. We decided to send a text message via the brick to the organisers, telling them that we were OK and would be alright as long as there was water in the next water hole. The yellow brick had no ability to receive messages back. At about 6.30pm (temp 32°C) our teammate was in a stable enough state to travel. We gave his gear to Andrew, the youngest and strongest member of the team and started to walk slowly towards the waterhole. It was now pitch black but still so warm that we all took our shirts off. My mouth has
never been so dry, and I was quietly praying to myself that there would be water in the next water hole. We walked along in close formation, keeping one eye on our teammate, but without much conversation, lost in our thoughts. I was trying to stay positive, but my mind would start telling me that we weren’t even through the first day of an eight-day event. How on earth were we going to walk 50 kilometres across a salt lake tomorrow? Then I would start wondering how long one can go without water? Was our teammate going to make it to the waterhole? What if there was no water there? Then I would remember the stern advice given to us by Dave, one of the older Australian competitors, “Keep those eyes peeled for snakes and watch where you put your feet, particularly at night.” That seemed like the least of our problems at this moment in time. Some say that adventure racing is like a drug, full of adrenaline-packed emotional highs and lows, highly
Image: Andy Reid
addictive. I would agree with this and have experienced some incredible highs while taking part in this amazing sport. However at this point, it would seem, this was the deepest trough of a low that I had ever suffered. At just before 9pm (temp 30°C), something moved in the distance. As we got closer, it became apparent that it was a large kangaroo sitting on the track. It became conscious of our presence and bounded off into the surrounding hills. It had been sitting next to our water hole, which to our collective delight was in plentiful supply. We dropped to our knees and quickly filled our water bottles, dropped in our water purifiers and then lay back in the sand and waited an incredibly long 30 minutes for the purifiers to do their job. We lay there in silence and said our thanks and were also wondering what kind of trouble the team behind us were in. I won’t say that water has never tasted so good because anyone who has ever
used purifiers wouldn’t believe me. We still had another five or six hours of walking to finish the first stage and with that single goal in mind we set off again, in an elevated mood, into the starry night. In our weary state the last hour or so was proving navigationally challenging and it was with some relief we spotted a flashing light in the distance. This would be the transition area, and they had apparently seen our headlamps and given us a beacon to head towards. We arrived at the transition at around 3am (temp 18°C) in the morning. The race organisers were delighted to see us, and while the majority of teams had long since departed onto the second stage, we were told that the area had looked like a war zone a few hours earlier with many teams suffering badly. At least we were back in the race, if not in contention, and went on to finish the XPD in just under eight days. Even though we were the last team of the finishers to finish, it was a truly emotional and uplifting experience that
I don’t think any of us will ever forget. It should be acknowledged that our fellow Kiwi teams, Bivouac placed second and the remarkable women’s team, Girls on Top placed third, despite the team captain being knocked off her bike by a kangaroo, upholding the country’s outstanding record in endurance sports. The race organisers will be pleased to know (or perhaps not) that Team Osprey Packs, renamed Team Adventure Racing Coromandel will be back in the lineup for the 2016 XPD World Championships, a few years older but somewhat wiser (and in some cases a little wider). I won’t say lookout Seagate, but I will say look out you Aussie teams, we are coming to get you! Andy Reid is based in New Zealand’s sunny Coromandel. When he’s not competing in events you will find him organising New Zealand’s longest running adventure race, The ARC Adventure Race. www.arcevents.co.nz
HELICOPTERS WORDS: Andrew Magness IMAGES: Martin Sliva LOCATION: New Zealand
I’ve been flying in helicopters a lot recently. It’s made me realise a couple of things. To begin with, we never know what our futures hold. If five years ago someone asked me what I was going to be doing when I was 41, I might have said a lot of things. But I would not have suggested that my line of work was going to make flying over remote and spectacular scenery in a helicopter such a common occurrence that it felt ordinary and blasé. MORE IMPORTANTLY, PERHAPS, it has given me natural cause to think about the juxtaposition between nature and the wilderness as it is experienced via media – coffee table books, go-pro clips, social media feeds and the like – compared to reality. The experiences are separated by light years, nothing less. Its stunningly rugged and remote coastlines, soaring, corniced mountain ridges, pristine lakes of impossible blue, forests of rich and vibrant fifty-shades-of-green – these things used to take my breath away. They invoked such a spectacular impression of striving, wonder and adventure that I’d yearn for them. I’d look at the glossy pictures and watch the high-definition videos and covet
the settings and actions that were being displayed, such as the smooth inky water of a rugged wave-strewn coast at sunset or the majestic vistas of snow covered peaks poking through a blanket of clouds, white on white. I’d yearn for the illusion. The fantasy. It’s much the same when travelling by helicopter. Through the clear glass of the bubble, it all appears very much as it does in those crisp pages and on the HD monitor. The first time I flew over those soaring ridges and lush, vibrant forests I was filled with those same senses of longing. But then... well... then I was promptly put there. And it was cold. And wet. And the undulating landscape formed by the tops of those
crisp trees hid another landscape of head-high ferns and tangled roots that made travel ridiculously challenging. As I exited the more or less climatecontrolled cabin of the chopper, my other senses had an equal say, and the input they received did less to stir my soul to the song and more to make it cry out in a desperate plea, “Please don’t leave me here alone!” There is nothing glossy about real wilderness. And in my experience, the sense of potential that a talented photographer (especially an airborne one) can elicit via his lens is rarely, if ever, felt within its midst. Experiences shared in the wilderness, in the middle of harsh, indifferent,
landscapes far from influences of man’s shaping hand, are, however, glue. Wilderness is a catalyst for relationships, one of several such crucibles (war is another I imagine) that can contribute to unbreakable bonds formed with near instantaneous speed. My early experiences in the real wilderness were all with company, and in retrospect maybe I kept venturing back for these companionship rewards. But these days I make my trips alone, so no such rewards are offered. So why do I go? Why do I keep getting into that chopper, knowing that at the end of its glorious flight – the very thing that tourists pay top dollar for over and over again – a lonely and grim trial awaits? I’m not sure. I guess part of it is the money, but then there are plenty of other ways to earn a living. So there must be something else. Maybe it’s the desire to feel the reality, rather than the illusion. To keep it fresh in
my mind, or fresh enough, so that I can navigate this in-your-face modern world where the media consumption of everyone else’s wilderness and nature experiences are so pervasive that it is easy to feel that my life is somehow less spectacular than that of my peers. It can be easy to forget, as we wade through the magazine coverworthy photos of our ‘friends’ last epic wilderness adventure, that there were bugs out there too. And wet tents to pack up. And shivering, sore muscles, maybe some real fear, and probably at least a few moments where they would have traded it all in for a nice cup of coffee at their favourite cafe. But I think it is because, illusion or not, that siren song of wilderness persists for me. As deceptive and one-dimensional as their captured images may be, those soaring ridges and rugged coastlines, those plunging rivers and tangled forests still call to me. There are these ten-second
snatches that pop up unannounced a handful of times during an otherwise punishing day, resulting in rare and fleeting moments, infinitesimal fractions of the whole, where the light years of difference disappear and the illusion merges with the reality. Perhaps it is in these precious instances, where through a true reckoning with such a magnificent and formidable environment, the rapture of unlimited potential mixes with the gritty truth of fear, isolation, and profound humility, and a moment is formed that is just, well, worth it. It’s time to go. My helicopter is waiting. Andrew Magness is an adventurer raising a family with his wife Tammy in Te Anau. After moving to New Zealand from the USA 18 months ago, he has picked up contract work that has him flying in helicopters all over remote Fiordland. www.ultramentalbook.com
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EXPLORING AORAKI WORDS: Ryan Taylor IMAGES: Ryan Taylor and Paul Mason LOCATION: New Zealand
Awaking under the stars on a mat of ropes and frosted grass, I am glad to escape the cold night. Gripping my poles, I set off after the others in my group; the ritual of climbing to meet the sun had begun. The steep valley walls of Rutherford Stream barely contained my excitement as we reached the snowline. HALFWAY UP THE headwall, I looked over my shoulder to appreciate the north-east face of Mt Conrad, watching a white mass fountaining and free-falling in total silence. A few seconds later the valley was filled with an ominous rumbling, keeping me humble as we topped out on the west ridge of The Ant-hill and the back door to Mt Cook National Park. From here the gallery unfolded; pristine mountain faces as far as the eye could see, in seemingly Alaskan condition, coated in deep, dry, consistent powder. The morning light gave definition to the Harper Glacier across the valley. Soft slopes rolled through protruding fins of ice in contrast to the sharp-edged hanging glaciers. A serac fall had triggered an avalanche on the lower glacier, but
there was little propagation. It was on! Jack skied down to a crevasse and signalled that the ice bridge I wanted to ski over was OK by raising a pole and a half. Gaining speed, I held my breath over the void and exhaled as I turned into the hanging powder field below. After placing a deep turn on top of a serac and skiing around, I glanced up at the fresh face of blue ice. Snow poured from the face and entrained more as it went. I waited until the last moment before cutting through its path, moments before another cloud had attempted to sweep me off the bluffs below. Fighting to stay on my feet, I emerged victoriously! I stared back with satisfaction at the river of ice I had overcome. Near the base of the Murchison headwall, we met a group of skiers.
