Sunday, September 30, 2007

Death by Day Hike - Part 2

Many on the Tongariro Crossing have never experienced scree before.This month's Wilderness magazine carries a short article that makes a good follow-up to my recent post about the Tongariro Crossing. It seems that the Department of Conservation is looking for new ways to convince people not to take this hike too lightly.

The country's most popular one-day walk is getting a name change to better
reflect the nature and terrain of the track. From October, the Tongariro
Crossing will be known as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
They go on to describe how serious the problem of unprepared and inexperienced walkers has become:

There have been 22 search and rescue events already this year. The track has a
high point of 1886m, but because people can drive to the start of the track
at 1200m, many people underestimate how tough it is and how quickly the
weather can turn.

In addition to the name change, they are adding signs at key points suggesting
that hikers turn back if their fitness is failing or the weather is getting bad.
They are also realigning a particularly tough climb called "The Devil's
Staircase" to make it less demanding.

Another option under consideration is allowing commercial guiding concessions on the track, as a way to ensure public safety. Of course that will only work if the people who are too inexperienced for the walk are aware that they need a guide - and most tourists unfortunately live in a state of denial about these things.

It's times like these I wish New Zealand wasn't so good at marketing it's great outdoors. A quite spectacular walk has now become more or less a tourist concession.

My First Magazine Cover

OK, I'm no supermodel, but as the launch date for Sex in a Tent draws near I am trying to spread the word by any and all means possible.
This month's New Zealand Wilderness magazine is running a feature I wrote for them on adding more romance to your tramps. I was thrilled to discover that it has been featured on the cover!

And for the those who are not as outdoorsy, I have also posted an article on a website called, featuring tips for outdoor sex.

Stay tuned for more shameless self-promotion, including a blog tour and in-person book signings.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Busy Week for Mother Nature

Living in a country with active volcanoes and multiple fault lines sure does keep you on your toes! This week in New Zealand, nature has been restless to say the least. Within a period of 24 hours, there was a volcanic eruption and a massive landslide caused by an earthquake.
First the volcano. Mt. Ruapehu is in the centre of the North Island, and even though it is an active volcano, it is visited by thousands and thousands of people every year. It sees hikers all summer, and skiers all winter. So when it got heartburn on Tuesday night and decided to belch up some black ash (and large boulders) it was a cause for concern. Of course, it doesn't compare with the major eruptions in 1995 and 1996, which were spectacular to say the least.

Luckily, the effects weren't felt as far down as the ski fields. There were two people at a hut near the summit, however, who were showered with debris which crashed right through the front door. One of them was pinned under a boulder, and has since had one of his legs amputated. The other was not injured, and ran down the mountain in the dark to get help.

As for the earthquake, that has resulted in New Zealand's newest lake! In Mt. Aspiring National Park on the South Island, a small earthquake and heavy rains caused one of the biggest landslides seen in these parts. It cut off part of a river, turning it into an alpine lake. The slip is thought to be about 70 metres high, with some boulders as big as a house. Nobody was hurt, but there is a hiking track reasonably close to the slip that people are being warned to avoid until things have settled. The pictures is from

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside! New Zealand's precarious relationship between man and the land got a bit of a shake-up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bridges & Boardwalks: Protection or Pandering?

Last weekend spring made a very welcome appearance in Wellington, and I went out with G to celebrate with a short daywalk in the Catchpool Valley. It's an area that is popular because it is easy to reach from Wellington (about a 45 minute drive) and has some easy tracks for children and older hikers.

We started our hike on the Orongorongo Track, which is the busiest, and easiest, of the routes. We hadn't been there in quite a long time, and I was surprised by the number of "improvements" that had been made to the track. There were more bridges over creeks, including a new suspension bridge. They are also building a boardwalk over one of the more eroded spots on the track.
The benefits are obvious. People were out with their babies in off-road strollers, having no trouble navigating the track. We came across a group of six seniors, probably into their 70s, enjoying the hike. These things don't happen on trails where you have to hop across streams or scramble up and down.

But how far should parks go in making their trails accessible? Every bridge takes you one step further from the land's pristine state. Many hikers prefer to have a more challenging route. The wilderness is where they want to be. If you don't like the wilderness the way it is, they say, go to a city park for your walks.

In New Zealand the debate about the extent to which tracks are "improved" has been raging for years. Many locals claim that popular routes are being turned into over-developed tourist attractions for the sake of international visitors, while robbing New Zealanders of their own land's natural beauty. Others say that without these extra precautions, the tracks will erode beyond use. That it's better to have 50,000 people walk on a boardwalk each year, than have 50,000 pairs of boots eroding the track.

There's no easy answer, since the balance between encouraging back-country recreation and preserving the land is a difficult one to find. Personally, I tend to breathe a sigh of relief when I come up to a feisty river I need to cross and find it's been bridged. But not everyone agrees, and I can see their point.
Meanwhile, the tourists keep coming in droves to discover "clean, green" New Zealand, and the wilderness purists get pushed farther off the beaten path in search of pristine bush.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Death by Day HIke - Tongariro Crossing

Every year there is controversy as the Mt. Everest climbing season results in several deaths. Climbers without enough experience or skills pay tens of thousands of dollars to tick it off their must-do list and they end up paying the ultimate price.

But what about the less obviously dangerous adventures? Who would be afraid of losing their life on one of the world's most popular day hikes?
The Tongariro Crossing is New Zealand's premier day hike. It is undertaken by some 60,000 people per year, from all over the planet. It's recommended by all of the guide books and glossy brochures.
The endless stream of hikers on the Tongariro Crossing over Easter.

