Rinjani 100 – 2018 – Race Report

Introduction

I first learned of the Rinjani races from a blog post on running coach, Andy Dubois’, site. Andy had the good fortune to have been in the area at the time of the running of the penultimate MRU (Mount Rinjani Ultra) 52 in 2014 – then, the flagship race – so he decided to have a crack at it.

His description of the race; the star attraction, Gunung (Mount) Rinjani; the crazy “unrunnable” terrain; all had me mesmerised. I kept a watchful eye on the race, but it was when a new race series was announced for 2016 – including a ridiculously vertiginous 100km flagship race with 9166mD+ of elevation gain – that my interest turned into obsession.

This year – the weekend before last, in fact – I finally got to experience the Rinjani100 for myself.

The Race

Senaru to Senaru Rim (W1)

The 60km and 100km races start together, at 11:30pm on the Friday evening, from Senaru. There are two main access routes for treks up to the volcano crater’s rim – Senaru is the northern entry point. Sembalun – where the race finishes – is the eastern entry point.

With a combined total of 445 registered entrants for the two longer races, the start line was a little bit cramped; but as always, the field thinned out fairly quickly as we made our way up the road towards the entrance of the Gunung Rinjani National Park.

The road from the National Park gate varied in gradient – alternating between flatter sections and “hands on knees” – but it was, on average, a consistently steep climb that had everyone hiking most of the way.

The road gradually became fire trail, which in turn, thinned out into single track. The single track continued to provide plenty of overtaking opportunities, but I picked my targets – overtaking consumes a lot of energy, and with an enormous amount of climbing ahead, I was trying to maintain a balance between “strong climbing” and energy conservation.

The single track wends its way through the jungle; twisting and turning; presenting myriad tree roots to navigate through and around, and dirt ledges to climb. There were very few opportunities to “run”, as for the most part, the terrain and/or gradient dictated.

The terrain eventually began to open up, as we edged closer to the rim. With still quite a long way to go, we could finally see the sky, as the jungle turns into rock and dirt. There was a fair bit more “climbing” in this section, as sections of trail were interspersed with almost vertical slabs of rock.

After the usual spate of false peaks, and about 2000m of elevation gain, we finally reached the Rinjani rim.

W1 to Lake Segara Anak

From the rim, began the descent to the lake in the centre of the crater.

The path contained many sections that required us to “climb down”, mostly with the support of the rocks surrounding the path, and occasionally using steel support rails.

Every now and again, there were passing opportunities, but they are few and far between, and provide a very small window. Wider path sections weree much safer places to do so, than through the narrow rocky climbs.

Lake to Sembalun Rim (W2)

Once down at the lake surface, the path followed the lake around to the climb up to the Sembalun side of the rim.

It was a great shame that we did all of this at night time, as we were unable to see the lake up close, in all its glory. Luckily, there was plenty of time ahead, to see and photograph the lake from far above.

The climb up to the Sembalun rim was relatively unremarkable, but we did start to see our first glimpse of the infamous “scree”.

W2 to Summit (W3)

We passed through checkpoint W2 twice; once on the way up to the summit; and again on the way down to Sembalun.

This was a very well provisioned and popular checkpoint. The night air had become much cooler as we ascended, and many runners appeared to be revelling in the warmth and comfort that provisions and campfires alike, provided.

This is where I donned my thermal top and gloves. Although not particularly cold, we knew that it would become colder towards the summit, as the altitude and wind chill kicked in.

The climb to the summit… was hard. We knew it would be hard. We were told it would be hard. “Two steps forward, one slide back”. Everyone who made it up there is now vividly aware that there is no amount of reading that can prepare you for the doing.

Most people that I observed, ended up adopting the following strategy:

  • Take 2-3 steps
  • Lean on poles, exhausted
  • Slide back 1 step
  • Repeat

It really is that difficult. I saw no-one, myself included, who could make relentless forward progress. Periodic breaks were inevitable.

I did, however, find that it was possible to make more consistent progress by forcing the “work interval” to comprise at least 20-30 steps, counting them off in 10s. You can also improve your chances of halting slippage by targeting larger rocks – they are often, but not always, more stable.

