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Sunday, 6 May 2012

T'Walk 24 Hour Rogaine

60 seconds is a long time. 60 minutes is a longer time still. But 24 hours? Twenty four hours spent enduring punishing but spectacular terrain in the Canterbury backcountry? Now that's what I call a good time.

"JAFAS" - surrounded by 49 South Island teams we decided to be Auckland proud
 Sharon Hornblow came at us back in April pushing AUTC to enter a team into a 24 hour epic rogaining/orienteering race organised by the Canterbury Uni Tramping Club. "Come do the TWALK!", she said. "Otago teams have been dominating for too long, we need some northern blood to shake up the competition."

 We were keen from the outset, and with cheap flights appearing through the woodwork there was no excuse. Christchurch for one weekend seemed extravagant, but sometimes in life you need to be impulsive. This was one of those times. Coated in a crunchy red shell and loaded full of chocolate and Powerbar, Team JAFAS stepped out of the bus into our much-awaited mystery location: Lake Coleridge.

Lake Coleridge appears...

Saturday morning, 50 teams in flourishing and hilarious costumes were deposited with maps on the road-side just over Porters Pass. Our first mission was to navigate ourselves to the Hash House nearby Lake Coleridge. Hash house... a special woolshed churning out an eternal supply of food thanks to some special volunteers. A constant flurry of food appeared... hot lasagne, fresh pizza, chunky soup, warm muffins, coffee, cereal, sandwiches... this was our main driving source as we collected the first 16 checkpoints hidden in boggy streams, under thick matagouri scrub, rocky outcrops on scree slopes, and generally in the most difficult and awkward locations.

White peaks in the distance feed the Rakaia River - the northern strains of the Southern Alps

But our rewards were in the form of spectacular Canterbury scenery, new vistas appearing around each corner. On the dry scree tops the autumn sun was scorching, and after the opening fanfare of costumes wore off we soon found ourselves peeling off awkward kid-sized helmets, James packed away his straw sack, and Helen itched at her face paint. All thoroughly worth it though. Our self-inflicted inconvenience seemed insignifcant compared to carrying a giant paper-mach√© Donut on your shoulders as one pair impressively pulled off. Delicious.

"Immerse yourself in toxic waste"

Navigating on the 1:50 000 topographical map was difficult, even one contour line represented 20 metres in height change - in reality this was quite a decent sized feature, with little more detail to help us narrow down the location. Luckily, the good folks setting the T'Walk (pronounced "twork") had provided us with a set of incredibly useful cryptic clues. "Mucking around with mason" translated to a small muddy, rocky stream gulley in an otherwise featureless hillside. "Follow the bees from the door to the coleslaw" meant us to follow the fence posts from a farm-gate to a cabbage tree - we found the plastic token at the base of a fence post just after brutalising an innocent cabbage tree. Ironically, the clues only made complete sense after the clue was found, at the very least this made for a long slightly frustrated sigh at the cleverness of the setters.

Fading to dusk, making the most of the last of the day light
One of the highlights was surely the arising of the supermoon - a full fifteen percent closer - the glowing round slowly revealed itself from hiding beyond the Craigieburn Range. Our shadows were tossed across the tussockland at the low moon angle, so bright that our head torches were mostly useless except for clue-searching. So we kept the moon as our guide as we carried on with the never-ending mission... into twelve hours of night.  

The peregrine moon comes out to play
Before long, the buzz of the moon stars and mountains wore off and we found ourselves heading towards a depressing three-clue losing streak. There's only so long you can bare to wander aimlessly around an empty plateau searching for a clue as cryptic as "Ready to rock and turning dirty, in between some humping". Eventually you need to give up - always a very tough call - but often the clue is found on the way out! We had to show some patience though, because as we slipped further and deeper into the night, a rapidly dwindling patience would leave us exhausted as well as empty handed...

It wasn't all bleary-eyed misery in the hills however, Rogaine karma did serve us our fair share of luck in return for our perserverance. Following the distastrous run, we stumbled across a string of five easy clues that sent us flying out of Leg 2, into the Hash House, for a luxurious pre-midnight feast.

