The Mega Multi Sport Day II

I sat on the wooden deck, stared out at the coloured remains of the set sun, and reflected on the day’s events. We’d completed the majority of the activities, the weather had been fantastic, and my choice of celebratory craft beer was, to put it mildly, a triumph. Generally speaking, this had been a massive improvement on the previous effort nine months ago. I sunk a little deeper into the Cape Cod chair, took another swig of my frankly delicious pale ale, nodded to myself with the smallest of grins, and decided to chalk up the day as a success. Granted, my top lip was still painful, and there was the small matter of Ed’s broken back, but you can’t win them all…

In August of the previous year, we attempted a Mega Multi Sport Day, which involved completing seven activities during one long day, that included; skiing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, surfing, bouldering and caving. The weather was against us for that effort, and in addition to dealing with a horrendous downpour, I spent the majority of the day stressed as I attempted to keep the group on schedule, allowing us to complete all the activities in time. Learning from that experience, I had planned a similar event in early summer, mid-summer, late summer, early autumn (admittedly we did encounter some slight scheduling difficulties) to improve the weather odds, with an itinerary of more modest ambition. Friday night we would camp a short walk from Rakaia Gorge, located in the shadow of Mt. Hutt, in Canterbury. The fun would really start on Saturday, consisting of mountain biking at Mt. Hutt, followed by deep water soloing and bridge jumping at the Rakaia Gorge. We would then drive to Charteris Bay, located on the outskirts of Christchurch, for some rock climbing and pump track racing. The day would be rounded off with a victory BBQ.

Friday evening was spent in high spirits as we sat in a circle and discussed the various activities that lay ahead. Conversation routinely returned to the various potential outcomes, good and bad, of jumping off the Rakaia Gorge bridge. None of us had actually done it before, and minor details such as; bridge height, water depth, water temperature, if sharks swam this far up river etc. were unknown. The only advice we had was from a mate who had jumped off it while at university, who described it as ‘high enough that once you have jumped, you have time to regret it before you hit the water’. A nervous laugh was the last sound to be made before we retired, in silence, to our tents.

Predictably, morning arrived and it was decided to move the bridge jump and deep water soloing to before breakfast, the reason being that as it was hanging over us, it was better to just get it out of the way. One by one, the group reluctantly got changed into wet suits and we nervously walked the short distance to the bridge – a scene that resembled the final moments of the condemned walking to the gallows, if they had capital punishment in Atlantis. Looking over the side of the bridge, the turquoise water below seemed further away than when I last checked, and somehow colder than I remembered too.

No one wanted to be first, due to the unknowns potentially lurking under the pale blue surface. After much nervous joking and not a lot of action, Steve muttered ‘screw this’ and a few seconds later there was a large splash. Thankfully seeing him rise to the surface smiling, this set the standard, and one by one we took it in turns to leap from the bridge. As I plummeted from the skinny, wooden structure, arms flailing frantically, I had plenty of time to reflect on why exactly I had suggested the bridge jump in the first place. It was meant to be a joke, which had somehow gained traction and worked its way onto the itinerary. My thoughts then drifted towards what I was going to have for breakfast after, and having to remember to mow the lawns the following day, until eventually my train of thought was promptly interrupted by impacting the river. A combination of cold, shock and endorphins coursed through my body, as I swam to the surface to free myself from the icy depths. A quick body scan revealed no broken bones or general pain, which I indicated to the onlookers with a broad smile and a ‘Whoop!’-ing noise.

We finished the pre-breakfast shenanigans with a group jump, predominately for photo and video purposes. The second time was just as scary as the first, and as I hit the water my jaw slammed together, cutting the inside of my mouth. As we swam to rivers edge, I noticed that Ed was struggling to swim, appearing to have been winded from the jump. As I selflessly helped him out of the water, in spite of my painful top lip, it became apparent that he may have done slightly more than just wind himself. As he lay on the rocky shore, every now and again attempting and failing to stand, concern mounted as the situation gradually grew more serious. After 20 minutes of a slowly deteriorating condition, an ambulance arrived, shortly followed by the Westpac helicopter. After explaining to several different emergency service workers what had happened, generally followed by a tutting and shaking of their heads, we decided to forgo the deep water soloing activity in light of recent events, replacing it instead with skimming stones. As emergency crews knelt over Ed, preparing him for a heli-evac, we busied ourselves scouring the shore line for suitably skimmable pebbles.  A brief skim-off then ensued, quickly highlighting my inability to bounce stones over water, and bringing out several other people’s competitiveness at what I now considered a trivial task of bouncing stones over water. As morphine coursed through his body, we helped stretcher an upbeat Ed into the chopper, who was (thankfully) reiterating his request not to cancel the rest of the day’s activities, and to continue on without him. With the sound of the rotor blades disappearing into the distance, we shrugged our shoulders and retired for breakfast.

