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Chasing mountains in the heat!

I stop. I close my eyes. “Just breathe” I say aloud to myself. My legs are shaking and as I open my eyes, suck in a deep lungful of oxygen and exhale slowly. I am standing on some rocks, perched on the ridge of the mountain line, a sheer drop either side of me. The kind of drop that breaks bones or ends lives. I have run across the famous 4-mile many times before, but I have never done it alone. I have never done it knowing that my only survival from a fall is the EPIRB I carry in my pack. The phone doesn’t work out here and I know that hitting the EPIRB means only one thing – helicopter rescue. I try not to think about what would happen if I hit my head and thus couldn’t hit the magic button. I remind myself that I could still fall even with a friend beside me – the only difference would be someone could reassure me whilst we waited for the helicopter. I remind myself that crossing the road is probably more dangerous than this. I have done this plenty of times and it’s ok to slow down, take a breath and just focus on each step. I smile – this is one of the scariest runs I have done on my own, and yet this feels so freaken awesome. The adrenalin is pumping, my legs are shaking and all of a sudden, I cannot wipe the smile from my face. This is the adventure I live for!

Originally the adventure was going to be a 100km run from Mt Buller, mainly following the Oscars Hut to Hut course because it is such a beautiful part of the world but also because I was not going to be able to participate in the race this year due to other commitments. However, when the forecast was 37C degrees and I realised that I would have to carry about 10L of water and do bag drops just to survive I had a chat with the coach who quickly talked me into a shorter run of ‘only’ 50kms instead. It was safer, I could recover better for my training plan, and I admitted it was going to be more fun not having to worry about survival so much. It is not ‘weak’ to take a safer option for your adventure when factors like the weather come into it, it’s smart.

I headed up to the mountain, a 3.5hr drive from home and arrived about 1pm. I wanted to run tired, and I wanted to run in the dark; I consider it good training for what I have ahead in 2023. I checked and re-checked all my gear. I was carrying a lot. I had planned my run to be crossing rivers in the heat of the day but still had capacity to carry 4L of water. I had plenty of food, I had thermals and a waterproof top; despite the temp in the high 30’s and I had the usual map, compass, whistle, EPIRB, phone battery pack, bivvy bag etc. All up, I would have about 7-8kgs on my back which I definitely felt as I started my run, in the heat of the day and headed up the summit of Mt Buller.

It was a perfect view from the top. 360-degree views of mountains all around me and a beautiful clear blue sky. I was pumped for the big day ahead of me! As I came down from the summit, I knew that I had 4-mile ahead of me and I was super excited to be back on one of my favourite trails. 4-mile is considered to be epic by many runners. There is no trail for most of it – just a sense of where runners have gone before you and occasionally an orange triangle marking the track. You climb over fallen trees, jump over logs, catch your feet on the leaf debris and pray that the snakes have heard you coming and have already moved out of the way. I climbed over rocks, slid down rocks on my bum and teetered on the brink of pure joy and pure fear. Physically I teetered on the top of the range, balancing over rocks, and making sure I had 3-point contact where I could.

As I dropped from the ridge into the bush and started to descend my quads took over the shaking – but this time from the steep downhill that I was now running. I concentrated on picking up my feet to avoid catching the leaf litter on the ground but also looking up to avoid hitting my head on a fallen tree. I love this trail so much that I whooped out loud for joy. As I neared the river almost 8kms later it got very steep, so I pulled my hiking poles from their folded position on my belt and used them to help take my weight and ease up the quads. Suddenly both got stuck at the same time and I kept going. I didn’t let go of the poles and as I skidded onto the ground my arms stayed still and both shoulders took the brunt of the stationary poles, ripping my arms back. I sat on my butt and spoke to my body, “you’re ok” I told it and did a quick check of everything. “You’re ok” I repeated and got up and slowly started to jog again down the hill.

