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Saturday, 18 February 2012

Syme to Syme - Around the Mountain

If summiting a mountain was to conquer it, then circumnavigating a mountain would be to invite him over for dinner, have a drink,a good laugh, and raise a toast to his sunset.

On Saturday February 18th, Ben Duggan & I joined Mt Taranaki for a mountain running smorgasbord buffet, and we ate the lot. From Syme to Syme, in a day...And what an adventure!


Our goal was simple, to run the 'Upper Mountain Circuit' of Mt Taranaki - but another burning desire of mine complicated things... Syme Hut, the highest hut in the North Island was just waiting for  us to stay a night. So we stayed two. Perched on top of Fanthams Peak, Taranaki's side-kick, we had inspiring views on a clear Friday night as we fuelled up and prepared for our giant Saturday mission. 

5:30AM, I ducked my head outside Syme's ice-pick studded door. A streak of orange on the horizon ignited the spark of sunrise as we began our epic: AROUND THE MOUNTAIN. We out-ran the sun to the western side along the Brames Falls Track, overgrown and clearly unused even though it has some amazing scenery. Precipitous cliffs fell from Bob's Knob, one of the many distinctive rock formations jutting from Taranaki's higher flanks. I clung firmly to lava rock as I dropped into one murderous valley, you couldn't afford to be half asleep on a trail like this.

Pumped - Bring it on!
Before it became unbearably hot, we dropped down along a ridge, and into the rugged western jungle. We scampered our way through vines and branches with relentless forward progress. Waiaua Gorge Hut brought back foggy memories of our long, wet tramp around Taranaki in the heart of 2010's winter. Memories of the drenched bush were soon wiped dry, it was developing into a brilliant day with clear glimpses of the Mount bursting into our scene.

Heartily climbing out of Waiaua Gorge
We avoided the chasm of mud and micro-climbs that I knew were hidden beneath the even contours below Kahui Hut, this cut a wholesome chunk off our time up Stony River to Holly Hut. All the while, Ben was developing some serious nausea and hadn't been able to stomach anything solid since breakfast. Not good. He almost vomited while I gratefully chowed down on fried eggs offered by some frisky hunters. Though delicious, I could appreciate he was wrenching in agony and putting up a brave front. We discussed pulling out at North Egmont, without fuel Ben's energy levels were deteriorating fast. A hard decision to make...but we pushed on.

Empty stomach perseverance: Up the Stony River.
Somehow, the 500m climb to Tahurangi cured him. When I first heard the words "...let's stop for food..." I knew we'd make it. We were now running true 'around the mountain', for miles in the distance the sidling trail was clearly etched into the mountain-side. The crest of every spur brought with it new views and new hope of finishing. But this was it: the uncertainty of completing your goal in ultra marathons is exactly what makes them so elusive, and keeps us running back for more.

Getting into my rhythm on the climb to Tahurangi. Dieffenbach Cliffs in the backdrop.
Faintly humming gliders swooped above us as we cut past Tahurangi, and the teeming masses returning from 'Summit Trail'. My favourite section of track followed, and we really opened up our hinds for the first time. It wasn't long however that I remembered  - the major 1074m ascent of Fanthams Peak that I had saved for lucky last... 
Stratford Plateau. Fantham's now in Sight.

After 10 hours of tough, tough running, we needed every mental boost we could get. After all, there's only so much PowerBar one man can handle.

Something special about Wilkie's Pools. A highlight of the trip

Getting emotional at Sir Ed's memorial. Not far to go now...

 Knocking off the downhill through Manganui ski-field, the glorious Wilkie's pools, and into Dawson's Falls set us in high spirits to end the day - we were now amped on endorphins - determined to fling ourselves at the stairs - literally 1000 of them - fourty minutes later - - -

Ben - ecstatic


Round the Mountain, no mean feat

We were over the moon, and had clocked in at a fraction under 11 hours. Although truly impressed at the thought of Grant Guise's recent time of 6 hours, we were about to complete a known first. Because as we lay elated on the steps at our loop's end, the chilling sweat on our backs reminded us our journey wasn't yet over...

Absurdly destroyed. Scoria was not designed for tired legs
Forty-degree pitched fields of loose scree almost had the last laugh - the extended stop had sent us writhing in cramp as we summoned emergency pockets of energy to help us make it to the top. To make matters worse, cloud engulfed us for a time, not unusual on these slopes but all the more demoralising.

Home at Syme Hut, again
After enough moaning, the hut was not fantasy but once more a reality. The effort invested in the eight-dollar bottle of Corbans Merlot was well worth the trouble, and we lay back contentedly as we watched another prolific day end. We hobbled barefoot over the scoria to watch the sun achingly dip into the Tasman. Exhilarated, and broken. We collapsed inside the hut for a long time.

Taranaki - Like no other...

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful, gravelly, heart-pumping stuff... I could veritably FEEL the sweat stinging in my eyes and the mountain sun filtering onto my back. Well-written and well-run, you two!