Mountain Designs Hells Bells

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An Epic Mountain Designs Hells Bells 2022 at Kenilworth

Press Release / 09.08.2022See All Event Posts Follow Event
Team Tri a'd Xcite Us Celebrate their Hells Bells finish
Team Tri a'd Xcite Us Celebrate their Hells Bells finish / © Murilo Mattos / Wild and Co

This year the annual Mountain Designs Hells Bells 24 hour adventure race was the biggest in its 19 year history, and one of the toughest too.

Ninety teams arrived at the race HQ, set up on the Kenilworth Show Ground by race organisers Wild and Co. and they were preparing to race either the full ‘Hells Bells’ course, or the shorter ‘Fairy Bells’ course.

Both have a 24 hour time limit, and include runs/treks, paddling and mountain biking to checkpoints in back country and wilderness areas.  Finding these requires good map and compass navigation and there are always a few surprises and twists in the course.

All of the teams set off from the Show Ground at 11am, shortly after the course maps had been handed out.

Everyone got wet feet at the start as they had to run across the Mary River to get the first checkpoint; an opening gift from Race Director Chris Dixon!  Then both courses headed towards Kenilworth Bluff, where a summit checkpoint required a lung-busting climb and a rapid descent.

The Hells Bells racers paddled down the Mary River for 13km, and this carried more water than usual, so it was a faster paddle than might have been expected, and there were a few capsizes in the small rapids to add to the fun.

The defending champions in the premier category (for mixed teams of 4), Team 3 Points of Contact, lead after a short bike ride to the Bluff, where many of the Fairy Bells teams were already at the top.

They had ridden there directly, and one of the attractions of the race is that racers on both courses meet up throughout the race.  The Fairy Bells racers shared many stages with the Hells Bells racers, and any teams who were falling behind could opt out of some stages. The end result was that all but 7 teams finished the course in 24 hours, having completed as much as they could.

Almost all the rest of the course was set in the Imbil State Forest with teams riding out via dirt roads and trails to find checkpoints on the way to Transition 3 near the junction of Imbil Forest Road and Derrier Road. 

This was race central for a while, and as night fell teams set off on foot orienteering courses to pick up checkpoints in any order.  The Hells Bells teams also had a 20km mountain bike orienteering stage here, so the surrounding forest was full of bobbing headlights going in every direction.

Paddling on the Mary River

Axe Throwers in the Night

To head back towards Kenilworth both courses had to follow a 25km mountain bike route ‘over Mount Borumba’, taking the infamous Pitsaw Road.  It wasn’t a straightforward ride!

On the way they stopped at checkpoint 10 for a ‘mystery discipline’ and in a first for adventure racing it was ... axe throwing!  The challenge was devised and run by Craig Bycroft and his son, Sam, both dressed in lumberjack shirts of course! 

“It was at the top of big hill, so everyone arrived exhausted and it was a welcome break,” Craig explained. “We could hear the racers’ excitement as they came up the hill and heard the big, Bang! Bang! Bang! as the axes hit the wooden target.  It was the middle of nowhere and there was a lot of speculation on what it might be, but few guessed what it was!”

“Team #23, WMP, were the only team that blitzed it, hitting the bullseyes on all  of their throws straight off, which was incredible.  Everyone else took a little while and some got frustrated, while others just took it as a bit of fun.  There was a fire there and some teams hung around.  We didn’t lose any axes and no one got hurt!”

He added, “The ride was tough and there were quite a few questions about how much further it was and were there any more big hills?”

Pitsaw Punishment

There were, and the ride along Pitsaw Road will be the most memorable stage for most.  The weather didn’t help as rain on Saturday morning turned the trails into a red, muddy quagmire, clogging up the bikes, and forcing teams to push.  There were many weary comments at the finish about it being unrideable.

Jan Leverton, of the Tri Adventure Girls Team, who were the 3rd team to finish the Fairy Bells course, said, “It was relentless hike-a-bike for quite a few hours and the slippery mud meant many hikes downhill as well.  It was like a pitsaw;  up -down, up-down, up-down, until the final down, which was very steep and slippery. I was glad I didn’t wear my bike shoes!”

