Archive for the 'Pre-hike' Category

And I roared!

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

The three of us set off on Friday night so that we’d be down at Whakapapa bright and early to attempt the Northern Circuit in one day. Last time I was there it took Dad, Ruth and I three days, so this time our plan was ambitious, but achievable given the right circumstances. I now have my Aarn balance pockets attached to my MacPac so I was doing a full gear test on this trip.
We set off from Whakapapa at 7:30am in mist and cloud. The path was quite wet and surprisingly overgrown for one of New Zealands’s “Great Walks”. It was the vegetation encroaching on the path that really got us wet, with the leader absorbing most on the first pass. It took us only 2 hours to reach Mangetepopo, very good considering the condition of the track and the list time of up to 5 hours in bad weather. From there we tackled the Devil’s Staircase and the weather got worse. We were most of the way up when it became obvious that continuing was foolish. The TrailWalker, for which the ladies are training, would definitely be called off well before it got to that stage. I however don’t have that option. If I get to Oregon and the weather is bad, I had to get through because it won’t get any better. Wait a few days and you’re just a few days further into winter. So while they went back to shelter in the hut and think of a plan, I went on.
At South Crater the wind stopped. It was almost pleasant for a few hundred meters but the ridge on the other side was something else. It was a real fight to get up to Red Crater. I passed two other groups debating returning as they were buffeted about by wild winds. I reached the edge of the crater and was momentarily proud that I’d battled on but that didn’t last long. I couldn’t see down the other side at all. Not only was it far too cloudy, and rainy, to see anything, but it was too windy to get anywhere near the edge. Every step I took along the path sent me two steps the wrong way. I’ve never been outside in wind like that and to be at the top of a mountain, in biting rain and gale force winds was insane. So I roared! I roared at being beaten, roared at being young and fit but still unable to continue with a simple plan, and roared at the wind because there was no-one else mad enough to be up there that could tell me to be quiet, or look at me in a funny way, then I turned around and fled.
I overtook the two groups on the way down, both were glad to see that I was safe and that they weren’t wimps for turning back. If the crazy solo mountain man can’t do it, then why should they? Rachael and Tania were at the hut and keeping warm. I returned to the trail and found one of the groups was getting a shuttle to take them back to National Park so their driver helped me out. He got me to the Whakapapa road and from there I was going to walk the 6km but three nice Slovakians picked me up and I was at my car a few minutes later. It didn’t take long for me to get the chance to repay the karma as there was a couple in the same situation as me, trying to hitch back to their car at Mangatepopo, a 7km gravel road where no-one should be going at that time of day. But I was so I gave them a lift, got the ladies and returned home. I’ll try again another weekend.

Thanks to the datalogger and GPSVisualizer here is a profile view of the hike. It shows the low walk from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo (9km), then the climb to Soda Springs before the near vertical Devil’s Staircase, flat across South Crater and then up to Red, which is where I turned back.

