Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Crawling Up Kili

In September next year, we'll be doing our best to slog our way up the highest peak in Africa - Mt Kilimanjaro. Having never hiked at that kind of altitude before, I have no way of knowing how my body will react. I'm hopeful about reaching the summit, but determined to make the most of whatever happens, even if I have to turn back.

Another adventurer recently tackled Kili, but with a bit of a difference. This hiker can't use his legs! Paraplegic Darol Kubacz used a custom-designed three wheel cart to propel himself up the mountain. His first attempt was unsuccessful due to a high altitude pulmonary edema, but he went back for more.

In August this year (yeah, I was a little slow in hearing about this) he made it to the top over 10 days. A feat of mental toughness, physical endurance and pure determination!

Kubacz was hoping to raise awareness of his Freedom For Life non-profit foundation. Run by disabled veterans (Kubacz lost use of his legs during military training) they introduce people with disabilities to outdoor activities and adventures.

You can read the (strangely familiar-looking) blog at fflfoundation.org

Thanks for the inspiration Darol!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Awesome photo of Aoraki/Mt Cook

Photo via REUTERS/The Christchurch Press/John Kirk-Anderson

I recently posted about a Japanese climber who died on Mt Cook while his friend managed to hold on until the rescue helicopter was able to get to him.

I was looking through the Boston Globe's "The Year 2008 in Photographs" collection and came across the above image of the rescue. I assume the orange sky indicates that the rescue took place at sunrise. Hopefully I won't get in trouble for sharing the photo here. I did use the credit!

If you want to see the rest of the amazing photos in the collection, follow this link.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Backcountry New Year's

Rather than spend another New Year's Eve sitting around with a few friends waiting for the clock to tick over, we've opted to get out of town and go for a New Year tramp.

Not being the sorts to do things half-way, we're going to be on a 5-day tramp from December 28-January 2. Having not really done any multi-day tramps since last summer, I'm pretty sure this is going to be painful!

Discomfort aside, I've been mulling over the New Year's Eve part of the tramp. It would be nice to somehow mark the occasion, and I'm sure the other trampers at the hut that night will be feeling festive. But what can you do to celebrate New Year's Eve when it requires carrying whatever you need for three days before?

I'm thinking a bit of alcohol may make its way into the ol' backpack - but not the traditional bubbly. It's both too heavy to carry for three days in a glass bottle (and won't be bubbly if we remove it from the glass bottle) and not particularly nice to drink at room temperature. A bit of fancy chocolate or something is also a possibility. But I'm not sure what else.

So if you have any suggestions, I'd love to see them in the comments down below! Have you ever celebrated New Year's in the wilderness? What did you do to mark the occasion? Did you dress up? Light fireworks? Make a gourmet meal? Go for a midnight swim? Snowball fight?

Meanwhile, the dehydrating of dinners is already underway!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Makara Revisited

Last weekend, with another hot, sunny day on our hands, we headed back to the Makara Walkway. We walked this coastal route last year with a couple of friends, and it was interesting to see the changes over the space of a year.
First of all, part of the inland section of the walkway heading towards the clifftops has been completely overtaken by thistles. I'm not sure why they're suddenly so dominant, but they make it less than pleasant to walk through narrow stretches of track. Thankfully I wasn't wearing shorts.
After making it through the thistles, we were rewarded with a bird's eye view of a small pod of orca (killer whales) hanging out not far from shore. While we were pretty high above them, you can more or less make out the orca in this picture from the black body and dorsal fin, and the white spot in front of the fin. This was my first encounter with wild orcas (Marineland doesn't count)!
The inland section of the track is also a working farm, and the farmers are indeed doing some work. I came across this section of what used to be fence. It looked a bit like deconstructionist sculpture to me, so I captured it for posterity.
We descended from the inland section down to the coastline, and followed the rocky beach back to the beginning of the track. This is hard work as your feet sink into the stones and pebbles with every step. One the way back, I saw two dead puffer fish on the beach. I didn't even know there were puffer fish in New Zealand! This one looked pretty cool, so I snapped a picture of him (or her, not that it matters at this point) just 'cause.
So there you have my big day at the beach, in the form of a photo-essay. Or does a photo-essay need to have a point? Well, I may not have a point, but I do have a pointy fish!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Climber Dies on Mt Cook

Photo: New Zealand Herald

Tragedy struck New Zealand's highest peak again recently.

Two Japanese climbers got stranded on Mt Cook at 3700 metres on the mountain in appalling conditions for seven days until a rescue could be attempted. After five days a bag of supplies was dropped off to them, but at some point their tent was either buried in snow or blew away, and the pair spent their last night in the open.

When a rescue helicopter reached them, one of the climbers, Kiyoshi Ikenouchi, was dead. His companion Hideaki Nara was suffering from frostbite but was still able to walk.

