Taking on Goats Pass

When I first went through Goat’s Pass, I felt a 50/50 split of terrified and excited. What did this magical part of the world have to offer? There was quite a team of us; a mixture of complete newbies and seasoned vets. It was the middle of spring, and we had had intentions of heading through sooner, but the weather gods had other ideas. Even on that day, we were pushing the limits. The sun was shining, but the rivers were high from the recent nor’west which is far too present during spring.

I had no idea what to expect but had heard many stories about the river crossings, big boulders, the hidden tracks, the hut at the top of the pass followed by the open expanse down the other side. Following a ‘goat track’ can be quite different for two people’s imaginations; it’s not until you experience it for yourself that you understand what it is like to run through the pass. About the third river crossing I somehow tripped, and in an instant, I was submerged. Thank goodness Rob was beside me to grab my pack and pull me to the side. Lesson #1: Never underestimate the power of mother nature.

Since then I have gone through several times, each trip a little different from the last, but always just as breathtaking. I was so grateful to Rob and Matt for giving up their time and taking me through on my first trip, and now I feel I have enough experience to pay the favour forward. In May, I took two friends through for their first time, and have two more groups of friends lined up to take through in Spring.

Below are a few tips that I have learnt along the way that will help you on your first time through the Pass.

Direction/Transport: As simple as it sounds to people who have done it before, the Coast to Coast course goes from West to East, so this is the direction I have always run it. If you have two cars, park one at Greyney’s Campsite and drive to the start of the run at Morrison’s footbridge, located five kilometres west of the Otira township on SH73. If you only have one car, I’d suggest parking at Greyney’s Shelter campsite and hitchhiking to the start, or if you’re really keen you could bike from Greyney’s to the start! (Great training for Coast)

Course: Starting from SH73 where Morrison’s footbridge crosses the Otira River, you follow a well-marked route (thanks to the Te Araroa trail) through river flats up Deception Valley, crossing the river numerous times, primarily in the river bed, although there are some tracks if you know where to look. About 11 kilometres in, Dorreen Creek joins the Deception River on the true left. Carrying on you come across the Upper Deception Hut (hidden in the bush) which also signals the start of Big Boulders. From here the route involves scrambling and boulder-hopping up the riverbed and through the adjacent bush for about an hour, before a final crossing of the Deception River. At this point, you scramble up a steep side stream for about 500 metres to reach Goat Pass Hut and the highest point of the run (1,070 metres).

From the hut, the track opens and passes over sub alpine scrub while crossing over Goat Pass before descending to the headwaters of the Mingha River. Following the track all the way, you pass the Mingha Bivvy then for the next three kilometres the track undulates through the bush before a short steep section to reach Dudley Knob (known as the last climb on the Coast to Coast run). The track passes through bush for another kilometre or so, sidling high above the Mingha Gorge before emerging onto the expansive flats of the lower Mingha River. Continue heading downstream, aiming for the power poles and the Bealey River in the distance. Once you’ve crossed the Bealey River, take care crossing the railway tracks to reach SH73. Greyneys Shelter campsite is a further 500 metres south.

Note: The Coast to Coast course involves an extra three kilometres at the start across farmland from Aickens Corner, and another two-and-a-half kilometres at the end across dry riverbed to Klondyke Corner, making it a grand total of 31 kilometres.

Fitness: Expect to take between 5-8 hours with a reasonable fitness level for your first time. If it comes to it, you can walk the whole thing in a day; as long as you have a good base fitness you will be fine. Keith Murray holds the record for the run course in a blistering time of 2:22:34, set in 1994. Insane. My fastest time is double that, 4.42, set on my 2-Day Coast run.

Weather: Aghh the weather, the most unpredictable part of running through Goat’s Pass. The weather itself is fine; it’s the quickly rising river level that will catch you out. If you struggle to get to the other side of the first three or so river crossings, then I would highly recommend you backtrack and attempt it again on a different day. But as quickly as the rivers rise, they also drop, so you can usually get back up there quickly (not ideal with life commitments though!). I’m not too sure if it’s 100% correct, but there is a rumour going around that if you get caught out and have to be rescued and you have entered the race, then your race entry becomes void. A good rule if you ask me. If in doubt, call the Arthur’s Pass Information Centre; they are great.

