Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Tasmanian Adventure

Standing at the Southernmost accessible point in Tasmania

A lot has happened since my last substantial post here.  Since returning from the South Pole, I was mostly playing "catch-up" at work...trying to spin my projects back up to where they were before I left.  But then, after being home for just a month, I literally hopped on a plane and headed right back to where I had just come from.....the South Pacific.  This time, I was headed for an international conference in Hobart, Tasmania.  The IPICS meeting (International Partnership in Ice Coring Sciences) was one that I had applied to attend several months ago, but honestly wasn't holding out hope that I'd actually get to attend.  The travel alone was incredibly pricy, and despite two of my abstracts being accepted, I just didn't think that my new job would approve me to go.  But then, I was awarded an Early Career travel grant through a partner University, and voila, suddenly it was looking more plausible.  At the last minute, I did get word from the higher-ups at my new job, that I was officially approved for the international travel, and it was GO! I have never spent any time in Australia, other than at airports, and here I was destined for the one place I've been wanting to spend time since I was about 5 years old:  Tasmania!

As excited as I was to be spending time in this beautiful part of Australia, I was honestly more excited about the meeting/conference.  I went to the IPICS meeting back in 2012 (it happens only every 4 years) and it was the best meeting of my entire graduate school tenure.  It truly is the meeting that focuses most directly on the research I do...and brings in just about everyone else in the world that also does similar research.  There were several hundred scientists, researchers, and graduate students in attendance this year, and I sat through nearly every single talk, presentation, and special session.  I presented two posters related to my work, and was asked some great questions.  All in all, it was a fantastic conference that really paid off.  And, in addition to all of this, on the day before the official conference started, a group of Early-career ice-core researchers hosted a "Ice Core Young Scientist" meeting that was geared towards graduate students and recent grads just starting their careers (like myself!).  For me, this was probably the most beneficial component of the entire conference, as many mid-career level scientist gave advice on navigating the tricky and often frustrating world of the early-career scientist.  I learned betters ways to apply for grants, better ways to write manuscripts, and better ways to seek collaboration.  I even heard many speak of the current setbacks with a life in academia, particularly when a spouse or partner is also involved.

Early Career Ice-Core Young Scientist (ICYS) Sub-Meeting
(I'm sitting in front row)

At any rate, a trip to someplace like Australia just wouldn't be a proper trip for someone like me, if it didn't also involve a LOT of running and/or hiking in fun places.  While at the South Pole a few months prior, I had made arrangements with some folks to sign up for, and run, a trail festival immediately following the IPICS meeting in Tasmania.  Many of my coworkers from South Pole were planning on backpacking around Tasmania that same week and we were hoping to put together a solid "reunion" of South Polies at a kick-ass trail festival.  I'm getting a head of myself here though....I would be remiss if I didn't first talk about the running around town in Hobart, and my many adventures up the local mountain: Mt. Wellington (a 4000' technical climb only a few miles away).

Every day after the conference ended, I'd spend most of the evening thrashing around in the Park/Preserve behind my quaint little air-bnb.  There was plenty of climbing involved, and I could usually get in a fun 5-8 mile loop on beautiful trails.  The other nice thing was that as busy as Hobart was as a city, as soon as I stepped out that back door and headed into the Preserve, I never saw a single other soul....unless you count Wallabies.  I saw dozens of those little guys.

A wallaby greeting me on my evening run.

A typical "loop" in the Knocklofty Perserve

When I wasn't busy playing around in the Preserve behind my place, I took on the loftier challenge of bagging Mt. Wellington Summits in one push.  It took me a few times up and down the mountain to figure out the most direct/shortest route.  This route was about 13 miles total, but had about 3-4 miles of road running.  If I opted for the trail-only route, it made it about 15 total.

In total, I summited Mt. Wellington 5 times during my 7 day stay in Hobart...each climb totaling about 4500 feet of gain.  The trail system going up the most-direct mountain route was no joke either, about 1000' per mile on very technical and rocky tread.  It was loads of fun, which is why I just couldn't help myself from doing it so much.  I even did a night climb up it mid-week with my headlamp.  Generally each ascent involved running the lead-up, power hiking the major climb (4 miles), and then running most of the way back.  My best round trip was a little over 3 hours.

