Friday, July 10, 2009

Grose Endurance - (1999 Flash back)

This week I thought I'd just share an old story from the past -now almost 10 years old and is without question my proudest running/ athletic achievement.

Would anyone be up for a 10 year reunion run down the Grose River this December??
- I can only promise one thing: it will be the toughest day of your life....

Thanks to Brendan for being involved and writting up the story

“Grose Endurance”
- The Story of the conquering of the Grose Valley
By Brendan Luchetti

Gorge succeeded gorge, each bend of the river disclosing scenery of a wilder character than the last, the Stupendous Cliffs of rock on either side gradually enroaching more and more upon the narrow bed of the stream. Ever and anon the comparative even flow of the river was broken into a tumultuous series of rapids while the wild tangle of undergrowth through which we forced our way would occasionally give place to a number of rocky ledges along which we would tramp with a relieved and lengthened stride (Cecil Webb, August 1916, on the challenges of walking the Grose Valley).

They enter the Devils Wilderness after eight hours and fifty kilometers of rock hopping, scrub bashing, swimming, and wading down the Grose Gorge.
Follow the river.

Deep fatigue of muscle and mind, slippery rocks, blankets of vines, sheets of shin skin stripping undergrowth, boulders, rapids, snakes, leeches, mosquitoes, hypothermia, heat stroke, hunger and cramps have made the first eight hours of forward progress all the more challenging.

It serves well as an apprenticeship for the aspiring one day Grose Valley masters. It is the next twisted and unforgiving passage of river through an area aptly named the Devils Wilderness that breaks wills and trades in character.

Ben Artup and Terry Donges have been here before, twice, in ill-fated attempts to travel the length of the river in a day. They were unhappy times and the memories of them must be kept at bay, for at this level of exhaustion it becomes a contest of the mind.

Intense concentration is needed to hop from boulder to rock to log and to constantly find the path of least resistance through the Gorge, this must be maintained while the mind contends with other demands, namely resisting the bodies pleas for mercy. You lose concentration you fall.

Confident that this time they have the edge, they begin moving again knowing that all questions are about to be answered, their moment of truth awaits, soon they will be revealed as either false prophets or true Grose valley endurance gurus.
Behind them, still moving through the wilderness is Brendan Trotter, it is his first attempt and he must finish on this day. Not that he is any more vulnerable to a night in the bush, no, he would rather celebrate his twenty first birthday, the next day, with family and friends in preference to a solitary period of introspection in the bush.

After falling early in the day and gashing his forehead he had dropped off the pace and had not been sighted or heard respond to a shout for more than four hours. His will be a uniquely tough day. But they cannot wait.

Race the sun.

Travelling light, failure to go the distance means a cold, hungry night in the bush. This is an ugly reality when you are an absolute spent force. In carrying only enough readily digestible food to last one-day the die has been cast.
Success is the only option.


The valley known as The Grose was twenty million years in the sculpting and stretches from Mt.Victoria to Richmond and contains within its intimidating walls some of the most stunning wilderness in the Blue Mountains national park.
It is a landscape of Basalt caps, shale ridge tops, sandstone ridges and plateaus, steep gorges, plunging canyons and majestic forests. Innumerable trees and spectacular sheer rock walls dominate the vista.

As well as receiving the reverence and respect of bushwalkers, campers, and busloads of snap shot tourists atop of lookouts, the Grose also attracts another type of pilgrim. Those drawn by the menace, the presence of something wild and untamed, the whispered challenges of nature. Rock climbers, base jumpers, canyoners and bush athletes of extreme breeding have all found outlets for their various desires within the Grose Wilderness for many years.

There is cave graffiti to evidence that rugged types were bushwalking through the Grose Valley as early as 1890. It was considered a difficult five day walk for experienced bushwalkers, this was somewhat confirmed when the star bushwalking duo of Cecil Webb and Harry Whitehouse completed the journey from Blackheath to Richmond in four days in 1916.

It was not until the 1930s, the halcyon days of bushwalking, that this benchmark was challenged. Gordon Smith, an outdoorsman much revered for his exploits of endurance skill and bravado in the upper Blue Mountains region, deemed it possible to walk from Blackheath to Richmond in a weekend.

In October 1936 he set out to prove it accompanied by two equally distinguished bushwalkers Max Gentle and Hilma Galiott. They made it. The envelope had been pushed to two days and this was again the time it took Gentle the following year when he walked it with Dot Butler, famous for her preference to bushwalk barefoot.
This remained the pinnacle of bush endurance for half a century until a man drawn often to the flame of ultra endurance again challenged it.

Peter Treseder is a man who has been in the news of late for his endeavors in Antarctica where once again he demonstrated his capacity for adversity in attempting to pull a sled across the frozen continent.

Treseder has cooked up and devoured a feast of extreme challenges in, out and through the Grose Valley, including a twenty-six canyon, 83-hour endurance marathon, and several one-day completions of the Grose from Blackheath to Yarramundi in the 1980s. No body has completed the journey faster from this point than Peter Treseder has, yet others have looked beyond this feat in the last few years and once more pushed the Grose Valley endurance envelope.