Among them were Carla and Elke Braun-Elwert who were filming a documentary on their father’s route. Gottlieb Braun-Elwert and his team pioneered the ‘Symphony on Skis’ in 1985, traversing Mount Cook National Park in a single day. We were using Gottlieb’s route as a guideline for our trip, which links together New Zealand’s four main glaciers. Traversing the Southern Alps from east to west, The Symphony starts in the Godley Valley at the head of Lake Tekapo and finishes at Fox Glacier on the West Coast, covering 47 kilometres with 4,100 metres of vertical ascent and 3,800 metres descent. In the following days, The Symphony route would take us down the Tasman Glacier, past the confluence of the Darwin to the base of Rudolph. We
were hoping for an opportunity to ski Elie de Beaumont but settled for Hotchstetter Dome as the weather gods didn’t let up. The following day we skied the Tasman Glacier lost in the rain and thick fog. Twelve kilometres later we emerged into the fields of rubble and moraine that now mark the base of De la Beche ridge and our route up to the famous West Coast Glaciers. Rain would turn to snow, snow to sunshine, all in a couple of hours to result in a bluebird powder day. Only in New Zealand. There was once a hut there, but it was removed in 2012 due to extensive deterioration. Beetham Hut, further down the Tasman, was also damaged by an avalanche in 1995 and consequently removed. It is unfortunate these huts are no longer there as the skiing terrain in the mid-Tasman is excellent. Mt Hamilton has great skiing terrain right from its 3,025-metre summit. The Bonney Glacier, a tributary of the Darwin, also offers spectacular icefall
skiing and access to Malte Brun. The adjacent south-east face of Darwin also saw some ski action. I began climbing with Shane Orchard to find tracks coming down the true right side of the face. We decided to up the game by going for something slightly more direct but were cut off near the top by a deep slot that wasn’t visible from below. We would have had to traverse under more seracs to make the line that was, strangely ‘tracked out’. I readjusted my soaking, duct tape-ridden liners and maxed out my buckles, dropping into the face from the foot of the Bergschrund. During our ‘remixed’ Symphony trip we met the late Stuart Hollaway in Kelman hut. Stuart was humble and more than happy to share his knowledge as a qualified mountain guide. He suggested the east face of Minaret and Pioneer Pass as a spectacular way to return. This would allow us to finish our trip by skiing beneath the mighty Aoraki with the bonus of cutting out several
kilometres of moraine bashing. As a side trip, we also skied from Minarets (3,040 metres) into the Rudolph. We completed the official Symphony route during a blazing sunset by skiing a now-red Fox Glacier to the front door of Chancellor Hut. From here climbers and skiers often fly out due to the increasingly unstable lower reaches of the glacier. The receding ice has left unsupported walls of loose rock debris behind. No amount of skill can fully eliminate the danger. At Chancellor, we slept in, enjoyed the feel of grasses, milder temperatures and the familiar caw of the kea before touring back up the Fox. The following day Jack and Tom climbed Mt Tasman while Paul and I toured above an ocean of clouds to Grey Peak for a reccy of the proposed Pioneer Pass route. After the second night at Pioneer, we set off for the pass. A large snow bollard gave us confidence as we rappelled the massive crevasse onto
air was electric, and the heat stifling ‘The as the sun approached its zenith.’ the Haast Glacier. We skied the upper glacier in moist powder, and after some careful slot hopping, we arrived at the crux of the route – the ice cliff band. A fish bowl of tourists flew by uncomfortably close. The air was electric, and the heat stifling as the sun approached its zenith. Conveniently there was a large sturdy fin of blue ice above the lip. Jack cut a groove into the fin with his adze, swiftly creating a bomber anchor. I was quick to volunteer as first to go down. This was neither the time nor place for a picnic, although the view of icefall in all directions was quite impressive. Briefly free hanging in my sling harness I touched down on a ledge and inspected the next section before going off rappel. A short down climb through a blue ice gully would connect us back onto the face below. I fought to think rationally as the switch on my toe piece jammed backwards, preventing me from clipping into my skis while I stood underneath a looming missile of ice. Why was this happening here and now?! A window between persistent rock fall opened, so I quickly skied out of the ice world and anxiously waited for the others to join me. Hours later I was to have my first acquaintance with Aoraki; roped together we were skiing, laughing and slingshotting each other across the Grand Plateau. Jack and I thought about clotheslining Paul and Tom. However, I figured we would pendulum together and probably come off second best! From the appropriately named Cinerama Col, we paused to appreciate the enormity of Aoraki’s Caroline Face. After the cinematic experience, we skied the Boys Glacier to the Ball/ Tasman Glacier confluence. “Yyyeeeeah boys!” I shouted while savouring the last few pockets of dry powder.
