Sunday, 11 July 2010

Ons is ysters!

This weekends Ystervark event way out past Bronkhorstspruit was a winner. I was invited by Larry Harmer from Team Lava, a few months ago, to join them at Clinton's Ystervark en Hoona Tand race. Yes, another through-the-night winter race.

It was a treat racing with regular Team Lava members Larry and Ari. We were also joined by Nadine, who was also co-opted into the team.

Distinctive elements of the race included:

Paddling on the Wilge river - upstream and at night (no moon!) - surrounded by mist. After the upstream paddle we were on foot for a navigation section and then back in the boats, heading downstream.

The river claimed a couple of swimmers, which must have been n.a.s.t.y. in the sub-sero conditions (the race started at 11pm!). We, fortunately, didn't swim, although we were almost like Dr Foster (up to our middles) when we got caught in a channel that ended in reeds. We had to haul our kayak over some flattened reeds and into the right channel. At this stage there was carnage in the channel with a few people out of their boats and fast moving water pushing all over. Moving a lengthy K2 around in a tight space is no picnic. We had to climb out and then very gently get back in on the other side of the reeds. Crazy stuff.

The river was covered in mist and so we really were paddling blind, unable to see much, especially with headlamps on. Nadine and I turned off our headlamps, paddling by the reflection of starlight on the water - this worked pretty well. But, as everyone else had their headlamps on, we remained blinded most of the time. It's quite scary when you can hear water bubbling in a rapid ahead and you can't see a thing - not even which lines to take!

I heard that next day that it was -8C during the night!

Next notable was the night hike section. We headed from the bike-drop, up the river and then up a dry kloof. This was really incredible - lots of climbing up rocks and side stepping what must have been a huge tree, which had fallen down the kloof. It was a steep climb with sheer cliff closing us in on both sides.

Nadine and Ari coming up the steep kloof

Although Ari did most of the navigation, I had the map at this stage. We decided to contour around to get to CP9, instead of straightlining it. This would have meant dropping into a steep valley and then climbing up again. There 'should' have been flat and open ground, but there wasn't. The contour lines on the map indicated a type of plateau.

Well, we met up with some other teams - with decent navigators. We all knew exactly where we were, and were in agreement on our location, but we couldn't find a way out that didn't drop off drastically on all sides. It felt like we were on an island. We decided to give it a shot heading South and within no time we were looking down cliffs. We phoned Clinton, who suggested we straight line to the control.

We headed back to the kloof top and did as instructed. Fortunately this was just as daylight was turning the terrain a cold gray hue. In the light we managed to avoid the cliffs, working our way down like little ants.

By my reasoning... the drop-offs at night looked significant; and they were high. But they weren't into a deep abyss, which it appeared at night. Contour lines - at a 20m interval, which is standard on a topographical map - are not completely representative, like an orienteering map would be. There can be big drops (even a 10m vertical drop is big) as either side of a contour line is 20m - so you could have a 30-40m drop that isn't indicated. I think this is what happened with our 'plateau'.

The rest was straightforward and the teams from the mountain top stayed close to each other through to the bike-drop. We took a photo at the checkpoint, illuminated by Mr Sun, who had just peeked over the mountains.

Good morning Mr Sun. Ari, Nadine, Lisa and Larry

Next hightlight was the last paddle...

Nadine and I were in a K2; Larry and Ari were paddling a plastic Fluid sit-on-top, much like Kinetic's boats. The plastic is hard work and obviously slower. Going into the first rapid, the plastic was ahead. I tried to slow my approach to give them time to go through; but I got my timing out as the water was pushing us. I had to move it, turning us into the rapid at a bad angle. I seemt to recall that our nose hit the plastic too, but which stage Nadine and I were going over.

Ari, Nadine and Larry on the road - starting the last hike in the afternoon's warmth

Oh my goodness! It was freezing in the water. I could barely speak. The kayak filled with water - good thing I've got so much buoyancy in the boat! Swimming the boat out with the fast moving water was difficult. And within moments we were at the next rapid, guiding the boat down as we swam alongside it. Larry and Ari were waiting on the side downstream; they helped us to get the boat out and emptied while we squeezed the water from our clothes.

We didn't swim for the rest of the paddle, but Larry and Ari did, taking three or four swims in a row! The one problem with the plastic in rapids is that if it hits a rock and doesn't cruise over it immediately, it will pivot and flip. The plastic also doesn't have a rudder, which makes steering tough. Larry and Ari did brilliantly!

The paddle took us quite some time, but I think we all did really well.

We breezed the last hike, stopping to take a photo at the trig beacon (I have a thing for them) and the final CP (#20) and we even jogged to the finish. We placed second overall with a total race time of around 18 hours.

Clinton and Thursia welcomed us to the the finish, presenting delicious Caramelo Bearsas a post-race treat. Yum!

At the last checkpoint. Team LAVA is homeward bound.

Team LAVA, that was fun! Thank you.

Clinton, Thursia and your team of happy helpers - well done. There were many dedicated people, like Mandy, Oom Gerrit, Casper and others, who braved the cold to wait for us to arrive at transitions. I really enjoyed that the distances were kept short and that the disciplines were mixed up with frequent changes. Well done too with your planning and logistics with transporting boats etc. Worked out perfectly. We were lucky to win cool Tshwane Adventure Racing Club Buffs too! A great weekend.

No comments: