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Staring into the abyss

Queenstown, New Zealand.

Back in January of 1979, while touring New Zealand, three running friends and I decided to circumnavigate Ben Lomond, the mountain that overlooks Queenstown.  We planned the route on a road map in our campsite, but didn't have a good idea of how far the run would be, or what we might encounter.

We set off westwards at a good clip on the road following the shore of Lake Wakatipu.  However, the easy running ended as we turned north up Moke Lake Road, climbing 300 metres in just 3km.  At this point, 10km from Queenstown, Keith decided to turn back, and the three of us continued over the saddle and down to Moke Lake.  After the Lake, what was now just a four-wheel-drive track followed a gradually narrowing valley, frequently crossing back and forth across the shallow gravelly creek.  JB and I, both handy steeple-chasers and occasional long-jumpers, were keeping our feet dry with huge leaps across the widening creek, while enjoying the sight of the less agile Pratty occasionally landing short.  Our amusement waned further downstream when it became too wide for us to clear and we all continued on with wet feet.

Moke Creek valley.

We were now in remote and barren mountainous country with few tracks and no signposts, and began to get concerned about the route back to Queenstown.  I felt confident that we would be OK if we just kept Ben Lomond to our right, but without maps and a birds-eye view, we couldn't be sure of exactly where we were, or even our direction of travel.  After two hours, we reached a point where the track we were following veered leftwards to cross the creek and head in what I thought was the wrong direction.  High up on the mountain to our right, I could see a faint goat track crossing the slope that seemed to be going in my preferred direction.

JB and Pratty weren't too keen to climb up the steep heath-like mountainside to reach the track, preferring the four-wheel-drive track we were on.  After some good-natured debate, we split up and I began climbing the steep slope.  About half-way up, while scrambling on all fours across a patch of heath and vine, I became aware of a cold draft coming from below me.  Peering down through the vegetation, I was alarmed to see nothing but a black abyss, an old gold-mine shaft!  I inched forward, holding on to the most substantial stems and branches I could find, hoping they did not give way. After a few terrifying minutes, I reached terra firma, pondering the wisdom of the route I had chosen.  Too proud to follow my mates, I continued on very slowly up the steep slope, carefully making sure of the ground beneath my feet.

Moonlight Creek and Arthurs Point.

I finally reached the track I had seen, which turned out to be reasonably well-worn and quite runnable.  I followed it round the contour of the mountain, increasingly confident I had made the right choice, and eventually reached Arthurs Point and the road back to Queenstown.  I arrived back at the campsite just under four hours after I had left and spent the next few hours wondering and worrying about JB and Pratty, who I now knew had headed off in the wrong direction.  Finally, they appeared and told their story.  After they left me they eventually reached the old gold-mining area of Moonlight, where some four-wheel-drivers confirmed they were heading in the wrong direction.  Eventually, they got a series of lifts back to Queenstown.

My exercise today was literally more pedestrian.  I walked about 9km around Copa and Whinney Bay.  There were some long hills, but my cardio-vascular system stayed in the "green zone".  I see the Cardiologist late tomorrow afternoon and am getting a little anxious about what he will say.  I'm prone to optimism, but know I need to be ready to deal with some less-rosy scenarios.