Sleeves were rolled up and a week of adventures was contemplated with smiles all round. The sensation of warm moraine through the thin soles of my trail runners was welcome. During the ‘moraine bash,’ I failed to imagine the ski area that was here 70 years ago. Deflated from its former glory, the Ball Glacier is now buried under rock debris. Scrambling up Garbage Gully, we arrived on the track at nightfall. Dead tired, we were grateful to be picked up by Pip Walter, manager of Unwin Lodge, who drove us back to the village and cooked us a hearty dinner. Wrenching my stomach open from survival mode, I didn’t realise how hungry I was! After a muchneeded sleep in, drying of gear and attempting to look respectable we ventured to the road to begin our staggered hitch to Tekapo. I expressed my thanks and said our goodbyes to Pip as she presented us with the most delicious freshly baked cake. But for Tom the adventure wasn’t over yet. He biked back up the Godley to retrieve our grill we had left behind at the mouth of Rutherford Stream. Legend. Climate change is causing our beautiful glaciers to melt rapidly, exposing more crumbling, loose rock than ever. Like many others, Pioneer Pass was once a popular route, but unstable ice cliffs now stand in the way. With Mt Cook National Park’s management plan currently under review there has been much talk as to how to deal with these major issues. To give an idea of the financial power of stakeholders there are roughly 28,000 landings per annum, not including scenic flights. Skyline Enterprises hope to influence the new plan to allow the installation of a gondola above the Franz Joseph Glacier; a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking out the Tasman is an educational experience and should be seen as a rite of passage for climbers and skiers alike. I find it ironic that as the lower reaches of the glaciers deteriorate we rely increasingly on helicopters and ski planes, the machines exacerbating the problem of climate change. Landing areas used by the air industry are becoming increasingly crevassed, and there are not as many hard surfaces to land on. The beauty of the Symphony route is that it doesn’t require expensive air access. There is a lifetime of possible side trips to be done along the way; only your imagination limits you. There are still a few wild corners of the park where the hair-raising drone of air traffic is not permitted. Areas such as the Hooker give us the ability to have unconfined experiences that only the wilderness can provide. Mainstream media glamourizes air access, and it is well received. Before cost is considered, taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain registers as a feasible option for many people. If you are both a keen tramper and skier, I encourage you to combine the two. Our incredible hut network is inexpensive and provides access to lifetimes of unexplored skiing terrain. Taking the time to climb what you ski allows for a complete adventure. Ryan Taylor is a skier, climber and outdoor enthusiast from Christchurch, New Zealand. As a geology graduate he is fascinated by the endless complexities of nature and the rich wealth of knowledge it has to offer. When he's in nature everything else seems to make more sense. www.ryantaylor.nz www.instagram.com/ryantaylor.nz
SAILING FROM COLOMBIA TO PANAMA WORDS AND IMAGES: Emma Symon LOCATION: Colombia and Panama
Laura and I were meeting our travel buddy Milli in Cartagena, which was our last stop in South America before moving to the beaches and jungles of Central America. It was stinking hot. This beautiful city is made less impressive by the uncomfortable amount of sweat that comes with being outside in which is, for all intents and purposes, a concrete swelter-house. THE DARIAN GAP is a 10,000-square mile jungle which separates Panama from Colombia. There are no roads, so the only options for travel into Central America are to fly or sail. Immediately following our reunion with Milli, she announced she had booked us on a yacht to make the journey. Despite my enthusiasm for sailing at the beginning of the trip in January (and my frequent yarns about buying a sailboat and living on it), I had made a private decision to bail and fly to Panama via Miami. Going by the temperature in Cartagena, I was sure it would be boiling hot on the yacht, making it impossible to sleep. I was also pretty confident that I would spend hours spewing from the side of the boat. In stark contrast to Laura and me, Milli hails from the north of the North Island and is tough, resourceful and unemotional. She had planned to sail before meeting up and wasn’t about to change her plans because of a few uncomfortable facts of life. Unfortunately, as I hadn’t worked up the courage to inform my travelling companions I would not be joining them on the boat, I had been inadvertently booked on the trip (and Milli had
paid a non-refundable deposit). We had slightly less than one day to venture around Cartagena as the boat left at 8pm that night. Obviously, I spent that entire day freaking out. Most of my time was wasted visiting homeware and technology shops in an attempt to find a battery operated fan. When these attempts were unsuccessful, I told Milli and Laura that I wasn’t going on the trip. I was eventually persuaded (mainly by the ever-patient Laura) that I needed to come. Laura reasoned that I would survive and it would be a memorable experience even if it weren’t entirely enjoyable. Our last outing on land was to the supermarket to gather supplies. Food and water were provided on the boat, so all we needed to bring was alcohol and snacks. I left the supermarket attempting to carry five litres of extra water, orange juice, rum, four litres of Coca-cola, ice blocks, chocolate, muesli bars, baby wipes and ginger beer; enough liquid to survive two weeks in the desert. I was particularly pleased by my foresight to buy ice blocks. My vision was that I could put them all over my body while I slept and then just refreeze them in the morning. Unfortunately, the freezer on the boat turned out to be a chilly bin with a
couple of large blocks of ice in it. Thus my ice blocks remained liquid, enclosed in their plastic sachets for the entirety of the journey. We arrived at the dock where we met the Captain. He was from Colombia but not up to the usual standard of Colombian attractiveness. He was about mid-50s and had something wrong with his legs. Soon after we met, he told us that he “loved us.” When we awkwardly smiled and attempted to respond appropriately, he (rather aggressively) said we needed to, “say it back.” I was beginning to become concerned about being trapped on a boat with him for five days. The Captain’s girlfriend, Marta, showed us to the boat; a very basic yacht which could comfortably sleep six people (advertised as being able to sleep nine), with no fresh water, fridge or freezer. Marta was Italian and about 35 years old. I had absolutely no idea what she saw in the Captain. This would remain an unanswered question in spite of many discussions among the three other passengers who joined us on our journey. Climbing onto the boat was the first task. A small rickety piece of wood separated it from the wharf, which
bent considerably under the weight of Laura who is about the same size as a small African child. I was extremely unenthusiastic about trying to walk the plank but did it eventually (and succeeded without snapping it). I was anxious to get going so we could be asleep for as much of the open ocean sailing as possible, but this was not to be. The Captain wanted us to sleep on the boat in the dock for the first night. I have no idea why and I was pretty pissed off since I could have been sleeping in a bed in an airconditioned motel room. As expected, it was a sauna inside the boat, so I attempted to fall asleep on the cushions on the deck. Unfortunately, the Captain and his girlfriend returned to the boat at about midnight and Milli and I had taken over the entire deck area (we were lying on one side of the boat each). They retrieved their blankets and set up an elaborate bed beside my feet. I woke up to the Captain spooning my legs. I
sat up immediately and saw his topless girlfriend cuddling him with only a G-string on. I decided to go and sleep downstairs in the sauna. At 6am I woke up to take a seasickness pill in anticipation of setting off on the ocean. But unlike any of the sailing trips I’ve ever been on, we didn’t depart until about 10am, when the Captain started drinking almost immediately and gave us our briefing. This turned out to be him telling us in broken English that we needed to move off the seats if he wanted to sit there because he was going to be awake for the next two nights and three days while we sailed over the open ocean section of the trip. We needn’t have listened; he was either asleep or drunk for the entire five days that we were on the boat. The trip was pleasant for the first hour or so. We lounged in the sun, read books and slept. Then it became incredibly boring. I was like a caged tiger. I imagine I was the most irritating person to have on the trip,
having a short attention span and an inability to relax. I read parts of the book I had purchased (splashing out from my usual book swapping policy) One Hundred Years of Solitude. I found this novel particularly hard going. I couldn’t quite get to grips with the magical realism aspects and eventually ‘dropped’ the book overboard. I spent several hours secretly reading Laura’s book over her shoulder. Then I made solo video blogs on the front deck, took more seasickness pills, and slept. We mindlessly sailed (motored) across the ocean; all we could see was the horizon. Throughout the next couple of days, we all had various incidents when the Captain would snuggle up to us on the deck of the boat. He had a bad habit of putting his hands on thighs and then pretending it was innocent and friendly. This was all made more uncomfortable by the fact that his girlfriend was also on the boat. When he was drunk (which was most of the
time given that he seemed to use beer as a substitute for food), he was even more obnoxious. At about 4pm on the third day, the Captain informed us that we would be arriving at the San Blas Islands (located just off the east coast of Panama) in about an hour. As we were expecting another night on the open sea, I think this was one of the happiest moments of my life. The first island we stopped at was very remote. We anchored the boat and swam ashore, where I immediately set to work building a raft out of driftwood. When Laura started getting bitten by tiny little insects, we decided to leave the island and go back to the boat. By this stage of the trip, we were starving because we were only allowed minuscule amounts of food (presumably to prevent us from spewing everywhere from seasickness). Laura, Milli and I got onto the kayak and unsuccessfully went in search of a supermarket. We could only find one small rundown
shack in which a local Kuna family (the indigenous people) were living without running water or electricity. It was nice to be somewhat stationary and be able to swim, but I was still having trouble relaxing. For the next three days, we only did about three hours of ‘sailing’ each day (moving the boat via the use of the motor - the Captain was not interested in doing any actual sailing) as we moved closer to more inhabited islands on our way to Panama. Things started to get a little tense on the boat when an argument broke out between the Spanish girls and the Captain over the way in which they were eating their food. The Captain wanted them to eat ‘the Colombian way’, with the girls responding that they were paying for this trip and they could do what they wanted. Thankfully they spoke Spanish, so I couldn’t contribute nor understand what was going on.