Once we had packed up camp it was onto Mt. Hutt. There are a number of bike trails that litter the mountain side, and are best accessed via shuttling bikes to the top, while taking it in turns to drive down. I originally had grand plans for doing several runs, but due to the earlier inconvenience we revised our intentions to a single run from top to bottom. As we ascended the Mt. Hutt ski field access track, the view over the Canterbury plains, with its patchwork of greens, stretched out to sea. Cycling the short, rocky climb to the start of the Scott’s Saddle Express trail, we then set off on a blast down the mountain, whizzing around corners and rattling down the straights, for a good 20 seconds before Adam got a puncture… which resulted in us hanging around making small talk for 10 minutes… before we were off again! The adjectives continued to fly as we negotiated our way through jumps, drops, rocks, roots and berms. With only several crashes to be had, most of which were mine, we made it to the bottom without heli-assistance, and the third activity was in the bag.

The first stage of the day was now completed. Admittedly, things may not have gone exactly to plan, but the afternoon was fast approaching and it was time to drive to Charteris Bay for the second phase. As I drove through the endless, flat Canterbury landscape, I couldn’t help feel that, from a literary point of view, it would have been more convenient if Ed had injured himself at the end of the day, as it was unlikely we would top a helicopter incident this afternoon. The account of the day was going to be front loaded, with all the drama before breakfast. I tongued my cut mouth, which was still painful and starting to swell somewhat. I’d mentioned it several times while we were biking but no one seemed to care. Maybe it’ll develop into something noteworthy by the end of the day, I mused, to help keep the level of drama up. My train of thought was broken – terrible pun intended – with news of Ed’s condition. He had a compression fracture on his T12 vertebra, requiring surgery to insert several bits of metal plate in and around his spine. The surgeon had mentioned before the surgery that ‘most people we see with this injury aren’t moving their legs ever again’. I returned to tonguing my top lip.

Rock climbing was planned for a crag known as The Altar, located adjacent to Charteris Bay, whose name seemed apt considering the day’s previous events. The spot consists of a large over hang, complete with spectacular views over the estuary and the rugged Port Hills in the distance. The area also doubles as a sun trap, and sunshine poured in as we set about putting some ropes up. As none of us were actually able to do any of the higher grade, over hanging, hard as nails routes, we instead opted for the more palatable and conquerable lines, affectionately known as ‘the easier routes’. Enjoying our time in the sun, we casually took it in turns attempting to scale the limestone rock face. I basked in the warmth of the afternoon glow, enjoying the fact that we were ahead of schedule and were in no rush to make it to the final activity. That was, until I nonchalantly glanced at my watch and saw what time it was. Jumping to my feet and pulling the sombrero from my head, I began barking orders: ‘The sun is setting and we still have pump track racing to complete. Let’s move people! Come on, come on!’. Now we were back in familiar territory.

Our final event would be at Orton Bradley Park, also located in Charteris Bay. Seeing as we had had an action packed day full of drama, activities and long drives, it seemed only fitting to save the most energetic sport to the end. We still had the mountain bikes with us from the earlier session at Mt. Hutt, so our list of activities was to end with a number of racing variations around the pump track. Nestled between the forest and a large grassy area, the gravel pump track completes a small, bumpy loop, with plenty of space to sit on the grass and shout encouragement. It didn’t matter whether it was Time Trial, Pursuit or Le Mans, I was terrible at them all, as fatigue from the day was starting to creep in.

With the sun now firmly below the horizon, we retired to Steve and Jackie’s house at Charteris Bay, for a victory BBQ and time to reflect on the day’s activities. The subject of risk and reward was discussed at length. Was the bridge jump any riskier than driving between the activities? Is risk assessment subjective or objective, based on an individual’s perception? Was Ed just unlucky? I considered mentioning that my mouth still hurt at various points during the conversation, but thought better of it.



The Perfect Work Week

I glance at the clock in the corner of my computer screen; the small white numbers read ‘3:05pm’. I look over to my cell phone on my desk, hoping to see a green, flashing light, indicating that I have received a message, but the phone sits there lifelessly. I return back to the Excel sheet I have open and attempt to concentrate on work. Minutes pass as I resist the urge to check the time or signs of a blinking light. I finally cave, and check the time again… 3:06pm. God damn it!