In addition to the larger rocks, I was on the lookout for “grassy”, scree-thin, sections. They are often along the edges of the trail and they are much more stable than the deep blanket of scree that covered most of the path before us. Yes, to take advantage of these, you do generally have to stand closer to the abyss

NB: A small point of courtesy. When you are leaning on your poles for a break: PLEASE place your poles straight out in front of you, NOT out at a 60⁰ from your body. The latter means you take up twice as much space, as people behind you attempt to pass.

NB also: Trekking poles are a pushing tool, not a pulling tool. I was astonished to see so many people who had no idea how to use them efficiently. Buy the correct size, and learn how to use them!

Somewhere on the way up, I took off my right glove to take some photos, and dropped it without noticing, until I’d climbed at least another 10-15 mins more. There was no way I was going back for it, so I left it to chance that I might find it on the way back down – alas, I did not.

As we climbed higher and higher, with the tiny “ant people” off in the seemingly unreachable distance, the wind began to build. If the scree wasn’t enough to contend with, a head-wind strong enough to blow you off your feet, was just what we needed to propel us along.

Everyone I have talked to went through periods of believing that we would never reach the top. Extremely slow progress, and the enormity of the peak above us, makes it appear that no matter how many steps you take, you are never drawing any closer. The congo-line of people further up, never appeared any larger.

But, step by step – pause by pause – breath by breath – I eventually made it to the summit. Once there, those of us who persisted were rewarded by an epic 360⁰ view, with stunning views down to the lake surface below.

At this stage, at the 22.5km mark, we’d accumulated over 3,500m of elevation gain.

Time to collect the 1st of three wristbands (we had to collect three throughout the race, to prove that we followed the correct route), and make our way back down.

I was interested to note that I did not appear to be overtly affected by the altitude. This was my first time anywhere near being that high up, but although it was physically very difficult, I experienced no unexpected breathing difficulties. I did, however, have a brief dry and raspy cough at the summit, that went away as I began to descend.

Be warned though, that I did speak with others that experienced some of the usual deleterious effects; including the somnolence, nausea and vomiting.

W3 to W2

Holy fun!!!

This was my favourite section of the race. The ridiculously slippery, impossibly untraversable, loose scree – that consistently confounded our upward progress – became our inner child’s favourite playground on the way down.

The descent from the summit was a golden chance to make up lost time, throw caution to the wind, and enjoy the free speed, skating over the deep rolling scree surface.

Not to everyone’s taste, most people appeared to be content to slowly and carefully make their way back down in at most, a controlled trot.

As on the way up, W2 was a haven for competitors; buzzing with activity, littered with resting bodies, and doing all it could to service people’s needs before they continued down the mountain.

While refilling my water bottles, I came across fellow-Aussie, Damian Smith. He’d had a shocker of a start to the race, and had succumbed to overwhelming somnolence. As he slept at W2, he had slipped back into the mid-30s in the placings.

Not long after making my way out of W2, and down the mountain, Damian passed me as I put my headlamp away (I’d forgotten to take it off), and applied some sunscreen. It was the last I saw of him, until we were all back at race HQ.

W2 to Pos 1 (W4) and Sembalun (W5)

The dusty dirt trail down from W2 was where we learned that the slippery scree is not the only surface poised to put our stability in peril.

I saw far more people hit the ground – again, myself included – in this section, than on the way up to or down from the summit. Take a look at the pictures of this section, and you will find plenty of visual evidence.

Once I’d become a little more accustomed to the (lack of) grip, this section provided numerous paths for passing. Winding its way down the mountainside, the slippery dirt eventually gave way to single and fire trails through the rolling foothills.

A short section of jungle single trail, and a creek crossing or two later, and we found ourselves at the W5 checkpoint in Sembalun. The checkpoint is just around the corner from the Sembalun entrance of the trail up to the Rinjani summit; so we’d essentially completed the equivalent of a standard 3 day 2 night trek.

W5 is the bag drop checkpoint for 60km runners; but the 100km participants had to wait until the W6 checkpoint, another 11km further on, before they could access their stashed provisions.

This checkpoint had by far my favourite “service” – a bucket of iced water, with which competitors had their necks and heads cooled down. It would have been great to have seen this repeated elsewhere along the race route, but such as it was, it was very much appreciated.

