When thinking up new adventures, I find it hard not to over indulge in how the experience will look several months later, when the GoPro edit is finally completed. There are always blue skies, the most epic camera angles and only the most talented, witty and attractive of my mates, showcased on screen. This played on my mind as I sat in the truck, staring out the windscreen, watching the rain bounce off the steamed up glass. Out of the seven adventure sports we had planned to do that day, I had so far done one out of three, and was about to pass on the fourth. This wasn’t in the script.
It all started on a chilly, star filled Friday night at the Craigieburn camp ground. We had arrived in several 4×4’s, laden with camping, skiing, bouldering and caving equipment. Back in Christchurch was a garage full of rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing and barbecuing equipment for the Saturday afternoon’s activities. Our plan, which wasn’t much simpler on paper, was as follows; hike to the top of the ski field then ski down, do some bouldering at Castle Hill, followed by some caving at Cave Stream. We would then drive back to Christchurch, complete a quick and faff-less gear swap, and head up to Godley Head on the Port Hills. Here we would climb at Farm Terrace Crag, mountain bike down the Anaconda trail to Taylors Mistake, and end the day surfing, followed by a barbecue. The intention was simple; put together a badass video, have some adventurous fun, and spread some good karma by raising awareness for a friends new testicular charity ‘Team Lumpy Bumpy’.
I had spent Friday packing up the truck and getting increasingly anxious over worsening weather reports for Saturday. With overnight snow predicted and a front on its way, it was likely that access to the ski field would be restricted until the avalanche risk over the access road was cleared. Not being able to get up to the ski field would massively impact on the ‘epicness’ of the day. I had envisioned us hiking up the ski field, crunching through fresh snow, as traces of purples and yellows streaked across the horizon behind us, warning of an imminent sun rise. Arriving at the summit in time for the sun to make its first appearance, we would be surrounded by blue from a cloudless morning. We would then ski down, high fiving and smiling as the GoPro, attached to a selfie stick, was waved around, catching all the unfolding action. I fell asleep that night, in the cold, uncomfortable tent at the Craigieburn camp ground, running these images through my head while trying to work out a suitable backing track for the movie; ‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner was probably a little too egotistical, good sax solo mind.
Waking at 4:45 the following morning, I gingerly stuck my head out of the tent to assess the sky. The blackness was littered with pin pricks of light, more vivid and numerous than what I was accustomed to in Christchurch. ‘We’re on!’ I thought to myself, excitingly getting dressed and wondering if perhaps the predicted front got held up in Arthur’s Pass, or wasn’t going to come at all.
Several weeks earlier, we had completed a dry run of the day to get an idea of time requirements and distances between various points. We had to keep to a tight schedule to ensure that we weren’t finishing the day biking and surfing in the dark. Add to this my slightly obsessive time paranoia, a group of ten, and leaving the camp site ten minutes later than agreed, I was already starting to get agitated. Driving in convoy along the empty, bleak highway for several kilometers, we turned off onto the ski field access track and continued up the gravel road, stones crunching under the wheels and dust being kicked up, reflecting the beams of our headlights back onto us.
It wasn’t long before snow and ice was started to appear on the access track and we eventually had to pull over to fit chains. I had allowed a bit of time for this in the itinerary, and having practised the day before, was able to fit them relatively quickly. I looked across to the other 4x4s, which had several people crouched round each wheel, wrestling to get the chains on. Head torches lit up the struggling exhales of breath, as the chains, too small for the wheels, refused to go on. We battled with them for 15 minutes, attempting various methods and techniques to get them fitted. We literally needed millimetres to connect the ends together, and finally, after much rearranging and brute force, managed to link the two ends. I was mindful that it was too soon for celebration, as we still didn’t know if the access gate would be open. We continued on up the dark access track, following two red dots, embodying the rear lights of the car ahead of us.