So far every day this week had been like this; initial excitement, followed by nervous anticipation, quickly followed by disappointment. Friday was shaping up to be no different. The green light suddenly bursts into life. I fumble with the phone to view the message ‘we’re on!’. I smile to myself and quickly start packing up my things. What had started out as an innocent idea several weeks ago, had steadily evolved, over multiple lunchtime conversations, into what had now become known as ‘The Perfect Work Week’.

Christchurch has the convenient geographical properties of a surfable coast line and a long stretch of 400 meter high volcanic hill tops, offering all manner of outdoor activities (it also has endless, uneventful flat plains that need at least an hour’s worth of driving to get anywhere interesting, but the less said about that the better). A plan had formed that involved completing an activity each evening, taking advantage of all the possibilities that Christchurch has to offer. At the time of its inception, there was probably a well-meaning intention for doing it, such as raising awareness for a particular charity, or showcasing all of Christchurch’s potential to a wider audience. But as the week drew closer, it became more about doing it because it was interesting and fun, as opposed to anything noble or useful.

Matt was the driving force behind the logistical side of things, and had put together the following itinerary:

Monday – Paragliding

Tuesday – Rock Climbing

Wednesday – Mountain Biking

Thursday – Surfing

Friday – Tubing

It may be apparent that all the activities are outdoor based, presenting a bit of a challenge when, say, a weather bomb is forecast for the same week. However, as we were about to find out, forecasts and reality exist in two different dimensions.

As paragliding was the most weather dependant, it was decided to make it Plan A for each evening. Plan B was another activity if it wasn’t going to go ahead. The call would be made at 3pm via Facebook, resulting in lots of phone checking and finger crossing from around 2:30pm each day.


First day, first activity. There was excitement over the social media group as 3:00pm neared and the skies were clear. That initial buzz lasted until about 3:01pm, when we got the message that paragliding was cancelled due to strong winds up on the Port Hills. Not to worry, our Plan B for high winds on the Port Hills was… rock climbing on the Port Hills. Admittedly not the best option, but seeing as rock climbing was the only activity we couldn’t do in the rain, and it wasn’t raining, it was selected by default. And besides, how bad can 30km/h winds be?

‘Worse than expected’ was the agreed upon answer as one by one we reached the top of the climb, to be greeted with howling, gale force winds. We were climbing at a location known as Cattlestop. Perched up on the Port Hills, it consists of a number of smaller crags that snake their way down to the Christchurch suburbs below. Being north facing, the spot provided panoramic views of Christchurch and the Canterbury Plains stretching all the way to the Kaikoura’s and Torlesse Range, with the deep blue of the ocean gently caressing the East coast. However, also being north facing, meant that the crag provided zero shelter from the Nor’ West wind that was currently raging through Canterbury.

We had opted to climb at the Footware crag, due to its selection of easier climbing grades, with names such as ‘Flip Flop’, ‘High Heels’ and ‘Jandals’, implying their ease. Evidently the grades hadn’t factored in the potential wind element and with a roaring in my ears, and loose chalk from my chalk bag covering my face, I battled with the rope to secure an anchor to allow others to climb.

I abseiled to the bottom of the crag, and with a rearranged hair style and wild, open eyes, I muttered something about the climb being fine, and took myself to the side to take a moment to gather myself after the shock of climbing in a wind tunnel. I watched several members of the group ascend the ropes that had been set up, resembling the storming of a castle. This seemed an apt metaphor judging by the far away stare they all came back down with, looking like they had come back from battle.

Strangely, after the one climb, most people seemed content with cowering amongst the local vegetation out of the wind, having a beer and enjoying the view, thus bringing the first day of activity to a close. Considering the circumstances, we decided to chalk the evening up as a success (clever climbing based pun intended).


Tuesday afternoon started with hope, but ended in dismay, as we were once again forced into our Plan B, due to continued high winds. As far as Plan B’s go, this wasn’t a complete disaster as it involved mountain biking at the newly built Adventure Park. Opened in December 2016, the park provides Christchurch with 50 kilometres of mountain bike trails, several kilometres of of zip line action and the fastest chair lift in the Southern Hemisphere, at least according to the marketing information on the web site. What it actually offers is a very lazy, convenient way of riding downhill, to the point that the concept of cycling uphill becomes almost folklore. Unfortunately the same high winds that had cancelled the paragliding had also resulted in the chair lift being temporarily closed.