Jafa helmets made excellent bowls

11:30pm - heading out for Leg #3
We had timed it perfectly, even as if to a plan. In Auckland we had debated whether we'd need tents, winter sleeping bags, sleeping mats... as we left the Hash house woolshed nearing midnight, it dawned on me that Leg 3 would keep us entertained until dawn at least and rule out any opportunity for sleep. Besides, who could sleep when there was work to be done! At a glance, the route would send us climbing 600m over Carriage Drive Saddle, a long sidle around Cottons Sheep Range to Lake Selfe and back via  Little Mt Ida through swamps, powerlines, and ever-ending gravel road before breakfast.

The 20 hour freakout face

Fog had moved in behind the Peregrine shiner, this not only reduced visibility but forced me to extrapolate my mountain tops before I could take any compass bearings. Its a hard time navigating in the dark, sleep-deprived eyes wander from the map to the back of my eyelids, every so often an uneven step on the rough ground jolted me to focus. As much as 16,17,18 hours of constant walking and jogging sent us into extreme bouts of fatigue, the relief and joy of every checkpoint that we discovered was all the more intense. As we stumbled upon a huge green water tank we all laughed, and groaned - why? Searching far and wide for the "Incredible Hulk", our exhausted imaginations could only envision an abstractly shaped bush or tree...

Fog and sleet in the early hours, Sylvie powers on
Celebrating the coming of dawn!

 Its always a special experience, witnessing the slow arrival of dawn. Although fog delayed the 7am rise, it was the same fog that kept us relatively warm all night stalking the fields. We were prepared for snow, almost hoping for snow, giving full respect to the potentially freezing Canterbury high country. Sunday morning was a different story. After a brief scoffing session of cold porridge and hot coffee (anything tastes good after a hungry night), we emerged into a glorious mid-morning arena.

Sylvie lining up the map with the features

  We came into the competition with low hopes of competing, but this changed suddenly when we realised we were holding 8th place. With little over two hours left to salvage as many points in Leg 4 to hold our position, we dug deep and flung ourselves at four more controls: all or nothing. The mood was tense, we needed to be swift and navigate accurately, no messin' about. One eye on the compass needle, one eye searching for the clue, you can imagine the nerves...

Stumped in the crucial final minutes...
 Over the course of the past "day" we had developed a cunning technique of communicating within our team if we had found the clue or not. With 50 fellow teams scouring the same countryside as us, our competitive spirit couldn't afford to give out any hints... With forty minutes on the clock to finish, we were cutting it fine to find the "Queen Flax" in one annoyingly flax-filled field. The moment that Helen heard her call - "let's go Scarlet", Sylvie was beckoned with "I think we'd better leave this one, Amber", and James - "enough searching Roberto, time to bail" - everyone slid on a silent smile. Our 42nd control was bagged and the Hash house was soon in sight...

Big country - steep scree slopes crumble away from the ridges

 AUTC T'Walked into the woolshed proud, 23 hours 39 minutes after the starting stapler had set us charging all those hours ago. For Helen & I, this was our first 24 hour endurance event, something that had seemed huge and daunting in theory. James & Sylvie shared stories of blisters, accidental sleep-ins, midnight gut hurlers and more - obviously we were enticed to put our feet to an honest twenty-fourer. It was with huge grins that we four slept on the pebbly yard waiting for the bus, baking in rich Canterbury sun.

Each colour represents a different leg of the journey and a quick feast at the hash house

Check out the results from T'Walk 2012 here. We were stoked to score 2nd in the student team section and 9th overall. The sleep deprivation made the extra difference, although we severely paid for it in the week to follow... T'Walk 2013 - we'll be back!


  1. Nice Job - Yeah leg2 was frustrating. I nearly Bled to death after the Cabbage Tree (#2), failed at #3 the Waterfall. Found #8 at the top of the scree, but failed with #9 and #10 (The Humps). A good evening out in the hills though and nice to finally meet the man.

  2. nice job thanks for sharing your experience..... Rogaine