WTF 6: A Cracking Front Country Mission

A few weeks back Harvey and I (Michael) set off down to New Zealand’s greatest town, Te Anau.

After the red eye flight out of Christchurch, there was a stop off in Invercargill (the city of water and light) to ‘Work From Home’, out of the office. We were fortunate to indulge in some lunchtime sushi at Koji (the establishment previously known as zoo keepers) with our number 1 supporter Samual Baker. Dad then continued a long running tradition, of driving hours in the name of supporting adventure racing (legend) to transport us back to Te Anau.

The WTF 6, or Wilderness Traverse Fiordland (what did you think it stood for?) chapter 6, is a great grass roots event or ‘shared adventure’. Technically speaking, it’s not a race. Typically trekking  and packrafting only. But whatever way you frame it, it’s a great opportunity to get in the hills with your mates and have a ball. With Barett on west coast trumpet duties, and Holly still nursing a crook wing, Harvey and Michael decided to enter as a pair.

We got the maps earlier in the week, and the course looked sweet. Fast terrain, a grade III rapid, some tricky nav at the end, and some great tops travel. Approximate time of 45 hours. Deer are everywhere in that part of the country. Terrific for traveling fast, terrible for biodiversity. The course would start at Mistake Creek on the Eglinton take out at Boyd Creek. Up and over the Dunton range via the Boyd tops and Lake Acheron. Out to North Mavora at West Burn hut. Paddle down to the Mararoa (darkzone at the south end of South Mavora lake). Grade III rapid before Kiwiburn. Pull out at the swing bridge, up and over into the Whitestone and Upukerora (via two accents to the bush line) out to the Dunton swamp and back to the finish at Boyd Creek Hut. Lots of our mates were also at the start line, so we were looking forward to some banter out on the course. These are a lot of the same people we will line up against with in the USA in September at Expedition Oregon. We almost missed the start….but quick thinking from Mr Shallard made sure we arrived at the start line at the same time as the rest of the teams (thanks mate). Contrary to commentary we never misplaced the tracker 😀.

Our focus was to: navigate smoothly, hone a few processes (e.g. gear shuffling and packraft set up), and generally ‘send it sensibly’. The first paddle was fun, and less boney than expected. Up and over into Lake Acheron for that day was good times, with some grunty climbs and a minor detour onto the ecology detour. But as Alistair from the Sardines pointed out "plus de kilomètres, plus de plaisir." More kilometers, more fun. A highlight on the hoon down was the Check Point on ‘Fin’, precariously balanced on top of pointy boulder. Dark descended as we scuttled into the West Burn hut to the very welcoming smell of Hash Browns courtesy of Fergus’ (sardines) supporters. Thanks team, delicious! With a dark zone waiting for us at the other end of the paddle, we faffed a little and had a chat before being lovingly guided by a northerly breeze all the way down the lakes. There is something novel and calming about paddling flat water in the dark. If head torches could communicate emotion, the LEDs at the public campground would have expressed confusion as raft after raft paddled quietly past after midnight. With Fear Youth and Mixed Nuts already tucked in at the dark zone we hunkered down for a delightful 6 hour sleep.

A restart the following morning at 7:30 saw about half the field that had made the dark zone. Those remaining teams were then split up by those who chose to either run or portage the main rapid. Not for the feint hearted we were on the fence….but chose to hit it. Harvey executed the line with aplomb. In saying that we have decided as a team to commit to a more structured and safety conscious approach to white water. With a couple of close calls over the years, and a humbling realisation that we are far from white water gurus we have resolved to take some proper certified courses and spend more time with experts…as opposed to the ‘nah, just boof it approach’. Anyway, on with the yarn. This left the rest of the day trading places and yarns with Fear Youth (Fynn, Sophie, Chelsea) and Botswana (Dean, Henry, Jonah). Mixed nuts were beast mode by this point, so until the end all we saw were their foot prints.

Harvey spotted a slick scree line coming of the 1st pro point, which gave us a bit of breathing room. I really appreciated the chance to spend time in the head waters of the local rivers I grew up in (Whitestone and Upuk). Lots of deer, some delicious croissants, relatively on point navigation and all of sudden we were at the 2nd to last checkpoint. We chose to take the spur while FY chose the creek. We ended up meeting at the penultimate Check Point and clipping it together. ‘Guess we’ll have to race to the end eh bro?’ I muttered to Fynn. *sly grin from Fynn* ‘Yeah looks that way aye’. Usually at this point for me, the red mist descends, I get caught up in the moment, and make a navigation error. Not today. The final approach was tricky in the dark as there were no prominent features, so holding a bearing was the only option. While trying to ignore the headlights traversing adjacent to us, we just tried to move steady, and not get pushed around by the terrain. We reached a creek which we felt confident ran perpendicular to the Check Point which was up a 50m rise. All of a sudden, we saw FY zoom past down the creek. We continued to swat away the red mist, and climb up and punch the Check Point. You beauty. Without nailing it on your first crack, it would be very difficult to determine your position. The route to the finish was less tidy than the tracking suggested, and as we got onto the track which was about 500m from the finish we saw headlights! Another team! Sprint flat out!....turn out it was just legendary supporters!

We arrived at 2:30am to a hut buzzing with activity. A mini party with a crowd of 20ish people cooking noodles and drinking beers. Mums, Dads, partners, other teams, Trackme, injured participants (Jade, you poor bugger). What an epic community we are part of, and what an awesome town Te Anau is (bias, I know). Enormous thanks to Andy, Arno, Jason and everyone who gives so much of their time to make these adventures happen. 

Kaikoura 48 hour is just around the corner. Barrett is off trumpetting that weekend, so we have called in Caleb Hill, our super sub. Looking forward to the next adventure! Yeow!


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