As we discussed possible Plan C’s, none of which involved cycling the uphill track to the top and all of which involved going to the pub instead, word spread that the winds had died down and the chair lift had been reopened. It’s not very often I click my heels together in a Marry Poppins-esque kind of way, but I felt the occasion called for it as we boarded the chair lift to success.

One of the Adventure Parks selling points is its notorious 6km long jump track, known as Airtearoa. The track twists and turns its way down through the pine forest and is liberally peppered with large, imposing jumps and drops to be negotiated. The most suitable description I can think of for it is ‘terrifyingly exciting’. There is a genuine feeling of relief when you make it down to the end in one piece, especially when you consider the amount of recent ACC claims that have been lodged due to the new trail. Sweating and shaking, as the fear is replaced with an endorphin high, there was normally a good 30 seconds recovering at the end of the track before someone casually suggested ‘so… Airteroa again?’ – which is generally how the evening panned out.


It was around this time that reports of the impending weather bomb (the technical term for bastard high 100km/h winds and shit loads of rain) starting to appear.  The forecast was predicting apocalyptic like conditions for the evening, so we didn’t even bother entertaining the notion that paragliding would be going ahead. We did however need a Plan B. Anything aquatic based seemed a little ambitious seeing as we would need something resembling an Ark to safely take to the water. So we opted for the safer option of a walk. Not the most thrilling of activities I’ll admit, but a weather warning is a weather warning.

Slightly apprehensively, we arrived at Taylors Mistake, a small bay nestled towards the end of the Port Hills, equipped with waterproof gear, emergency rations and holy water, to be greeted with glorious sunshine. How a forecast can be so spectacularly wrong I’m not entirely sure, but in any case, it meant that we were to have lovely conditions for a walk along the Godley Head track. The walk starts in Taylors Mistake and follows the rugged coastline around the head of the Port Hills, providing various nuggets of history along the way. Remains of WWII gun placements still exist, a reminder that even in the depths of the southern hemisphere they were preparing for the worst.  The sun and no rain continued to beat down on us, as we circled around the Port Hills to view into Diamond Harbour, surrounded by steep hill sides slipping into the sea. The charm of the area is that it is so close to Christchurch, yet completely disconnected from it, providing a small sense of exploration and isolation. What should have been at best an average evening, and at worst a write-off, became instead an unexpected highlight of the week.  There’s a lot to be said for lowering expectations.


Another day, another paragliding cancellation. Although this time it wasn’t a massive surprise, seeing as the ridiculously named ‘Weather Bomb’ was still lurking, with the hooves of the four horsemen just audible in the wind. More importantly however, was that we were now running out of activity options, with only surfing and tubing left. Videos were emerging of a flooded Waimakariri River, so currently that was out. So what better activity to do when high winds and rain is predicted? Well that would be surfing, but only because we had already climbed earlier in the week.

And what a surf it was too! The waves were a few feet high, clean and breaking nicely, ideal for a group of novices trying their hand at surfing. We monopolised a small area of the surf and cheered each other on as one by one we clambered onto our boards and wobbly surfed for all of about two and a half seconds. If a load of beginners in the water wasn’t annoying enough for the local surfers, then the appearance of one of our mates bobbing about in a giant, inflatable swan probably was. Still, we are all out there to have a good time, and plenty of waves for everyone, I kept repeating to myself, as another long boarder careered through the middle of us.

The weather held for an hour or so, before the clouds darkened and big rain drops began to fall from the sky. Thus signalling that it was time to retreat to the pub to toast to another evening of success, and discuss at length whether it really matters that it’s raining when you’re already surfing?


‘We’re on for paragliding’. I was not expecting this. I’d come accustomed to my 3pm disappointment and felt slightly confused with this new, excited emotion. As I cycled home against a stiff head wind, it did seem surprising that it was going ahead. It appeared that the paragliding people also thought this too, as by the time I got home at 4pm, an update had gone out informing us that paragliding had now been cancelled. Thank god for that I thought, as I was now able to return to my familiar, disappointed state.

One problem remained, how would we make the tubing work? Matt set out scouting a number of options. Tubing the Waimakariri River was out, based on the fact that the car park we were meant to meet at was currently under record levels of water, which therefore didn’t bode overly well for tubing the river.