W5 to Likun (W6) – Over Bukit Pergasingan

The route from W5, traces its way through some rice paddies, before crossing a river via a rickety old bamboo bridge. Not long after, the next ascent begins.

The first of the “hills”. The climb up Pergasingan brought Lombok’s heat and humidity, in all its fury. Although “only” hovering between 32 and 33⁰C, the gradient and climatic conditions, had everyone pausing for respite in the all too brief sections of tree canopy cover.

This, and the subsequent “hills” slowed my progress significantly. It was where I began to lose most of the time that I would sorely require, later in the race.

Once at the top, we secured our 2nd wristband and started to make our way down.

Once again, the path down quickly degraded into a steep and slippery, dust bowl of a trail. At the bottom, we traversed a set of concrete stairs, turned left, and followed a series of rolling dirt road hills leading to W6; the 100km runners’ drop bag checkpoint.

W6 to Sembalun Bumbung (W7) – Over Bukit Anak Dara

At W6, I fell prey to my biggest single time-sink. What time I hadn’t wasted in the heat, I left behind in a chair at W6.

Some of the lingering was strategic – I restocked my pack with water, and nutrition; washed my feet and put on new socks – but I was there for well over 30 minutes, which was far more than required.

At least for this next climb, the sun had had the sting taken out of it, and much more of it was under the cover of the tree canopy. Far easier going, but still relentlessly steep, this again had some short sections of “hands-on” climbing to navigate.

The reward at the top, was very special – an open green grassy ridge line, with an easily visible, and rather pretty trail winding through it.

The other side, however, presented the weary traveller with yet another of Rinjani100’s infamous descents. So steep, so loose, so slippery, with a trail so occasionally narrow, that it is sometimes more akin to a (sheer drop of a) wall than a trail.

A couple of short sections had an almost comical piece of “rope” to assist the descent – the thin blue synthetic string that people use to hang their clothes rather than a real rope – but this sought to mock us more than offer any real cause for comfort.

So very slow going, it became abundantly clear that much of this race is as difficult and measured on the descents, as the ascents.

The bottom of this descent took us through the streets of Sembalun Bumbung, then back out to wind our way through and around some more rice paddies, then finally onto some dirt road to the W7 checkpoint.

60km in, and with night having now fully closed back in, this was a checkpoint popular for its hot food and drink. Many people lingered here, and some even slept, but I figured I’d had enough of that at W6 and left after quickly replenishing my water supply.

W7 to Pusuk (W8) – Over Bukit Montong Karang, Batekan, Nanggi, Solong and Tanah Abang

Land of a thousand hills.

The initial climb here was long – very long – steep, and dusty. It was preceded with a gradually increasing incline, after wending our way along a dirt road and up a dry creek bed. But as soon as it started climbing, it really never did relent, for what felt like hours (it probably was, in my case) all the way to the “top”.

What followed reaching the “top”, however, was an interminable series of additional “hills” on top of that first peak – one after the other, each of which mocked the one before it; the crest of each peak revealed yet another, and another.

At Nanggi, ostensibly the 3rd of these meta-“hills”, we collected the 3rd and last of our wristbands. A wristband is unnecessary along the following (and final) set of hills, as there is no way off the mountain, other than the intended route.

As this section was navigated in the dark, it was not possible to see much of what lay before us. A great shame, as the pictures I have seen of some of the ridgelines there, are spectacular. Sharp drop-offs on either side. Beautiful lush green grassy slopes. Rugged rocky outcrops. Mostly, all I saw was the flash of the flagging tape in the shadows.

The hills and trails progressed through quite a number of “tent cities”; a popular destination it seems, as are all of the area’s hills, for weekend excursions into the great outdoors for the locals.

One of the more deserted meta-hills is where I experienced my only period of truly uncomfortable cold. Cresting the top of this particular hill, the cloud cover had descended onto the mountain top, causing pea-soup thick fog and bringing a howling wind. Wind and rain combined to cut straight through me; and from what I later gathered, anyone else up there at the time. I hadn’t packed a spray jacket, but my single glove and fleece were enough to keep me relatively warm and dry.