Many people jump to the conclusion that something this popular and well-advertised must be safe. But any hike in an alpine environment carries risks, and the Tongariro Crossing has claimed a number of lives.
The Tongariro Crossing on a spring weekend. You just never know!

Last year, one couple brought inadequate layers of clothing for the bad conditions that closed in during their hike. (This is very common, with people trying to carry as little as possible for the 17 kilometre walk, and often wearing just a t-shirt and shorts.) When fog rolled in they got lost and disoriented. The seven-hour hike became an endless nightmare as darkness fell. They sheltered behind a rock, but the woman died from hypothermia before rescuers found them at 2am.

As outdoor adventures become more and more popular among vacationers, there is a risk that those without any outdoor experience will find themselves alone in the wilderness without the right gear or clothing. It may look good in the glossy brochure, but the environment has a mind of its own, and it doesn't care if you're just enjoying a nice vacation.

I'm glad that hiking is becoming more popular, but I wish that people would understand that walking over a mountain (or volcano) is not the same as walking around their home town. It doesn't have to be Mt. Everest to be dangerous for the unprepared.
Be prepared, and enjoy the view!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Chris Townsend Interview - A Solo Legend Talks About Coupledom

For those not familiar with Chris Townsend, he is a UK author/photographer who has written 16 books on the outdoors. Chris is best known as a long-distance through-hiker. His major walks have included the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and first-time continuous walks of the Canadian Rockies end-to-end, and the 517 Scottish Munros and Tops.

With all of these epic solo journies under his belt, it may surprise some people to hear that Chris has lived with his partner Denise for the past 12 years, while they first met over 30 years ago. Chris had a sneak peak at "Sex in a Tent" and agreed to chat with me about the joys and challenges of being an outdoor couple.

Was Denise experienced in the outdoors when you met? Was it part of what brought you together?

No, we met at a political meeting in a pub! We were both living in a big city at the time. Denise had a little experience of the outdoors but hadn't been wild camping or hill walking.

How did you introduce her to 'roughing it' without scaring her off? Were there any bad experiences at first?

Given how we were living 30 years ago going camping wasn't really "roughing it"! There were no bad experiences that I can remember.

On our first trip, which was in the English Lake District, I suggested a day walk from a campground up an easy hill as our first hike together. Denise found this rather tame - she liked scrambling, which she'd done on the coast - so for our second hike we went up a bigger mountain with some scrambling en route and bivvied out on the summit so we could watch the sunrise. That was our first wild camp!

Denise points out that the one bad experience she remembers was with packs, as this was before women's packs existed. None of the proper backpacks available at the time were comfortable and she ended up with a soft pack with added hipbelt, which was the best she could find. Women's packs made a huge difference to her.

What do you bring on your trips together than you don't bring on solo trips? Different gear? Food? Clothing?

All I remember taking that was different was a bigger tent and bigger pots.

Did you have different camping styles to begin with? Who has made compromises and what have they been?

I accepted that I'd walk less far than on my own (which applies to trips with friends as well).

What kinds of places do you like to go together? Is there a certain kind of>setting you consider more romantic for a camping trip with your partner?

We both like high camps in the Scottish Highlands, pitched near a lochan (small lake) in a corrie (bowl) backed by cliffs.

Have you shared any 'dream destinations' together? Or do you have places that you want to experience together?

I guess one dream destination is the Scottish Highlands - where we live!There are places we would like to experience together and which we hope it will be possible to visit.

What do you think couples can gain from exploring the wilderness together? What has it brought to your relationship?

I hope couples can gain an understanding both of themselves and the natural world and an appreciation of their place in it. Our shared appreciation of wild places has, I think, been deepened by wild camping. Being able to share my love of nature and wilderness with Denise is very important.

Do you behave any differently when the two of you are in the wild, compared to how you behave at home?

I don't think so. I do most of the cooking when we're in the wild!

Do you think you could be happy with a partner who wasn't comfortable in the wilderness?


Would you ever consider going on a long-distance walk with Denise?

I would love to share the experience of a long walk with Denise. We are still hoping it will come about. (She currently has shoulder problems that make it impossible.)

Chris maintains a website and blog at

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sex in a Tent - Already a Bestseller!

Today I discovered that Sex in a Tent has already broken Amazon's top 100 camping books list. And it's not even out yet! Today it is sitting at #57, appropriately enough right behind Babes in the Woods. But they update the list constantly, so who knows where it will be by the time the book is released, or tomorrow for that matter!

I was delighted to see that it now has the "search inside" function set up, so people can take a sneak peek. If you've been curious about the look and contents of the book, check out Amazon and you'll get an idea of what you can expect.

Hooray for the bestseller list!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Glamping in Alaska

Me in 2003, looking glamperous in Alaska.

An acquaintance of mine just came back from an Alaskan cruise, which got me feelling nostalgic about the two weeks I spent there in 2003 on a camping tour. I suppose it's the closest I've come to "glamping", since it was a guided trip and not much hard work. We stayed at campgrounds and travelled from place to place in a van. But that was the only way to see a wide range of Alaskan scenery in a limited amount of time, so I have no regrets about not doing it "hard core."

This trip predates my switch to digital photography (yes, I was a late bloomer) but I did scan a few pics, so I thought I'd share them here:
A perfect mirror lake in southern Alaska

Our campsite in Valdez, next to a waterfall.

Me with our guide, Jay, at the top of a short hike.

Jay with another of our group on the same hike.

Jay preparing some fresh, Alaskan salmon

The top of Mt. McKinley (Denali) from the scenic flight I took. We saw a few climbers on the summit as we flew past.

Exploring an old gold mine.