Plan B was the famously polluted Avon River. Again, not overly ideal I’ll agree, but we had run out of options. And so it was that a number of dog walkers and tourists armed with video cameras got the pleasure of witnessing 14 idiots in wet suits slowly riding inflatables down the Avon.


The river casually meanders through Christchurch at a leisurely rate of knots, passing through the city centre and the Botanical Gardens, which is where we had decided to set sail from. The sun attempted to force its way through the cloudy sky, resulting in the average temperature being maintained at a just about tolerable level for a good time. As inflatable sofas, dinghy’s, tyres, a ball pit complete with slide, a desert island complete with palm tree, and the swan again, gradually got ushered along by a gentle current, the inhabitants of said inflatables laughed and joked their way downstream.

It was only a matter of time before disaster struck, as one by one the inflatables began to fall apart. No doubt a result of the cocktail of pollutants that are present in the Avon and absolutely nothing to do with the misuse and overloading they were subjected to.

The evening was spent wrapped up in down jackets and scarfs as we enjoyed a chilly summer nights BBQ, which neatly provided an overall summary for the week – even in a week of predicted weather bombs,  good times can still be had.


Know Your Rights in the Otira Valley

My left foot breaks through the white, crunchy snow, and I’m once again thigh deep. Moving my weight onto my right leg, I attempt to haul myself up onto the cold, wet surface. I stare up at the right side of the valley, as I’ve been doing for the past hour, scanning the ugly looking cliffs for something that remotely resembles a large, climbable slab. In an attempt to bring some comfort to the situation, I reminisce over the morning’s drive to get here, in the warm, stuffy car. A better time when I had dry feet, warm legs and no heavy, overloaded bag strapped to my back. My mind returns back to the cliffs on the right hand side, and wonder what the guide book meant when it referred to the ‘True Right’ of the valley?

It’s Labour Day, which for anyone outside of New Zealand, basically means we had the Monday off work. I’d heard about a climbing location at Arthurs Pass, a small township on the border between the West and East Coast of the South Island, known as the Otira Slabs. Two large, sloping rock faces, which according to the description online, were located somewhere on the ‘True Right’ on the Otria Valley. I had arranged to meet Steve and Jackie at the slabs on Monday, as they were heading up the day before and opting for the slightly more adventurous option of camping out overnight at the base.

It is about a two hour drive from Christchurch, which gave me ample time to try and dry my shoes, which were wet for the previous day’s mountain biking, via the car’s foot well heaters. A perfect plan, had I been able to wind the car window down a touch to let some of the heat out. Unfortunately, the noise of the open window meant that I couldn’t hear the podcast I was listening to via the car radio. So with the car sealed shut, I was essentially commuting in what now looked like a mobile steam room. With the warm, dry air filling the car’s interior, I battled against the continuing sensation of sleepiness, unable to really concentrate on the podcast. I’m sure there’s irony in there somewhere, but at the time I was too hot and sweaty to work it out.

Arriving at the entrance to the Otira Valley, I stepped out of the sauna into the cool, mountain air. It was an overcast day, but not wet, which is something of a victory so close to the West Coast. I started to pack my bag and with the weight steadily increasing, I looked at the six pack of beers on the back seat of the car. I had jokingly mentioned to Steve that I would bring some beers up with me, which now seemed funnier at the time. My bag now full of climbing gear, rope, beer and an unnecessarily large camera, I slung it onto my shoulders with a grunt. It should only be a 20 minute stroll up the valley to the slabs I thought to myself. Which upon reflection, I’m still not entirely sure what I based this on.

After an hour of walking steadily up hill, picking my way through large boulders and negotiating scree slopes, I still couldn’t work out where this slab was. To my right was several stories of black, imposing cliff, leading up to the top of Mt. Philistine. To my left was green covered scree slops, interspersed with trickling waterfalls, cascading down into the river which I now walked along side. It would have been a nice moment to take it all in, surrounded by scenery, with the sound of the river meandering its way through the valley, had it not been for my heavy breathing under the weight of the bag, and clattering of walking poles against anything within a meters radius. I tried to mentally picture the image from the guide book, and with ever increasing artistic licence, project it onto the closest looming cliff, attempting to convince myself that I had finally arrived.


I suddenly appeared at the snow line. With it being a mild winter, I had kind of assumed that all of the snow would have melted by now. Which meant that I was slightly unprepared, wearing board shorts and an aversion to getting my feet wet. I scanned the white, glistening surface ahead of me and could make out two sets of footprints, presumably Steve and Jackie’s, continuing up the valley. I looked down at my shorts and dry shoes, looked back at the white footprints, let out an audible sigh, and started shuffling forward.