Not far from there is where I encountered two pieces of equipment failure:

  1. My headlamp began to fail. So I had to change the batteries with cold-numbed fingers (still missing my right glove). This is really difficult to do in the dark. I had my spare torch, but using it to direct enough light onto the headlamp, and fiddling with the batteries – all while increasingly fatigued – took many times longer than it would have in ideal conditions. All for nought, the new batteries threw no more more light than the old ones.
  2. The top of one of my water bottles came off. Each bottle has a “bite” valve. Somehow, it came off and dropped onto the trail somewhere and I didn’t notice until much later. I heard it sloshing, but didn’t connect the dots.

Hill after hill after hill; sheer drop, after almost vertical wall, after steep slippery dust trail; I finally found my way to the W8 checkpoint in Pusuk, having completed 73km.

This, was unfortunately where my journey ended.

When I got to the checkpoint, I was asked if I wished to continue; or pull out, as had a number of the people ahead of me. But not long afterwards, the decision was taken away from me; as I was advised by the checkpoint doctor that due to safety concerns, I would be unable to continue as I did not have at least 8hrs up my sleeve before the finish line cutoff.

It is not an official cutoff point, but a decision imposed to ensure the safety of participants, officials and volunteers. The remainder of the race is all conducted on a single mountain range, from which participants cannot be evacuated if anything goes wrong. The race officials have been bitten by this in years past, and I certainly didn’t want to be stuck up on a mountain, while my plane home went without me.

While disappointed, I completely understand and fully support the decision.

In retrospect, having had only 7 ¼ hrs until the finish line cutoff, I was not likely to be able to cover the 26km remaining, given the elevation change and terrain.

W8 to Propok Valley (W9) – Over Bukit Propok and Kondo

I’ll let you know after my comeback, after which I will have completed the race; and hence, this section.

W9 to Dandaun Valley (W10) – Over Bukit Turunan, Bawan Duri and Lincak

I’ll let you know after my comeback, after which I will have completed the race; and hence, this section.

W10 to Sembalun (Finish) – Over Bukit Telaga

I’ll let you know after my comeback, after which I will have completed the race; and hence, this section.

While I didn’t get to finish the race, I can tell you that the race finishes back in Sembalun, at the Hotel Nusantara. The hotel was also race headquarters; home of registration, gear check, bag drop, race briefing, and all other pre-race administrative functions.

After being delivered back to race HQ, I was also able to watch Damian Smith – fellow Aussie, our only finisher, and now good friend – cross the finish line, having clawed his way from his earlier slip into the mid-30s, back up to 8th place. A gritty and truly stellar performance.

Lessons Learned

Terrain

It is ridiculous. I was saying that to all and sundry prior to the race, but it is impossible to convey just how insanely hard this race is, without showing it to someone in person.

There are no words.

Everything is slippery – the scree, the dusty dirt, the grass – everything. Most of it is steep. Going down is just as hard as going up – sometimes harder.

Most of the race is “unrunnable”. That sounds like hyperbole, but it is simply the truth.

Climate/Weather

From oppressive heat and humidity to single-digit cold with wind chill. You need to prepare for, and endure a wide range of climatic conditions.

Equipment

Don’t just pass gear check. That is always a fool’s errand, but for this race, it will almost certainly be at your peril.

Get a good quality headlamp. Plenty of light, and longevity.

Use poles, but put them away and use your hands when descending. I didn’t do that nearly enough, having become frustrated with the difficulty of securing them over and over again.

Make sure your water capacity is sufficient and secure.

Nutrition

Nail nutrition; make a solid plan, and stick to it without fail.

I am no longer sure where it all began, but at some point the wheels began to fall off my nutrition plan. I had trialled VFuel gels in a couple of long training runs with much success, but this was my first time using them in a race. I had never used any kind of gel, previously.

To their credit, they worked perfectly when I was actually consuming them. Went down really easily, never got sick of them, and felt good each time I had one. But sometime between 50-60km I had slowed consumption, and by 60-73km I was barely eating at all.

This helped to feed a bit of a cycle of being “resigned to fate”. While committed to continuing no matter what, I no longer felt in complete control and was merely putting one foot in front of the other.

Was it the lack of nutrition causing brain fog? Or brain fog causing the lack of eating? Or both? Not sure, but in future, I’ll be doing something more concrete to make sure that I stick to the plan.

