Location: Narkra river to the border
Distance: 28km, 2,500m climb
Time: 9 hours
Thought of the day: The higher the mountain the closer to god
– Georgian military
– Zarinacoff and Richicoff
– The Rosehill crew and partners
– Cruz adventure roof racks- rack city
There is far too much to talk about in one post so this is part 1of 2.
The easiest way for me to describe what I felt this morning is to relate it to surfing. It was like a 3m northerly swell has hit with light offshore SW winds, all the little hidden gems have awaken and are firing but only you have been granted special access to the whole of the Coromandel peninsula. I was about to go trail running and mountaineering solo in a secure zone where no foreigner had ever been with a questionable weather forecast and an all access pass to military provisions. Enough said.
I meet my driver on the roadside at 7am and grab all my gear and once again say goodbye to Rich and Boris, hopefully for longer than 3 hours this time. I climb into the 1950’s soviet jeep and the soldier uses his eyebrow (plural) to smile at me as to prevent dropping the cigarette balanced so perfectly on his bottom lip. With a crunch of several gears, and a few Georgian words of ‘encouragement’ we were off bouncing down the road. I could not wipe the grin off my face as we launched off rocks and ploughed through mud as my testosterone levels soured almost as high as the jack bouncing in the boot. We pulled off to the side as the soldier waved at me to follow him down a path to a rust stained jar perched on a rock next to a bubbling spring. He fills it up and hands it to me and instructs me to drink. Part of me thought this could be some Georgian vodka spring so I apprehensively took a sip but for my courage I was rewarded with natural sparkling mineral water with a light sprinkle of silt for seasoning. After another km we reached the control stop where I was turned back last time, only this time I was greeted like a C grade Kiwi reality TV celebrity (e.g. Cocksy the builder) as I waved my golden ticket (permit) in the air.
I divulge my route plans to the soldier with broken English and he tells me which bridge to avoid and where is the safest part of the river to cross. I am 80% sure he explained that his comrades would be waiting for me with a horse to safely take me across the river, so now my C grade status has upgraded to B+ which would be the equivalent to Chris Warner from Shortland street. I wave and incorrectly pronounce goodbye in Russian “do svidaniya” and start running along the horse track up the river. This was the first time I had been on a track that some form of vehicle could not access and it felt pretty dam good. This was until I reached the chin high stinging nettle that horses must be immune to and I started swelling up with bumps all over me. Before long my legs looked like a 3D map of the world so I washed them with water and put some thermal leggings on which meant I had to slow down to prevent getting too hot. After about a km of bashing through the weeds I finally pop out in a gorge covered with thick fog and the river transforms from gnarly to plain ridiculous as I search for a way around. I see a small rock pile guiding a track up and over the gorge and notice a heap of horse manure so figure this must be the way and start my scramble up. The image I have in my head is the the track turns NE for 400m then pops out in a massive valley where the river widens and chills out, which is where I should be meeting my next military escort and the horse I have already named Sergei even if it was female.
Sure enough I see one man and a bear wearing army pants. The bear quickly puts a shirt on as I think they were not expecting me quite so soon and I show them my golden ticket. After the permit is examined it was all business and they put me on the horse and walk me to the river. I was now a full blown Kiwi A lister rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jason Gunn and Thingee. After 200m the soldiers find a place they think is safe to cross and I climb down from the horse and they test the route to make sure it is safe. Once they were happy with the crossing they tossed a rope tied to the reins back over the river to pull the Horse back to our side so I would be able to cross. The last time I rode a horse I had a broken arm and went four km an hour down a beach and now I had to ride one across a torrent river giving commands in a language the horse has never heard before. As Ron Burgandy says “when in Rome” so I gingerly start leading the horse to deeper water and the soldiers starts doing star jumps, I managed to wrestle some control back and make it to the other side safely.
I climb down from the horse and start playing a game of charades with the two soldiers. Pictionary would have been much easier but I interpreted that I was to meet them on this side of the river back further down the valley and I was not to cross over the border or I will get arrested or shot. Then light heartedly me pretended to poke both of his eyes with his index finger and middle finger (both of which were missing their tips), then pointed at me. I had used this same gesture a few times in the club across a dance floor but I am pretty sure he meant they would be keeping an eye on me. This time there was no more path or track to follow and I would be totally on my own the whole way to the border. This is the moment I had been waiting for, completely alone carving my own path to a place where no tourist had ever set foot before after six days of hard yakka. Just 1500m above and three km lay a border between two countries with a colourful tension filled history where by taking one step to far I could put relations in jeopardy. Even Jason Gunn has not been in this situation before. I was not just representing mental health and sea2summit7 but also New Zealand and the legacy of proud mountaineers our country had birthed. Well… I better get on with it then aye.
Part 2 continues tomorrow