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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

What goes up, must come down.

the three steps looking somewhat tame

Snakes and Ladders is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the PTS Summer Series. It is the run we all remember and talk about for weeks after first completing it. Certainly, no other course in the series attracts the same range of emotional responses from trail runners. Many love it; others love to hate it; of course, we all run in it anyway!

Even before the event, there is always lots of chatter - most of it centred around the second climb, up the infamous Three Steps.

one of life's great mysteries....the bbq at the top

The Three Steps is more than it’s name suggests. Quite a lot more in fact. In total you will scale around 200 metres to reach the estranged barbeque which mysteriously resides at the turn-around point.

Really though, the height is not the problem. The first hill, Baldwins Bluff, is actually taller. Instead it’s the way the Three Steps seems to have been perfectly crafted, to ensure your efforts at climbing up are equalled by the amount you slide backwards, which makes the Three Steps so challenging. Loose gravel and sand; steep and sharp sections; uneven rock piles underfoot. It’s a hard slog all the way to the top.

traffic jam

And then you have to come back down. Hopefully without rolling an ankle, preferably remaining vertical. For me, this is the hardest part of the Three Steps. It’s almost impossible to control speed or direction, and when everyone is trying to hike up and scramble down at the same time it certainly becomes rather interesting. There is always plenty of cursing, laughing, and cries of ‘look out, no brakes’ on this section.

socks that make you fly

It’s these opposites which make the run so memorable. As you trudge up the hill, leaning on your knees and dragging the breath between your clenched teeth, there is always someone careening down the slope, most likely out of control, directly towards you. And, quite probably, one of you is wearing unicorns to decorate your feet or a hat fitted with plastic ladders and lolly snakes. At that point, you can’t help but smile at the craziness of trail runners.

It was hot at the event this year and it made the run even harder, especially as you exited the tree-line on the way down Baldwin’s Bluff. ‘Brutal’ seemed to be quite a popular word in use to describe the run afterward.

A few people tried to capture the steepness of the incline in a photo, hoping to be able to explain to others just how tough it was. Unfortunately race recaps and photographic images never seem to do these hills justice. You simply can’t tell from an elevation graph just what to expect on the trails; they have to be experienced.

It’s been said climbing the Three Steps changes your life. While I’m not sure about that, I certainly think it changes your perspective on what can be achieved with a dose of determination and a healthy sense of humour.


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