Checkpoints

Same as usual. Get in and get out. Don’t muck around, but do ensure that I don’t leave without everything I need.

Again; make a solid plan, and stick to it. But with this, be adaptable when required.

Energy Conservation and Strategic Rest

Many people, myself included, were regularly “resting” on our poles as the fatigue and heat set in, without any obvious rhyme or reason.

Far better, as I observed in some other competitors, would have been to “strategically rest” – lie down in a shady spot to more efficiently regain some energy – then push on with purpose.

Epilogue

So, how was it?

The most beautiful, brutal, exciting, heartbreaking, soul restoring adventure that I have ever experienced.

Will I do it again?

In a heartbeat. I started missing Lombok as soon as I hopped on the plane to leave. I am now counting the days until my return; to finish the race, see the rest of the course, and bathe in the solace of the place that very quickly felt like a second home.

Is next year too soon?

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The Highland Hippie’s Lament [Poem]

The Auld Highland Hippie
That frolicking fool
Up forested mountains
He climbed like a mule

In balance with nature
His soul did reside
As the fast pace of living
He could not abide

 

But…
One fateful Spring morning
His journey adjourned
‘Midst the fog of distraction
Insomnia earned

His leg, it did zag
While his body, it zigged
And his ankle was wrenched
Till it snapped like a twig

 

So now, he must ponder
Whilst riding his bike
If he has enough time
To proceed as he’d like

From weight-bearing load
He protects his left foot
Till the ligament heals
From the steps he mistook

 

See…
While stubborn is strong
In one focussed as he
We can never escape
Certain fait accompli

Now he hobbles in sadness
Mind and body all spent
In his beloved mountains
You may hear his lament

Mountain (Mis)-Adventure

My Mountain (Mis)-Adventure

Cooked to well-done on Mt Barney

8

Mt Barney is big.  No matter the route, 1000mD+ is no walk in the park

Fuck. Grab something! Fuck! I’m not ready to die?! FUCK!!! I’m scared.

I am almost 6 hours into a training “run” on Mt Barney.

The Journey to Impasse

Prelude

The plan was for me to make twin summits – an out and back of the South Ridge, followed by an out and back of the South-East Ridge.

2

Feeling cocky prior to adventure

Given the weather forecast of oppressive heat, I decided pack a little extra fluid. 1L is ordinarily more than enough for a 6hr run, but I packed another bottle into my vest.

I also decided to head out a little earlier than originally planned, to beat some of the heat. Unfortunately, co-sleeping with a restless toddler in a two-person tent, put paid to that. The night was almost devoid of sleep for any of us.

Instead of heading out early, our alarm failed to go off, and I left somewhat after I had originally intended. At a little after 05:00, I was suited up and on the move, with Claire’s parting words echoing in my mind:

“Just go on your fucking run!”

It had been a rough night.

Lap #1 – South Ridge

With the twin ridges in sight, I headed out along Upper Logan Road for the South-Ridge turnoff. “6hrs of hilly” was the instruction for the day, and Mt Barney was destined to deliver.

18

The Twin Peaks from our campsite

The journey out to “Peasant’s” (AKA South) Ridge – named thus, according to its status as the “easy” route 1 – was relatively flat (undulating) and uneventful. Although along the way, in my bleary sleep-deprived lethargy, I did manage to go up and down Yellow Pinch lookout, without really intending to.

11

♥ Tree on Yellow Pinch

Minor deviation behind me, I continued to the South-Ridge turnoff and made the ascent, cruising up to the saddle, then back down to the trailhead, at an easy comfortable pace.

In pretty good time, and good shape. So far, so good.

Vive la Différence

In researching the routes up Mt Barney, there seemed to be somewhat of a consensus that Peasants is less interesting than other routes. But I found it quite lovely – fabulously varietal terrain, spectacular views and vegetation.

Lap #2 – South-East Ridge

Ascent

After returning to the trailhead on Upper Logan Road, I made my way back to the start of the South-East ridge – generally considered the next step up from South. While it certainly is more consistently steep, it is the navigational difficulties that better differentiate it. The South Ridge is pretty well marked, with a well-defined path and triangular trail direction markers to light the way. South-East ridge, in comparison, has a fairly well-worn path most of the way up, but with many sections routing directly over large slabs of rock, the lack of markers makes descending an order of magnitude more difficult, than ascending.