Weirdly, I started to adapt to boat life and was sad when our time on the islands ended (apart from being thankful that I would never have to see the Captain again). We arrived in Portobelo and were ferried into town in the dinghy, stopping at the immigration office to get entry stamps. I was losing my mind about the possibility of having a shower. Next stop was Panama City via an eight-or-so hour ride in the local bus. Just another day in the life of Emma Symon, backpacker extraordinaire. Emma Symon is based in Christchurch, New Zealand. When she is not adventuring she works as a lawyer. She isn’t afraid to be different and likes to share her humorous tales in print, pictures and videos. www.instagram.com/emmasymon_88
Kirsten Sheppard and Nick Middleton are two professional photographers who shoot under the name Endeavour Media & Photographics. Based in Christchurch, New Zealand, they specialise in photographing action sports, portraits, food and landscapes. They love traveling and exploring new places while capturing their adventures from behind a lens. www.endeavourmp.com F www.facebook.com/endeavourmp www.instagram.com/endeavourphoto
MAD RUNS AND ENGLISHMEN WORDS: James NoorkÃµiv IMAGES: Ben Read LOCATION: Italy
“If you’re going through hell… keep going.” This was our mantra. This was what we’d said to each other before we began, and what were both thinking, no doubt, as the unrelenting sun continued to pound down on us even as the evening began to draw in. HELL IS ONE thing, but it wasn’t until I heard Ben, a few paces behind, uttering something completely nonsensical that I realised quite how tough things had got. “James?” he called. “I’m jellied, James. I’m jellied.” To this day I don’t know where that phrase came from, but it summed up what I saw: my friend Ben – one of the hardest trail runners I’ve ever known – drenched in sweat, eyes glazed and barely able to focus. It was shocking, in a sense, but was I surprised? Hardly. We’d already been out for more than ten hours, in a heat that only dipped below 35 degrees when we rose above 2,500 metres, and it was taking its toll. Even then, though, I thought, well if anyone knows how to plough through the self-inflicted pain of the trails it was this man. Moments like this, on days like this, you best be damn sure you
know why you laced up this morning. It had been just over three years since we’d seen each other. Since that last time, every conversation had started with, or come back to, another story about the pair of us, out in the mountains, chasing trails, skiing lines, or pushing loved ones a little too far past ‘fun’. Ben had moved to New Zealand, and it had left a gap. No one around me understood why we do this; why we feel the need to run up that mountain behind the one in front of us; why we feel the need to add an extra hour to our journey by booting our way back out of some snow-filled valley. So, when he told me he was coming back to Europe, we immediately began hatching a plan for another escape into the mountains. Alagna… It was only ever going to
be Alagna. Almost ten years had passed since we’d happened upon this enchanting village hidden in the steep, dark Valsesia valley (a group of valleys in the north-east of Piedmont in the Province of Vercelli, Italy). Not a thing has changed about the place in these years, and not in the last hundred years, it would seem. The Walser houses still look like they belong in a fairy tale, and the bells still ring a little longer and a lot louder when Juventus win. The Tour of Monte Rosa was our goal – 162 kilometres around the majestic mountain, coupled with an accumulated ascent of 13,000 metres. It’s a trek that usually takes ten to fourteen days to complete, and that’s no mean feat. We had set ourselves the challenge to do this in four days. And, because that didn’t seem ridiculous enough, we were going to attempt it unsupported,
camping out on the mountain. By beginning in Alagna, it meant that we would be starting at the lowest point of our tour, and our first climb was going to be the biggest climb of the trip. But we were prepared; we knew what a hard climb was – after all, we’d run the UTMB, the toughest ultra-race in the Alps. We totally had this covered. Oh, we were so green. Our day started with a chorus of “ciaos” as we entered the Café de la Guide for a swift caffeine fix before we took our first steps, and then we were off. It didn’t take long for us to realise how hard it is to run with a 17-kilogram pack on your back, but neither of us dared to mutter a word at this early stage. We just kept looking at the top of the first climb, a mere 1,300 metres above us. At that point, we were just happy to be back on the mountain that had given us so much. At 10am with the mercury already
hitting 24°C, we were reminded of our first race together back in Cortina, Italy – the only occasion when we’d been in heat so severe that the race stewards had removed all waterproofs and warm clothing from the mandatory kit and recommended we all take extra water. That was tough. That had been hell. Surely it couldn’t get that hot here, could it? It wasn’t long before we met the first casualty of the heat. Laid across the trail route, panting and looking at us in bewilderment was a donkey. As we came closer, the donkey stood to let us through and to exit what was to be the last of any shade for more than four hours. As we passed, old Eeyore turned to give us a look that told us even he thought this was a bold call. Nevertheless, we punched on through the heat, with the beautiful slabs of surrounding granite reflecting every ray of sunlight back onto us. We’d never really afforded ourselves the luxury of taking the time to look and appreciate
what the mountain had to offer. Away from the competition of an official race, however, we were able to do that. Doing it ourselves, this way, it wasn’t about how fast we could get up and over; there were no checkpoints, no cut-off time, and no one waiting at the finish line to embrace us. And there was something very liberating about that. We were, to quote my father and the text message he’d sent me that morning, “Just two mad Englishmen out in the midday sun.” As we came to the top of Turro, we were greeted by a small snow patch that sat across the path, offering us the first chance of the day to cool off. There was shade, a bench, and even a picnic table for us to set up at for a few moments before we started our long descent. It was here we met an older couple, hiking, who were bewildered by what we told them. “You’re running around the mountain? Really? In those shoes?” Not exactly the words of encouragement we were looking for at
that point, but by no means unfamiliar – we’d heard similar many times before over the years. See also, “Slow down, slow down. You won’t make it up there doing it like that!” Nevertheless, as we parted ways the couple bid us good luck, adding something about “hoping you miss the storms”. Storms? Pretty sure they meant rain, right? After the gruelling uphill comes the rapid-fire problem-solving round to the bottom. This was where we could play, this was where we could dance; bounding down the trail with bravado and flair as we skipped off the rocks and powered through what seemed like hundreds of switchbacks, keeping one eye on the tree line. Finally, we were able to ignore the heat and just enjoy the well-deserved descent. That was, of course, until we reached that tree line and its heavenly shade. After that the large slabs of granite become small, and the size of stones beneath our feet varied so significantly that we were barely able
to walk, let alone run, without chasing our faces to the floor. Nevertheless, we raced on through the pine forest, the air heavy and still, until we were greeted by a torrent of water hammering down the mountain. The snow at the top that had given us a brief oasis before was again rewarding us, and so without hesitation, packs were dropped, and heads were in. Like a nine-year-old drinking a slushy too fast, we were both hit with brain freeze, but damn did it feel good.
aside and carry on through. In an attempt to divert his attention, I tried to strike up a conversation, but every topic I suggested was met with the same muted response as Ben retreated farther back into himself, now just focusing on placing one foot in front of another. Just keep moving. Silently, he battled on, stopping only to check the light carving up the mountain skies or to attempt to drink from yet another mountain stream, wet rock, or anything that might quench his thirst.
As we pounded our way through the next climb, the temperature just kept rising. We passed other couples, whose silence spoke volumes concerning what they made of us. We passed school groups, their heads down, cursing, as they chased their teachers to the bottom. It was around this point that I looked at Ben and saw for the first time that he had company, in the form of his old nemesis. It’s not as if they’ve ever been on friendly terms, but he’s always managed to push it
As the dappled sunlight faded, we prepared ourselves for the next few hours. We were moving dangerously closer to nightfall, but at the same time closer to our goal, or so it seemed. As the day wore on, the silences grew longer. Ben became paler, and it occurred to me that while this hadn’t been the plan, and this wasn’t how I’d envisaged its execution, we were at liberty to change the plan however and whenever we wanted. We would still have to push, but only as far as we both
felt comfortable. And so, as the summit came into sight we decided it was time. We set up camp underneath a ski lift pylon, way above the trees looking over the Monte Rosa, and settled in for a night of well-earned rest. As morning came, we were ready once more. We had a vertical of 500 metres to warm ourselves up on, so off we went. Seeing the refuge on the top of the pass gave us even greater motivation – breakfast! As we entered, we were greeted with the sound of a familiar voice, Alberto, an old friend from our winters spent skiing around Alagna. Immediately, we were plied with coffee, water and minacce (a local ham and cheese crepe). Alberto told us in more detail of the storms that the couple had mentioned yesterday. The rain that we had prepared for, and were quite frankly looking forward to, was now reported as having turned into an electrical storm. Such storms would make mountain passes treacherous, and these were set for our last two days. Fatigue and low morale were one thing; internal factors that, to some degree, we had control over. Electrical storms, however, were something else altogether. We were now forced to consider what we were doing out here,
and weigh up the risks to our safety with the strength of our desire to complete the trail. It was a hard call to make, one that would incur a few blows to our egos and one that neither of us had ever had to make before. But in the end, after much soul searching, there was only really one sensible option. It was time to turn back, but not before ticking off a taste of the Swiss mountain life. With the plans changed, we headed for Saas-Fee. This would be our way out and back. So we left the comfort of Alberto’s Rifugio and pushed on up the final 200 metres to the summit of Passo Monte Moro. Our path opened up in front of us, an aggressive technical descent turned into a perfect Swiss single track, leading us into what can only be described as the Valley of the Gods. Glaciers were cascading off the shoulders of giants, shaping a landscape that has drawn man time and time again back to the mountain. No longer trying to prove anything, there was no need to push or put on any show of bravado. Rather, it was time to accept defeat – such that it was – with the humbleness our surroundings merited, and just run.
