Friday, 12 February 2016

The Kepler Run

We had thought about doing this as an ultra trail race whist we were in New Zealand. We tried to beg an early entry and were told sorry- enter like everyone else on the day. I did try and ran to the pub from the SLMM field. I entered me and then tried to enter Bob. No luck; he was on the reserve list. So I gave back my place and of course he then got a place. In the end we decided to run it in our own time! It was a shame not to do the race and meet other runners and have the advantage of feed stations but on the other hand we were able to pick glorious weather, have time to take photos and save some money. We ran on Dec 11th which was a week after the race.
We were camping in Te Anau and so even with an early start it was only a short drive. This was before the main school holidays so the car park was far from full. It was hazy down the lake but the weather was already warm and sunny.

We (Bob and I) set off at the same time but had agreed we would not try to run together. The first section was easy; out of the car park, past the control gates and on level paths along the lakeside and into the woods.

Before long I passed the first campsite at Brod Bay (about 5.5km in) and people bleary eyed making breakfast. I stopped for a photo and to say good morning. The track was now wide and almost flat and I had to force myself not to get carried away.

 Before long the path began to climb but it was nicely graded and I was still running almost all of it. Just as I started to wish for a view and not forest I was rewarded. The path  changed and cut below a huge overhanging cliff complete with wooden steps, walkways etc. DOC (Dept of Conservation) build lots like this especially on the Great Walks both to make it easier and also to protect the terrain and vegetation. It is controversial like in the UK but it was a good way to rapidly gain some height.
 Having climbed round and up through this cliffy section suddenly I was out in the open with vegetation more reminiscent of the Pennine Moors without the bog but no easier to run across. It was already very sunny and hot.

The open terrain meant I now had a view almost to the Luxmore Hut. I met my first 4 walkers on their way down having spent the night in the hut.

Kiwis seem to do this a great deal; spend 3 days doing a one day walk with two overnights and very short days.

I was now getting my first real views of the bigger mountains in Fiordland. The path continued to be easy and although it was mostly climbing the angle was easy. Arriving at the hut  after about 14km I found myself surrounded by teenagers from Sydney doing their gold DoE. We chatted and they took a photo for me. They thought I was mad to be running it all in a day but then I didn't have huge sacks like them. I refilled my water bottle, used the loo (NZ has toilets everywhere and almost all have paper) and filled in the hut intentions book in case Bob looked later and wondered how long I had taken.

 I took a detour to visit the nearby caves and said I would catch the kids up later. Fortunately I had a head torch and spent a few minutes down the cave but really I wanted to get on with the route and the views. Back past the now deserted hut and yet another climb.

 I could see the kids up ahead and it spurred me on. We chatted about Sydney where I have two brothers. Turns out they had heard of Preston courtesy of their Economics teacher who supports PNE! Small world.

The path was narrower now but still a good surface and it climbed, swooped and contoured along the open high ridges. This for me was the best bit with such wonderful views and a bit of a breeze. Once past the school group I saw very few people going in either direction.

I stopped for numerous photos as I followed this section past the two smaller shelters and the views opened up to the north and west as well as the east.

Forest Burn is just an emergency shelter but a couple were cooking breakfast there.

After Hanging Valley Shelter (about 23km) I was buzzed by a tiny plane and then the path turned sharply south. I ran along this ridge with ever changing views. The path changed too with wooden boards and then steps that I guess were to prevent erosion.

The rocky lump at the southernmost point was a lookout with great views into the Iris Burn valley and across to Mount Tinlsey and then the path turned west again before plummeting down and into forest.

I did not know it at the time but the best bits of the routes were now over. (I guess if I had studied the profile and maps more carefully this would have been obvious). The path down was quite steep and had been washed out in places. It was still perfectly safe but there had been some landslides of mud and trees. I passed a small number of people flogging up and they were envious of my small load. The path wiggled around a fair bit here but I find it rather disorientating in the forest and just kept following the orange markers down, along, over bridges, into side valleys etc.

 I was starting to wonder just when I would get to Iris Burn hut when suddenly there was a small sign. By now I was out of water and running flat out but it still took me the 15 minutes on the sign so heaven help walkers. The Iris Burn Hut hut was not quite half way although possibly more than half way in terms of effort. I quickly wrote in the intentions book as a safety measure although down here on a big path and in the valley I really didn't think there was much danger. The hut was deserted except for the warden as the overnighters had already left and the big school group was some way behind me. Pete the warden broke off from his decorating to chat but the sand-flies were such a pain that after refilling my water bottle and eating two sandwiches I pushed on.

It was now the middle of the day and the afternoon was scorching. I wished I had less clothing and an extra water bottle. The next 30km were much easier in terms of climb but seemed harder mentally. At first the path weaved through forest and I concentrated on spotting and catching walkers who had left that morning. Then there was a more grassy open section where there had been a massive landslip some years ago.

Then it was back to forest with a big path that swooped in loops and climbed over many small spurs and wiggled around to find bridging points for the many side streams. Some bridges had been washed away by floods and the trees the water brought down. Some of the climbs up and over spurs were where the path had already been rerouted away from eroded river cliffs. I was still catching people who had left the hut that morning and eventually a few coming the other way too. It was good to stop and have a quick chat. The main river seemed to disappear for a while and I realised I had run out of water. The last few kilometers to the Moturau Hut were a struggle.

I took some time there and refilled my bottle several times as well as eating most of the remaining food. Again I filled in the book just in case and so that Bob would know when I had gone through. It was a beautiful spot overlooking the lake and I was jealous of the two Brits I chatted with as they were staying the night and had just been for a cooling swim.

 Still, less than 16km to go now.  Fearful of seizing up I set off again first along the lake and then into a beautiful beech forest. A wooden walkway over a fragile wetland provided some variety for a short time. Again the profile looked flat but there were some deceptive little climbs and then a diversion where the river cliff had collapsed. By now I was tired even if I was still enjoying my day out. I passed families on short walks and realised I must be not too far from a road of some sort.

It wasn't long before I arrived at the suspension bridge (or swing bridge in kiwi speak) that leads to Rainbow Reach car park. The last 6km had taken its toll. If I was tired I suspected Bob would be feeling the same way or worse. I did some mental maths and using old race times tried to work out where he would be and how far behind me. I came up with a plan to save him and spur me on. I would race the last 10km to the car and then move it to Rainbow Reach. I hoped I had time. After the bridge the path follows the bank of the Waiau river although it is not always visible.

It must have been scorching because I was grateful for the shade. I plodded on and kept hoping and hoping to see the control gates that would mean the car was close by. Suddenly the river looked huge but flatter.

the path changed and the trees thinned a bit. Yes! I could see a man made structure. It spurred me on and in about 8 hours 30 I reached the car. I was happy to have stayed under half the DOC time given how many stops I had taken for views and photos. What a great day.

 I grabbed the water that I desperately needed and ate some fruit but did not dare to linger. The drive was fine despite a dirt road and I arrived back at the bridge in plenty of time. I was sure I could not have missed Bob but I did start to worry. Eventually I asked a girl walking back the way we had come to keep an eye out for him and tell him that I had moved.

A couple of hours later and he appeared. Tired and happy with his 50km day out but pleased not to have to do the next 10km. At least it wasn't far back to the posh campsite and a shower.

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