We’re Having a Heat Wave ♫

The Greater Brisbane area had been experiencing extreme heat-wave conditions. For a few days it looked like we may realise some relief for the weekend, but as Friday loomed closer, the temperature predictions inexorably rose. As of Friday evening, the expectation was for maximum temperatures in the high 30s – Saturday’s reality brought us a maximum of 42°C.

Despite the pretty extreme heat, and the magnitude of the mountain before, I had made good time up and down South. Slowing considerably as I began the ascent of South-East; my progress, albeit curbed to keep my heart rate down, was reasonably consistent. What I failed to notice – or at least to sufficiently acknowledge – is that as the heat rose, I was drinking an ever-increasing amount of fluid. By the time I reached the East Peak – the top of the South-East Ridge – my body was exhausted, dehydrated and overheated. I could feel the heat radiating from my legs. Much worse; I was out of fluids.

Descent

Nevertheless, I began my descent, as delay was only going to increase my exposure to the heat. Admittedly, I was also still on a mission – two ascents/descents in “near enough to 6 hours”.

I will preface the ensuing narrative by explaining that as my body temperature rose, my decision making and navigational skills were exponentially degrading. I suspect this will also have adversely affected my recollection of events, but what follows is as best I can remember.

As I descended it became quickly apparent that the trail is much easier to distinguish going up, than going down. Particularly when broken into sections by large slabs of rock, it is necessary to reconnect with the trail, as it changes direction along the vast precipitous ridge.

My heat and dehydration-induced deteriorating mental state made it more and more difficult to spot the trail, and to notice the switchbacks. But it also caused poor decision making – continuing on downhill when it was clear 2 that I was no longer on course – and not looking frequently behind me for the same signs of trail that I saw on the ascent.

An increasing sense of urgency, in the absence of critical reasoning, saw me head down what looked like the ridgeline. A couple of butt-slides down a grassy V-shaped gully, and a looming drop into nothing should have confirmed that I was headed in the wrong direction. I hadn’t remembered climbing up anything like that, but I seemed unable to convince myself to retrace my steps.

Continuing to make my way down the ridge, I came across a smooth rock slab, angled down the mountain… and that, is where I lost traction.

Fuck. Grab something! Skating down the rocky makeshift slide, my hands scrambled around for something to halt my progress. Fuck! I’m not ready to die?! As I felt something – I can’t tell you what it was, or even which hand(s) found purchase – but my body held fast, as I stared down into an open abyss.

FUCK!!! I’m scared.

I have no idea how far down the drop plunged. I didn’t look for longer than was required to realise that I was seconds, and a handful of something, from death.

I wonder if others experience the same, when faced with a near-death experience? While I did have my life flash before me – it wasn’t my past, but my future – the life not yet lived. With lofty aspirations of lengthy longevity, I envisioned decades of unrealised experiences as a father, lover, son, friend, adventurer, musician, student.

While John Muir’s quote resonates with me, I am keen for at least a few more decade’s adventures before meeting my end:

“This time it is real — all must die, and where could mountaineer find a more glorious death!”

― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Continuing to climb across the slab, and down alongside the ridge, I came upon a small flattish spot, wedged myself against a tree, and caught my breath. Exhausted, broken, and scared to (the brink of) death.

Stuck

There I sat, for the better part of an hour, trying to regain some energy and bring my body temperature back down enough to climb back out. As time ticked by, I began to give up. I was completely exhausted; almost certainly suffering heat-stroke; and becoming rapidly more dehydrated.

Google.Maps.Stuck

Courtesy of Google Maps and my saved GPS waypoint, the marker shows where I got stuck in relation to the East Peak and the South-East ridge descent

I have no recollection of ambient noise. It seems odd now, in the luxury of an air-conditioned room, where every sound is amplified. I wonder, in retrospect, how much of the silence that I perceived is attributable to obliviousness, amnesia or some form of temporary psychosis?

With nothing but the thump of my palpitating heart for company, I called the SES. Explaining my predicament, the operator conferenced in a police officer. I relayed that I had ascended the South-East Ridge to East Peak, and was on the descent when I deviated East of the trail.