Springwood local Ben Artup developed a deep affinity for the Grose Valley as a boy, his father exposing him and his brothers to the beauty and perils of extended trekking in the Grose early in their lives. Returning three days overdue on his first Grose Valley expedition the nine-year-old Artup also got an early taste of the hardships the wilderness can inflict on those who enter its domain.

Whilst developing into a national level triathlete, Artup maintained his interest in the Grose and when he finally realized that the sport of triathlon is not challenging enough he got passionate about the thin blue line running through two 1:25000 scale maps. Despite the thousands of small red lines lacing the topography he decided that not only would “Eddy go”, but that he also would dare to go where no man has before.

With the increasingly rare opportunity to claim a “never been done”, Ben plotted a new starting point, the actual genesis of the Grose River, a further fifteen kilometers upstream from what had been the traditional launching point for one day Grose Valley epics.

So it was on a balmy December morning in 1997 that a bright eyed and optimistic young triathlete set out from Victoria falls, near Mt. Victoria, and accompanied by two companions began moving towards Richmond, seventy five kilometers to the east. With hope in their hearts and wings on their heels, they planned to arrive that evening.

His companions on this day also heralded from competitive triathlon backgrounds. Terry Donges was an accomplished Ironman Triathlon performer, a strong and mature endurance athlete he was familiar with the rigors of daylong endurance events. The third member of the group was the athlete formerly known as ‘Skello’ who was fitter than most at that time and a club based triathlete of some standing.

Things began badly in 97 and got much worse. The day was a hot one and the water level in the river was up, thirty-five degrees Celsius and slippery rocks. Two hours in and the problems with the pace began.

Skello was starting to fall behind and Artup and Donges grew anxious of their schedule, neither wanting to spend a night in the bush. Four hours in and Skello was losing all his rest periods, the five minutes at the end of each hour assigned for eating, drinking, stretching and rest. The man in most need of a rest would arrive five minutes after his fitter companions and be forced to keep running so as to make up time. Artup and Donges encouraged him and kept waiting, but grew increasingly concerned of their predicament as the day drew on and they fell further and further behind their schedule.

Skello was giving it all he had, but he was not up to the task on the day. As he pushed through his fatigue he grew increasingly more incoherent and confused, and soon began stumbling and falling over at regular intervals. Soon after he began hallucinating, claiming to see nuns on the riverbank.

He was losing speech coordination and frothing at the mouth when he finally fell into the river, uttering “leave me” before floating face down past a now distraught Artup and Donges.

Deep in the recesses of the Devils Wilderness they pulled him from the river and stabilized him, making camp for the evening on a rock. No food, no fire, no shelter, nothing but a space blanket and body heat to keep warm.
It only got worse.

The space blanket ripped on the rocks and disintegrated into a hundred small pieces, then the clouds of mosquitoes arrived and went to work on every exposed inch of skin and through some clothing too. When the mossies fled at about two in the morning they all moaned a sigh of relief, then the thunder clapped and the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down until dawn.

Up at first light, wet, cold, stiff, sore, tired and hungry they walked through to Faulconbridge point, where they climbed up the ridge and walked the further 11-km along the fire trail back into civilization.

Talk of another assault began almost immediately and “G.V 98” was hatched. Plans were made to be fitter, better prepared and to leave Skello at home, not that he had put his hand up to do it again.

Rumor has it that he turned into a recluse after his harrowing experiences and refuses to discus his trip to the edge or details of his previous life as an athlete with anyone to this day.

In the intervening year Donges completed the notorious Hawaiian Ironman triathlon in ten hours while Artup turned his hand to Marathon running, winning his debut race.
This increase in fitness would prove to be their downfall. Donges never completely recovered from his effort in Hawaii and had nursed injuries in the weeks leading up to G.V 98. Artup was talking of an all out, flat chat, tilt at the clock.
Very confident at the start they went out hard and made remarkable progress throughout the morning until Terry slipped and fell heavily on the wet rocks, straining his ankle ligaments and soleus muscle.

Hampered by the injury it was agreed that Ben would push on solo with his attempt to complete the journey in a day. Terry, refusing to turn back and walk out through Blue Gum Forest which they had passed several hours earlier, continued on at a reduced pace with the aim to make it to Faulconbridge Point and walk out there, a dogged undertaking for an injured man.

Unbridled of passengers or luggage as Artup sometimes refers to his travelling companions, he really began to open the throttle. In a quest to beat the sun he pushed himself onwards, digging deep into his reserves he was well ahead of schedule
deep into the Devils Wilderness when the strange music began.

Aural hallucinations, a product of the river noises and a tired mind began to plague him. Hearing voices and music, he began expecting to see campers around the next bend, must be the next one, the next…..With every corner unveiling only another lonely stretch of scrub, rock and water his heart began to sink because he needed to see some one, for at this stage he badly needed food. His energy levels had depleted faster than expected due to the pace he had been moving and all the food he had carried was long gone.

Artup hit the wall in the Devils wilderness, no food and no fuel in the tank. He nursed his body along on empty getting to Faulconbridge Point at three in the afternoon with plenty of time left to get to Richmond.