Google Maps

Rangitoto Night Hike

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Rachael, Tania and I got in another practice hike last weekend with the added bonus of a fireworks display (from a distance) and a entertainment in the form of Rotary Club team-building exercises for idiots.
We caught the afternoon ferry over to Rangitoto, The dominating volcano in Auckland’s harbour and sat around the wharf area waiting for dark. I took the chance for a quick march to the summit and back while the girls settled in to watching the army put some Rotary Club people through their paces. We were near “the Spider’s Web”, a net with 12 holes through which a team of seven must climb without touching the material. Pretty simple yeah? Not so for the team that took 15 minutes to get their first person through. The next team took about 1 minute, but they screwed up by all climbing through the same hole and not helping each other. If the army dudes weren’t all in camo gear and packing some pretty big knives I’d have liked to give some advice to the trainees, but I kept quiet. I got the chance to try on an army pack, boy do they ever need some help with their ergonomics. No waist support at all, there must have been 15kgs+ all on two tiny little shoulder straps, that’s no way to look after your military.
At 8 we tried to watch the Group F performance that was on the mainland, but the fireworks were too low level so we packed up and started to walk. With only two torches between us (d’oh) and very uneven rocky ground the coast track to Islington Bay was hard going. Not physically tiring, but hard work none the less. Emerging in Islington Bay was beautiful. There were dozen of boats floating on glassy water, and the lights made it look like a sleeping village on the hillside. We crossed the causeway to Motutapu and got onto the Motutapu Walkway. The moon was just rising and we did it mostly without the torches. The marker posts aren’t reflective, because this is really targeted as a walk for clear summer days, and it mostly follows fence lines anyways. We had a very surreal moment cresting a hill when two silhouettes ran in front of the moon. Large bird-like bodies, small point heads, two legs and just a little velociraptor like. They were actually just turkeys, but darkness plays tricks and they looked a lot bigger at the time. The walk was really nice and coming down into Home Bay I decided I would take my little brothers there someday.
Walking at night, when it’s clear and after a very warm day, has the definite advantage of being a good temperature for exercise and so we marched on. Back to Rangitoto, this time we took the dirt road to the wharf. We returned to we we’re stashed some bags only to find it now inside the Rotary Club’s camp. Someone heard us approaching and asked the time. It was 3am and they had overslept an hour. Think about that, they were sleeping on some benches, on an island where you’re generally not allowed to camp and we just happened to be walking by to wake them up. They’d have been pretty upset to wake at sunrise anouther 4 hours away. Anyway we continued across to McKenzie Bay on the other side. It was past late now and was becoming early. Good moonlight saw us safely up the track to the summit by about 5:30am where we found the communications post for the army. They’d lost track of two teams and no-one had been up there since 2pm the day before, what a sucky job. It was pretty easy to sleep, with over 22 miles under my feet at that point. I felt very much the part in my new MacPac jacket and polyprop beanie eating muesli with powered milk. Sunrise was as beautiful as expected and we walked gently down to the wharf and went home, exhausted and very tired.

I was carrying a heavy load (15kgs+) for this hike, even though I don’t expect to be up to that distance for a few weeks into the trail. I also carried my datalogger and after running the output through I have produced a track file for Google Earth and one for viewing online in Google Maps

P.S. Don’t expect anything like this length of entry when I’m hiking. A paragraph or two is all I think I’ll be able to type into my PocketMail each night.

Google Maps

Pick a pack

Friday, March 9th, 2007

I got a lot done in the last 24 hours. I now have a suitable backpack. I chose a MacPac Ascent Classic. It’s only 55ltr which I feel is pretty small, but it’ll help me limit what I take and I have the Aarn Balance Pockets coming to add 15ltr on the front. If you’re in New Zealand and looking for long distance stuff you’re recommended to talk to Paul of Living Simply, he’s done the A.T. and Te Araroa which is pretty cool. I also picked up a Trangia stove and a MacPac windstopper, mustardy-yellow in colour should help me be spotted if a search party ever has to come looking for me :-)

I’ll be using all three tomorrow and I expect to come back with views on all of them, except it’s supposed to be dry this weekend so the waterproofness can’t be tested.

Oh yeah I got my train ticket to San Diego, now I’m all sorted for transport.

All quiet on the western front?

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

I haven’t forgotten my plan to walk to Canada, but other things have come up. last weekend was my sister’s wedding. A very nice affair it was too, out on Waiheke Island, gorgeous weather, lots of friends and family, everything went well. In the meantime I’ve continued to test the GPS Datalogger from OHararp LLC. The first run lasted 88 hours continuous logging every second. Now I’m trying to simulate the conditions I’ll be hiking under, that is recording while I’m walking in sunlight, but I can’t be outside all day so I’ve left it by my window and hope that will do. This weekend I’ll get back to hiking with a trip to Rangitoto so I’ll be getting some proper use out of the logger. I still haven’t sorted out my gear with only 5 weeks to go I need a stove, a pack and a windshirt and more, though some things can be bought in my week in San Diego.
I’ve also had a chance to play around with Google Maps.