Direct-route up Mt. Wellington from my air-bnb

Mid-climb, looking back at Hobart

Looking out from the vista near the summit back at Hobart

On the Summit benchmark with 
view of transmission tower and parking area

During my week in Hobart, I totaled over 100 miles of running/hiking and well over 30k' of gain.  In retrospect, this was probably not the wisest thing to do before heading to the Tassie Trail Festival to run over 100k...but like I said, I just couldn't help myself.  I figured I spent over 24 hours on planes to get there, I was going to milk the trails for everything I could. was on to the Trail Fest.

This was the inaugural year for the Tassie Trail fest ( and while I knew that it would likely go well, I was a little worried about logistics.  You just never know how the first year of any event might/could go.  The biggest issue for me was that the festival was way up on the North end of Tasmania, which required me renting a car, and making accommodation arrangements in the town.  The small town of Derby was hosting the event, and most of the course was on newly-developed mountain bike trails.  Derby used to be a tin-mining town, but after they closed the mines down, the town decided to develop a fantastic network of trails to hopefully draw in the lucrative mountain biking community.  For us, this meant running on some of the most beautiful and well-groomed trails I've ever seen.  The one down side to Derby, is that there were basically zero resources in town.  There were a couple of small cafe's, and a few corner stores....but really nothing else.  I managed to secure a rented room in a old motel-style bar...above the bar.  Needless to say, it wasn't always easy getting to sleep at night over the raucous noise below me down in the bar.

The festival itself featured several events stretched out over the entire long-weekend...and all of the events were marathon or shorter (although the marathon was actually about 28 miles).  During registration, they offered a "slam" package for the entire weekend which would involve running 5 total events, with upwards of 100k total distance.  Of course why would anyone NOT want to do the weekend slam?  Right?

So my schedule looked like this for the weekend:
Saturday : 7:00 AM : Trail Marathon (28+ miles, 45K)

Sunday:    7:00 AM : "Recovery" Trail race (10+ miles, 16K)
                11:00 AM : Trail Half-Marathon (14+ miles, 23K)
                 7:00  PM : "Recovery" Trail race (10+ miles, 16K) - Same course as morning

Monday:   7:00 AM : "Dash for Cash" Trail Sprint (1+ mile, 2k)

Total Distance : ~102K or ~63 Miles

Overall, I did fairly well and am pleased with how everything turned out.  I took it very easy during the full marathon, finishing about 30 minutes slower than I probably could have, but then picked it up for the remainder of the races.  Considering my heavy training week leading up to the event, I was pleased with my 5th place overall placing in the SLAM.

Results for "MultiDay Madness Slam : RESULTS

I would say that the mid-day half-marathon course on Sunday was my favorite of the weekend, and I absolutely enjoyed that portion of trail.  It was the most rugged and remote as well. The one negative to come of the race series was due to my heavy mileage week, and the technicality of that week, by the end of the Series, I had a very sore and overused knee.  It took over a week of resting it for it to come back to normal (only to be re-agrivated at the Tammany 10 once I was back home).  Below are some pics from the event.  Many of these pics were taken at the event by the various photographers and credited to them (see the Tassie Trail Fest website for photograph details).

As far as my South Pole friends....well only one other of my Antarctic Program cohorts made it (Curtis) and he came in 2nd overall! Curtis also won the South Pole Marathon that I participated in back around New Years.  He definitely inspired me to run faster throughout the Trail Fest.  I'll hopefully see you in Maine in a few Months Curtis...

Marathon Course

Early on during the Marathon

10-Mile Recovery Run Course

Mile 2 of the 10-miler

Coming across the footbridge towards the finish line
at the 10-miler recovery run.

Mid-Day Half-Marathon Course
(no pictures from that event)

Evening 10-mile recovery run before the sun set completely

The 2k Sprint loop

Trying my darndest to bust out ~6 min miles early in the morning
after a very-long weekend of over 100 kilometers and 10k+ elevation gain.

Finishing the 2k sprint and crossing 
my last finish line of the slam.