While not one of the world's highest mountains, Mt Cook is apparently a very challenging one to climb. Accidents and severe conditions are not unusual.

Recently there have been a string of deaths on Mt Aspiring, not all that far away from Mt Cook. All three died from falls in different areas of the mountain.

It's times like this I'm somewhat grateful for my own lack of ambition when it comes to mountaineering. While you could potentially have a fatal accident while out tramping (and many do) it's much less likely than when you're a peak-bagger. I'm happy to crane my neck looking up at those mighty summits, enjoying the view from the bottom!

OK - having written the above I am proved somewhat wrong by not one but two trampers dying in NZ last week! One was crushed by a boulder, which must have involved either remarkably bad luck or the victim doing something very, very dumb. The other died crossing a river, which isn't that unusual except that his companions seem to suspect he actually died of a heart attack while crossing the river - and that's pretty unusual. He was in his seventies and very experienced.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fabulous Feet

Some of Dirty Girl Gaiters' customers

Sometimes with hiking gear, we get so focused on being practical and technologically advanced that we forget about wearing stuff that is just plain fun!

Thankfully there's a gaiter company out there that hasn't forgotten to have fun, and they're spreading a bit of colour around the great outdoors.

Dirty Girl Gaiters use colourful fabrics and patterns to keep rocks and dirt out of your shoes while allowing you to express your most fabulous side.

These are not heavy-duty gaiters to wear on a mountaineering expedition. But if you're a trail runner or lighweight hiker, the stretch fabric may do well enough to keep your feet happy. Or maybe you just want to wear them as a fashion accessory!

Hats of to Dirty Girl for making hiking fun. And thanks to Tom at Two-Heel Drive for bringing them to my attention on his Christmas wish list. (I wonder which fabric he'd pick? I'm all for the "cherry on top".)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Take On Camping Bites the Dust

I'm officially a victim of the recession! Last week my contract for writing "Take On Camping" was turfed, along with the entire "Take It On" series. Publishers, like everyone else, are looking to slash costs - and apparently how-to books aimed at women are on the chopping block.

On the bright side, I can now spend less of my spare time writing about camping, and hopefully more time actually doing it!

Sympathy gifts of free camping gear or alternate book contracts are welcome ;o)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are you staring at my widget?

I added a new widget down the right-hand column of this blog today. It's a little counter that shows you how many other people are currently reading the blog, and what countries they are in.

I just thought it was kinda cool...

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Bit Like Home

Last weekend the weather was a bit unpredictable, but rather than stay inside all day we took a walk on Sunday in part of Wellington's awesome urban green space.

We decided to walk the Ngaio Gorge Track, which follows the Kaiwharawhara Stream through the suburbs, in a narrow park between steep hillsides. (Maori place name pronunciation guide: Ngaio = n-eye-oh, Kaiwharawhara = k-eye-far-ah-far-ah.)

It reminded me a bit of Toronto, where I used to live. Toronto has no mountains or major natural landscape features (except for Lake Ontario, which is not good for hiking!) but what it does have is lots of ravines.

Most of the urban trails in Toronto wind along through the bottoms of ravines. Many are interconnected with cycling paths, picnic areas and other conveniences. They aren't exactly remote, but they do a surprisingly good job of making you feel removed from the city.

The Ngaio Gorge was a short (a couple of kilometres each way) stroll with not much to challenge the hiker, but it was a pleasant enough path through regenerating native bush, with reminders that this ravine has formerly been used for a number of different things including factories, and national defense!
There are a lot of sewer-related constructions which take away that "back to nature" feel a bit. However, you can't ask too much of the urban trail.

All in all, it beat the hell out of sitting in front of the TV all afternoon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

When You Can't Escape

The best laid plans... on hold.
Just when I thought we were on the verge of getting back into the wilderness, backpacks and all, G. has had a bad flare-up of the tendons in his arm. That puts any kind of hardcore activity on the back burner for a couple more weeks at least.

I've had my own challenges with injuries that took tramping off the menu for weeks at a time. A few summers ago, just after Christmas, I injured my foot while we were taking a casual stroll through a vineyard! Little did I know that what I thought was an ankle sprain was actually a small stick embedded in my foot and causing infections galore.

So what do you do when you're stuck at home with an injury? What's the substitute for getting out there and being active?

Here are my suggestions:

Shopping - This is one I've been doing a bit too much lately. New sleeping bag, new tarp, new hydration bladder. But even just window shopping for gear, or catching up on the latest gear reviews, can keep your head in the camping world while you're unable to participate.

Planning - Take out your guide books and maps, and start deciding where you are going to go as soon as you are able. What new areas have you been meaning to check out? Which of your favourite routes have you not done for a while. When you get the all-clear to head out, you'll be ready to roll.