Thursday, March 1st, 2007

In 2003 Scott “Squatch” Herriott discovered the Pacific Crest Trail during his daily commute. He had stumbled into the world of long distance hiking and the film he made that year shows it really made an impression. In 2006 he walked a considerable amount of the trail and gathered film and photos from other hikers to create the third installment of the Walk series called Even More Walking (view the trailer). I really enjoyed the first two, and this third continues the tradition. I read a few TrailJournals last year and it was very cool to see and hear the people I had read about. Even Gloves, the one who told me about the PCT rather than the AT makes a guest appearance. My favourite bit? The guy jumping into the watering hole, and falling, and falling, and falling. I’m going to try to find that place. And the high sierra sequence, I’m really looking forward to 10 days in those hills.

Training comes and goes. I do walk 5km to work every day, and sometimes replace that with an hour in the onsite gym if I need to drive for some reason. This weekend is a write off as my sister is in town to get married! Next weekend is the Rangitoto night hike which will be novel.

A Walk In The Woods

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Highlight of the day: Meeting Bill Bryson, author of A Walk In The Woods. It was at a book signing for his latest work, The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid at Whitcouls in Auckland. Nice fella, seemed interested in my upcoming PCT attempt. If I were to write a book about what ever happens this summer, I’d have to call it A Walk In The Hills.

This all made me think about what has brought me to the PCT. In 2003 I was planning my O.E.. I grew up in England and as a local I hadn’t bothered to travel all that much, so I hit upon the idea of seeing the countryside along The South Downs Way. But that seemed weird because I’d day 4 days to walk what I’d normally drive (or be driven since I was too young back then) in half an hour. But I liked the idea of walking so I looked for something in Europe and discovered The Tour du Mont Blanc and a photo from Jørgen showed me the wonders of Jotunhiemen. I completed them and it felt pretty good. Then A certain Mr Terry Long suggested the Appalachian Trail. It was list of legendary mountains I’d heard of since I was a kid. The Smokey Mountains, Blue Mountains, Shenandoah N.P. and it sounded great, but 6 months!! no way. Well maybe, before I’m 30 that was a few years away then I could postpone it.
I got back to NZ after my in Europe and had kept the idea of the AT in the back of my head. In March 2006 my dad met a hut warden in Tongariro park. Going by the name of Gloves she had walked from Mexico to Canada along The Pacific Crest trail and loved it. A border to border walk made so much more sense to me. people don’t know where Georgia and Maine are, but Mexico and Canada are pretty obvious, and it was only 500 miles longer than the AT. And that was that, for the last year I have been slowly gathering momentum and now I am just 8 weeks away from putting my toe into Mexico and facing north.

Tongariro Crossing at speed

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Another training weekend under the belt, and another mountain summit reached. For the third year in a row I took park in The Great Lake Relay, which circumnavigates Lake Taupo taking in 154km of scenic New Zealand. This year I had the first (at 2am!) and 14th legs. With a little sprint I was even leading the pack coming out of the first road and our of Taupo, but once we hit the first hill (about 400m from the start) I was being overtaken and was probably somewhere around the middle when I finished. I was then in the support car until just after sunrise and back to the house for a nap before getting to my next start point. We had a dozen or so runners and together we made it in 14hrs 15 which is much faster than last year. That night I attended a talk about the Oxfam Trail Walker Challenge which Rachael and Tania are taking part in. It’s 100km in 36 hours and I’d love to take part but it’s after I fly out of here, speaking of which I need to get my tickets sorted.
On Sunday the three of us did the Tongariro Crossing and we did it pretty fast with the stair case taking only 30 minutes. I took an hour long side trip to the peak of Tongariro while the girls happened upon a wedding going on at the top of Red Crater. The bride was even in a proper dress, but she was wearing sensible hiking boots :-) While Rachael and Tania went light weight, carrying only what they’d need for their charity event, I loaded up an Aarn Natural Balance which they lent to me for the weekend. It was as full as I could get it and weighed close to 20kgs, but true to their word it didn’t hang from my shoulders. The clever rigging puts the weight on the belt and with front packs taking full water bottles I was standing up straight the whole way, no back pain. Physics being physics I still had to carry the extra weight though and it certainly wasn’t easy keeping up with two trail runners on the long down hill after the Ketetahi hut. We reached the road end in just 6:40, a respectable time in anyones books.
I was also wearing brand new New Balance 1222s I’d bought the day before. They sure let the dust in as I ran down the Red Crater gravel slope, hopefully that means they’ll let the water out just as easily. The arch of my right foot got a little sore, but some strapping tape stopped it getting and worse and I didn’t get any blisters. The GPS logging unit didn’t quite do as well. It logged the whole way, at least I think it did. But when I got it back to a computer the files were really messed up, unreadable on my Mac. I think I turned it off while it was writing, that can cause trouble. So I walked to work with it today, no problems. Now that it is fully changed I am leaving it on until it goes flat, to see just how long it will go without the solar panels.