And run we did, through another full day of searing heat, with Ben drinking from whatever source he could locate. Up and back down into the valleys we went, until the night began to draw in, and we approached, exhausted and happy at our next camp. The sun is often blamed for pushing man toward madness, but every so often it pushes him right past it, through to the other side. With my father’s words in my ear once more, I muttered to Ben, “Fancy running into the night?” Whether it was because he saw it as a way of making sure that we’d still pushed ourselves, or because neither of us fancied doing another day in that heat, Ben grinned, and said, “I was just going to ask you the same thing.” Ben Read is a UK-based photographer who loves to capture people performing in the mountains. He is drawn to endurance sports, and more specifically, ultra-running. www.benreadphotography.com F www.facebook.com/benreadphotography www.instagram.com/benreadphoto
KALEIDOSCOPE OF BLUE WORDS: Brigit Beattie IMAGES: Brigit Beattie and Grant Beattie LOCATION: Argentina
It started just like any other day but finished as one etched in our memories. A never-to-be forgotten experience on our adventurous honeymoon in Patagonia. THE DAY BEGAN in El Chaltén, a small climbing mecca in the Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina; famously known for the Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountains. Trekkers and climbers flock there in the summer months to take in the breathtaking views or to cross another peak off their climbing bucket list. But we were off ice-trekking on the Viedma Glacier. Viedma is a large valley glacier. It starts in the mostly unmarked terrain between the Chilean and Argentinean borders, which is known as the Southern Patagonian Icefield (the third largest in the world) and descends kilometres through the valley floor into the Viedma Lake. Like many of the world’s glaciers, it is receding at a scary rate, and that has scientists hugely worried about global warming. As we drove across the vast plains of
the Santa Cruz region, and then boated across the lake to the terminal face, the excitement built as we shared nervous chatter with other virgin ice-trekkers and climbers. Slowly the glacier came into view. It grew from a small dot to a vast face as our boat began to dodge icebergs in the milky blue lake. One could only admire the harsh terrain we were about to immerse ourselves in. The real adventure was about to begin. Carefully our captain nosed the boat into a slight ‘V’ in the rocks, and we disembarked onto a red polished promontory. Our guides quickly gathered us and we were put into groups to begin a short hike to the glacier’s terminus face. As we scrambled up through cracks and around rocky outcrops, taking care to make sure we had firm footing, I was drawn to the dark linear markings etched into the rock face, much like
the tyre marks on the Speedway. Each line portrayed the story of ice grinding over the rock for thousands of years, demonstrating the pressure and power such a large, slow-moving beast can have on the bedrock. As we crested the top of the promontory, the full beauty of our surroundings was revealed. Towering granite peaks with an expansive glacier filled the valley floor. One couldn’t help but marvel at the intense blues of newly exposed ice faces and the dirty craggy peaks of the old exposed ice. From here it was a short scramble to the side of the glacier, where we were quickly fitted with our crampons and taught how to walk over a ladder and on the ice. After a few tentative steps, I felt as if I had grasped the concepts – flat-footed, purposeful strides with a wide stance and feet pointing slightly
out, I marched forward on the ice. What started as a difficult, awkward walk, soon settled into a task of trust and belief. We sidled around the edge of the glacier, over a combination of rocks and ice behind our guide. We marvelled at the small piles of shale and rock that formed ridges or small mounds on the glacier surface and the streams of water disappearing deep below us. The rock, we were informed, which seemed like a dirty, messy collection, actually played a major role in shielding the ice from the harsh sun, acting as an insulator for the ice below and protecting it from melting even faster. As we strode on, the debris started to thin, and the ridges became more marked by the shale lines descending deep into canyon-like crevasses where no light had been for thousands of years. Tiny air bubbles trapped in the ice scattered the light, creating a kaleidoscope of blue-grey tones. Shadowy parts appeared a dark blue, some a sky-blue colour and other
areas completely white. Up close, the ice looked uncannily like bluish marble, with veins of sediment running through it. The radioactive chemical blue colour of the ice was likened to popsicles or window cleaner, filled with small hollows like craters on the moon. I had always thought this was just an effect of glacier photography, but it turns out to be very real. We descended into a wide crevasse only to be treated to the spectacle of an ice bridge. With the arch and walls towering above us, water dripping upon us and small streams running deep beneath our feet, it was quite the experience. It made for spectacular photography. From here it was a steep climb up an ice wall; our guides conveniently positioned themselves to lend a hand or re-carve an ice stair as we scrambled to the top. I wouldnâ€™t say I had mastered ice-trekking, but I was certainly finding my groove.
As we moved deeper into the glacier, our guides ran ahead checking pathways and scouting the route. Within a relatively small distance, they became little dots in an immense vista, highlighted only by the colour of their backpacks. They expertly cut new steps up rises, acted as balancing poles or safety ropes along narrow ice ridges and directed us around huge ravines in the ice. The cracks seemed to double in size, the blues became more intense, and the sheer scale even more awe-inspiring. We were walking where no man had walked before; and if he had, it was thousands of years ago, high up in the valley on the snow at the beginning of the icefields some kilometres away. All too quickly it was time to turn back, and what seemed like a vast distance from the terminus turned out to only a couple of hundred metres. We had barely ventured past the front gate into this untouched wilderness, yet it felt as if we had crossed into uncharted
territory. The scope of the landscape was inspirational. With crampons now removed, our journey continued. We scrambled around the rocks to a view of the southwestern terminus, a vertical cliff face that finished abruptly in the lake. We stood metres from the waterâ€™s edge and the front terminus, taking in the enormity of the face, secretly hoping for the glacier to cave. And low and behold it did. We thought all our Christmases had come at once when in the distant loud cracking began, and what looked like small chunks toppled from the towering face, sending ripples across the lake. But this was just the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime cascade of events that even our guides had never seen before. Slowly more masses peeled off, small initially, exposing deep cracks and fistulas that penetrated deep within the glacier. But as the noise grew, ice slabs the size of houses crumpled, smashing into the lake, sending massive tsunami-like waves towards us. Lumps of ice were
catapulted across the lake from the terminus. Subaerial ice exploded from deep below the water, like a whale breaching the surface. It rotated and spun, displacing thousands of cubic metres of water before crashing back into the water and resting as icebergs semi-submerged. We stood in awe, mesmerised. We had no idea of the danger we were in until we saw our guide dash past us scrambling for higher ground and pulling us with him. From a safe viewing platform, high up on the rock promontory, we stood staring, watching the landscape rapidly change in front of our eyes, absorbing the sounds of the creaking and groaning glacier, as it tried to establish a new equilibrium. We watched icebergs the size of large buildings rise from the lake bottom and settle on the surface, before being quickly pushed away as others emerged. Was this really happening? Were we actually seeing this? Is this normal or the effect of global warming? Too dumbstruck to ask, we stood and just watched.