Instead, bankrupt of energy, Artup sat down to wait for Donges and fell promptly asleep, waking thirty minutes later he decided to cut his losses and withdraw and so began an agonizing, energy depleted climb up the ridge to the lookout and fire trail. Three times he stopped and slept before reaching the top just upon darkness. After walking the 11 kilometers back to Springwood he informed his supporters of their days campaign, confirming that Donges was still in the Grose Valley, again, and that he was injured as well.

Spending his night at Wentworth Cave, Terry had the benefit of a fire this time and some overhead protection, but that aside the mosquitoes still attacked in vast armies, it was cold, he was tired and very bloody hungry. Terry walked out at Faulconbridge the next morning, the bloodied flesh of his legs, hands and arms bearing testament to the savagery of the scrub whilst a fat bruised ankle confirmed he wasn’t limping for sympathy.

Two days later G.V.’99 was on the drawing board. Billed as a final assault, no stone was left unturned in preparation as the lessons from the previous two ordeals had shredded all false bravado and ignorance to the magnitude of the challenge. This was definitely going to be the last attempt, death or glory, three strikes and they’re out.

Training took on zeal never previously seen, as all other sporting endeavors were put on the back burner and the Grose took precedence in 99. The training became very specific and thousands of kilometers were logged in preparation, many of them in the creeks and canyons of the Blue Mountains national parks.

Although the contenders at one stage numbered six, on the morning of December 22 1999 three men set off from Victoria Falls, once more hoping to be in Richmond by evening. Donges and Artup were joined by Brendan Trotter, a renowned endurance hard-man he took up the challenge one day shy of his twenty first birthday, and whilst he had no intentions of sleeping in the bush that night, his travelling partners held some reservations about his lack of experience over the terrain.

They began running at pre-dawn using torches to navigate their way until the sun penetrated the deep recesses of the valley.

Having camped out in Blue Gum forest the previous evening I was on hand to monitor their first rest period when they came through at about 6.30 a.m. Things were going well at this point. They were on schedule, in good spirits and physically intact after the early stages of the event. After some food, several photos and a joke, once more they pressed onwards. Follow the river.

There would be no further indication of their progress until they reached Wentworth Cave, near Faulconbridge point, the sight of a food drop and energy repatriation station.

Once more, deep in the heart of the Grose Valley wilderness human drama unfolded.
Several hours on from Blue Gum Forest, the G.V rookie and first timer, Brendan Trotter fell hard onto the rocks he was negotiating, cracking his forehead hard enough to open up a cut above his right eye. Dazed and bleeding he began to slow, leaving once more Artup and Donges with an agonizing decision to make. It was quickly decided after a crisis meeting that they would continue onwards at the best possible pace and alert the support crew at Faulconbridge Point of his plight. If he could keep moving forward at a reduced pace help would be with him by nightfall.
With some reservations, Donges and Artup pressed forward towards the Devils Wilderness and Richmond, after resting for a period so too did Trotter, after all, he liked to party, and there was one in his honour the following day that he was determined not to miss.

This time they were not to be denied, Artup and Donges made it through to Richmond in just over 15 hours. After making fast progress through the early and mid stages they had slowed over the final section, each claiming to have nursed the other through the final hours, and to have been held up accordingly.

Met by family, friends and well wishers at their designated exit point, there was much bonhomie and revelry and general feelings of accomplishment and achievement, in the Artup and Donges camps. For the Trotters the arrival of Terry and Ben, without Brendan was not a happy sight.

Waiting at the river until night descended John Trotter, Brendan’s father (who also has a two-day completion of the Grose under his belt) remained optimistic, resisting calls for a rescue party to go back in at Faulconbridge and look for his boy.
Despite the stories of his fall, he maintained a lonely vigil by the riverbank. His faith was finally rewarded, when with most of the group heading back to the cars John lingered by the river long enough to see Brendan materialize from the darkness. Battered, bloodied and bruised, he had dragged himself onwards for an incredible ten hours on his own through country he had only heard about before, never seen.
Celebrating the success of G.V 99 on Christmas Eve at Springwoods’ Oriental Hotel, Trotter, Donges and Artup were all in remarkable spirits and good health and all were recovering quickly. The only question that lingered was one of speed, could it be done faster? Trotter thinks so and is already talking of improving the mark come December, Artup had stated previously that once successful he would be looking at new challenges, and maintains the only reason he would do it again would be to race Peter Treseder in an attempt to claim the fastest completion, whilst Donges seems content to once more focus solely on the Ironman triathlons, with Foster looming in April.

In pondering why one would bother with such carry on during the rambunctious and rowdy celebrations, it was said that unless you try to do something beyond which you have already mastered you will never grow.
Bar tender, make that a double!

4 comments:

Sarge said...

I am exhausted after reading that!! Maybe I can get Mr G to do a mini version to Faulco Point.

Scam Bullant said...

Runners left behind by Sleep Train to get themselves out of bush they have never seen before.

I cant imagine what that must be like!

Unknown said...

Fantastic! Now, that is how you write a story.
I will put my hand up for support crew duties.

Scam - can you map this one please?

Primal Runner said...

I'm willing to be left behind in the bush...