Terrain: The Deception Valley is a mixture of single track, river bed running, river crossing and boulder climbing – pretty much an off-road runners dream. There are tracks you can find along the way which makes it runnable, but unless you are a goat or a freak (insert top athletes here), then there will be a fair amount of walking done in the top section. Expect a few sore upper-body muscles for your first trip (more so if you’re a short ass like me). The only steep section is right before the hut, maybe the last 15 minutes or so, but nothing that you won’t be able to handle. From the Hut at the top to the finish, the Mingha Valley is almost entirely runnable, a nice stretch for the legs on your way down. There are many river crossings, especially on the way up. Being able to read the river to cross in the best spot is key so take your time. Linking arms (with the weaker person down river) is something I always do; someone even helped me cross a few times during the race. I never say no to someone helping me!

Nutrition: As with any long-distance run, food and hydration are really important. Everyone is different, so figure out what works best for you (ideally before race day!). Personally, I take a collapsible cup with me (the Ultra Aspire Cup is perfect) and use this to drink from the rivers and I have electrolytes (I use Pure Nutrition) in my bladder too. Food wise, I am not a fan of gels as they wreak havoc on my stomach. I take a scroggin mix (including nuts for salt), Bliss Balls (survive well to the odd river dunking), bananas and muesli bars of some sort – both Ems Power Bars and OSM Bars are great. And when I am going through on a training run (not racing) I take a salami wrap for lunch at the hut. I have had cramp twice in my life – once while doing the run section of 2-day Coast and once doing the run section of Red Bull Defiance. Both times I was carrying Cramp Stop and I highly recommend this. I always take it with me on my adventures. Even if you’ve never had it before during exercise (alcohol-induced cramp doesn’t count!), cramp is a killer, and a few squirts of this stops it almost instantly. (Hint: You spray it on your tongue, not on the affected area as I have seen done before!)

Footwear: It’s often thought that the more grip on your shoe the better the traction. Wrong. Shoes like the Salomon Speedcross are awesome for muddy terrain but lethal on wet rocks (super slippery). I’d suggest a shoe like the Salomon Sense Marin or the North Face Endurance, which has less grip but are amazing over the slippery rocks. Unless you’re carrying a heavy pack, I wouldn’t suggest tramping boots. Just your sneakers will be fine. If you are training for Coast, find a pair of sneakers you like and use them to train with, then grab a new pair (yes, I’m sorry, more $$) and wear them a couple of times before race day. (You need two different pairs of sneakers come race day anyway!)

Equipment/clothing: Compulsory items are there for a reason. The Southern Alps are extremely unpredictable, and the last thing you want to do is be caught out by poor planning. Along with the Coast to Coast compulsory items, I also carry a dry bag which has a collection of goodies that come with me on every adventure I go on (anytime I take my running or mountain bike pack!). Inside is a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), head torch, spare batteries, lighter, Gurney Goo and an Em’s Power Bar. I know this might sound extreme to some people, but if you were to be caught out due to weather or an injury, you need to be able to make yourself slightly comfortable! I also carry plenty of merino (top, leggings, gloves, socks and hat) in a different dry bag. The last thing you want is to be cold and have to put on wet gear. Just use your common sense. I’d rather carry it and not use it, than not take it and look like an idiot.

If in doubt, stick to these five key points from the Outdoor Safety Code to reduce the risk while in the outdoors.

  1. Plan your trip
  2. Tell someone your plans
  3. Be aware of the weather
  4. Know your limits
  5. Take sufficient supplies

If you have any questions, please get in touch, I am only too happy to answer them or point you in the right direction to find out. I will be rolling out more blog posts over the next few months offering advice to people who are doing the Coast for their first time. Here’s to a spring with minimal nor’westers!

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