Mt Cook based runner Lee Cook updates us with the latest from New Zealand’s deam mountain running location, as he builds towards a possible start in this year’s Luxmore Grunt in December-
Times have been tough for mountain running in Mount Cook village of late. The constant mild temperatures we have had since the large snowfall in June have meant the snow in the mountains is still deep yet extremely soft. I’ve managed to do a little bit of mountaineering whilst struggling with Achilles tendonitis which has helped curb my frustrations of being injured and allowed me to get out in the mountains. Even so, post-holing through deep snow isn’t all that much fun. Since I’ve (fingers crossed) recovered from injury, the opportunities for getting up high have been limited and quite repetitive in nature. Whilst I love running up Red and Sealy Tarns, everybody needs a bit of variety. My disdain of pounding the tarmac and running on the flat in general has meant I’ve been largely frustrated.
This weekend I decided that I would try to run up and down Mount Sebastopol (1468m/4816ft) three times. I thought that it would be a good mental test more than anything else. When the going got tough it would be easy to convince myself out of what I’d set out to do, especially as I would return to within 200m of my house every time I descended back to the valley floor. Usually I’m over cautious with fluid intake but I read that Kilian Jornet does his 5-6 hour training runs just drinking from streams. It certainly saves on carrying weight so I thought I’d give it a whirl but deep down I was expecting cramp.
The first section of the climb is up to Red Tarns which is a well maintained track of steps which are quite steep in profile in certain sections. I would guestimate that there are well over 1,000 steps on the way up. Straight away my calf muscles started to feel the usual pump and I tried to run up them as loosely and relaxed as possible, knowing it was going to be a long day. From the tarns the path deviates to a well worn path through a bush line up to the obvious saddle. I don’t think I’ve ever run through this section without bloodied legs and hands. There’s a particular native plant which is extremely sharp. I’ve no idea of its name, all I know is that I f*****g hate it! From that point onwards there is no real path and you’re really just heading for the summit. This section is technical running and you need to watch your footing as the terrain is quite crumbly in places. Towards the summit ridge there are a number of rocky pinnacles and some scrambling is required in places. There was still quite a bit of snow on the summit which required some post-holing for around 20m. Usually the view from the top is pretty spectacular and most of the national park can be seen. On this particular day I got a stunning view of the inside of a rain cloud! Mt Sebastopol is usually my favourite descent of the mountains in the area. Some technical descending is required near the summit, then some fun in deep scree before trying to smash down the 1000+ steps. Usually I go for it hell for leather but I didn’t want to destroy my legs for the next two summits.
I checked my watch at the valley floor and I was at 1 hr 5mins up and down. I won’t bore you with a description of each time I went up and down the same route. I felt really good on the second summit and managed a 1hr 1mins up and down. I found the third attempt pretty tough going, my legs had started to fatigue and I was definitely working much harder to keep going. I was still happy with 1hr 4mins and therefore 3hrs 10 total. One major positive was that I hadn’t cramped or even had the twinges of cramp considering I had drunk fairly little. I also finished knowing that if I wanted I definitely could have done it again so I think my endurance base is a lot better than last season. Looking forward to getting out in the mountains this summer, in particular having a go at running the Ball Pass.