I welcomed the site of the river, both from the adrenalin that was still coursing through me as well as the cool water that I could splash in. It was hot! I put my poles away because my right shoulder ached from my fall, and I crossed the river with excitement. The next section took me alongside the river, on the upper banks, looking down at the snaking Howqua River as it curved around the mountains. I was filled with joy. For the next 18kms I would follow the river and cross it 13 times, splashing around and soaking my shirt and hat. My shoes were never dry, they squelched at me for hours, but I enjoyed the cool down every time I came down to the riverbank. I used the river to fill up my water bottles as I went and soaked up the beauty of the trails. The green lush by the river, the exposed upper riverbed, the sand and rocks on the bank. Whilst the blackberry bushes tried to scratch me, I was cheered on by kookaburras, I was tested by a tiger snake that thankfully got the message early and took off, albeit putting on a beautiful show for me. I checked out Ritchie’s hut and I waved at the campers along the river. As it turned to dusk,

I saw people fly fishing in the river, totally not seeing me crossing the river behind them and the spiders decided to come out and play. Invisible webs formed on the trails before me and I tried desperately to make sure my mouth was shut as I ran into web after web, soon covered in them! I finally took my breath and sat on a rock admiring the rushing water as I ate my ‘dinner’. A mini cheesymite, a boiled potato and a choc chip cookie. Awesome ultra-marathon food. It fuelled me to Pikes Flat camping area where I came around the corner thinking I had heard my local friends and imaging them surprising me. I laughed at myself when I realised it was a young family and the kids were just playing hide and seek.

Darkness was almost on me as I filled up 3.5L at the river – this was all I would have to get me home which was still over 20kms away. I pulled out my headtorch and extended my hiking poles ready for the 13km climb ahead of me. I put my head down, popped a lolly in my mouth and started to hike up the steep incline ahead of me. The spiders were out in force now and my headtorch shone on them as they moved under me, hunting in the night. The track was very overgrown and again I fought with blackberry bushes that I couldn’t see and climbed over and under fallen trees. I loved this section; there was the challenge of the uphill climb, the unknown of the terrain and the knowledge that on a Friday night I was out chasing adventure when most people were getting ready for bed.

As I started to reach the top of the logging track, I knew that I might now get reception and I started to think of hubby and my friend potentially worried that I had not sent a thing all day. I had zero reception since the summit of Mt Buller. I turned my phone off aeroplane mode and waited for a ping. Not long later I heard a message come through and sure enough it was hubby. However, he wasn’t so worried about me – rather sending me a picture of the oysters he had enjoyed earlier. Jealous of his delicious food I sent a quick message to him and my girlfriend to tell them I was ok and where I was on the trail. They both had my plan and my estimated times as part of my safety plan. I switched the

phone back to aeroplane mode to save battery and kept trucking on uphill.

As I hit the 4WD track at the top I knew I was only 3kms from Howqua Hut so I stopped for a break and some food. Perched on a rock in the middle of the night I spotted an owl in the tree nearby and watching it when I heard a car coming down the 4WD track at speed. I turned off my headtorch and prayed whoever it was didn’t see me as they flew past me. If I had not stopped for some food, I would have been on that road with not much room to jump out of the way! I moved quick for the next 3kms up the 4WD track with a niggling fear that the speeding car might come back. I didn’t explore Howqua Hut – I didn’t really want to disturb any campers at 1230 at night. For their sanity and mine I kept going without diverting to the hut.

I had a technical climb up Corn Hill and then some fun mountain bike trail before I was back at the Mt Buller Village. I had already done the summit so a little loop around the mountain and I was back at the car. The body felt awesome. I was slightly tired but could easily have kept going for more. I found a dark parking spot and curled into the back of my car where my mat and sleeping bag were waiting for me. I had some food, and it took some time for the legs to calm down and the rush of the run to soothe enough that I could shut my eyes and get some sleep. As I drifted off, I looked out the back of the car window in awe at the stars that lit up the sky.

It wasn’t until I woke the next morning to the chirping of the birds and the rumbling of my stomach that I started to grasp what an awesome adventure this was. Once again, I tested my body, tested my mind and once again this incredible mind and body of mind delivered.

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