New Balance pack at the top of the Devil's Staircase
Shoe grit after running down the Red Crater gravel chuteDirty feet after completing the crossing
Ha ha, I just realised I was wearing New Balance shoes and carrying a Natural Balance pack

Google Maps

Round The Mountain

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

With the completion of the Round The Mountain (Ruapehu that is) last weekend I have done all the Central Plateau hikes this year, and this weekend I’ll doing the crossing again just for fun, and to try out a pack from Aarn. On this trip I used Paul’s MacPac Ascent Classic. With the size 3 harness it is 70L+ and I was glad for it. My sleeping bag is bulky and clothes for 4 days are similar in size to clothes for 9 days. This was my first time with a CamelBak and I really liked it, I kept two water bottles in the outside pockets like I usually do, but only drank from the hose, with it being so easy I found I got through a lot more water which is probably good for me, so I’ll have to get one of those in San Diego.

The Round The Mountain track is by far the longest and least trodden of the tracks. It starts in Whakapapa and heads across the Tama Saddle to Waihohonu which is the reverse of the last leg of the Northern Circuit. I had taken a long time to get going that morning so I powered up to the saddle, scoffed lunch and set off for the hut, where I promptly found that the tag the DOC lady at Whakapapa sold me wasn’t valid for camping at this hut. I really have my doubts about the DOC staff there. Last time they sold me camping tickets for huts that didn’t have campsites, and this time they sold me a back country hut pass when I needed a Great Walks Hut pass. Grrrrr. The very particular hut warden took my credit card number and will now charge me an extra $15 for that night. Anyway, I got a prime tent spot, being the only tent there, under the trees to avoid the dew and talked to a guy from Scotland about him trying to convince his girlfriend to move to Canada. Back to my tent and I found the only other person not staying in the hut had decided to set up about 10m from my spot. In the whole camp ground, were every other spot was clear, he preferred to make an entirely new place in the middle of the big flat communal area (instead of one of the areas cleared marked out by trees and bushes) to face directly into my tent, geez, personal space man. Back to the hike. I set off quite early and took the time to see Onipango Springs, very nice and worthy of a swim, but not at that time in in morning. A long gentle rise on a dry sandy river back and then across some rocky plains to the dirt road before the Rangipo hut. This is a pretty desolate place, as my pictures will show when I upload them. Luckily for me some kind souls have put bridges in over most of the big rivers, and since this area is entirely rock it is really appreciated. Getting washed away here would be very bad. I crossed the Wangaheuhu River, where the lahar will flow when it finally bursts through the damn, the wire bridge there goes over the deepest part and feels really flimsy compared to the flow of the glacial melt below.

