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Sunday, 10 March 2013

Ben Lomond

Queenstown has forged itself as the hub of adventure in the deep south, but I find spending more than a few hours in the town itself intolerable. The emphasis is on quick thrills in the outdoors with a big price tag for the adrenaline fix.

So with an afternoon to kill in tourist capital before the New Years celebrations, Sarah Liley and I headed up the Gondola trail towards Ben Lomond. The MTB trails down this hill are bermed to perfection, but we were burning our calves uphill - past the walking downhill riders, weighed down by their heavy full-suspension machines.

Emerging from the bushline to see the summit
Beyond the top of the Gondola station, we emerge out of the bush line onto a rocky trail sidling up towards Ben Lomond Saddle - a real pleasure to run - the perfect gradient, technical but fast. With the summit rising ahead of us, despite our shortage on time there was no way we'd turn back before the top, summit fever was raging, the rest could wait!

Climbing up from Ben Lomond Saddle

From the saddle its a gradual steepening rough trail along the ridge, at times taking switchbacks to alleviate the stress on your calves. The wind picked up pace as we gained height - still in short sleeves this forced us to keep moving swiftly. I was now in the zone, pushing my pain threshold to sustain a maximum speed up the climb.

With the high effort comes pulsating waves of endorphins and a cold head rush that just makes you want to scream out, you take in your height, the incredible view over Wakatipu and Queenstown, and feel your great progress towards the summit as incentive to push even harder!

Cheers to a New Year from the summit

At last you encircle the summit cone and top out at the summit, the sundial monument, showing the names of mountains in all directions around. About 1 hour 45 mins from Queenstown. A real mountain three-sixty, I wished it was winter to see the surrounding peaks covered in snow for pure aesthetics. We toasted with Speights Summit to keep to New Years tradition, a luxury probably not intended to quench ones thirst, but a novelty appropriate to appreciating the Pride of the South.
Snowing on the summit - exhilarating

Just as we began our descent the wind picked up, visibility dropped and flying in from the north-west came a flurry of snow flakes! In the height of summer this was a rarity I'd never experienced, snowing at the summit. The flakes settled dry on our clothes and started coating the ground in a thin layer. Incredible. Also very cold, so we packed up the party and dropped back down the ridge on our descent. Flying down past day-hikers we'd past on our ascent we gave way and bermed off-trail not keen to sacrifice our momentum that we carried all the way home.
Technical trail on the alternative descent
We took an alternative route down to the top of the Gondola, following a rough trail along the top of the ridge rather than the well-cut sidle track. A great decision, the trail was wildly undulating with fantastic technical running and sensational views over the great lake. 4 hours return. Awesome mountain run to escape the tourist-trap that is Queenstown. Enjoy the mountains as they should be - free!

Great exposure above Wakatipu

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