Scaling the peaks: 'Life begins at 50'

For adventurer Malcolm Law, who conquered 50 of New Zealand’s peaks in 50 days last year, life began at 50.

It followed an intense period where he had sold his business and then contracted back which involved long hours and lots of international travel.

Malcolm Law on own

“By the end of 2008 I was completely burnt out; fat, overweight,a pretty miserable person and decided I needed to get out and have a dose of wilderness just to rebalance myself.

“While I was out there doing that I had the idea for the first big adventure which was to have a crack at doing seven of our great walks in seven days, which obviously would mean running rather than walking.”

His love of the outdoors and wild places was instilled in him by his father who was a keen hill walker and climber and the family spent summer holidays in Scotland “being dragged up peaks”.

“I always had tucked away at the back of my mind that one day I would stop reading about other people having great adventures and plan one of my own.

“It’s basically been a long-time dream but it had been held back by a lack of belief in the feeling that big adventures are had by other stronger, better men than me.”

Malcolm spent nine months planning the event to raise funds for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand.

Charity focus

“In many ways, quite literally life for me began at 50 because for the first time ever, I was totally concentrating on what I was passionate about.”

He says every day was different and while crossing the finish line was “sheer euphoria having done something you’ve dreamed about for so long”, the highlight was on his last stretch during the annual Keppler challenge mountain race.

“At one point you end up high in the mountain traversing along the ridge.

On top of Keppler

“I had half a dozen of my best friends with me and it was a beautiful sunny day and from there it’s pretty much downhill to the finish.

“No matter what, I was going to succeed in this mission I’d planned for so long.

"So it was just perfect time and place and stopping at the side of the track to get a photo of us all and being completely euphoric in the moment.”

The former market researcher got such a buzz from his charity event that he was keen to keep going.

After a second week-long back country adventure, again fundraising, Malcolm Law was determined to push the bar even higher.

“I became aware that in a media-saturated world where people are caught up in film stars, celebrities and rugby stars, to get the kind of attention you needed to raise serious money, you had to do something pretty outlandish that [the public] just couldn’t help but go ‘wow’.

“So that was really the thinking behind the 50 marathons, 50 peaks.

“The High 50 challenge was to just do something on a scale that people, who maybe might have been immune to what had been before, just couldn’t help but sit up and take notice.”

It proved a massive logistical undertaking that was two years in the planning and involved recruiting a total of 300 people to run with him.

He began in Rotorua, made his way as far down as Dunedin, turned around and finished in Auckland.

Overcoming challenges

“It was a huge road trip and adventure,” he says but there were enormous challenges, not the least being a chest infection and a severe knee injury in the first few weeks.

“The absolute low point of it all ironically was day 13, only a couple of weeks in and the problem with my knee was really, really severe.

“I was just in a whole world of pain and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to carry on, [then] my wife had to take me to one side and tell me a very good friend of ours had just been killed in a helicopter crash.

“He was to have been running with me three days later.

“It was a pivotal moment because the first reaction was ‘right, we’re going home, there’s no point carrying on’.

“Then I reflected on it and thought what would Steve [Combe]have wanted because he was a huge fan of the project and I realised he would have wanted us to carry on.

“In a way, it had a rallying effect as well. It turned things round. It gave me, if I needed it, the extra motivation to dig deep and carry on somehow.”

Climbing up a shale peak

From that low point, there were many highs with the climb of Beuzenberg in the Two Thumb Range north of Tekapo one of the most memorable.

Malcolm had finally recovered from his injury and was able to run again properly for the first time in weeks.

“The liberation of finally being able to run again, it was picture perfect with amazing landscapes and amazing views, in a place I’d never been before – an added dimension because it becomes about exploring as much as anything.”

That particular day was sponsored by McKenzie College in Fairlie.

“Unknown to me, they’d taken a party of pupils and teachers and parents into the mountains the night before and climbed the peak, and got up there before us.

“So, when we got there on this glorious morning, we were greeted by a couple of dozen students and teachers from the college. It made it a pretty special moment.

The 50 peaks in 50 days challenge raised funds for the Mental Health Foundation.

The adventurer is passionate about mental health issues and has been ever since his brother-in law Max Chapple took his life 20 years ago.

“I was the unfortunate person [who] found him so that had always left a mark on me but also I’ve had, like many people, battles with the black dog from time to time.

“For me, the way out of it has always been to get into the outdoors, experience nature, get away from all the trappings of the stress of modern day life.

“I love the fact that there’s a connection between running in wild places and what I know that does for so many people - it’s very, very good for mental wellbeing.”

Epic film

The epic journey was recorded by a camera crew of three, one of whom, Wanaka local John-Jo Ritson, spent hundreds of hours editing the 85 hours of footage to create ’Fifty’ the movie.

It’s being shown as part of a private tour in selected cinemas as a charity fundraising event. (add link).

Malcolm had a period of enforced rest for several months following the High 50 after a “massive crash and burn” but says he learnt the importance of taking some time out.

He has no intention to stop any time soon, however, and is already planning to run around the 1,700 kilometre long border of Wales, in a fundraising challenge with a good friend, next year.

Malcolm says the advice he would give anyone is don’t leave it too late to do what you would love to do.

“At some point, you’ve got to ask the hard question, ‘Am I doing what I love, am I going to go to my grave thinking I wish, I wish, I wish?

“Don’t leave it too late – at some point, ask yourself the hard question because we’re all on limited time.”