This years GZ wasn’t on my radar, with reflections from GZ Chapter 8-Canterbury in 2020 being my last. However last year when I was approached about racing with 2 rookies and some financial aid to pay the sizable entry fee… how could I resist.
I quickly reframed my outcomes for this GZ which was pitched as a massive traverse across the South Island if NZ. I settled on helping a new team with 2 rookies and ultimately going on a 7-8 day adventure. I took competition out of my vocabulary and therefore eliminating the possibility for disappointment. In addition to this, GZ is ALWAYS about the team and the team only. Sure the finish line is the ultimate goal but the teamwork that goes into that time is none like you have experienced before. They say AR is like a years worth of learning squeezed into 1 week. I believe that statement. What happens between the start and finish is the most important, and most of that is about the team.
We finally got maps and start times less than 24hrs before the race. We knew we would be starting in iconic Milford Sound (the start of GZ Chapter 1). The finish line location was also a secret until the time. All this secrecy wasn’t unusual for GZ as it adds to the anticipation and prevents teams from training ‘on the course’ and gaining some advantage.
Were were scheduled to start at 945am on Friday. We had spent the previous night in Te Anau and driven the 90mins to the start line. With the iconic Mitre Peak in the background, Stage 1 started with a short 3km paddle in 2 person rafts around to Deepwater Cove. Here we meet our support crew in the Transition Area (TA- Rod, Tracy, Amber) who got us onto our MTB’s for the 42km ride up and out of the Milford basin through the Homer Tunnel (not many people get to do that) and then down and on the Hollyford Road on the other side. After 42km we TA’d back into rafts to paddle 17km down the beautiful and remote Hollyford Away (River). This included a long-ish portage that took a lot of energy out of us. My rookie team mates had studies maps and declared that the 1st few stages looked simple enough. Unfortunately after 4 GZ’s I have come to know what I call the GZ Surprise. Where simple looking stages have some challenging, misery inducing part that adds to the adventure. Remember its always about the adventure and the team.
We finally made it to Huddle Falls Hut on the Hollyford Track. Here we deflated our rafts and emptied our dry bags of pack etc to begin the 30km +1700m elevation trek that would take us to the Dart Awa(River). That sounds simple enough…hmmmm. Our packs were heavy with PFD’s, helmets and wet wetsuits, and all our other food and mandatory gear. We walked the 1st few km’s on the Hollyford Track/trail then had to find a way into the Middle Falls Valley. No tracks, trails or markers it was straight old school bush whacking.
IT WAS TOUGH!!!! it was later afternoon early evening and we went straight up through some very difficult terrain that was on a mountainside, hard to see in the now dark night (with headlamps of course). For about 6hrs we were only traveling at about 4000m/hour. Imagine taking 1hr to walk 1 lap of an athletic track. We were following the 400m contour line, and finally made it to the river where around 230am we found some flat ground to put up the tent and sleep for about 3hrs. We heard stories of many teams getting lost in here and finding the going even slower.
Upon day break we were soon above the tree line and trekking nicely along the upper river valley. Off to our right was Park Pass where we needed to be going over to access another valley leading to the Dart Awa (River). Again more bush whacking required but a lot steeper. Finally we topped out above the bush into some amazing views of the surrounding peaks and ‘that valley’ below.