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Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Hillary Trail

Running in the Footsteps of Sir Ed

The Hillary Trail is a 75km route through the Waitakere Ranges, beginning at Muriwai Beach in the north to Arataki Visitor Centre in the south. The trail opened in January 2010 to honour our national kiwi hero, Sir Edmund Hillary. The trail has been special for me since, I ran the Arataki-Piha half on January 8th with a group to arrive at the opening ceremony held on the 2nd year anniversary of his passing to mountaineering glory. A year later, I ran with seven others the full trail for the first time in 14 hours. The trail is just too good to make it an annual bash - a further six months down the track I decided to team up with Kristian Day of Napier to take on the trail again for real.

Peter Hillary, Timothy Burrell, Me, Sarah Hillary - Jan 2010
But we didn't want to make it too easy.
North - South: evil hills saved for the finish.
Unsupported: no cars following us with watermelons, we'd have to carry our own soggy crumpets.
Winter: mud. Enough said.

With no fanfare to blast us on our way, we climbed from Muriwai Beach through backstreets to the beginning of the Te Henga trail - a jewel of Auckland's west coast. Myself and Kristian were joined by Gene Beveridge and Matt Ogden for this first 10km stretch, they were keen for an early morning bash. At least after some thorough persuasion. They set us off at a solid pace that we dreamed was sustainable for the whole run, but when they left us at Bethells Beach we slipped into our own rhythm. Initial nerves shaken off, and Ruahines damage report coming up clean, we moved through the iconic sand dunes and around Lake Wainamu smoothly.

Te Henga trail
Our first major climb up the Houghton track broke a decent sweat, now 8am I topped up my breakfast of oats with some syrup-marinated crumpets while slipping up the gulley. We almost had a close encounter with the infamous Houghton Boar - rollicking, crunching and snarling in the mud, hidden from sight - we didn't stick around! I collected a tag at Wainamu junction, one of last remaining from the Bethells 12-Hour Rogaine held in July, good to see the event organisers are cleaning up after the festivities.

Piha Appears!
Kuataika was a fun downhill blitz en route to Anawhata farm and once a large group of Japanese hikers filed passed us on White track, Lion Rock burst into view - Piha in only 3 hours 40 mins! We were stoked at the split. Striding along Piha Beach felt great, too great, we pushed the pace to Glen Esk to enjoy our 8 minute lunch break, lying on the grass, in the sun... Bliss.
Kristian feeling spritual at Kitekite
And off again - a swim at KiteKite falls was tempting, very tempting, but if we were to beat Nick Harris' 11 hour record, some sacrifices had to be made! We crested to Piha Rd for the road bash towards Karekare, but not before making a costly mistake following the trail markers... Note to self: always bring map! Kristian was psyched to see the marker after an extra half hour of unnecessary knee-crunching along the road.

We'd taken a blow to our morales, it felt like playing catchup now on lost time, so we barely stopped for a photo of the map at Karekare beach before the next climb to Mt Zion. This is listed on PeakBagging.co.nz, coming in at 272m it gave us just enough height to take in the wild coastal strip. Whatipu beach is an enormous land of swamps of sand dunes, with a roaring surf. The winter rains had taken their toll making the cliff tracks to Whatipu were muddy and energy-draining: our blistering pace from the morning was slowing!

Kristian pelted by rain up to Whatipu trig
It was a different experience along the windy ridges of the Omanawanui track today: a ten hour fatigue meant I was stumbling up the hills and my vision was a mad blur on the downhills. I finished my last food supplies at Karamatura forks - dangerous - there were still 3 hours to go. Fortunately, this was no average food - my energy rich Al's PowerBars gave birth to a second wind that blew through just in time to destroy the 400m descent into Huia, and we enjoyed telling other trampers what we were up to along the way.

The ever sensational Omanawanui Track

Gritting his teeth along Puriri Ridge Track
But at Huia reality dawned (or rather dusked), and the truth came out. We were absolutely smashed and still had 2 hours of muddy climbing to the finish. The transition from walking to running was slower than a freight train pumping its pistons and rolling into a start - it was becoming an increasingly mental challenge just to get going. And worse, our chances of beating Nick Harris' record were sinking into the creamy Nihotupu mud...

One ofthe many 'final' climbs to Arataki
Twilight darkened under the canopy of bush, straining our night-vision until we finally gave in to sense. Every effort was magnified, even getting out the headlamp. Luckily I'd thrown one in at the last minute - we weren't expecting to go into the night. It was a bonding experience for me and Kristian as together we pushed through extreme fatigue into the never-ending darkness, rain and mud...but eventually we heard a noise, a light - a Ruby Muir! Our faithful support crew had been traipsing around the trails for 3 hours never knowing when we might arrive. Thanks Ruby. Once we hit Slip track it was one final surge for an emotional finish in 11 hours 56 minutes.
Although we didn't beat Nick's time, we were still stoked with our effort. We'd completed the 2nd ever unsupported traverse of the four-day trail in half a day, through some tough winter conditions. I love the Hillary Trail, but for now I don't want to see the trail again for some time!
Smashed, Ravaged, but Finished
Now that the we have conquered the Hillary Trail in both directions (North-South is definitely harder by the way), there is only one thing left to dream of...

Double Hillary...?

The Hillary Trail

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