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Saturday, 3 December 2011

St James Rogaine

For my third weekend based in Nelson I was keen to get out a bit further afield, beyond the bordering Richmond Ranges. Also, this weekend was rearing all over the country with mountain events - from the south, the glamorous Kepler Challenge 60km run in Te Anau. To the north, the infamous GOAT 21km around Ruapehu guaranteed to chew up your shoes, if not your soul. I had been looking forward to the Goat all year, but the Cook Strait proved too much of a logistical challenge. Plus, I was in the South Island already...

No Goat this year
I found my revenge in the form of the St James "Office Hours" 7-hour Rogaine held in the ranges beyond Hanmer Springs. Although I couldn't find a team mate in Nelson, I didn't give up. I took a gamble, and made the 300km journey to registration at St James Homestead hopeful, and nervous, to find a team... Success! The gamble paid off, I joined up with Elisha Nuttall and Joel Smith from Canterbury and Otago, and we made the ultimate team.

Elisha & Joel rearing to go at briefing
High above the steamy Hanmer Springs, we were now in real Canterbury high-country, and the most incredible terrain for a rogaine I'd ever seen. Take a patch of North Island farmland, add some towering 1800m mountain ranges and braided river valleys, and you get the idea. A nor-westerly was threatening us with rain so we packed for the conditions, carrying a stash of Gore-tex and merino. Joel scoffed at the briefing and repped a cotton tee-shirt, the whole day.

First up the first hill, foolish but necessary
9:30AM: The horn sounded. We darted up the nearest knoll-top for our first 10 points of the day. We were in the lead. Our strategy was to start out with some flat controls to start the day at a good pace, we headed north and pick up up 7 more controls without much trouble. The second most-valuable control in the far north had a pot of jelly-beans at the flag, we were delighted. To be my downfall or not, this lead to me ditching my salami sandwiches, chasing a sweet-toothed sugar craving all day. Only one hour had passed, how long would I last?

Jelly Beans. Yummy
Rugged high-country terrain
We had a horrible time finding #60 perched on a saddle above Horrible stream - I was convinced we were at the right saddle and high point combination, but there was good reason why the compass didn't agree... Determined to make up time, we raced on to catch up the school team who had ashamedly crept past us.

Cresting the rocky spur to #70
After following the easy ridge up to Samoa Mound, we crashed down a scree slope into the valley heading west. We cruised through 5 easy controls, before filling up water in the DW stream. The terrain was extremely rough and made running hard at the best of times. We pushed straight up the hillside to collect #62, and while sidling round to the next stream gulley we met eventual winners Chris Forne and Nathan Fa'ave climbing in the opposite direction - clearing finding it hard work too!

Marshy, wide valleys to the west
Big scree covered slopes
With time ticking rapidly towards 7 hours, we had to start lowering our expectations, and we dropped four controls high on the St James range. We were saving our climbing energy for the big 100 pointer atop Peter's Hill - number-one priority in our race plan. We cleared the swampy Peters Valley of the low controls and made a late dash for the summit! 1 hour 20 to go...

Battling the weather to summit Peter's Hill
The rain that had held off all day finally made its presence known, and at 1100m above the valley plains we felt its full force. Joel, still hugging his cotton t-shirt and not much else, didn't complain, all eyes were focussed on avoiding the prickly matagouri scrub and searching through the mist for the orange-white control flag. Boom - there it is: we punched our wrist bands and scrambled into the final stream gorge to find #72. The clue seemed straightforward: "Base of rocky outcrop/spur".

Only a few obstacles before us to conquer
We spent 20 minutes of precious time searching the steep stream banks to find no said rocky outcrop - the 7-hour countdown was racing, find it or flee! One last desperate attempt for a valuable 70 points, we charged down the gorge to try and find it en-route to the finish checkpoint. There it was! For once it was the map who was wrong! By now we didn't care, and battled through the shrub up & over the spur to descend to the road - five minutes to go - three of us ran the final kilometre towards the finish, with a generous helping of seconds left in reserve.

We almost cramped stiff after stopping in the rain. Back to St James homestead for a few moist sausages cake and tea - no better way to finish an awesome day in the hills. Even better was the luck of finding such mint team-mates - Joel & Elisha were solid all day - even though we're spread across the country we'll definitely meet up for some adventures in the future...

Nathan Fa'ave and Chris Forne powered their way through the course to pick up 1620pts from a pot of 1710. Impressive stuff from the adventure racing & orienteering champs. We were happy with our collection of 1200pts, and picked up an iced Christmas cake for our efforts. Thanks to Grant Hunter and the team at NZ Rogaine Association for organising such a sweet event.


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