Using the walking poles for support, I ambled between exposed rocks and knee deep snow patches, attempting to minimise the amount of contact my exposed, goose bumped legs would have to endure. As the head of the valley came into view, my mind returned to what ‘True Right’ meant. Maybe the valley split off at some point I missed, or there was a ‘false right’ similar to those false summits? As moisture finally penetrated my socks, so that I now, officially, had wet feet, I spotted what looked like large, bulbous slabs… up on the left hand side.

There was still no sign of Steve and Jackie, so my new plan was to walk to the bottom of the slabs I could see, regardless of whether they were the correct ones or not. Then drink all the beer out of a mixture of principle and spite, and return back Christchurch.

With the slope steepening as I edged closer to the foot of the slabs, I began to make out what looked like a tent, and then two accompanying figures. I could instantly tell it was Steve and Jackie upon hearing their laughter at seeing a morale beaten, shorts wearing, bag hauling angry man swearing at the sky, as he dragged himself towards their general direction. Arriving at their makeshift camp site, I squirmed out of the bag straps and dumped the bag down.

‘You bastards better want a beer!’ I barked, slightly less cheerfully, and slightly more threateningly than intended.


After several minutes of me bitching about the directions to get to the slab, followed by Steve casually mentioning that ‘True Right’ refers to when you’re walking down stream, which promptly silenced my complaining, I was able to admire the camp they had constructed. A large solitary rock formed the left wall, and snow had been dug out next to it, down to ground level. Rocks littered the floor in a rough shape of two beds, with the back wall and right wall composed of compacted snow. A canvas sheet was slung over the top, creating a make shift cave which actually looked quite cosy. Some large stones had been stacked at the entrance, providing a nice viewing platform to observe all the avalanche debris on the far side of the valley.

With a beer, cup of tea, sandwiches and cake consumed, I was feeling much perkier, as the subject of climbing was discussed. That morning, while I was driving over in my four wheeled tumble dryer, Steve and Jackie had already climbed the one of the slabs, and were keen for me to have a go. I looked across to my bag brimming with climbing gear, shrugged my aching shoulders and got geared up. On the insistence that we used my rope, to justify carrying it all this way, we started to skirt around the slab to set up a top rope. Scrambling over rock and through snow, we arrived at the top and I finally got an impression of how large these slabs were. As the whole valley area is large and imposing, smaller details tend to be diminished, and it was only when standing at the top of the lower slab, that I realised how exposed we were.

With several anchors set up, I abseiled down to the bottom of the face with the intention of having a quick, ‘cheeky’ climb, to validate the days efforts. I stared off down the valley and could see grey, menacing clouds encroaching. I followed the clouds upwards; to above where we currently were, and it became apparent that the weather wasn’t encroaching, it was already here.

‘Weather’s coming in’ I shouted. At which point it started snowing.

I began my ascent, using the long, spindly cracks to support my numbed hands, as my shivering, knobbly legs brought up the rear. Had it not been for the weather, inappropriate clothing, tired legs, aching back and needing a piss after all that tea and beer, it probably would have been a nice climb. The rock was solid and for a change I was actually climbing within a grade where I could enjoy myself, as opposed to panicking at the first sign of a crux.

My head popping up above the top of the slab at the end of the route, I saw my belayer Steve, wrapped up in several layers of thermals, quietly fending off the increasing blizzard.

‘Right, shall we go then?’ I enquired, this time with far more cheerfulness. A silent nod sufficed as a response, we quickly packed all the gear away and retreated to the snow cave. We cleared up the mess the Kia had made while we were away, it turns out they’ve now worked out how to open Tupperware, and prepared to evacuate the camp site. Ambling down the valley, through falling snow, and then falling rain, as we descended in elevation, we eventually arrived back at the cars. Driving back to Christchurch, with hot air filling the car for the second time that day, as I attempted to dry my shoes, I began to do the day’s maths; 4.5hrs driving, 3 hours walking, 30 minutes scrambling, for 3 minutes of climbing. Or to put another way, ‘A good day’.


The Mega Multi Sport Day

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.

sunrise cropped

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.

DSC_0078It 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.crop


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.
Climbing2Earlier 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.

Climbing 1

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;

  1. We would have been lucky to have done one activity, let alone seven, based on how terrible the weather was.
  2. 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.
  3. 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