Southern Lakes 24h Adventure Race

This is my first proper adventure race. The main reason for doing it was not only for the adventure but to also gain experience for ourselves. Team Konica Minolta joined together (partially) here to see how well we could work together. This is the first time we had all met each other since the team was created. Not many photo’s of our team sorry – weight saving!

2330h, normally a pretty late night for me. Most would be thinking about jumping into bed. On Friday 16th November at this time however myself and the team were furiously planning routes and packing bags to ensure the next 24hrs went as smooth as possible – About to embark on the Southern Lakes 24hr Adventure Race in Cromwell, NZ. We’d only been given the grid references for the race at 1900h that evening as well as a general idea of what we will actually will be doing. Turned out it was set to be in 3 big stages. A Trek, a Kayak and a Mountain Bike. On each stage the Checkpoints (CP) were put out in vast and various places. We could reach the CP’s in any order so was similar to a Rogaine format. At the end of each stage you had to check in at the HQ so this was a good opportunity to stock up on food or dry gear.

Team Konica Minolta consisted of Josh Harris, Rob Lord, Myself and JJ Wilson (Substitute). Naomi Whitehead would normally be racing with Josh, Rob and I but unfortunately had an injury retain her from joining in, JJ jumped in at late notice. A Midnight start and we busted along a shore line pathway on our Mountain Bikes following Lake Dunstan. Heading north for about 20mins, we cut left and aimed up the valley. Shortly after we ditched the bikes and began the trek stage.

The midnight rush! Race start.

It was dark yet the bright stars proved a clear sky. Only the range of our headlights was our vision (in my case about ½ a meter). We had to be careful because we couldn’t use distant features for reference to navigate because of this minimal visibility.. Conveniently most of the checkpoints were on a track/ just next to one.  We climbed 1000m vertically, zig-zaging our way up where at this altitude and above up to 1500m we would be spending most of the trek stage of the race.

We trekked through the night and it got really cold in the early morning especially up high, staying briskly on the move helped. We got lost a couple of times. Just as the sky became light enough to reveal the spectacular scenery we found our first CP! Much relief! The sun rose at about 0530am to reveal the spectacular views from the high mountains. The terrain up the tops was very barren with steep rock and the main plant that existed was the horrible Spaniard Grass, often jabbing our shins with its needles. Snow capped the high peaks.

Rough outline of where we travelled on this stage - you can see Lake Dunstan in the bottom right corner. See if you can guess where we got lost...
Rough outline of where we travelled on this stage – you can see Lake Dunstan in the bottom right corner. See if you can guess where we got lost…

Crossing freezing streams and climbing up and down more steep hills, the weather started to pack in with a bit of drizzle. Crossing a steep valley over 100m high each side, the steep descents were starting to take a toll on our knees. Once up the other side the drizzle turned to snow and the snow didn’t stop. Within an hour everything was white. I had chosen to wear my Inov8 X-talons shoes to run in, they are quite minimal & the snow we now went through was freezing my feet, after 10hours+ in them on rugged rock my feet were aching with discomfort. It was really clear that at this point some of the members were have a bit of a hard time. I was still way too happy to be on such a cool adventure in a wild, secluded outdoors area to be tired – all I could think about was how lucky I was to be there, and how impressive the surroundings were.

Eventually heading back down to Lake Dunstan the air temperature increased a lot due to loss of altitude also meant hell for our knees. Back at HQ I scoffed down a tinned meal and my super sandwich while stocking up on more supplies. We then ran about 3kms to start our kayak stage which was in the Lake. We paddled promptly straight to the abseil activity in our double kayaks, knowing we were well behind time due to getting misplaced too much in the trek.


Josh Harris descending like a pro…

On top of the big rock I actually felt a little scared, starting feel a bit tired I wasn’t so sure it was safe to jump off a cliff in my current state. I did anyway. Collecting more CP’s on the paddle back the rain came back. It fell hard and heavy.

JJ and Josh before the abseil

We ran back to HQ to replenish ourselves again and here we heard the news that the next stage on the Mountain bike was currently in a heavy snow storm and that it was recommended to not do some sections of it. After a small discussion about whether to continue, we put on many layers of warm gear and duct taped our waterproofs on tight. We were carrying out with it, prepared for another night in the wild outdoors. Stopping at the Bannockburn Hotel on the way out of town we were told the section was now closed off due to the storm and the depth of the snow. Gutted but slightly relieved we collected the rest of the CP’s that remained around the town of Cromwell then called it a day at around 2100h – 21hours on the go. After a wee feed then some beers at the pub, we all hit the pillows hard and fast around midnight.

A huge amount of learning for me, it really was an experience to remember. So much to take away from that long day that will make me and the team better for future races.  Bring on Godzone!

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