Backcountry with Anton Cooper

In the lead up to the 2012 World MTB Championships Flow managed to get a weekend in the backcountry with soon-to-be World Junior XC Champion Anton Cooper. This story and film captures the events of one of the coolest trail journeys we have been on yet with one of the coolest cats in MTB.

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The Poulter River MTB trail in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury, is one of the Cooper family’s favourite haunts – Anton has been coming here with his mum and dad and two sisters since he could walk.

Anton near Casey Hut
Anton rides a beech forest line near Casey Hut on the Poulter River, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury.

The trail is a 27km gradual climb up the Poulter Valley on the true right of the Poulter River. It is mostly on an old 4WD track that climbs up and across the many river washouts that cascade down the mountainsides. The trail wanders through a few impressive stands of mountain beech forest on the final approaches to Casey Hut. Mountain biking is permitted up to the Trust/Poulter Hut a further 6km along from Casey Hut. Anton and his dad Paul have ventured even further on foot to Lake Minchin where they often fished for trout. As we were to learn on this trip, Anton’s got a swag of handy fishing techniques that he’s developed over the years.

The backcountry hut system in New Zealand is a real blessing for mountain bikers, but even with a warm fire and a mattress at the end of the ride, Anton is still a very lightweight traveller. He takes a single Macpac pack and sleeps in a sleeping bag that can fit in the palm of your hand. On the night we spent in there – at the tail end of winter – the temperature plummeted to -7°C overnight. Cold enough to frost the inside of the hut windows and to freeze a drink bottle in minutes.

Icy crossing
Anton Cooper tries to cross an iced up stream near the Poulter River, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury.
Hoar Frost
Anton Cooper rides through snap-frozen grass during a hoar frost near Casey Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury.

We shot some images at dawn the next morning and the hoar frost had turned every living thing in sight white with icicles. Impressive stuff. One of the river crossings on the return leg had an inch-thick layer of ice across it – not quite strong enough to support Anton’s frame and Trek.

The two-day journey was taken at a relaxed pace and it gave us a good insight into just how comfortable this then 17-year-old was in the mountains not far from his home.

It was no surprise to see him win New Zealand’s first ever Junior World XC Championship a few months later. Anton, it seems, is born to shine in the hills.


Casey Hut
Casey Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury.
Casey Hut Refuel
Anton Cooper refuels in Casey Hut, Arthur’s Pass National Park, Canterbury. Man, this kid can eat!
Pretty damn epic wheels for a 17-year-old … car’s not bad either.
Anton Cooper acting a goat up the Poulter River.
Anton Cooper soaks up the sunshine after a -7°C start to the second day of the journey up the Poulter River.


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