By the time I reached Rangipo it was raining, I ate inside and carried on when the rain died away. Down in the valley the army were testing explosives though I thought for a time the rolling sound was thunder, or maybe even the lahar coming down. After Rangipo there was a really big gorge, a steep descent and then a climb up the other side was really hard, good thing the wind was blowing my way. Since leaving the river bed that morning I’d been in the true Mordor but now I was reaching the tree line again. One last copse of trees and I smelled wood smoke and sure enough the hut was right around the corner. Again I struggled to find a tent spot, but with my trusty orange trowel I dug out some roots and made room. The tent held up fine in the wind and rain and I was off early again.
After only a couple of hours I was at the Blyth Hut turn off and retracing my steps of a few weeks before. back to Oakune Mountain Road, up the hill to Taranaki Corner, down the Cascades (much scarier going down that way) and lunch at Mangaturuturu. Then on towards Whakapapaiti. At some point earlier that day I had decided that if I reached Whakapapaiti by 5 I would carry on and walk out that day. I rolling in at 4:30 and did indeed carry on. My feet were sore and I was thinking I’d gone too far but I was down at Whakapapa before 7pm and thus completed 31.9km that day. With the additional walk to the car I had made 20miles, and that is only the average for the PCT. The first few weeks are going to be good practice for the rest.

Google Maps

Kauaeranga Valley

Monday, January 29th, 2007

On Saturday I set off alone up the Karaka Stream on the northern edge of Thames. The trail doesn’t seem to be used all that much and I didn’t see anyone until the end of the day. As NZ tracks go it wasn’t very over grown and there had been some work done on it in the last year after the floods in June. A few hours in I hit the main ridge track and it suddenly got wider and was beaten flat by the quad-bike tracks. Still it had the very family boggy patches there I am starting to get tired of. I really feel I need proper wellington boots to get around here and that’s a very different case on the PCT, so my motivation was sapped and I decided to make it just a two day trek, hitching out along the valley road rather than returning over the same hill on Monday. I camped out at the Wainora ground in Kauaeranga Valley and did a routine of boiling and treating water. Previously I have found the Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 has had a major problem with condensation so I took a few steps to minimize this. I left the tent door wide open, but kept the netting-door closed, I didn’t peg out the inside of the tent so it hung lower and stayed away from the outer wall, and I used my poles rather than pegs to pull the outer wall outwards rather than down.
Sunday I powered up Webb Creek to the Pinnacles in just 2.5 hours, that was fast carrying what I had, and I was sure then that I’d come home that day. It was the right decision. I got a lift really quickly which saved me 14km worth of road walking on a hot day. I drove home and it rained, a lot. Had I been out there in that I’d have been pretty glum. And now my boots, my favourite footwear for the last 4 years have finally died. The thin sole has worn though and I’m impressed they have lasted this far. Kathmandu is a well know camping store here in NZ, but I hadn’t reckoned on their boots lasting so well. I was passing through there a couple of days ago and heard what I’d over heard before “your feet will wear out before these boots will”. It is true that my feet have had holes in them before, but they regenerate, the boots do not.

Lucky for you I carried my camera and Navman GPS unit so I can tag my photos and add them to Panoramio soon-ish.

Google Maps

Tongariro Crossing

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

On Sunday I got another training session done on Mount Tongariro. With the support of Nivi, Quizzy and Robyn I did the Tongariro crossing in almost gale force winds and at a good speed. I had to start a while after the others so that I could drop the car at the end and shuttle to the start, thanks Mountain Shuttle for the ride. I was using a borrowed back-pack from the excellent Paul at Living Simply to try out the MacPac harness. I’m not sure I can pack well enough to fit everything I need for the nine day Sierra stretch into just 55l but I guess I’m going to have to learn. At the moment I am leaning towards a MacPac Nikau, which has a zipped sleeping bag access that I like, but the side pockets look next to useless. I might need to sew on two bottle holsters from REI.

The hike was fun and once we got passed the Emerald Lakes the clouds cleared and the wind dropped. Then we just meandered down the other side and into the waiting car. I really prefer that way of shuttling, no pressure to reach the end by a certain time, and no waiting around for the next bus.

Google Maps