Jan Leverton - Team Tri Adventure Girls
Jan Leverton - Team Tri Adventure Girls

After the ride there was a short trek and a final paddle down the Mary River for the Fairy Bells teams to the finish back in Kenilworth. The first team to finish Fairy Bells were ‘Amazing Rejects’ (Stephen Maskiell and Dave Blunden) in 13.16.56.  Tri Adventure Girls (Jan Leverton and Hayley Kellner) were the first female finishers.  Team Hoodwinked (all male) were the first team of 4 and Team Wwac were the only all female team of 4  to finish the course.

The Hells Bells teams had the same finish but with a tricky extra checkpoint on the paddle stage.  To get CP16 they had to go upstream and were not allowed to carry their kayaks along the bank!

Repeat Winners

Team ‘Three Points of Contact’ (Gary Sutherland, Clint Falla, Sara Barratt and Russell Stringer), defended their title in 16.45.09, and claimed a place in the ARWS Oceania Championship final at Gold Coast in October.

Sutherland commented on how difficult the navigation was. “We led from the start and kept expecting teams to catch us as the maps were largely inaccurate.  We took extra time and careful route planning once we realised this, but still had more than one go at many checkpoints.”

He added, “The terrain was reasonably physical with 3700m of vert and the quirky axe throwing was a good laugh.  The logistics crew and personnel were spot on and we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend getaway.”

Leverton agreed, “It was a brutal course but stunning at the same time. From riparian land to rainforest and back again!  The event management was faultless and my personal goal now is to upskill on axe-throwing, which was the funniest mystery discipline I have ever done.  It was great to see it happen in our cotton-wool wrapped world!”

Premier mixed winners Team 3 Points of Contact

Everyone a Winner

All the Tri Adventure teams had a good race.  Team ‘Tri Adventure x Trente AR’ (Oskar Booth and Nick Baker) were quickest on the Hells Bells course, finishing in 16.31.37 and just staying ahead of ‘3 Points of Contact’.   The youth team ‘Tri Adventure Youngies’ (Kelsey Harvey & Nathan Munson) were the 7th mixed team to finish Hells Bells in 21.22.25.

Nathan’s mum, Amie, was racing on the Mountain Designs Wild Women’s team and there was some family rivalry there.  It was close, but the Youngies finished ahead by just 11 minutes!  The Wild Women were the first female team of 4 to finish and the other female team racing, ‘The Dancing Queens’, got to the finish line 3 minutes before the 11am course close time!

Another team pushing the 24 hour deadline were ‘Death and Taxes’, Sandy and Robert Scott.  They were on the winning mixed Fairy Bells team last year, Sandy has been on the reality show SAS Australia, and now the couple wanted to step up to the Hells Bells course for an “extreme date night”.  It was definitely extreme.

“We expected a step up in distance,” said Rob, “but this was a major increase in difficulty compared to last year. This was serious adventure racing!”

The pair took swims on both the paddle stages, and one of their highlights was “the gorgeous forest on the climb to Kenilworth Bluff, and the spectacular view over the valley, and above the clouds”.

Rob summed up their race.  “We shuffled over the finish line at 23 hours and 29 minutes, totally exhausted and overwhelmed. What a mission!

“If adventure racing is the ‘special forces’ of endurance sports, this year’s Hells Bells took no prisoners!  Thank you so much to the volunteers at the TA’s who reassured us, fed us and gave advice in the middle of the night, to the other competitors who gave us a spare torch when one of ours died, and to Chris and the Wild & Co. team for an incredible event.  While the bikes might be in the shed a few days after that, we will definitely be back next year!”

You can find the full results and review the tracking at https://www.hellsbells.com.au/

The next adventure race from Wild & Co is the Terra Nova 24 hour race in Shoalhaven NSW over the weekend of Sept 3/4th.  https://www.terranova24.com.au/

Hells Bells and Terra Nova are part of the Adventure Racing World Series Oceania calendar and Wild and Co. will organise the ARWS Oceania Championship at Gold Coast from Oct. 22-24th. The race has a $10,000 prize pool and the winners will receive a free place in the Adventure Racing World Championship in South Africa in 2023.https://www.arworldseriesoceania.com/

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