The Badge Collector - Iestyn Lewis
I've always been a fan of Jahn Pahwa's kunanyi-Wellington Loop. The concept of non-competitive trail running challenges has always appealed to me. I love the freedom of testing myself on a course at a time of my choosing, without the pressures of racing.
This concept has been taken to the next level by the Wilder Trails team, with currently 9 routes throughout Tasmania, showcasing some of the amazing trail running the state has to offer. That's about 180 kms of trail running heaven with 8000m of elevation.
Given the uncertainty of travelling anywhere to participate in any races at the moment these numbers started to germinate into a running challenge. One that wouldn't require a support crew or too much planning. So I booked myself a week off work and enrolled Stephen Rae to come and join me in my sufferfest.
The idea was simple - run all 9 Wilder Trails routes in as short a time as possible. Behold, “The Badge Collector”.
I initially thought 3 days was feasible, but planning has never been my strong point and the 1500km of driving pushed it out another day. The hard bit was moulding the route to fit the Maria Island ferry timetable.
Day 4: Labillardiere Loop
Day 1: I woke just before my 3am alarm. The car was already packed. All I had to do was get dressed and pick Stephen up in town. I was anxious to get going, the success or failure of the whole project hinged on ensuring we were on the 10am Maria island ferry.
A dark, but uneventful drive got us to the Cape Raoul car park and the start of the Pole Dancer shortly after 5am. With little moonlight we were dependent on our head torches for the whole of this first stage. The pressure was on. We had given ourselves 2 hours to get out to the cape and back. In daylight this would be easy, but in the dark, knowing that this run was less than 10% of our total mileage for the next few days, striking the balance between speed and sustainability felt hard. Luckily the new Cape Raoul Track is one of the most groomed in Tasmania and the run passed uneventfully, the dawn breaking only as we returned to the car park. We now had 2 hours to get to the ferry terminal in Triabunna.
The journey between the southern tip of the Tasman peninsula and Triabunna is typically Tasmanian, with road works, lots of bends and highly variable roads. The gravel section beyond Kellevie is particularly exciting. Our frantic dash to the boat was rewarded by coffee and cheese toasties on the dockside. The ferry crossing was misty and looking out to Maria Island gave no indication that there were any mountains nearby. Once the ferry docked we had 5 hours to complete Double Trouble. With my naive optimism I thought this would be plenty of time, but it was not. Double Trouble is hard, really hard. The twin summits both finish with long scrambling sections which are more treacherous in low cloud. The large number of snakes on the trail also added to the fun. We made it back to the ferry, just. I had expended more effort than was justified with 7 runs to go. Still, it was worth it. There were no more ferries for 2 days due to the poor weather, and being stuck on Maria for 48 hours with no food would have truly brought an end to the project.
A bumpy ride back to the Triabunna docks brought us to our next objective, the drive to Freycinet and the Frogs Wine Loop. We set off from the Fisheries with 45 mins of daylight remaining. With a bit of luck that might get us to the isthmus. That meant climbing up from Wineglass Bay in the dark, but luckily it hadn’t started to rain yet.
With 3 runs down, our first day was complete and we headed to Friendly Beaches for some food and a few hours sleep.
Day 2: Day 2 began at 4.30am with the drive to St Helens and the Humbug. It was dawn when we started the Humbug. The air was still and it was humid in the low coastal scrub. The mix of flat beaches and coastal wetlands was a nice contrast to the cliffs and endless climbing of the first day. The run finished with much cursing from me as to why there is a 1km road section at the end. This led us back to the car to commence the 4 hour drive to Penguin and the Dial Ranges.
Dialled at Penguin was the run that worried me the most. The route finding seemed complex and in my disorganisation I didn’t have a detailed map of the area. Hanny had advised me to upload the GPX files and use my watch. This worked well and we were able to navigate around this highly mixed course of fire trials and beautiful native forest. We finished in daylight and discussed whether we should run Rock the Cradle or wait until morning.
Day 3: With the bad weather rolling in over Tasmania, common sense prevailed and a 3.30am start saw us starting out from Ronny Creek in the rain. Our process was steady up to Kitchen Hut and shortly after that we spotted torchlight moving towards us. We would soon find ourselves being interrogated by a ranger who was ensuring we weren’t trying to run the Overland Track without a permit. Apparently lots of people have been trying to do this in the last few months. Who are these crazy runners!! Once she was convinced, and we were allowed on our way, we passed the Scott-Kilvert Hut and summited Hanson’s Peak as dawn was breaking. We raced back to the car to head onto our next destination, Mount Field. The long drive was shared whilst we took turns trying to sleep in the passenger seat.
By lunchtime the promised storm was well and truly covering southern Tasmania. Fields of Gold would have been better run in waders. We were both tired by this point and made the decision to go as lightweight as possible around the short level 1 route. I rarely go into the mountains without my survival gear and I quickly realised that carrying no gear for this run was a folly. We were tired and displaying poor judgment. We were now racing against the cold and any further mistakes would cost us dearly. Eventually we made it to the ski tow and the rickety board walk home. 7 runs down, 2 to go.
We drove back to Stephen’s house in West Hobart. We had one hour in which to eat, dry some gear and ignore all the bad weather alerts. We were off to run the original Wilder Trail, the kunanyi-Wellington loop. Thankfully our bad weather running buddy, Manu, was coming along to ensure we didn’t do anything too silly. There was plenty of chat as we headed out along the rivulet track. Manu reported that he felt like the sober driver. The giddy banter stopped abruptly as we began to climb. My world shrank to my head torch beam, my foot placements and to thoughts of why I was climbing a mountain in the dark in the middle of a storm. No good reason came to mind, but still I continued moving forward and upwards. The Chalet brought some temporary shelter and a chance to put on all our clothes before we hit the maelstrom on the summit and the sprint from the car park down the zigzag track to get out of the wind. We were slow finishing after that. We were tired and so close to finishing the project, and keen to not get injured at this late stage.
We finished before midnight and headed to my house for the night. One more run to do, the Labillardiere loop on Bruny. 18km to finish this silly challenge, we just had to get there.
Day 4: We treated ourselves to a lie-in and made it in plenty of time to catch the 7.30am ferry, only to find the cafe was closed! This was disappointing. A hot drink would have been more satisfying than chocolate milk and red bull. The crossing was smooth and the storm had passed, and we could see the summit of the mountain. A few hours later we found ourselves at Jetty Beach and the start of the Labillardiere loop. This route has one of the best downhills anywhere. About 3km of flowing trail from the hills to an isolated beach that we shared with a pair of sea eagles. Then 5km of undulating coast line back to the finish. It was done.
My favourite run was Rock the Cradle, despite being interrogated by a ranger at 5.30am. The run to not underestimate is Double Trouble. It's a struggle to fit it in between the morning and afternoon ferries, and it is the toughest run on the list.
On the subject of food, I don't think I've ever consumed so many pies and so much chocolate milk. Also I am sure Stephen was consuming an almost lethal amount of Red Bull and Coke, but given the lack of sleep over the 3 days it may have been just the right amount.
Whilst there were a few low moments (climbing kunanyi at night in torrential rain was miserable. Thanks Manu Mossman for supporting this leg), this was one of the most enjoyable trail running adventures I've ever had. The Wilder Trails team are on to something here.
Matt Pearce keeps reminding me that Wilder Trails are going to add more routes to the list and so they should. I suppose that means I might be doing this lap again with a few extra runs added in. I am happy to do that, I hope Stephen Rae will be happy to join me, but next time we might find a support crew.