“Did I have sufficient water?” No, none. “Phone battery?” 1%. Shortly after answering which, my phone died.

In the aftermath of the weekend, I learned that my momentary lapse of reason had become nationwide, headlining news. This brought on a deluge of inevitable public shaming, as all and sundry piled on the grubby hippie with no sense of responsibility – personal, social or otherwise.

I have relatively thick skin. So all of that bothers me very little. Having been about 2 months into a social media hiatus also meant that I was hearing of it, only 2nd-hand.

But the phenomena of “instantly and globally connected” public shaming did affect my decision making processes. I sat on that ledge for far longer than I would have without the spectre of “trial by Internet”, before making the call for help.

Ultimately; I am OK. I am relatively young. Quite fit. Ridiculously stubborn. But in more dire circumstances, for a person less capable, such a delay could have been fatal.

Have a think about that, the next time you feel the need to don your superhero cape to verbally assault the victim of an emergency situation. Mistakes happen. Hopefully, lessons are learned.

No-one ever wants to make that call. To be “that person”. But let’s not shame someone into seeing death as the easy option.

While talking to emergency services, I was also typing a txt message to Claire with my current GPS coordinates, copied from my watch. The phone died just before I was able to hit ‘Send’.

99 - so close, but no cigar.png

Close, but no cigar

Alone again, I sat. Waiting again for the better part of another hour, I tried to convince myself to move. I didn’t have any idea how much I had successfully relayed to emergency services. I didn’t know what they planned.

Would I be stuck there for hours? Days? What will Claire be thinking? Does she know? Is she OK? Is she still pissed off? I want to see her. The kids. Our monster-toddler, that ensured I’d had next to no sleep. I want an ice-bucket for my feet. Yoghurt and berries.

Strange that I could be fantasising about food, given that I’d long lost interest in any of what I’d brought with me. Another symptom of dehydration, is a lack of saliva. Reduced saliva production makes it harder to chew, swallow and digest food. But I also noticed that things didn’t taste as good – didn’t even have as much taste – as usual. My chicken and avocado wrap – usually the star attraction of my long run nutrition – barely tasted like anything at all.

Speaking of taste: have you ever drunk your own urine? Well, I have. Now. At least, I tried. You see; as you dehydrate, your urine becomes darker, indicating higher concentrations of waste products – urea, bilirubin, ammonia, ketones et al. As it darkens, your urine becomes commensurately less palatable. At this stage, mine had turned a toasty brown, and it was foul. It was, in fact, by far the worst thing I have ever tasted – by a long, long way; and I’ve tried pineapple on pizza. Trust me when I say, that severe dehydration is not when you want to get in touch with your inner Bear Grylls.

Severe dehydration also makes it more difficult for your body to sweat. Which in turn, makes it more difficult for your body to cool down. Stuck on a mountainside, trapped in my body’s endless struggle between heat and (lack of) hydration.

Self-Rescue

I’m not exactly sure how or why I got moving again. My body temperature hadn’t come back down at all. My energy levels were as low as when I first perched myself on that ledge. But some happy mix of longing for everything that awaited me back at camp; and uncertainty over what, if anything, the outside world was planning to do to help me; had me back on my feet.

Having been stuck for almost a couple hours, I put my vest back on (the highly recommended UD AK 3.0 that I barely felt all day) and psyched myself up, to climb back out.

4

Who wouldn’t rush home to this little cutie?

I have only very vague recollections of the remainder of my adventure. I do know that I did quite a bit of climbing – to which, the DOMS in my lats for the next couple of days, would testify – and that after climbing back up and rejoining the trail, I lost my way twice more, drifting off-course on the way down.

But after numerous interleaved periods of descending, pausing, regathering, climbing, and bush bashing, I made my way back down the ridge to the South-East trailhead.

From there, it was a pretty sad jog/hike to the Cronan 10 campsite, where I came upon some campers. They had me sit down, and gave me an ice-cold bottle of Gatorade, for which I was exceptionally grateful.

As I prepared to continue on, somewhat buoyed by the rest and fluids, two bushwalkers came down the trail towards my benefactors’ campsite. After a short exchange, they happily chaperoned me back to the Yellow Pinch carpark.

