Last week I had a heaven-sent opportunity to escape my urban confines and head for the hills. I’d been feeling a bit down in the dumps as recovery from my ankle sprain had not been as fast as I’d hoped. And an inactive Mal is generally a pretty grumpy Mal (just ask my long-suffering wife Sally if you don’t believe me).
The reason for my trip was to reconnoitre some of the trails that I want to use on the upcoming ‘Top of the South’ trail running tour – my first foray into what I believe is an untapped tourism market. With so many brilliant trails set amongst the scenic glory of our beautiful land, and the huge international growth in trail running as a pastime, it seems a no-brainer to me that people – especially overseas based runners – might want to spend a week exploring all this single-track heaven in their running shoes. Time will tell but meantime it gives me a great reason to run in some spectacular places.
The week it has to be said did not quite go to plan, largely on account of the weather, which was pretty foul for most of the time. The still dodgy ankle also meant that flat-out trail running time was limited but that wasn’t going to stop me from accumulating some much-needed time on feet.
After a wonderful run/walk over the historic Wakamarina Track across the Richmond Ranges that included a night in the cosy and intriguingly named ‘Devils Hut’, I headed to one of my favourite play grounds, the Nelson Lakes. A couple of very cold runs including the classic circuit of Robert Ridge/Pinchgut Track really put me in the mood, despite the lacerations that were inflicted by razor-sharp hail as I ran through calf-deep snow along the ridge line – okay, a slight exaggeration but man that hail stung!
Then things started to get really wild. The long drive over Takaka Hill and up the Cobb Valley was rewarded with a night at the wonderful Trilobite Hut and a cosy fire. Not long after settling in there the snow started and before long it was sticking fast. So the planned 30 km loop up on to Tablelands and back started to look like an ambitious project. This was confirmed early next morning as I set off on the 500m climb to Cobb Ridge and found myself wading through knee-deep piles of snow that occasionally became thigh-deep without warning. No way was I going to make it round the full circuit so instead I piled on the layers, braved the biting south-westerly that was trying to rid the ridge of all human presence, and enjoyed a much shorter circuit down the Cobb Ridge and Bullock Track back to lake level. I finally got 3 kms of running in by following the dirt road back to the hut.
On my last day I decided to go exploring a little-used trail just outside Takaka. The Anatoki Track follows the Anatoki valley deep into the mountains and it is real tiger country. I thought this might be my chance to finally open out my legs and get some serious running done but the absence of any entries over the last 3 months in the Intentions Book at the start of the track was a portent of what was to follow. The track is an old miners’ route and no doubt was once a fairly smooth, well-benched trail. But with seemingly sparse attention from DoC, lots of windfall, rock slides, slippery creek crossings and wild pig rooting holes it is now a gnarly beast of a thing. Gnarly but wonderful! One of my big gripes is the ‘sanitation of trails’ that sees over-maintenance and motorway quality re-building of tracks. No way was this the case on the Anatoki. For two hours I ran, walked, scrambled and in one place hung on to chains across a cliff face, to make a 10 km dent into the mountainous interior. The valley itself is steep-sided and beech-clad. The trail clings precariously to the slope high above the roaring river below. Ever-present are the sounds of water cascading its way towards the river’s terminus in Golden Bay. It was a wonderful, wild experience. And, as I turned round to re-trace my steps it became an increasingly wet experience. The heavens opened, the trail became a stream and my smile just kept getting bigger. This for me is the essence of a great trail running experience – a journey of exploration into a previously unvisited area on a trail that offers little in the way of help. It was quite simply a great Running Wild experience!
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