Sadly, we had to leave to meet our boat, but the affair continued as we trudged back over the rock. We turned at every opportunity to watch more, not wanting to miss any of the spectacle. As the boat took us away, we marvelled at the kilometres of massive icebergs being forced down the lake by the churning water at the front face. We swapped photos and videos with others, as we tried to understand what we had just observed, but nothing did it justice. The sheer power of Mother Nature on this day will always stay with me. It serves as a reminder to respect her in every part of my life, to cherish what is on offer for now and to do my bit to preserve it for future generations. Brigit Beattie is a Kiwi girl with a love for adventure. Growing up on a high-country station, exploring the outdoors has always been an integral part of her life. Together with her husband Grant, they are always looking for the next mountain to climb, river to paddle or singletrack to ride. www.instagram.com/bidsmurray
An ache for distant places; the craving for travel. pronunciation | FEIRN_veyh origin | German
THE IRON WAY
VIA FERRATA IN THE DOLOMITES WORDS: Mitch Collins IMAGES: Mitch Collins and Tamson Armstrong LOCATION: Italy
The rock face split and for us to continue we had to cross the gap. Getting across this section would require a bit of skill and nerves of steel, particularly for a novice climber. I had already made the section and had turned, half offering my hand to her, a desperate distance out of touch. I am a good foot taller, so my reach made this traverse easier. She was starting to grasp out and pull back. Her hands were clutching at smooth rock and crimps too small. The relative safety of her current position, pressed up against the cliff was becoming more dangerous. I heard a whimper, a cry and resignation. “Help. I’m scared. I don’t think I can do this!”. Today is day Number One. This is our first climb. We have only ascended three metres. VIA FERRATA, 'IRON Path' in Italian, is the term given to climbs that vary in difficulty but offer more assistance and safety with cables, pegs and ladders. It is a good introduction for beginners and a reasonable challenge for veteran climbers. Hire equipment includes a helmet, harness and two energy absorbers, each with carabiner clips attached. The general path is guided by a cable fixed to the rock at intervals. Every few metres you change from one section of steel to the next, taking care to have at least one carabiner always secure. These are some comfort. The knowledge that if
you suffer what would normally be a fatal slip, you will fall no more than a couple metres. With several days in Cortina d’Ampezzo, we took on the challenge of two of the more popular via ferrata; the Col du Bois, followed by the Ivano Dibona. For the record, we have only hiking experience, and it has been three years since our first and last via ferrata. Coming across the sport by chance we decided that one day we would forge a journey to the home of via ferrata – the North Italian Dolomites. This region wasn’t always Italian.
At the turn of the last century, the Austrian Empire occupied this region and only ceded it to Italy following the First World War. In May 1915, Italy, after much posturing, became a late entrant to the war against AustriaHungary. The Austrians had foreseen such an invasion and retreated up into the Dolomites to defend high mountain passes as they offered a tactical advantage over the valleys below. Trench warfare, much like in the fields of Western Europe, became carved into the limestone. Tunnels turned rocky outcroppings into fortresses, and each side fought the
feeling of content and achievement was quickly ‘The overshadowed by the setting sun, and we knew the fastest way down wasn’t going to be a pretty one.’ duration of the war in positions that were not only deadly by bullet, shell and mortar, but by the bitter cold of winter and the steep slopes. Each frontline had built iron passageways into the rock to convey troops and supplies. Following the war, the Italian Alpine Club restored and maintained many of these which brought a boom in climbing tourism to the region, with many climbs to be added later. Each climb is given a grade; from 1 (being a relatively easy hike) through to a challenging 4, and a letter; from an easily accessible A to a remote D. Col du Bois, our first climb, and also known as Via Ferrata degli Alpini was built in 2008 as a ‘safe’ course. It is graded a 3B. However, the crux of the climb is only on the first wall. Once we had scaled that it was all relatively easy. Eagles glided effortlessly upwards past us in spirals, while we zigzagged at a stop-start pace, clipping in and clipping out. The views were breathtaking, and our confidence was booming with the added security of the cable. Reaching the summit of the climb, we found ourselves among the former Italian trenches – barbed wire still rusting. Further up the ski piste and over into Austrian lines we found the Rifugio Laguzoi. From here a torch was required to descend back down to the car park via the Laguzoi Tunnels. During the war, Italian miners dug a mine shaft over several months up under the Falgarezo outcrop –
an Austrian strategic stronghold. Once they were positioned directly underneath, they packed the mine with explosives and blew the face of the mountain away. Despite best efforts to conceal work during the night and thunderstorms, the Austrians were somehow aware of this activity and managed to avoid any casualties. The tunnels now are an amazing warren of engineering marvel, coiled upwards like a spring and free to explore. For accommodation in the Dolomites, we opted for the freedom of camping in our car. The occasional Carabinieri or Polizei would come and flash a light through the window, but mostly left us alone. Early in the morning, the roar of a bear woke us. It continued for a couple of hours, coming closer to our car. We hadn’t been prepared for bears in these woods but found out they had recently been reintroduced to the Dolomites. The following day, we had a long approach to the start of our next climb. For the bears, we made as much noise as possible! The Ivano Dibona is a Grade 2C traverse across the Cristallo massif and a former Italian front. Despite being less technical, there were over two kilometres of climbing, followed by another two kilometres of ridgeline traverse and a scree descent. On the northern faces, we encountered both snow and ice, making some sections incredibly difficult. Being late September and out of peak season, we encountered very few other climbers
along the way. One local emerging from a tunnel got a real fright. Fortunately for him, he didn’t slip or fall back and obviously a good thing too – he had no harness. Unrestricted and fearless, this experienced mountain goat moved ten times faster than us over the same rock. The most famous part of the journey came at the end with the bridge made popular in the movie Cliffhanger. Spanning a 150-metre vertical drop, we crossed the swing bridge, gripping the rails hard, our knuckles white. Our palms had been charred black from the steel cables and fingers heme-red with cuts and blood. The return journey to Rifugio Lorenzi had taken nine hours. The feeling of content and achievement was quickly overshadowed by the setting sun, and we knew the fastest way down wasn’t going to be a pretty one. After the scree slopes, we were exhausted. Ironically, out of protest, we then returned the harnesses one day early for celebration. With only a fraction of over 40 local climbs complete we intend to return to the Dolomites for more via ferrata in the future. Our resolve somewhat hardened on the Iron Way. Mitch Collins and Tamson Armstrong are cycling from London to Athens. Along the way they are having a few adventures before they head home to New Zealand. To them it’s all about the journey and not the destinations.