Leaving the safety of the forest as we broke through the tree line, I started to get an indication of how windy it was becoming. The earlier dust that had been caught in the headlights had now been replaced with snow, almost giving the wind form, as it whipped across the track in front of us. We turned the final corner before the gate, to see an open road ahead of us. Finally some good news I thought, as the truck wobbled in the wind. Considering all we had done so far was essentially wake up and drive to a ski field, it had been surprisingly stressful 45 minutes. Unfortunately, things weren’t about to get much better.
Arriving at the ski field car park and climbing out of the truck, it was instantly apparent how strong the wind actually was, as it attempted to blow the car doors off. The blasts of wind arrived in intervals, seemingly awaiting the most opportune moment, normally when stood on one leg trying to put on a ski boot, or while removing the skis from the roof of the car. When it blew strong enough to lift my snowboard off the ground and slam it painfully into my knee, I decided I wasn’t going up the mountain. The news didn’t go down overly well with the rest of the group, which was understandable, seeing as this was originally my idea and now I was backing out almost immediately. But as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t safe enough to go up, which the rest of the group respected, and then headed up anyway.
As a compromise to myself, I decided to walk up some of the way. Partly to get some video shots, but in retrospect, more because I felt I was missing out. Once we had started walking, the wind had noticeably dropped and I really started regretting my initial, slightly rash decision. I was becoming more annoyed that I hadn’t brought my snowboard with me on the off chance that the weather would improve, as it was now doing. The one positive was that the horizon was starting to fill with morning colour, and I was able to get some of the hiking shots I’d visualised the night before in the tent.
It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened, and we reached the point where I had to stop, and watch the rest of the group continue up the mountain. I was kicking myself for prematurely deciding not to ski down and missing out on the experience, but then again, it did look as though a large cloud had crept in from nowhere. It didn’t take long for the group to disappear into the milky nebula, as I watched them hike away. I turned and headed back down to wait at the cars, telling myself not to miss out on an opportunity again. It would take about an hour and a half before I had already broken this promise.
It was fifteen minutes before shadows started appearing, moving within the cloud and snow that had now enveloped everything. The wind, now seeing that I was within the heated comfort of the car, had changed tactics, and now just blew constantly and fiercely, reminding us not to leave the 4×4 fortress. As the shadows ambled closer, their shapes took on familiar form, with matching smiles. From the hurried debrief, as the group frantically tried to get out of their gear and out of the wind into the safety of the cars, the weather wasn’t much better at the peak. Visibility had been minimal, thanks to a horrendous combination of cloud, wind and spindrift, making the ski down disorienting, confusing, but totally awesome. I was happy everyone was down in one piece, and that they had had a good time, but I didn’t want to hear any more about it. We were behind schedule, I’d missed out on the skiing (by my own doing), and with it now snowing on the mountain, this would no doubt translate to rain at our next activity, bouldering. We drove off the mountain in blizzard conditions, which at least felt a little bit epic.
For those of you that haven’t been to Castle Hill, it’s difficult to describe exactly what makes it such a special place. It is the final resting place of hundreds of limestone rocks, each one unique in size and shape, all interacting with each other, forming familiar shapes for the more imaginatively inclined. Between the rocks and the sky are the mountains, encircling the rocky graveyard, stubbornly bearing down from above. Lush, green grass spreads itself between the base of the rocky features, making the area feel as if you’re walking through a sculptor’s garden, appreciating the contemporary, limestone works of art. And best of all, it’s only a five minute walk from the car park.
With a scene as incredible as just described, I had grand plans for this activity. I had allowed an hour, more in the hope of getting some spectacular panoramic shots, rather than an allowance for ample bouldering. These contrived shots I had planned in my head the night before, were quickly becoming washed away as snow began to fall, while we marched towards Castle Hill. Unable to do any bouldering in the wet, although that’s not to discredit some of the braver souls of the group who still gave it a go (in some cases dressed in a mankini – but that’s another story), I knew deep down this was over before it began. I put away my mental director’s chair and stood shivering in thermals and waterproofs, angled against the snow that was quickly turning to sleet, as we launched the drone to at least get some aerial shots of this spectacular place. It could be the end of the world, fire and death everywhere, and Castle Hill would still look good. With the small consolation that’s it’s never a wasted trip to Castle Hill, we shuffled back to the sanctuary of the car heaters.
