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St Mary's Peak

Wilpena Pound, South Australia
One of the reasons I love running, is that it enables me to go places and see things that are not as readily accessible to other people.  This is particularly true of National Parks and other wild areas, but things don't always go smoothly.

The Flinders Ranges in South Australia has been one of my favourite places to visit and run for many years, but was also the location for one of my minor running dramas.  In May 1977, we had journeyed there with another couple, travelling in separate vehicles, and arrived in mid-afternoon and set up camp.  Inspired by the great scenery, I decided that I could squeeze in a long run before sundown and set out at 4pm to run a loop from the campground up to St Mary's Peak, and then return through Wilpena Pound, a huge natural amphitheatre.  This was advertised as a full-day 22km hike, but I left confident that I could do it in a couple of hours and looked forward to the sunset from the 1171 metre St Mary's Peak en route.

The view from St Mary's Peak
The first 3km climbed gradually, but was quite runnable along a dry bush trail with the rim of the Pound looming to my left.  But the next few kilometres climbed very steeply, and despite trying to run all but the rock-climbing bits, it was very slow going.  The sky was heavily overcast and twilight was approaching when I finally reached the ridge that edged Wilpena Pound.  Even though light was fading, I still made the one kilometre journey along the rim and up to St Mary's Peak, despite more very slow going.  I have always had trouble backing down on a plan once decided.  Some might call it stubbornness.  The sunset was everything I had hoped for.  It was exhilarating standing on the Peak, all alone, surveying the vast plains to the west and the chain of clearly defined and stratified mountains stretching away to the north.  Here and there was a twinkle of light marking a settlement of some sort.

Having enjoyed the moment, I now began to focus on the task ahead of me - getting back to camp before dark.  Common sense would have dictated a return via the same route, which was a lot shorter, but I was determined to follow my original plan and began a helter-skelter descent into the middle of the Pound along a rough track in gathering gloom.

Inside Wilpena daylight!
By the time I reached the valley floor it was almost pitch dark, but the trail had improved, was more even underfoot and with its route defined by the bordering vegetation.  This was fine for a few kilometres, but as it got even darker, the vegetation became sparser and the sandy trail almost impossible to follow.  I moved forward at snail's pace peering into the darkness to confirm I was still on the trail.  It was clear that if I lost the trail, the chances of finding it again in the darkness were negligible and I would be spending my night in the Pound.  Whenever I felt I may have lost the trail, I retraced my steps to a known place and then resumed my cautious progress.  Several times, I was literally down on my knees feeling for the sand of the trail with my hands to determine it's existence and direction.

Eventually, I reached the creek the trail followed out of the Pound and back to the campsite through a rocky gorge.  In places the narrow and rough trail hugged the rocky and steep banks just above the creek and on two occasions I fell into the inky black water.  Fortunately, it was only knee deep.  The trail became easier to follow as I neared the campground and I reached the camp office around 8pm to find my wife and friends consulting with the Park Ranger about a rescue plan.  Very embarrassing.

After yesterday's run, and in bed last night, my arthritic right knee was sore, so I decided to run this morning without the arch support insoles I have been wearing the last ten days.  I hoped this might ease the strain on my suspect knee, but I also knew I needed to be wary of aggravating the right arch problem.  The solution seemed to be a shorter run, which is what I did.  The arch stung a little the whole way, but the knee seemed to welcome the change.

I have some different insoles on order, that are a little lower in the arch, and I hope, a little lighter than the current version.  They should be here by now, and when they do arrive, my hope is that they will be part of the transition back to running without the special insoles.