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Shona and Philip Somerville this month took on the "Stump the Hump" challenge, starting at midnight and attempting to finish the tough 55km Hump Ridge Track, near Tuatapere, in one go.
We knew we would be in for a fun but challenging 24 hours. We, Philip (56) and Shona (51), our daughter Megan (25) and her friend Beth Romeril (25) were among the 119 on Southland's second Stump the Hump at Waitangi weekend.
Gathered at the track carpark, we received our final instructions and at midnight we were off at a brisk pace, a long line of head-torches snaking through the dark overcast night.
We marched through forest and along beaches before a steep 900m climb to the first hut, where porridge, coffee and flush toilets were waiting.
That first leg went surprisingly fast, partly because we were in a dark bubble of time and place with little concept of where we had come from or where we were going. Our existence was contained within the few metres illuminated by the beams of our torches.
Circlets and rods of coloured light from strategically placed glowsticks guided us along and up the track.
Check stations were staffed by costumed, cheerful attendants supplying chocolate bars and giant jellybeans, and swing bridges were delightfully decorated with colourful lightsticks.
Eventually, we found ourselves travelling alone, with the occasional small groups overtaking - their lights soon disappearing, like passing trains in the night. And sometimes we would be the ones overtaking.
Soon after our 5.10am half-hour breakfast stop came the first light of day; but, alas, no sunrise over the ocean or vista to Stewart Island.
The mist had thickened to light rain as we wound through much of the 11.5km of boardwalks and through alpine scrub and eerie forest before bursting on to the first of three towering viaducts.
They once carried trainloads of timber along the south coast to Port Craig, where we would have our 40-minute lunch break.
Lots of flat former railway track made the going easier but you had to keep a wary eye out for the rows of nasty short bolts protruding from where sleepers once lay.
We devoured the nutritious minestrone soup and sandwiches provided for lunch before setting out on the final 17km slog. However, as we regathered our strength, feeling just a little smug to have come so far so expeditiously, we heard someone announce the arrival of a gentleman aged merely 76.
The final walk home was the hardest mentally. Philip had been home for only five days after a week's tough West Coast tramping and his legs were heavy, while Shona just wanted to sleep.
The beautiful bush-framed beaches, the warmth now on your back and the gently lapping outgoing tide enticed you to stop and rest and nap. But you daren't, because you might never get going again.
Enthusiast "mad hatter" volunteers at the final check station spurred us on as we plodded the last long 10km, one foot at a time.
Finally, and with incredulity, we spied the finish line, Megan and Beth just in sight ahead.
After 16 hours and 20 minutes - or 90,023 steps according to Megan's counter - we had "stumped the Hump".
While we both are keen walkers and also jog, we were well and truly exhausted by the end. But although a little stiff and with a few blisters, we felt surprisingly good after plenty of well-earned sleep.
Within 24 hours we were both, crazily, thinking it had been great fun - and we could bask in the sense of achievement such adventures bring.
Philip Somerville, editorial manager at the Otago Daily Times, took part courtesy of Hump Track Ltd.
At a glance
- The numbers tripled from the first year.
- Most participants were from Invercargill and Southland, with a sprinkling from around New Zealand.
- Quickest, in 12 hours and 50 minutes, were two "locals" from Blackmount, aged 14 and 20.
- There are no prizes for being first.
- Participants were a mixture of long-distance eventers, weekend trampers, farmers and miscellaneous others.
- Probably a little over half were women with ages from 14 to the 70s, and those in their 40s most heavily represented.
- Our time put us 39th home of the 119.
- Philip has walked the Kepler Track (60km) and jogged the Milford (55km), each in a day, and found the Hump Ridge harder and "longer".
- A few pulled out at the first hut and a few chose to overnight at Port Craig. Most made it within the 24 hours.
- Most wore running shoes, but some boots and gaiters, each having advantages.
- The usual Hump Ridge walk takes three solid days, with two nights in well-equipped huts.
- About 1800 a year walk the track, which is partly on Maori land and partly in Fiordland National Park.
- The track and the Stump the Hump are run by a Tuatapere charitable trust.
- It cost $120 to enter, including breakfast, lunch and little snacks along the way.
- Given the massive energy expenditure, additional snacks are always a good idea.