As we drove the ten minutes to the next activity, I stared glumly out the car windscreen. Watching as the wipers frantically attempted to clear the pouring rain, I couldn’t help dwelling on the fact that bouldering was another failed activity, and the caving we were about to attempt wasn’t looking too promising either. I started mentally scripting my director’s commentary for the DVD extras, which would inevitably result in losing our PG rating due to offensive and inappropriate language.
Activity number four involved negotiating Cave Stream, a 600 meter long, underground cave system with a steady torrent of water running through it. Under normal circumstances, it’s an exciting walk / climb in the pitch black, as the cave system weaves its way through smooth corners, ledges and mini-water falls. Arriving at the car park, it seemed that my pessimistic attitude had spread and was now infecting some of the others in the group. With the rain continuing to pour down, I ran between the parked cars, trying to gauge everyone’s feelings. Although I was mindful of not breaking the earlier promise I made to myself regarding not passing on opportunities, it quickly became apparent that my promises aren’t worth a great deal. It was hard to get excited, when stood in the cold and wet, about getting intentionally cold and wet. To his credit, Steve turned this argument around to his advantage – ‘we’re cold and wet anyway. May as well be cold and wet doing something interesting’. At that point I should have replied with ‘you’re absolutely right’, high fived him, and followed Steve, Jackie and Caitlin into the cave. Instead I just nodded, wished them good luck and returned back to the relative safety of the car. Instead of the freezing, shadowy depths of Cave Stream, the rest of us opted for sugary, tasty coffee and cake at Darfield, on our way back to Christchurch.
Sat in the cosy coffee shop, looking out at the blue skies that we had escaped to since leaving the Craigieburn area, morale was definitely improving. As we chatted and laughed amongst ourselves, I started to mentally write off the morning’s activities and toy with the idea of revising the title of the movie to ‘Mega Multi-Sport Afternoon’.
We had arrived back in Christchurch around the time I had originally planned, and I had again allowed some time for the gear swap. Within minutes, equipment had been strewn everywhere, with all available floor space covered with bike gear, surf gear, ski gear and climbing gear. But instead of quickly packing up the trucks and moving out again, we ended up sitting around drinking tea. My time paranoia generally resides just below the surface, so it doesn’t take much provocation for me to start getting stressed. Knowing that we were back on track just meant that we were now had the ability to be late, and I was desperately trying not to be that guy ordering everyone around and killing the good time. Resisting the urge to sit in the truck and rev it loudly, I was able to drop enough hints to get people assembled and moving onto the second part of the day.
Earlier in the week, Steve and I had gone exploring to find the most suitable crag to climb on. The last two activities, biking and surfing, naturally flowed into each other, with the bike trail ending at the beach. We needed to find a crag that ticked a number of boxes; proximity to the bike track, video worthy scenery and an easy route, allowing everyone the opportunity to climb. Amphitheatre Crag was well located, with epic, 30 metre high routes and requiring an abseil in, but would absorb too much time. Godley Head Crag had easy routes, a nice view over the harbour, but it’s location would have extended the bike ride by at least 30 minutes. Farm Terrace Crag was right at the start of the bike trail, had equally nice views as the Godley Head Crag, but we’d never climbed there before. So on an overcast, grey Thursday evening, with the light rapidly fading and no guide book, Steve and I discussed how difficult one of the routes looked from the ground. Anyone who has tried doing this will know how deceptive a route can look when viewed from below, and it’s usually not long before the first ascent ends in shouts of frustration and abandoned gear. Scouting the crag, it was apparent that this was a spot still recovering from the quakes, with large sections of the cliff missing and boulders strewn everywhere. Unlike Castle Hill however, where the scattered rocks added a unique charm to the area, these boulders just served as a constant reminder of how temperamental the rock face could be.
Slightly limited with our options, we essentially settled on the only route that looked climbable. A few metres off the ground, and at a new vantage point, it appeared that the route was slightly more technical than expected. A slight overhang now made an appearance, and as is always the way with new routes, the crux was the last move. It required locating a secret crack and faith that it would hold your entire weight, as you frantically snatched for the safety of the summit ledge.
