Trail Running - Fiordland
Picture this, it’s Saturday morning of the much anticipated OUTC Fiordland trip. A collective unwillingness to get out of sleeping bags and into the cool morning air gradually gives way to a buzz of excitement. Half-awake souls make their way through the maze of tents and tent-flies, crunching the frosty grass of the campsite. Myself and three others of our running group managed to tent close together. However, our last member (let’s call her Katie, as that is her name) is nowhere to be seen. I kindly dispatched my fellow co-leader, Joe, to go and make breakfast (I’m good at this whole delegation thing). While the rest of us (Salomon, Justin and myself) either packed for the days run or went out to find Katie. Just as breakfast was finnished Katie emerged from the bus. Why she thought that was a good place to sleep I still have no idea, but apparently it wouldn’t rate highly on TripAdvisor. One daunting task remained, and it was one we were putting off for as long as possible.
You see while tramping and trail running are similar in the sense that you must carry everything that you need, with tramping you walk with it, with trail running you are running with it. Now that I think about it this really should be self-explanatory. However, this means there is a lot more motivation to leave as much gear as possible at the campsite, this includes almost all the warm gear, and this was a cold morning. We hesitantly stripped down into our running gear thinking warm thoughts and froze our asses off until we were on the move. Every now and then breaking out into a half-run, half-dance thing simply to keep the frost away, this seemed to entertain our more sensible tramping companions. Our gang was due to be on the first vehicle out of camp at 8am sharp. In true OUTC style we were chuffed to be on board pretty much on time, just after 9am. We practically sprinted out of the vehicle, not because we love to run that much or anything, but the vehicle wasn’t any warmer than outside was. We practically flew as we headed up to Key Summit. This section was on the Routeburn, so it was wide and nice underfoot. There was of course the traffic that you encounter with any great walk, most of whom seemed to be tourists in their later years who made a point of telling us that 40 years ago they would have been happily running along with us. When we neared Key Summit, we seemed to solve the temperature issue as stopping to cool down didn’t sound like a terrible idea anymore, and soon we had reason to stop. The treeline fell away, in its place to the North were crystal clear views down the Hollyford valley, the fog and cold of camp seemed a world away. Now the sun made the sides of the valleys glow and the skin warm. With a new energy we left the marked trail behind, continuing south along the ridge behind Key Summit in the direction of the Livingstone Mountains. If the views from Key Summit set a standard, then views as we ran along Livingstone Ridge made it look more disgraceful than a non-fresher sneaking out of a hall the morning after toga party. Despite the lack of a trail it was still relatively easy underfoot. The grasses we ran along were the classic golden Central Otago colour that you see on Speights bottles. Contrasted completely by the valleys either side of us. The Greenstone valley to our left and the valley that holds the Te Anau – Milford Sound road on our right (no idea what that one is called). These valleys were lined with dense green forest on their sides which abruptly flattened out to hold sky blue lakes and showed off jagged peaks at their tops. The going became pretty stop-start as there were 4 or 5 high points that we couldn’t skirt around. The tactic was to push the pace on the down-hill and then slowly trudge up to the next high point. This worked out fine for everyone except Justin, who turns out to be a “bit of an” ultramarathon runner and didn’t seem to know what uphill was nor why you would slow down for it. As for the rest of us, we trudged along and talked about food. All but Joe and I were exchange students from USA or Mexico, so It quickly turned into a discussion about food comparisons between the nations. The last and highest high point was just over 1500m, so we had done a net vertical km since the divide Here we had lunch which was underwhelming giving the discussion pervious, but we had Whitakers peanut butter chocolate, so all was good. The consensus was that its better than USA’s Reese’s, so how is that for a kiwi win and a marketing plug?
We decided to have Cascade Creek as our exit down off the ridge. Cascade Creek was a bit of a mystery. The sole piece of advice we found was “most of it is rock hopping and bush bashing but you should be fine”. Ah, the old reassuring “you should be fine”. For the first few hours of our decent we really were fine, while we couldn’t run anymore the rock hoping was fun. But the further we descended the thicker the bush around us became. And then there were waterfalls. Shit. Not just one or two waterfalls, but three large waterfalls. Rock hopping down these was clearly not an option. Not to mention the bush was even thicker than an innuendo that I’m not willing to type in case any of you are eating. However, we had no other option. Getting around the waterfalls took about an hour’s work for each. There was also some kind of vine (not the funny video kind) that would hold onto skin and if you ripped your way through it would take some with it. One took to Joe’s neck and left him with an odd hickey. We thought Joe might have a hard time trying to blame that on a plant, but that was about as amusing as that got. The whole waterfall drama posed quite a set back and we still had much of the Creek to get through. Only Joe had taken a head torch. Getting all five of us rock hopping in the dark with only one head torch was a dangerous possibility. To make matters worse we were out of peanut butter chocolate. Motivated by stress and the lack of chocolate we powered through the lower parts of the creek. But the timing was tight! With about 30min of sunlight left the bush suddenly opened and the campsite was visible. The relief was amazing. We managed to enter camp, get a beer and enjoy the last rays of sun. Even though the run was a bit more intrepid than we had hoped, being able to look back on it over a beer and laugh was pretty good time. •