 Before leaving Tasmania for home, I had to satiate my appetite for "all things remote".  I've talked many times on here about my love of extreme, remote, or odd geographical places.  So I figured with 1 more day on the rental car, where could I go that would be memorable in this regard.

What I decided on was to see if I could get to the Southernmost point in Tasmania, and therefore Australia.  To be fair, there are a few small islands off the coast of Tasmania that I wasn't about to swim too, nor was I about to charter a special trip to the Sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island (the TRUE Southernmost point of Australia, not counting their Antarctic stations).  For me, I just wanted to see if I could to the practical Southernmost point, and maybe within sight of the nearby islands.  After some quick reading online, I plotted my route to the Cape Bay Peninsula and the small hamlet of Cockle Creek (the Southernmost Road in Australia).  This trip would require a ~10-mile roundtrip hike out to the coast, and if I wanted to make the true southern point, I'd have to bushwack through some nasty and very unsafe terrain.  Still, I figured I go as far as I could.

From Hobart, I plotted my route as such....

Road route to South Cape Bay

Once there, I'd hike to the trail terminus
and then assess whether or not I could get
out on to the peninsula

I arrived in Cockle Creek, registered with the rangers office, and began the 5-mile hike out to the South Cape Bay Coast.  There was some fun signage at the end of the parking area listing the road as the Southernmost Road in Australia!

Australia's Southernmost Road!

At the parking area and trail head at Cockle Creek

South Coast Track Trail Head (start of 5 mile hike)

Along the trail

One of many "Boardwalks" along the trail

South Cape Bay Peninsula in the background!

Once at the coast, I starting evaluating the feasibility of backcountry trekking out to the tip of the peninsula itself and after much consideration (and waning daylight), I opted not to go for it. It looked very dangerous, and it simply wasn't worth the risk.  Nevermind that getting there would take hours through the very thick brush.  I decided it was good enough to simply point out the spot with a smile...realizing that while I wasn't on the peninsula, I was still likely the southernmost person in Australia at that moment (other than maybe a handful of researchers down on Macquarie Island).

Pointing out the southernmost point on the main Tasmanian Island

From my vantage point at the rocky beach, I noticed I was able to spot a very distant, but also uniquely-shaped island far off in the distance.  After a quick glance at my reference map, I realized it was in fact Mewstone Island.  Not counting the Sub-Antarctic Islands owned by Australia, or the tiny 6 acre Islet known as Pedra Branca...Mewstone Island is the Southernmost Point.  Alas, this would be the closest I would get...but still, it was absoltuely worth the hike.

Zoomed out view of South Cape Bay

Standing at the Overlook at the trail terminus
Mewstone Island faintly visible in the distance.

Zoomed in view of Mewstone.

(Picture of Mewstone Island from the web : Rachael Alderman)

Thinking about all of these superlatives (Southernmost) and extreme points, it made me realize something oddly profound.  During all those times when I was at South Pole and I walked out during the evening to take a few pictures at the Geographic Pole, it never really occurred to me that at those moments, standing at 90.0 south, that I was the Southernmost person on the entire Planet.  Literally the entire population of the planet, all 7+ billion people, (except for maybe those on the International Space Station), was North of me.  That is a rather ridiculous realization.

I hiked back to Cockle Creek, drove back to Hobart, returned my car, and began my long journey back to the States.  This was a wonderful trip to Tasmania and I am incredibly grateful that I was able to do it.  I do not take opportunities like this for granted, and I hope that 2016 continues to be just as remarkable! I'm looking forward to what adventures await me still.....


All of Planet Earth, and all of her inhabitants, are North of me
That's a profound thought...and one that I hadn't fully realized
when I took photos like this....


Anonymous said...

Hey lakewood,

Came across your blog while doing research for an upcoming pct thru hike attempt.

Enjoyed reading this post.. looks like you had an awesome time. Reading stuff like this gives me inspiration to seek out similar experiences and new challenges for myself.

Cumulus said...

Also, when you were standing on the South Pole, the world was literally revolving around you.

Unknown said...

Hey John!

Saw you first in the Barkley movie. One of the most inspiring runs I've seen. One, that also inspires me to one day get to Barkley.

Love your blog.

Keep it up!