We were looking forward to doing our first 24 hr rogaine of the year in the Flinders Ranges after having fond memories of the Australian Champs held nearby a few years ago. We booked frequent flyer flights to Adelaide early on before any details had been put on the SARA website. Consequently we were a bit caught out when, logically for a South Australian living in Adelaide, they made the event a 4 pm Saturday to 4 pm Sunday event (so you could do the 5 hr drive Sat morning).

We picked up our ‘shopping trolley’ early Friday morning and visited Woolworths and made a leisurely trip through the Barossa and Claire Valleys, dropped in at the bike shop in Melrose, and arrived at our cabin in Rawnsley Park (near the Flinders Ranges NP) at dusk.

After a leisurely start to the day on Saturday we made our way to the hash house site by late morning. It seemed very odd not starting at midday but were content to amuse ourselves by catching up with rogainers from SA, NT and VIC. When the map handout finally came at 1 pm we got busy planning our route at last.

The map was 1:50k scale so we felt sorry for older people with poor/long sighted eyes because it did take some peering to see the detail. We could see there was around 500 m altitude range so minimising climb was going to be a key part to any plan. However there were still a number of hill top controls that just meant you had to slog up a hill then down again. We settled on a route through the harder country in the centre of the map and that would allow a drop of food and a faster loop on the western side of the course using the tracks, then returning to the Hash House and doing a final loop of 6 controls to the south to finish – assuming we could get them all!

As we were planning a few showers of rain came through forcing us into the car. Fortunately they were short lived and the ones that came through later once we were on the course didn’t amount to much. There was much evidence around the place though of the heavy rain they had received about 2 weeks prior. The whole place was quite green for the Flinders and all of the watercourses and road crossings had flood/water evidence quite high. Must have been very impressive to see.

After the final briefing we were on our way at 4 pm. One team were with us at our first control (#33) but after that we were on our own for quite a while. We had to take the first few controls at a fairly controlled pace due to David’s legs being ‘naughty’ as they often are at the start of a rogaine. This doesn’t seem to ever be a problem – he eventually gets going and not going out like the clappers in a 24 hr event is probably pretty sensible. A long climb took us up to the summit of Mt Sunderland where we met a few other teams. There were great views from there across to Wilpena Pound and the Heysen Range. Darkness fell a couple of controls later as we were descending from control 50 to the west. We weaved our way though the hills cursing a particular band of coarse, dark coloured sandstone, which made for steep sections wherever it outcropped. We finally broke out onto the plains approaching control #45. We weren’t sure whether the navigation was going to get much more subtle on the plains but it didn’t seem to be difficult to pick up the watercourses and little hills in the moonlight. A couple of controls took us to our food drop around 10 pm where we had a brief stop while we sorted food and gear.

We followed the reflective markers of the Heysen trail for a while then some rough country over Pandittawotty Hill. Dropping back down the hill we encountered the first of the gorgeous watercourses with wide sandy bottoms and the most incredibly huge river gums. We finally reached our first water drop after over 40 km and caught up with our friend Kay Haarsma and her partner doing well.

The next few legs were pretty tough going with a huge climb from control #66 up to Yanyanna Hill to #92. We think it probably had an awesome view but in the dark there wasn’t much to see. A steep decent took us back to the road and some flat, supposedly fast, controls around the ABC Range. Unfortunately, Julie had already started to slow down by this time so the running pace was not as quick as desired. We dropped our packs by the road for a cool control that took us through a little gorge in the range and up to control #75 and back. We made good progress jumping off and on the road up the western side of the course before a final pack drop near the soup kitchen to run up the creek to control #59. The soup kitchen was a welcome chance to add some warm tasty food although the cheese toasties (aka NSW & ACT All night cafes) were sadly missed. However SA did have an ample supply of bananas at many of the water drops that were definitely appreciated.

Leaving the Soup Kitchen to go to control #43 that was only ~300 m away we got a bit confused with multiple channels of the wide flat creeks and different junctions. Control #94 was a highlight feature – a subtle little knoll hidden amongst the pine trees. Dawn came on us close after this control on our way to #48 and back to our food drop.

Another series of flat fast legs jumping off the Heysen track and road took us across to the eastern side of the course and Mount Boreas (control #53). We paused here for a moment to admire the view and work out the right gap in the next range to head through to the next control. We picked the one that the Oraparinna Creek ‘flows’ through. This was a gorgeous gap, which left us reminiscing of the likeness to the Macdonnell Ranges in Central Australia. Our final water drop and more bananas then up to the summit of control #63 having spotted the control well before the water drop. Fantastic views across the course made this control worth the climb. Dropping quickly to the main road we ran up this to the next control then started through our last ones back to the Hash House.

The leg to 91 looked like it should be short and quick but was surprisingly difficult with lots of dense (well, dense for this area) callitris (native pine) and rough under foot. We started meeting other teams in this area having not seen anyone since the soup kitchen. More climbing took us up and over the hill to #77. As we traversed the knobs along the ridge from this control we were treated to several wedge tailed eagles soaring near us. We could look up and down on them and hear their quiet ‘contact’ calls to each other. Very impressive. A final tricky control in a maze of gullies was found with the help of the open country allowing us to stand on the saddle as we came in and work out what was where. A quick leg back to the Hash House and we gratefully offloaded all but the bare essentials at 12:40 pm ready for our final ‘dash’ around the last controls. This required 7 legs which we thought would be quite achievable at the rate we had been travelling. The first one (control #44) had a pretty steep climb in and out and that immediately slowed our rate of progress. Combined with getting into the spinifex country on the way to #68 disheartened us a little. The Spinifex country in this part of the course is pretty to look at with rolling hills of bright green spinifex on deep red rocky soil and gum lined watercourses – it’s just hard, prickly work to get through! Fortunately after #41 the vegetation abruptly changed back to the soft tussock and we had a quick leg across to the Appealinna ruins at #79. All that remained from there was a short run up the track and road, diverting to #30 just off the road and a slog up the hill to #51 and a final treacherous descent to the Hash house (thank goodness we weren’t late!).

We completed the course at 3:25 pm with 35 minutes to spare. We were told afterwards that there had been bets at the Hash House about whether we would clear the course or not!

A quick sponge down, change of clothes and a couple of sausage sandwiches and we hit a borrowed tent for a short nap. Unfortunately we didn’t have any time to talk to other rogainers or hang around for the presentations because we had to get on the road back to Adelaide for a 7 am flight on Monday morning. We then hit the road about ½ hr before dark for some skippy roulette that saw us drive the first 100 km at 60 km/hr. NOT fun at all, especially on only an hours sleep. We finally got to Port Germein around 10 pm for a very welcome shower and few hours sleep before rising at 4 am to drive the final bit back to Adelaide. Flight mix ups, mechanical failures etc saw a long flight back to Canberra, via Sydney getting home after 3 pm.

David Baldwin