Adventure runner achieves "impossible" triple

Michael Stuart sitting in grass after his run

At 7.30am on Tuesday February 15, Stuart kissed his partner, Lucy, patted his dog (also Lucy), posed for a photo in the Pūtara carpark at the northern end of the Tararua Range, west of Eketāhuna, and started up a gravel trail.

Ahead of him lay the length of the Tararuas, a mountain range spread over 1100km² in the lower North Island, with peaks rising to 1500m, and a reputation for ruggedness, severe weather, and the deaths of numerous ill-prepared trampers.

To get from the northern end, known as Shormann, to the southern end at Kaitoke is a roughly 80km trip revered by trampers, and known as an S-K.

There are three routes: along the main mountain range, along the valleys, and a mixture of the two known as the Tarn SK.

Tough trampers started doing the S-K as a three-day trip in the 1960s, and “then there was a period where people were trying to do it in two days,” remembers mountaineer and adventurer Sir Graeme Dingle.

He took enough gear to survive a storm, and wore canvas tennis shoes.

“Because of the lack of cushioning, my feet swelled up horribly. So yeah, good fun.”

After 18 hours, Dingle made it along the Tarn S-K route to Smith’s Creek Shelter, about an hour from the end, where friends had walked in to celebrate his birthday with him.

“So I stopped. I’d more or less proved it could be done, and so I had a beer and went to sleep.”

Dingle walked out the next day, his journey making the newspapers, and his example launching ever-faster and bolder attempts for decades to come.

Michael Stuart is one of those who has followed Dingle’s footsteps.

He became the first person to do a there-and-back trip on the most difficult S-K route, along the Tararuas’ main range, taking 61 hours.

And the idea of completing all three S-K routes non-stop had been percolating for several years, but his first attempt had ended in wet and freezing failure when the weather turned on him.

Stuart, 40, who bought a campervan after he lost his house in a fire, and has been touring the country for the last year, says the whole idea was “to test my limits and see what I could do”.

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