ALL OF THE
PEAKS OF THE BALKANS WORDS AND IMAGES: Sarah Webby LOCATION: Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro
Before we went travelling, we didn’t think we would find ourselves huddled under an overhanging rock watching bolt lightning explode from the sky, with sticks held out in front of us while snarling dogs approached. We didn’t think we would see venomous snakes on our hiking trail nor have to sing our way through forests so that the brown bears knew we were there. But this is precisely where we found ourselves. And looking back now, I wouldn’t change a thing. MY PARTNER JOSH and I were in an apartment in Barcelona studying a Google Map of the world. We were done with the hot-spot cities, the must-see buildings and the swarms of tourists. We wanted out. Coming from New Zealand, an appreciation of the outdoors is vital. I would say we’re closer to the extreme end of the satisfaction continuum – we love the outdoors. Spending hours on our feet, early mornings, summiting mountains, breath-taking vistas, experiencing white outs, and using gas cookers and head torches are pretty much encrypted in our DNA. So this is what we were looking for; a taste of our Kiwi life in Europe. Once Josh pointed at Albania on the map, and a bit of research was carried out, a plan started unfolding. We booked our flight and headed to my all-time favourite part of the world; Southeastern Europe. The ‘Peaks of the Balkans’ hike is a 192-kilometre trail that crosses the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. It covers wild and remote mountain ranges and the area is therefore widely recognised as the ‘accursed mountains’. Some of the hike is marked and clearly visible and some of it is not. Hiring a guide and deviating from the trail is common. However, we aimed to complete the
outlined route alone over ten days with the aid of a GPS. We secured our cross-border permits through ‘Zbulo’ and intended to venture into the mountains via the Lake Koman ferry in Albania. The dedicated website specifies villages where locals will welcome you in for dinner, breakfast, a packed lunch and a bunk bed/mattress in exchange for 20-25 euros. So, with very little food, minimal clothing and no tent we set off in the early hours from Shkoder to Koman to catch the ferry to Fierze. Amongst other hikers, we admired incredible green waters and tall granite peaks from the ferry. Similar to other public transport in Albania we made unscheduled stops along the way to serve locals. It is hard to find information online so we took a local tip that there would be a bus or van that would take us from Fierze to Valbona. This was not the case. Instead, there was a man who spoke very little English who motioned for us to get in his car. We didn’t have many other options so took the plunge. This was our first taste of the famous Balkan hospitality. He took us to his home in Valbona and invited us to stay with him and the rest of his Muslim family. We had a beautifully cooked meal and spent the evening around a campfire with his son
who could speak the most English. Although this was a great taster for what was to come, it also ruined my naivety of snakes. Being from New Zealand, the idea of coming across a snake that can potentially kill you within a couple of hours never enters my mind. We learned that there are dangerous snakes ‘everywhere’ and if you stand on one it is likely to bite you and you must get to a hospital immediately. We were hours from any hospital, and we couldn’t communicate very well due to the language barrier and had no phone reception. I didn’t like our chances. To conquer my fears we went for a walk. We found sticks for vibrational purposes and attempted to locate the track we wanted to be on the following morning. It is very amusing to look back on that walk. I took a single step, ever so slowly while aggressively hitting the ground ahead. Every time I heard a rustle in the grass, I looked at Josh and froze. When we saw our first snake, it was a total anti-climax as it quickly weaved away from us. I realised at that point that although we should be careful where we put our feet, we did, in fact, have a high chance of survival while walking at a regular pace. Hiking through the mountains of
Albania was accompanied by vast vistas, blue skies and incredible goodwill from the locals. From Valbona we climbed 1,200 metres above the valley, crossed briefly into Montenegro and descended back down into Cerem, Albania. We passed many shepherds and their huts and spent a bit of time at the border crossing – a stone pillar with an Albanian flag imprinted on it. I don’t know if it’s because we’re from a country that is surrounded by water, but there is something seriously exciting about standing in two countries at once. The borders of Albania were closed during its relatively recent communist era. The villages were so remote that it felt like we’d gone back in time in the best way possible. To sit in a single room with the warmth of an oven and drink milk straight from a cow is living only at its finest. The language barrier was great, but with hand gestures, laughs and a shot or two of Rakia, we managed to find out quite a lot about our hosts. For some families having the hikers come
through and spend a night or two in their home is their primary source of income. As we entered Doberdol Valley we were recruited by 12-year-old Lisa, who was very proactive in watching out for anybody who came into sight. We were served basic but delicious traditional food such as tomatoes, cucumber, bread, cow’s milk feta, stuffed vegetables, soups and beans. Our planned route took us up above Doberdol valley and along the borders of each of the three countries. We were initially surrounded by tall peaks (including Mt. Gjeravica, 2,656 metres) before we weaved through lush green meadows and arrived in Milishevc, Kosovo some seven-plus hours later. We were summoned inside a local’s beautiful wooden holiday home and settled on his verandah overlooking a dense green forest, beer in hand. He spoke about the communist era and his life in Kosovo – a country thought to have an unemployment rate as high as 60 percent. He showed us where
he used to keep his bee hives and how the bears had clawed away his shed. It was a strategically advantageous stay as up until then we were tiptoeing past potential bear caves. We learnt that to give a mother bear and her cub a fright is likely to provoke aggression and unbeknown to us, creeping through an area inhabited by a bear is precisely the way to do it. From then on we sang, we spoke in stupidly loud voices, and we whistled. I found I often mistook an overhead plane for a bear and would erupt into song. Regardless, it must have worked as the bears maintained their distance, which meant we maintained our sanity! We had a further two days in Kosovo and passed through the picturesque, more developed villages of Reke-e-Alleges and Kucishte. The countryside was remarkable; we had many ascents and descents but were often up around 2,000 metres with a 360-degree mountain view filled with alpine lakes. We had made our way into
The feeling of vulnerability and ‘ insignificance in the mountains is what I seek when I go hiking.’ Montenegro and were climbing from Babino Polje to the country’s highest lake (Hrid lake, 1,970 metres) when we were surrounded by growls of thunder that were becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. We knew we were going to get very, very wet at any second. Sure enough, after Josh had jumped into the ice-cold water, the storm was upon us, and we were running; running and squealing every so often as hail pelted us and stung any exposed bit of skin. I had never witnessed a storm so loud; I kept looking over my shoulder thinking the sky was going to erupt. The alarming cracks of lightning were simultaneous with the thunder – there was no denying its proximity. We were relatively naïve about storms at that point, but the fact that Josh’s hair had gone very static was predictably disconcerting. It didn’t last long, however, and soon the sunshine was out as bright as ever. With Plav, Montenegro now in sight, we questioned whether we had imagined it all. It was Day Seven, and we were weary; to relax in a budget hotel in the more civilised Plav was luxurious. Getting wifi, however, meant we could look at the forecast for the next couple of days. The storms were far from over. The 27-kilometre hike from Plav to Vusanje was our longest. We had also been told that it was predominantly unmarked. My hand-washed clothes weren’t dry from the night before, and it took us over an hour to even find the beginning of the track. I didn’t like how the day was shaping up. Sure enough, we got lost. And sure enough, while we were on an exposed ridgeline
another storm hit us at 2,000 metres. Researching what to do when a storm hits wasn’t my best idea – naivety would have been a lot less traumatic. Everything I read said you need to go indoors. There is no safe place outside. Exposed mountains and anywhere up high is an especially high risk. Keep away from isolated trees, isolated shelters and overhanging rocks. If your hair stands up, you or something very close to you is about to get struck by lightning. I will never forget the feeling of despair when I was under a rock shelter (we knew we shouldn’t have, but shelter was all we wanted at that point), standing on my pack and crouching down on the tips of my toes like wikihow said to do (until I got cramp and had to stand up). Josh’s hair was static, and we hadn’t been on a track for the last few hours. A couple of dogs had charged at us, circling us with their teeth bared and snarling. The shepherd had come running over and called them off just a bit later than I would have hoped. The rain was torrential and spirits were low. The feeling of vulnerability and insignificance in the mountains is what I seek when I go hiking, but this feeling is also what causes the most grief when things don’t quite go to plan. It took us ten hours to get to the next village. We slid and fell down a thick mountain forest, dangling off trees and hoping like anything we weren’t about to meet a vertical drop. When we saw a dirt road that led to the village we lay on it and looked at each other in disbelief and laughed. Peaks of the Balkans, you win. That was almost enough to call it a day.
