June 18 2017 - 11:29AM Porcupine Gorge Challenge 2017 | Photos Derek BarryLocal NewsfacebookSHAREtwitterTWEETemailwhatsappcommentComments Porcupine Gorge Challenge 2017 | Photos Queensland is full of gorgeous gorges no one has ever heard of. There's Carnarvon Gorge near Roma in the roof of Queensland. There's Cania Gorge near Monto, like Carnarvon another pristine spot about seven hours from Brisbane. There's a place I'd never heard of until 2016: Porcupine Gorge. And I'd never been until Saturdy when I did the Porcupine Gorge Challenge, an 8km run with a 1.2km hill at the end. It was a birthday present to myself a day before I turn 53. Or I so conned myself into believing. It was actually one of the toughest things I've done in my life. On a par with the Pomona King of the Mountain I did in 2001 which was half the distance, 10 degrees cooler and I was 16 years younger. I was blissfully ignorant of what was ahead when I rolled into Hughenden on Friday night. I was in Hughenden last year when I saw the Mayor's car advertising Porcupine Gorge. An amazing place and very beautiful, the mayor told me. I promised her I would definitely look it up some day.The excuse for that day came with the Great Western Games, a festival of 32 sports from June to July 2017 across the north of Queensland from "The Isa to The Towers". Situated between the two is Hughenden and one of its events is the Porcupine Gorge Challenge. Writing an article on it for the paper, I found out the challenge is not new. It's been running since 2001 (the same year I did King of the Mountain) and maybe organisers thought badging it part of the Games would get some sponsorship money and extra attention. It certainly got my attention and taking the "get involved" words of Games organisers to heart, I signed up that very day.After an early night at the hotel in Hughenden, I left around 7.30am this morning. I headed 70km north along the bitumen part of the Kennedy Development Hwy (which is an inland back way to Cairns).Then in the distance I saw the Gorge. It was silhouetted, dark and ominous while the sun struggled with early clouds. I don't know what the green light is, either a property sign sparkling in the sunshine or an alien warning me to go no further. I didn't listen to the alien and parked at The Gorge. The campsite is near the Pyramid Lookout which had a helpful sign explaining the geology of the region. Some 280 million years ago, the creek began eroding the rocks eventually turning it into Australia's "Grand Canyon", as a book in my motel claimed. That was a big call but it wasn't a bad one. This photo on the phone (I didn't want to lug my camera around the track) doesn't do it justice but it was bloody magnificent to look at. The creek disappeared off into the distance to the north and I would be forced to chase it for several bone-jarring kilometres.The view south was even more spectacular. Pyramid Hill was sculpted out of the rock as the creek slowly gouged out the ancient savannah landscape. The other point to note was that was my start point so I had to get down there.But first I had to register. I though it appropriate my number was 52 in the last day of my 52nd year. I was wearing the t-shirt I brought not the official one I was getting for entering as they hadn't arrived when I got there. I made a note to collect mine at the end and set off down the hill.About half way down you get the first glimpse of the Porcupine Creek itself trickling through the gorge and lined with melaleuca. After a 1.2 km descent, it was a beeline a short distance south to the Pyramid.The Pyramid got altogether more impressive the closer you got to it.These rocks tell a 280 million story. If only I could read it.Almost every river system in the north west is empty including the Flinders River at Hughenden. Cyclone Debbie did promise to bring rain but turned south at the last moment keeping Flinders Shire dry. But there was a surprising amount of water at Porcupine Gorge. Maybe they got some recent local rain or maybe the rocks have dammed the water into place.I was one of the first to go to the start line but slowly they started to dribble in, including the helicopter which was dropping off State Emergency Services at strategic points along the gorge.Not everyone was here to run. This guy had the right idea. This would have been a much more sensible birthday present to myself I was thinking.But I was here now with about a 100 or so others ready to race, like it or not. Including this mob from Columba Catholic College in Charters Towers. I also got chatting to some guy who looked in his late sixties and who wasn't racing. "Couldn't get you to run this year," I said jokingly. No he said, he was injured but he had done it many times and might do again next year. "Oh," I said. "Any advice to a newcomer?" Yes he said. Do up your shoelaces tight, he said, you'll be going through sand and water and it will get slippery. I said thanks and rushed away to tighten both laces - twice.Then the littlies (12 and under) were given the signal. I was jealous of them. They would just run back to the turnoff and up the hill.The under 16s were next out. They would have to run a bit further down the creek but only half the distance as the adults before turning back for the climb. So, yes, I was jealous of them too.Then it was the adults, mostly unlike me, in their proper shirts. The guy with the starter pistol decided to count us all but that wasn't working well after two goes at herding cats. He asked someone did they count them last year. "No," that person replied, "But it's a good idea." Everyone laughed. Eventually someone had the idea we would all hold up our hands and put them down as he counted us off. It eventually came to 69 of the 72 registered runners. Dissatisfied but unwilling to hold us up any longer he started the gun for the race.I didn't take too many photos during the race. So many of these photos were taken beforehand. This was the terrain at the beginning. I was sucked into a faster start than I would like, despite the danger of falling over if not careful on these rocks. The early clouds had gone away, so the sun was starting to get serious.There was also some climbing involved, as well as wriggling between rocks and over dangerous pebbles that could turn an ankle quicker than you could say "that effin' hurt!"Then it got sandy and while that was a little less dangerous it was tiring to run in and I was already feeling the strain less than a quarter of the race in. With a big hill at the end of it, I realised my hopes of doing this in under an hour were badly misplaced.Last but not least it got wet with a couple of expected and unexpected drops into the drink as we criss-crossed Porcupine Creek a number of times. At least my laces were tight. There were markers in the trees that helped you follow the course but I still took a couple of wrong turns. I also wouldn't believe the guy who told me I had got to half way and was rushing towards the next gorge before he called me back. Though I was walking more than running at this stage I was surprised there were many behind me. I was either the slowest runner or the fastest walker. Take your pick.By the time I got back to the climb I had little left in the tank. Any pretense of running up the 1.2km were gone. I was walking, or stumbling. I was breathing very fast. I stopped frequently, head bent over for a five second break. At one point I overtook some tourists who took one look at me and said "are you alright?" I didn't have breath to answer and shuffled past them silently.Eventually I got to the sign alerting me to the last 200m and I broke in to a run, which lasted barely 50m. Determined not to look like the geriatric I felt, I managed one last burst before the final corner and ran over the line. I bent over double for about 30 seconds before I could finally tell someone I was okay. Hell I was more than okay. I was ecstatic - I had finished it. A time of around about 1hr 15 mins for the 8km course so plenty of room for improvement. Maybe next year I can get a few more tips from old mate when he races again. I grabbed my shirt at the end and posed triumphantly, my first Porcupine Gorge Challenge successfully negotiated. 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