Vistas reward the exertion required

Light-headed towards end

Last updated 11:38 08/02/2013
Bridget Railton
SUPPLIED
Bridget Railton celebrates crossing the finish line of the Stump the Hump - 17 hours after starting.

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It takes a lot, an awful lot to stump as Newslink reporter Bridget Railton found out.

There aren't enough words in the English language to adequately describe Tuatapere's Stump the Hump and the Hump Ridge Track.

Pain and suffering are experienced in equal measure with awe and reverence as unforgettable sights offset muscle cramps and blisters.

Stump the Hump challenges participants to experience a day in the life of the Hump Ridge Track and walk - all 55km in 24 hours.

Neither a race, nor a run, it falls into a somewhat confused category, attracting endurance fiends nationwide who enjoy pushing themselves to the limit for no apparent gain.

Then there are people like me, endurance-curious but not quite up to a Kepler Challenge or Routeburn Classic event.

Packs adorned with glow sticks coupled with the pre-race buzz of 200 excited Stumpers, creates an almost festival vibe. Indeed, one group of walkers, complete with a Batman, banana and Superman, look more akin to a wayward group of Wellington rugby sevens revellers than endurance athletes embarking on a 24-hour hike.

Unashamedly quirky, that is the appeal of Stump the Hump. You just don't quite know what to expect.

We set off at midnight, 200 Stumpers hyped-up on electrolytes and sugar descend into the ethereal darkness of Fiordland by moonlight.

A short walk through bush before dropping down on to the beach - spirits are high and chatter is chirpy as glow-in-the-dark markers cheerily indicate our path along the sand.

Three hours later and part-way up a mountain the collective mood takes a dive.

Breath is short and energy stores even shorter as the first wave of fatigue sets in.

The sphere of light afforded by my head torch is occasionally invaded by boot-laden feet, the owners of which lie panting off track as tuckered-out trampers take a moment to catch their breath.

At one stage I cast my eyes heavenward and see the horizon littered with stars - thank goodness, I think, I can't be far from the top.

Then the stars start moving and realisation dawns - the stars are in fact the headlights of those much further up the mountain and I still have to get up there, somehow.

The glow sticks no longer seem merry, rather taunting sabres of doom mocking me and my inability to reach the summit.

Finally, just before dawn, I make it to Okaka Lodge. Porridge has never been so well received.

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It is while walking along the ridge as the pink light of dawn creeps along the horizon that I truly appreciate the magnitude of the experience.

The sun peeks over the Southern Ocean, tendrils of light illuminating Stewart Island in the distance with a golden-pink glow, annihilating any feelings of ill-will from the night before.

It's breath-taking. But we are by no means finished.

A steady down-hill slog through podocarp forest is next on the agenda and, boosted by handfuls of gummy bears and chocolate, a steady pace ensures I will reach the next hut before lunchtime.

Downhill is hard though. I feel certain I've made medical history by having the first case of combusting knee caps, such is the burn in my patella.

Bone grinding on bone - cartilage is but a distant memory.

By 9am, the path flattens and weary bones are given a respite from the constant downhill pull of gravity. A gentle meander through lush green forest becomes the norm, following the old wooden tracks leading to the mighty Percy Burn viaduct - thought to be the largest remaining wooden viaduct in the world.

An hour from Port Craig is when craziness sets in. Someone steps in a puddle - hilarious. A tree branch flicks you in the face - side-splittingly funny. Not even the gummy bears can pull me out of the mad reverie physical and mental exhaustion has pulled me into.

The sight of Port Craig lodge nestled among the trees is the most welcome sight I have ever clapped eyes on.

There lies salvation in the form of sandwiches, seats and a medic armed with litres of anti-flamme.

With just 17km to go no-one seems keen to rest for too long. As spectacular as the surroundings are, I haven't slept in 31 hours and bed is calling.

The last stretch. Collective hallucinations of road signs and domestic animals lurking in the bush become commonplace in the final hours as exhausted brains try to make sense of immense surroundings. I swear there was a give way sign in that tree.

As I descend onto the beach for the last few kilometres, the chance to soak my battered and blistered feet in the Southern Ocean makes me want to weep with joy.

One slow, torturous hour later I cross the finish line at Rarakau car park.

With a final time of 17 hours 26 minutes, I can rest easy in the knowledge I didn't get "stumped" by the Hump Ridge Track.

Eighteen people opted for an air-lift by helicopter rather than walk the whole track. Yet I feel no smugness when I compare my effort to theirs.

Do not be fooled - Stump the Hump is hard.

Pain and suffering yes, but worth every second.

- NewsLink

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