The notes for my diary start this day with the words 'Big day out' and indeed it was no exaggeration. My mother always says that we should get up early to appreciate the best of the day in the morning so she would have been well pleased with our 2am start. Equipped with head torches we set off up the trail which didn't want to break with tradition; more steps. Being dark it was hard to tell who was around us but Eleanor and I started off at a brisk pace keeping up with those around us. This wasn't to last, Eleanor started to feel the bite of altitude which left her very light headed. This in turn left us dropping off the pace considerably, with each ten consecutive steps celebrated. As people filed past us I tried to keep the mood light and commented that wewould let the racing snakes get past but in reality racing snails would have left us for dust with the first 500 meters completed in a tardy hour. Being the consummate gentleman that I am I hoisted Eleanor's bag on top of mine and tried not to look too cold.
Our second hour climbing was definitely an improvement and Eleanor started to pick up the pace. We had cleared the jungle and started up some steep sections of rock, using a fixed rope for balance on the way up. We made it the last checkpoint at 7km and bumped into Jaimy and Jade who were also opting for a relaxed pace. Still unsure of whether we had time to summit and get back down in time we made use of the last toilet on the way up and pushed on. Having left the jungle there was plenty of moonlight to walk by and there was little chance of getting lost; a rope leads the way all the way to the summit. We settled into a rhythm of plenty of breaks but good progress was being made and the optimism gauge had just twitched up a bit. Coming up to the kilometer marked 8 we were walking up a gentle slope of solid granite with a hazy peak in the distance which turned out to be our summit in the end. Here we bumped into another English guy who was not having a good time. It seems that a deep south west accent is perfect for berating yourself for being so stupid as to climb a mountain. Still he wasn't turning back now and we concurred. While approaching the summit peak the sun rose above an inverted layer of cloud behind us and later we learnt that at that time the summit was in cloud so we were grateful for our view. With energy levels dipping and the final few hundred metres very steep what we needed was Santa to brighten our spirits. While not quite the man himself Steve did appear from the mist sporting a Santa hat and only barely avoided Ho Ho Ho'ing us. Seems that most people had peaked, hung around the top and got cold and weer wisely heading home.
At 6.45am we were sat on the summit, with the mist clearing up around us to give us a spectacular view of the granite plateau. With the sun coming out and warming us up the optimism gauge reading flat out and we topped this up with a bite to eat. Soon, however, even the sun and view couldn't keep us warm with the activity gauge dropping to zero so we started heading down the way we came up, but not before our English friend had staggered to the top in his own cloud of cursing and swearing. With breakfast waiting for us at the hut our pace down was considerably quicker than the way up and the steps simply flew by. Back at the hut we had a healthy (considering the calories we needed to replace) breakfast of fried egg and toast before packing up and getting ready to walk the 6km down.
As a treat for carrying Eleanor's bags on the way up the mountain I was allowed to head off down at my own pace, which given the steep slope could only realistically be flat out running. Armed with a pair of poles to try and arrest the inevitable mistakes that were going to occur on wet, muddy steps only a tired pair of legs to hold me up. Starting off at a modest pace I overtook a group who had a porter strolling down with them. Obviously a foreigner beating him down just wasn't going to look good on his CV and he was soon jogging on my shoulder. After a couple of goading nods of the head to the path in front which transcends all language barriers we both set off at full pace down the trail. The story could easily end there. His full pace over rubbish ground was phenomenal and I can only describe it as the ground simply moved underneath him like a conveyor beat with his legs barely missing a beat. In comparison I thundered down like a herd of potatoes. Soon he was out of sight and after 1.5km I stopped to ask around to see if anyone had seen a porter I was racing and was assured that he had won by a considerable margin. There had been a steady stream of porters heading the other way looking suitably weighed down but a couple caught my eye, and almost my foot as I swerved round them. One was carrying a fridge and the other a washing machine. When they say they'll deliver they really mean it in this country. After some slips, one where both feet came loose and I skied a short section, I decided that luck had been pushed about as far as he looked like he was going and I settled to a brisk walk. Eventually I made it to the entrance to the park and it dawned on me that unless anyone from my group were also running I would be on my own for a while.
I have something of a reputation for being able to sleep anywhere, anytime and I am keen to maintain this. So I stretched out on a wooden bench, and to the amusement of the locals, tied my shoes to my bag and probably started snoring like horse. Only to be woken up to the sound of several cameras clicking away like some Papperazzi group. Coming from a dream where I had just broken the record time to summit and back this made perfect sense, although it seemed unlikely that I would have fallen asleep at the end in this case. The cracks in my thinking started to widen when I noticed the cameras focused on the trees behind me, specifically at a small blue bird which was causing great interest. After almost two hours Steve appeared up the trail and we headed to a restaurant for lunch. Eleanor tuned up next, it seems she had been spurred on by the fact that all the food was still in my backpack and she had been begging scraps of food from fellow walkers on the way down. Opps.
Once everyone had come down we had a short bus ride to Poring Hot Springs where we were staying in a hotel opposite the main hot spring complex. While our rooms had air conditioning it was obvious that here we had not paid too much, with Maggie and Mike being particularly unhappy. While I have seen worse rooms it was definitely time to roll out the sleep sheets rather than rely on the supplied bedding. Eleanor and I dashed over to the hot springs with Rich, Natasha and Jaimy. Once we had found the entrance we were told we could use the baths but it was at our own risk. Feeling bold we decided we could probably handle a bath and set about filling them. A task which is easier said than done given the miserable rate of flow. However, the water was hot, the tubs deep and the experience very relaxing. Soon we had to head back to the hotel for a good feed and eventually got to bed at 11pm, not bad after our 2am start!