A short drive back to Mt Barney lodge – thank you, mysterious strangers whose names I have forgotten – and I was back at our campsite.

Recovery

Claire and the kids were up at the camp dining area, preparing to eat dinner. Their surprise, and relief at seeing me amble towards them, starkly written on their faces. A few quick cuddles later, Claire went to let the police know that I’d walked myself back out, and I trudged up to the amenities block for a cold shower. Covered in cuts, grazes, and bruises, every drop hurt, but a shower never felt so good.

Without having to say a word, Claire had already bought two bags of ice, and filled a large storage container with ice water. Legs submerged, I started guzzling bottles of ice water, as Claire draped an ice-water soaked towel over my shoulders.

1

I’m half-English, so a cuppa tea fixes everything

By the time the paramedics arrived to check me over, my core temperature had returned to normal and all my vital signs were good to go. No hospital for me! YAY!

12

Waterhole, near our campsite provided relief from the heat

Lessons Learned

Adventuring is Not the Same as Training

Hydration

I regularly train for up to 4 hours or more, with NO hydration at all. At comfortable pace or lesser, I simply don’t require fuelling or fluid.

Given that this was a “race practise” long training run, I took food and fluid. For an anticipated 6 hours, I packed a total of 1.35L – two 500mL bottles up front, and one 350mL bottle in the back of the vest.

Given that:

  1. It was hot as fuck
  2. I didn’t have an accurate idea of how long the twin ascents/descents were going to take me
  3. I’d never been up Mt Barney before

I really should have packed WAY more fluid and have had a plan to refill as necessary. To mitigate potential mishap, cater for the heat, and acknowledge the adventurous nature of the outing.

Mandatory Gear vs Safety Gear

On such “race practise” runs, I carry all of the mandatory gear for the target race. But despite having done this numerous times, and carried much the same in races, I have never given any real thought to its purpose.

I could have used several pieces of that mandatory race gear when things started to go wrong. But because my brain had melted to mush, I never once gave thought to it being there, much less tried to use it.

  1. Space blanket – mirrored surface could be used to attract attention of rescue chopper
  2. Space blanket + poles – erect sun shelter
  3. Rain hi-vis jacket – attract attention of rescue chopper

Future “adventure” training sessions will see me carrying a bare minimum of safety gear – not just mandatory race gear.

We will also be utilising “play” sessions where-in we will contrive emergency scenarios, and devise potential solutions using the aforementioned safety gear. The intention will be to make this process second-nature, so that if one’s mental state degrades, the muscle memory can take over.

Footnotes

  1. There is no “easy” way to ascend a 1,300+m mountain.
  2. To be fair, not much was clear at this point.

Pages Pinnacle

Becoming rightly more popular as a trail running destination, Pages Pinnacle was previously largely the target of climbers and hikers.

Involving plenty of scrambling and a little bit of genuine, albeit fairly pedestrian climbing, it provides a relatively gentle introduction to pursuits outside the domain of (too) many trail runners.

How to Get There

Pages.Pinnacle.png

How to get there

See Strava for details: https://www.strava.com/activities/771809224

The “short cut” entrance to the single trail leading to Pages Pinnacle is easily spotted from the Polly’s fire-trail.  Marked by cairns on both sides of the trail, you can no longer miss it.

It is most readily accessible from Polly’s backside, with parking available near the gate on Pine Creek Road [approx. -28.107970, 153.250964].  The turnoff is about 2.1-2.2km from the gate.

There is another single trail entrance, about 1.5-1.6km from the backside gate, which travels down beneath the ridge before wrapping back around the end (Pinnacle) and looping back to the start of the climb across the ridge.

Although much longer, allow some time to complete this loop at some stage.  As the trail skirts along the bottom of the ridge, there are massive sheer rock walls that are crying out to be bouldered.  This could be a very safe, unintimidating introduction to climbing on real rock!

Of course, both single trail entrances to Pages Pinnacle can be accessed from Polly’s front face, but you will have to hike up and over to get there.

Frolicking is Fun

Some of my favourite times in the bush have involved “trail less travelled”, “not quite a trail”, and sometimes entirely off-trail adventures.  I highly encourage other runners to do the same.