Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Greetings from Monte Bianco

A package arrived for me last week, filled with memories from racing in last year's Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Inside the envelope was a letter, written in Italian and addressed to "Gentile Margaretha," and 6 black and white photos, developed from film. In an instant I was transported back to the rugged peaks of the Alps, the happy countryside I encountered while passing through Italy, and the generous support and encouragement the volunteers gave to the competitors.

The letter and photos was from a man called Arnaldo, who had volunteered at the aid station located at the Bonatti refuge (hut), about 90km from Chamonix. Passing through this station was a blur, but I remember getting a honey sandwich from him. He took my photo (I suspect because I was an Australian woman), and said that if I gave him my address he would send it to me. I didn't give it much further thought, left the checkpoint and kept racing. 

Now, almost a year later, his package has arrived and with it a reminder of the extended community of people I have met all over the world through trail running. People who love the mountains, people who love supporting the pursuit of a challenge, and people who just want to give. I am also reminded of how important the volunteers are in any event, and how their enthusiasm and kindness can create a unique atmosphere that will stay with a runner long beyond the finish line. 

Rifugio Bonatti (Bonatti Refuge):

Runners entering the checkpoint. Arnaldo has labelled the peaks, including Monte Bianco/Mont Blanc:


The checkpoint:

The leader's of the race passing through the checkpoint, including Killian Jornet in the centre:

Dawn from the Traveler's Range, Tasmania

With winter making it's presence known in the Tasmanian mountains, the days getting colder and light more precious, my last day as a guide on the Overland Track arrived. The decision had been made the night before to climb up to the top of the Traveler's Range, a ridge of mountains presiding over deep valleys and unexplored wilderness. We woke at 4am, and glancing out the window for a weather forecast, I glimpsed open sky and a shooting star. Perfect conditions for a dawn hike up to the summit. 

We followed the track back up to Ducane Gap, our headtorches illuminating ancient rainforest. In the saddle between the Traveler's Range and the Ducane Range we found the barely-used trail that would lead us up. On the summit the wind was fierce, the cold as crisp as the light starting to emerge on the horizon. We nestled in amongst the large dolerite boulders and waited for the sun. 

L-R: The Acropolis and Mt Geryon:

Thanks to Ross Bird for the beautiful photography.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mt Solitary Race cancellation: The silver lining

The elusive Mt Solitary (Photo sourced from here)

Sometimes nature just doesn't play along. The last week it has rained. And rained. And finally, with 2 days to go before the start of the Mt Solitary Race, the organizers had to postpone the event. Disappointed trail runners power-hiked the streets of Katoomba, lamenting the loss of a weekend of competition and camraderie.

I was fortunate enough to connect with other race-less runners over the weekend, turning the loss of an event into 2 days of training instead. It was great to maximise the sunshine, mild weather and the company of some fabulous runners to get in some solid runs on the course of the upcoming The North Face 100km. It was also great to meet Andrew Vize, one of my Team Salomon Australia members and a true gentleman of the trails. 

Admiring the view of the Three Sisters (Photo-Marcus Warner):

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Last walk through the Tasmanian Wilderness

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." - John Muir

The summit of Mt Ossa:

View towards Mt Pelion East:

Prehistoric-looking mushroom:

Mt Geryon in the afternoon sun:

Nothofagus Gunii (deciduous beech) starting to turn with the approach of winter:

Rainbow over Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain:

Barn Bluff:

View towards the Pelion mountains:

Velvety mushrooms:

Mt Ossa summit:

Crazy mould digesting a mushroom:

Autumn Highlights

The last month has been busy. I have been adhering to a strict routine of pack-living: Organising my 75L trusted hiking pack for 2 weeks of work in Tasmania, flying/commuting, guiding, having a day off, churning through an endless mound of dirty laundry, desperately trying to dry out my boots, recharging and catching up on week-old emails and then guiding again. In between I am devouring anything fresh, green and crunchy to make up for a weeks worth of eating a carbohydrate-only diet on the trails (not so good for the immune system).

From Tasmania I flew to Melbourne and headed to the Victorian high country for a few days of running around Falls Creek. Although still living out of a pack, life slowed down, I was able to enjoy some beautiful running terrain around the Bogong High Plains, and to eat nutritious meal after meal (mostly hearty bean stews with quinoa or soba noodles). The area around Falls Creek is incredible training ground - great trails at higher elevation, mountain conditions and a good mix of both steep and flatter terrain. 

 Spion Kpoje Loop (35ish km)
This was a beautiful loop I started from the Rocky Valley Storage Dam. The trail was nice and clear, took in some beautiful alpine vegetation, had a gradual climb up onto the Spion ridge from where lovely undulating trail took me down almost all the way to Bogong village, where I took the Bogong Valley High Plains road back to Falls Creek resort. The weather was wild. Ferocious winds whipped at my clothing, mist narrowed the views right down to spooky gum skeletons and the trail in front of me. 
Recommended: at least 2L of water, all-weather gear (I had an awesome lightweight Salomon jacket), map or good sense of direction, and food. 

The storage dam at Falls Creek, the bank covered in skeleton trees:

Map of trails in the area:

Bogong High Plains:

Fighting the wind and mist:


River crossing before hitting the Bogong Valley High Plains road:

Blue Mountains Training weekend
The following weekend I was fortunate enough to join an amazing group of friends for a solid session of running. The weekend was organised by Rob Costello, a speedy Irish fellow with a great repertoire of crazy insights that he brings out on the trails. We took over the Fairmont resort at Leura (the race HQ for the North Face 100km), bringing new meaning to the phrase "lycra in the lobby." It was amazing to be sleeping in a real bed, no sleeping bag, tent or back of a car in sight! The first run on Saturday took in 60km of the race course. We had a crew out to support us, meeting us with water, icy cokes and food at the half way point (So incredible to have this kind of encouragement on a training run). It was great to run with different people with different strengths, and to figure out what still needs fine-tuning before race day. Like anything in life, training is so essential to build confidence, to try new strategies, to make mistakes, and to evaluate strengths and weaknesses. After the run we had an awesome soak in the icy outdoor pool and the hot tub.
Day 2 we woke up early at 4am and went for run on the last 10km of the course. It always blows me away to be awake at this time, to run in the dark in a landscape shaped by shadows, and to watch the day emerging. I always have the thought: How many people are lucky enough to experience this time of the day, and through the powerful force of running. After our run we had a huge buffet breakfast, a little bit of downtime, and then back out on the course to run another 21km through the Jameison Valley and Kedumba Pass. I was loving the long, slow grind back up from the valley to the plateau above. 

Fairmont Resort:

Mist in the valley:

The crew:

Narrowneck Road:

Day 2 - Jameison Valley (jumping for joy):