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Home arrow Events arrow Hillary Challenge 2008 -- final round 19-23 May
Hillary Challenge 2008 -- final round 19-23 May PDF Print
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Written by Gloria Bruni / Michelle McCabe   
Saturday, 28 June 2008

One afternon last December I had a phone call from Michelle McCabe, leader of the Whangarei Girls and Boys High School's combined team for the 2008 Hillary Challenge Competition. She told me the preliminary round (in which they subsequently came first from a field of 19) required an environmental component and they'd elected to make theirs the Ngunguru Sandspit. Michelle was seeking information and whatever support we could offer. That began a relationship between NSaPS and 8 inspiring students, their coaches and parents.

You have seen subsequent updates and photos of "our" team on this website. Now you can read the harrowing conclusion: 2008's Hillary Challenge Finals, in the words of Michelle, team leader. This time they did not win, but placed 9th in a field of 12 from all over New Zealand plus a team from Singapaore. Since none of them is in their last year at high school they are already planning next year's Hillary Challenge campaign. Read Michelle's account and see if you think you'd be likely to do the same.


White Van: Back row, from Left: Sam Sharp, Callum Harris, Marcus Grierson, Saen Rusk. Front row, from Left: Michelle McCabe, Gemma Coutts, Nick Wheaton, Cory Malcolm

At OPC: Back row, from Left: Saen Rusk, Marcus Greerson, Callum Harris, Sam Sharp. Front row, from Left: Michelle Mc Cabe, Cory Malcolm, Nick Wheaton, Gemma Coutts

Missing from both photos: Coaches Mo Fitzpatrick WGHS and Lee Jones WBHS.


This is just a summary of the competition in my words sorry if there are some typos.

enjoy, Michelle McCabe

Hillary Challenge 2008

Monday morning...

The beginning of the competition, nerves and excitement brewed within all the teams. As it was our team's first time in the competition we were not sure just what to expect but this just added to the excitement.

Days one and two consisted of six one-hour activities each day. The activities use mind, body and patience and tested our team's problem solving abilities as well as our ability to conquer the problems as a team. They ranged from towing an instructor in a kayak, first aid, where we had to stretcher a person with a 'broken leg', (who by the way was screaming their lungs out) up a cliff face via a pulley system our team created (we scored top in this activity!), bike tire changing relays, environmental quizzes with a twist meaning we had to run around a course carrying extremely heavy pieces of equipment to get to check points, radio in and then answer the questions in morse code or in the phonetic alphabet (fortunately our coach, Mo, taught us this on our 8hr drive to Turangi!).

On Monday night our team did a presentation on 'Great Explorers' who represent the values of Sir Ed and OPCs [Outdoor Pursuit Centre] values. We did ours on Steve Irwin and we provided the crowd with many laughs. These presentations were of an excellent standard which our team definitely aspires to reach next year.

Tuesday night was the last night we would be able to take advantage of a running HOT shower, a flush toilet!! and a good night's sleep! As Wednesday was when the 2-day rogaine was to begin. Wednesday morning we convoyed out to the secret starting place for the rogaine, which turned out to be the Chateau. We were given maps with many checkpoints which varied in points-scored according to their difficulty to reach and from which we had to plan our route for the next two days. We also had to take into consideration that we must find a camp site for ourselves, and be in that camp by 5pm sharp or lose half the points we earned for the day.

Our team set off with the straps of our heavy packs cutting into our shoulders, however as time went on your pack becomes just another body part. We travelled through the most amazing terrain: scrub, beech forests, rocky ashy ground, up streams which had ice on the surface of the water (no wonder I couldn't feel my feet!). Our team pushed each other, going for as many checkpoints as we could. Sometimes keeping moving was the only way to get through --when you are so exhausted and had to bash your way through scrub which is over your head.

At the end of day one, it was 4:45, 15 minutes to find a camp site. It had to be out of site or 500m away from a DOC hut/track/rd, and within 500m of a water source. 15 Minutes seems like 2 seconds when you're in the middle of scrub at the beginning of the Tongariro crossing and are frantically looking for a camp site. However 15 metres from the road the bank had fallen down, making a flat little cove, below the site of people on the road and close to a running tap and an actual toilet!! When we thought all hope was lost we found our campsite and it was PERFECT!!! It over-looked Ruapehu which glowed a radiant pink as the setting sun caught it's peak, beautiful.

Hmmm . . . being winterless Northlanders, we woke up in our 3 layers of thermals and woollen jerseys to find EVERYTHING!!! FROZEN!!! boots, socks, tents everything! Putting on boots which are rock-solid was definitely an experience!

We set off on day two of the expedition. We had a set campsite for Thursday, where all the teams would be staying and which was the start of the adventure race on Friday. The highlight for me happened Thursday. We bashed through scrub, uphill, to reach the peak and our second checkpoint of the day. It was a struggle but the view at the top was amazing. Plains of scrub rolling into hills and hills into Mountains, and in full view Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu boasting their snowy peaks for all to see. At this moment I realized why I put myself through this.

There was a short orienteering course at the campsite which opened at 2pm that day. Our team raced to get there on time earning the maximum points. Exhausted after our two day rogaine, we gritted our teeth and raced to get as many points as we could. Seeing the other teams again gave us that extra push to keep going.

Friday, the final day... Two teams left in 30min intervals for the adventure race to the finish. However, looking back now, the start of Friday was a long long way away from the finish.

We started with a 1hr and 30 min mountain bike leg through a sheep farm on 4WD tracks to the transition. Then we ran, ran, ran and ran until we got to a river where we had to abseil down one side and climb up the other. We then ran and ran through mud, cutty grass and other plants that seemed to pounce out and cut us. Until we got to the ropes course.

By now our team was utterly exhausted, had run out of water a couple of hours before this, but kept keeping on. We climbed up the ropes course and then continued to run, through the swamp were a GPS was waiting for us. We had to collect checkpoints using it and then we RAN.

A person who had done the Hillary Challenge previously said, "At the Hillary Challenge you will go harder then you have ever gone before in your life! Then harder still, and even harder than that."

I believe you go even harder than that.

However when you cross that finish line, the team together, having been to hell and back, wearing the same clothes we put on Wednesday!, so wrecked, exhausted and tired, but one emotion over-rules everything. I have never felt true elation before, until I crossed that line, and it is a feeling that I will keep forever!

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