It was around lunchtime by the time we got across the Clarence and then the climb began to the top of Tapuaenuku… or the saddle just below the summit due to a last minute course change. I am not sure if it was the concussion or the particular time of the day but at the beginning of the climb I went through a real bad patch. I had a headache setting in and it was the first time in about 24hours I felt like it was warm enough to take my jacket off! There was a sense of being so far back now that we were and had been by ourselves alone for quite some time.
It wasn’t long though until we spotted another team gaining on us up the hill. This was the start of a see saw battle with “Lost and Lonely” At the last water stop before heading up the hill we had a bit of a feed together which made it feel more like a picnic than a race… anyway it was good to refuel and rest up before the grind up the spur. That’s exactly what it was too for a couple of hours, we ground away a brief traverse across some exposed areas of scree made things exciting for a little while before we began climbing once again.
More traversing a across scree ensued before we reached what looked like the saddle we were after…except once at the saddle it became clear there was more climb to the actual saddle, and then once at the next saddle and after a false celebration on reaching the “high” point we had further to follow the compulsory route to get to the saddle. More teams seemed to appear out of the woodwork and it looked like we might be making some progress catching a few teams up. Time was ticking along and we had to work hard to make it to the saddle before sunset. There was only just enough time to get down most of the snow before darkness of night two set in.
Going the previous night without sleep and heading into the second without the tiredness was starting to set in and I clearly saw a railroad crossing sign (which was not actually there…) marking the start of the track where the snow started to end! Here we meet the University of Auckland team with Tom Reynolds. We wandered down the hill with them and hit the riverbed around 11pm. I switched off for a bit and wasn’t following the map at all, just assuming someone else had an idea of what was going on…. Then in the river bed I spotted some bee hives which turned out to be some flax bushes and Tom saw some power lines which completely did not exist! A short break here was probably the worst thing we could have done and every pile of rocks seemed to look like a cairn. As a result we missed the track across the Hodder river…then we just decided to head down the river. There was a bit of confusion in the Hodder however….
I was clearly not in a state to navigate at that point and quite willingly handed over the map for a bit. Further down the river was a gorge that was impassable and as a result there was a bunch of about 5 teams wandering up and down the river bed trying to figure out what was going on. To compound the errors that I had made here, Amy was convinced we were not in the Hodder river. Having not been there before myself and Amy being so adamant we were not in the Hodder I had no reason to question her however much the compass and map lined up…
The other teams around us eventually figured it out and all disappeared and I was finally able to come to the conclusion that the only way out of our current situation was to climb up a fairly sketchy gravel bank. Even then I had fully convinced myself that if we were not in the Hodder this way would get us into it. Once on top of the gravel bank it became very evident as to where exactly we were and we were in fact in the Hodder River… it also became fairly clear that we really needed to get some sleep… so we found a good spot and got a quick 2 hours.
Two hours sleep went down a treat and was amazingly refreshing. It was still dark as we got underway down the cold riverbed. Dawn wasn’t too far away and after what felt like an incredibly long descent down the river we reached the point in which we needed to go up to get the checkpoint. It was still dark and really we should have waited 10mins for the it to get fully light…. But in the darkness and confusion my navigation seemed to be doubted, mainly because the altimeter didn’t match with where we were. I tried my best to fight my case, but I never had a firm plan and with a seed of doubt and 4 other teams hanging around it became clear that we had to do something…. And that something was to trek back upstream. 1 hour later we came to the conclusion that we were either too high or too low, I was pretty convinced where we were previously was right. The decision was made to go with my call and once we were back at the point we needed to go up to get to the waterfall it became very clear that we were in the right place and after bashing though the bushes we got there after being past what seemed like 30 teams….
Dawn had brought another bright and sunny day and it got hot fast. Once at the saddle it felt like we were almost there. 3 teams were in front of us on the descent and they all jogged down the hill and got out of our sight pretty quickly. There was one more final trick to the navigation to follow a farm track which didn’t quite match up with what was on the map. Dave was navigating at this point and got us onto the right track but I got the map back when things started to not quite match the doubt started to creep back in. It started to eat away at me inside, and finally I had to vent. I was right and the doubt was really putting me off. I felt as though my navigation was being questioned at every step and 9 times out of 10 I had been right so far. I have a reasonable amount of experience navigating and all this apparent doubt was really damaging my confidence…. we had made some really good mistakes and hence cost us a good 4 hours already, just by where I hadn’t gone into the area with the confidence I needed to allow my team to follow me unquestionably.
Anyway small crisis averted and we waltzed into transition around midday thinking we were way behind the eight ball but it turned out we were around 15th place or so so not as bad as we thought!