Almost. We knew a storm was forecast for our final day to Theth, Albania and we had to cross an exposed pass to get there. The imminent threat of the storm fuelled us with so much apprehension and adrenaline that we were up at 5:30am and over the pass by 11am. We went for it; sometimes power walking, sometimes running. The never ending blue skies we were under made us giddy with relief and when we got to Theth it felt as if we’d just accomplished the impossible. We were back in a valley surrounded by granite peaks; there were other tourists. Coffee and civilisation never felt so good. Sitting in a bright blue van and being taken out of the mountains back to Shkoder, Albania was a peculiar feeling. It was like we were seeing the world for the first time. To experience what we did was invaluable and I have no doubt it will be remembered as one of the greatest moments of my life. I know when I was under that rock I told Josh that my hiking days were over. It only took a couple of days before we were trying to figure out what European hike we would do next. Mountains are addictive, and I don’t think we will ever stay away for long. Sarah Webby grew up in New Zealand, hiking and trail running her way around the South Island. She is currently living abroad and continues to pursue the outdoors in every shape and form. www.instagram.com/sarahwebby1
PUSHING MYANMAR WORDS: James Holman IMAGES: James Holman and Henry Kingsford LOCATION: Myanmar
“Not safe to travel,” “Threat of terrorism” and “Necessary travel only” was the advice given to those contemplating venturing into Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2009. Type ‘travel’ and ‘Myanmar’ into Google now and you will get never-ending results describing the top ten things to do – the best food, the scenic beauty and the amazing hospitality. My Myanmar journey was experienced through skateboarding and the enormous joy it can bring to people’s lives. IN EARLY SUMMER of 2009, I was producing a weekly skateboard television show with my good friend and production colleague, Alex Pasquini. We were covering the first UK Skateboard Championships in more than a decade where our friend, 17-yearold Ali Drummond, made it to the semi-finals. Naturally, we interviewed him and asked what his plan was for the rest of summer. He replied that he was travelling to Myanmar. I remember being shocked to hear that someone so young was travelling there as, along with most people, I had heard only of the atrocities that had been widely documented. He was travelling in preparation for his South East Asian studies course at university. All I knew was that it was a military dictatorship.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Democratic party, was under house arrest and there was a total media ban. Upon hearing of our plans to travel with Ali to skateboard through Myanmar with a couple of cameras, our parents were not too pleased, to say the least. Being young, confident and largely ignorant, there wasn’t much chance of them stopping us. Bangkok was our first stop where we waited for three days for our tourist visas to be granted from the Burmese Embassy. We had to lie about our jobs to secure a visa. We knew if we revealed a work history of video production it would be immediately declined. Once issued, we filmed a piece to camera about this experience and were stopped by a journalist, taken to a cafe and
warned about travelling to Myanmar. He told us we would be watched and followed, especially with the camera we were travelling with. He said to be careful, not to film anything of a political nature and leave as much camera equipment as possible in Bangkok. All of a sudden we were no longer blasé skateboarders with a ‘no worries’ attitude. I had never been to a foreign country outside of Europe on my own. On arrival, we walked nervously through the airport security screening, got in a cab and headed to our guest house. Visiting in late July meant it was often grey and raining. We saw only a handful of other westerners in two and a half weeks and were seemingly watched and
followed everywhere we went. The sight of armed military personnel on street corners, at road stops and marching around the city was not uncommon. It all created an immense feeling of unease and trepidation. With that said, I can’t speak highly enough of the hospitality and friendliness of the Burmese people. They would walk up to us all day long and want to know where we were from, practise their English speaking skills and talk about Manchester United football team! We were invited into people’s tea shops or houses for traditional Burmese food. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced before and their smiles were perhaps the most welcoming and beautiful in the world. After several days spent achieving very little and with a break in the rain we remembered that the journalist we had spoken to in Bangkok believed there was an old skatepark north of the city centre. We were amazed to discover there was one and even more
surprised that there was a small group of skateboarders there. From this point on, everything changed. The shared language of skateboarding broke down all spoken language barriers and for a few short hours, skateboarding with our new friends was incredible. We were no longer in the dark, dangerous Myanmar; we were watching each other’s interpretation of skateboarding, applauding and smiling at tricks landed, tricks attempted and the joy it brings. The result of this trip was a short film titled Altered Focus: Burma. It wasn’t released until the first half of 2011 as Ali ended up spending a lot of time in the country. With media around Myanmar being so sensitive none of us felt comfortable releasing it until he had left. We were amazed at the reaction it received; it got a Vimeo ‘Staff Pick’ and it was featured on both CNN and BBC World News. We also picked up an award at the International Skateboard Film Festival in Los Angeles. After filming Altered Focus we spent years talking about one day
going back to Yangon to tell the story of these skateboarders. They existed in almost complete isolation from the rest of the global skateboard community, with no skatepark, few street spots and little smooth concrete for them to skate on. Despite this, they loved skateboarding. They were addicted to the art form, the freedom of expression, and the happiness it brings. By 2012 Ali had moved to Yangon permanently and the political climate had changed so much so that it was now regularly featured in travel magazines and even awarded Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’. I made the journey back to meet and work with Ali in October 2012 to produce a new short film, Youth of Yangon. The contrast couldn’t have been any greater from the Myanmar I remembered. Gone were the soldiers at the airport, the busy intersections and the street corners. Gone were the looks, the feeling of being followed. It felt safe and welcoming. The film is almost entirely in Myanmar
was once a dark and dangerous park, filled with ‘What broken bottles and people loitering is now a vibrant space filled with smiles and artistic expressions.’ language subtitled back to English and tells the story of these skateboarders in their words. Shortly after returning home, the British Council of Myanmar reached out to us with an incredible opportunity. They provided funding for us to travel back to Yangon in February 2013 to hold a premiere. This was followed by a week-long screening at a local art gallery. It was an immense reward for a film that is still the piece of work I am most proud of to this day. The most rewarding aspect of the film and particularly the screenings was the reaction of the skateboarders themselves. They were thrilled to be watching their story and every evening attracted a growing number of people from the public, tourists and media organisations. Newspapers and TV Crews appeared all wanting to talk to them. Previously they were very subdued about the hopes for the future and the support they could wish to achieve. Once the media started rolling in, different skateboarders from the group took the opportunity to be interviewed. It created a fire of desire in them to push skateboarding forward in Myanmar; they felt valued, they were having their voices heard for the first time. The skateboarders got organised and formed official organisations. They spent years lobbying for recognition by the Ministry of Sports but unfortunately they have been unsuccessful in gaining this. After hearing of their continued struggles, we came up with a new dream, to one day, somehow, build a skatepark in Yangon. Enter Make Life Skate Life (MLSL), a US-German non-profit
organisation run by Arne Hillerns and Jon Chaconas. MLSL had used crowdfunding to create skateparks in Bolivia, Jordan and India. After seeing Youth of Yangon, they chose Myanmar to be their next project. Working together we repurposed the film for the Indiegogo Campaign; it was about to be a dream come true. Over 300 backers from across the world helped to raise $21,500 on Indiegogo, and it was all on! 30 people from 15 different countries worked with the local Burmese youth to collaborate on building the skatepark which was completed on 4th December 2015. My adventures to Myanmar were set to continue. Earlier this year I went back to Yangon to begin a new documentary on the impact the skatepark has had on the community. What I love about skateboarding is that anywhere in the world you can give a kid a skateboard and within seconds you create smiles. The Youth of Yangon now have something to do every day in a city where sports fields and sports centres aren’t prevalent. It’s taken them out of the computer game shops, staring at screens and interacting with virtual friends to a space for healthy activity, freedom of expression and has created a new community of genuine friendships. There are no class, religious or racial prejudices in a skatepark, just a space where people vibe from one another on skateboards. It’s rejuvenated an entire community and it’s not just the young people who have benefited. A tea and noodle shop run by the lively and wonderfully friendly ‘Mo’ has now been established
because of the skatepark, and the numbers of young and old now coming to the area has increased. With money from the Indiegogo campaign we were able to pay two of the older skateboarders to run a free loan board programme, teach younger kids to skate and take ownership over the skatepark. Parents feel comfortable leaving their children there to skate, knowing they are looked after. What was once a dark and dangerous park, filled with broken bottles and people loitering is now a vibrant space filled with smiles and artistic expression that only skateboarding can create. It’s also put Myanmar on the map within the international skateboard community. US pros, Red Bull riders and skateboarders from all over the world have travelled to skate the country’s first international standard skatepark with more arriving every month. I never thought that back in 2009 when I was a naive 26-year-old looking for my next adventure, I would begin a journey that has stretched over seven years and would affect my life and the lives of others in such a dramatic way. James Holman is a shooting director and editor from the UK, who is currently based in Queenstown, New Zealand. He loves coffee, music, travelling and Justin Bieber. He doesn’t love early mornings. www.jamesholmanfilm.com F www.facebook.com/JamesHolmanFilm www.instagram.com/jamesholmanfilm t www.twitter.com/JamesHolmanFilm
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