‘This’ll have to do’ I muttered to myself, slightly out of breath and sweating, as I threaded the rope at the top, allowing me to descend after the climb. The route wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped, but on the plus side, the location was perfect and would provide some great climbing shots as the camera panned out to the view over the harbour.
We arrived in convoy on the Saturday afternoon, refuelled on tea, and in high spirits. The route was led by Caitlin, who started by immediately pulling off a chunk of rock that was masquerading as a hand hold. This served as another reminder of the slightly dubious rock quality at the crag. Despite my struggles leading the route a few days previously, Caitlin shot up it having never seen it before. I looked on in relief that someone else was able to put the rope up, and therefore I could enjoy a leisurely top rope climb. With views across Diamond Harbour and over onto Banks Peninsula, it was an excellent spot for hanging out, climbing and cheering people on as they made it to the top of the route. Finally an activity was going to plan. We got the drone launched, took some lovely photos, and I was even starting to reconsider the Tina Turner sound track.
As was the theme of the day, we couldn’t stay for long. The light was starting to fade and drops of water were starting to materialise from above. A short scramble from the crag led us to where we had left the cars and our awaiting bikes. Climbing gear was replaced with biking gear, which essentially amounted to taking harnesses off and sitting on a bike.
We then set off down the Anaconda. Aptly named, the bike track contorts itself down the hillside towards Taylors Mistake, our final destination. The previous drops of rain were starting to organise themselves into something more threatening, and we needed to get down to the surf boards quickly. However, with Taylors Mistake coming into view, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity of launching the drone to take what would have been an epic shot of all of us rattling down the track, with the sea in the background. If only Tom had remembered to press the record button. Moving on…
We were almost there. Arriving at Taylors Mistake, the earlier Craigieburn weather, that had been chasing us all afternoon, had finally caught up. Getting changed into our wet suits in the hammering rain, it should have been a miserable affair. But we had survived the day. In spite of the weather, the faffing, the weather again and more weather, we were stood in the dark, the cold, the wet, eager to get even colder and even wetter. How things had changed since the Cave Stream incident earlier.
Running onto the empty beach, surf boards under our arms, my heart sank again, as we were greeted with zero surf. Typical. Some of the more competent surfers in the group attempted to get up on the boards, but I basically bobbed about a bit, got cold, and came ashore. Not quite the epic, hanging ten end to the day I had hoped for.
There was no barbecue.
Instead we went to the Indian Sumner curry house to refuel on spicy food and reflect on the day’s adventure. While the team laughed and joked, I sat at the end of the table, slightly distracted as I dwelled on whether the day could be considered a success. I had completed about half of the activities, got very limited GoPro shots, and spent a large portion of the day clock watching. Technically, only the climbing went to plan, not being affected by weather or participation. This had been far from the grand adventure I had envisioned at the Craigieburn camp site the night before.
Several weeks had passed since the Mega Multi-Sport Day, and enough procrastination had occurred for me to finally be able to start putting together a video. Anyone who has attempted to edit a video based solely on GoPro footage will know that it’s a monotonous task. Most of the footage consists of two people having a debate over whether the GoPro is actually turned on, followed by mostly unusable material due to the camera pointing the wrong way.
Three things transpired while I spent several evenings staring at the computer monitor;
- We would have been lucky to have done one activity, let alone seven, based on how terrible the weather was.
- Even though the day didn’t go as planned, it was still an epic adventure and upon reflection, brilliant fun. We had a great team, with everyone intent on having a good time, despite the weather’s best efforts to literally put a damper on things.
- I am a terrible director. Having good weather, sticking to an itinerary, and capturing nice GoPro shots that aren’t shaky, low quality and blurry is just a bonus, and a reason to attempt it again next year.
To find out more on the testicular cancer charity we were supporting, visit www.teamlumpybumpy
For the finished montage of the day’s events, check out ‘MEGA MULTI SPORT DAY – VOL 1‘ on Youtube