Snowgaine at Snow Farm
There’s something about Highland Events that tick so many boxes for me. Maybe it’s the ‘no-bullshit’ race briefings, or the price-point that makes entry and travel affordable, or the fact that I know first-hand the challenges that come with running your own gig and how ongoing support is always appreciated. Plus, without fail, they’re always good fun, and the wholesome food afterwards always hits the spot.
So, when a Snowgaine (Rogaine on snow) popped up on my Facebook feed, I was all in. This year is all about exploring the backyard and having never snowshoed before, or been to the Snow Farm, I had no excuse.
Originally a team of three, just Jacqs and I ended up lining up again under team Say Yes to Adventure. A full-on Friday meant power-packing after work before jumping in my car heading for Wanaka. Even with a list on my phone, a few essential items were left behind. Poles I ended up hiring, but the goggles were very much missed. Fashionable glasses in a whiteout turned out to be a terrible idea. But some things do go right, and again, I am forever grateful for putting all my compulsory kit in a dry bag inside my pack.
An early-sh start had us out the door just after 7:30am heading for the hills. Even with darker skies than I was used to at that time of the morning, I could tell the weather wasn’t going to be flash. The higher we climbed, the more the weather packed in, and by the time we pulled up to an over-enthusiastic human showing us where to park the air was littered with snow.
Snow holds mixed emotions. This was the first time I had set foot on the white stuff after Greenland, managing to avoid an entire season last year. To be honest, it’s taken me a year to want to head back, such was the enormity of Greenland, but it felt good. And what better excuse than a six-hour Snowgaine at the Snow Farm with Jacqs.
While other teams pored over their maps, we ate scones, had a cup of tea and then ate more scones. With 10 minutes before the race start, we noticed the map saying Grid North. Panic ensued as once again we racked our brains to remember how to head in the right direction. Every time! Asking Terry, (race director) his answer didn’t entirely fill us with confidence, with Mal Law commenting Ed would have known. Sadly, Ed passed away a few weeks earlier, and this was the first Highland Events Rogaine without him. I have no doubt he would have been looking down laughing at the terrible conditions Terry was about to send everyone out in!
Just before 10am, a small group of hardy athletes lined up ready for the day’s adventure. With snow falling steadily around us, maps at the ready and snowshoes attached to our boots, the hooter went (well, Terry just said ‘go’) and the competitors dispersed.
Snowshoeing is relatively straightforward, the only change being that your feet are wider, making turning sharply an interesting manoeuvre. And climbing fences is clumsy affair! But we got the hang of it, and soon we were an hour in and loving our new adventure. We managed to get the hang of the contour lines being only 10m apart, and the grid reference only 500m, not the one kilometre that we were used to. We overshot more than one marker, only retracing our steps if it was deemed worthy.
We have a rule in every Rogaine we compete in to collect all 100-point markers. While this doesn’t result in the smartest route choice, I love the extra challenge it adds to the day. They are usually placed in the hardest-to-reach locations (which, in my opinion, also directly correlates to the most epic), and this Rogaine was no exception. With only two on the map today, both on the other side of the Meg river and at both ends of the map, there was a fair bit of terrain to cover.
Three hours in, we took shelter under a rock overhang to eat some food and make a plan for the next half of the day. We were just above the Meg river, at the exact location Terry had told us was the best place to rock-hop across. With the first 100-point marker straight up the hill on the other side, we took off to the bottom of the valley below.
While the rocks weren’t close, I decided with a bit of balance from my poles, crossing the water was definitely do-able. What I didn’t consider was the couple of inches of new snow and the fact that I had snowshoes on. You can all see where this is going … and it did.
3, 2, 1 … jump! Gasping as each wave of freezing water rushed down my back, the current pushed me into the rock, making it difficult to get my feet under me to stand. And well, giant snowshoes on my feet weren’t helping my cause either! I’d managed to get one foot across but slipped with the second and fell backwards, submerged up to my neck.
By the time I managed to find my feet and stand up, I looked across to see Jacqs on the bank, doubled over in uncontrollable laughter. Full credit to her – she could see where this was going and had the camera at the ready. So now we not only have a fabulous story to tell but evidence too!
“My pole” I yelled, more concerned I’d have to pay for it when I only returned with one! Thankfully it hadn’t gone far and was sitting under the bank in an eddy. Standing on the rock I was trying to get to, I started laughing too. Because let’s be honest, it was bloody funny. I had done the one thing Terry told us not to do – fall in the water! When stuff like this happens, common sense disappears, and instead of standing on the rock that I fell off, I now had to get myself off the intended rock and back to the bank where Jacqs was.
It was quickly decided that Base Camp was the smartest option, the idea of carrying on not a wise one. We climbed back up the bank where I pulled out my dry bag with a change of warm, dry merino gear for my top half. New gloves and another buff were also put on, but I knew my legs and feet would soon turn to ice blocks if we stayed out there too long.
Sticking to the tracks we wound our way home, ticking off the odd marker on the way (even coming across an elusive one from earlier). As we pulled up 45 minutes after the unexpected ice bath (they’re all the rage these days, you know!), my watch informed me we had covered 11kms in 3 hours 45 mins. Not what we intended when we set out, but an absolute blast, nonetheless.
You know the race director is a deadset legend when he high-fives you for falling in, then, if possible, laughs harder than you did, when he sees the photo evidence! (He did check I was all OK, too.)
After warm soup and cups of tea, we decided our day was done and waiting for everyone to finish the six-hour was a bit too much. So off we went, back down the mountain, laughing over and over about another adventure that won’t be forgotten for a long time to come.
The next Highland Events Rogaine is on 14th September, based at Tarras on Ardgour and Cloudy Peak stations. 12, 6 and 3-hour options - enter here!