Armchair Travel - So maybe you're in no shape to climb Everest at the moment. But you're more than capable of renting the DVD of "Into Thin Air"! Other armchair classics for the outdoors include Touching the Void, Grizzly Man, Deliverance, Into the Wild, and if you feel like extra cheese, The Blair Witch Project. After seeing so many trips turn out badly you'll be glad you're stuck at home!

A Good Book - Whether it's Bill Bryson's attempt at the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods), or Caroline Hamilton's all-woman expedition to the South Pole (South Pole 2000), you're sure to find a paperback adventure to keep you occupied for a while. I particularly enjoyed A Blistered Kind of Love, the tale of a young couple walking the Pacific Crest Trail written in alternating chapters by both of them.

Social Networking - The buzzword of the decade! The number of outdoors forums out here in interwebby-world is astounding. Get interactive, join a conversation about something you're interested in. Or just lurk in the background checking out other people's discussions. Heck, if you're really desperate you could read people's outdoor blogs! (I mean, um, anyway...)

So there you have a few suggestions for the next time you're stuck at home due to an injury, illness or just a period of bad weather in your neck of the woods. If you have a favourite book, movie or time-killer that keeps you in the wilderness mood, let me know in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why? Why? Why?

Today I've been writing some of the paddling section of "Take On Camping" with basic info on canoe camping.

Today I have also been feeling like crap - sore throat, stuffy nose and sleepy - thus I am grumpy and going to take it out here with a rant of sorts.

What I want to know is why did canoe camping never catch on in New Zealand? Sea kayaking is relatively widely practiced, but there is basically one place in the entire country where it is common to get into a canoe and paddle down a river. (It's the Wanganui River, which is one of the "Great Walks", despite the fact that you don't walk it. Don't get me started on that one!)

At first I chalked it up to cultural differences. After all, Canada is far away from here, maybe canoes just never caught on in this part of the world. Then I realised that the people of the South Pacific have been travelling in canoes for centuries! The first people ever to reach New Zealand did so in an ocean-going canoe, and so did all of the settlers who followed. The waka is a major part of New Zealand culture!

So that leaves me saying - WTF??? Why can't I go to one of the many, many rivers and lakes that are used for all kinds of recreational pursuits in this country and rent myself a canoe? I don't mind if it's a Pacific-style canoe with an outrigger. I could deal with that. It would take some practice, but I'm sure I'd learn how to control one eventually.

But no, apparently there's no demand for that. So I can try to cram my gear into the tiny hatches of a kayak, or I can stay on dry land when I go camping.

Anyway, that's my rant. Thank you for letting me vent. I'll try to be more positive in future posts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Summer Slumber

Another week, another new bit of gear. I really need to stop getting new stuff. But hey, the camera was a gift, and the Platypus was actually necessary. Well, pretty much. Anyway...

So today I finally made up my mind and bought a summer weight sleeping bag. As with most of my purchase decisions, it was based on the fact that the item in question was on sale.

As you may remember, I was undecided as to whether I should go with down or synthetic fill. In the end, I've gone synthetic. It's about 500 g heavier that the equivalent warmth in down, but I'm not really a lightweight backpacker anyway. It was a difference of a $95 sleeping bag vs a $230 sleeping bag. Both on sale.

The one I bought (pictured) is a Macpac Roam 150. Since Macpac are now selling through their own retail outlets, everyone stuck with their old stock is just trying to dump it and move on. That was the case at Bivouac this weekend, hence the $150 sleeping bag for $95.

It's rated to 10 degrees, so it's theoretically going to keep me warm enough if I'm sleeping in huts during the summer. For tent camping, I'll probably stick with my warmer bag unless it's really hot weather. The bag has a hood attached, so that should add a bit of warmth when needed. Also, G has lent me a cotton liner he never uses (since he bought a silk one) which will add another couple of degrees.

So hopefully this means no more sweaty nights in the huts! (And hopefully it doesn't mean shivering all night wondering what the hell I was thinking!) We still haven't managed to get away for a weekend this spring, but with a bit of luck we'll be doing that soon and I'll let you all know how the new gear works out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Platypus Evolution

No, I'm not talking about the bizarre Australian animals that look like evolution at its most surreal. I mean the hydration bladders.

I've been a Platypus convert since some friends gave me one for my birthday about 7 or 8 years ago. The idea of being able to drink water at any time during a hike without the need to stop and take my bottle out of my pack pretty much sold me on the spot.
My Platypus was a 2 litre big zip version, not quite like the one in this photo because the end opposite the hose attachment was a large zip-loc type opening. It served me faithfully for many years and many kilometres, but last summer it was showing signs that it was not long for this world. The plastic near the hose attachment end was beginning to tear, and it was only a matter of time before the whole thing had a structural failure.

So I've acquired a shiny, new Platypus, this time without the zip-loc as I found it sometimes hard to close properly. I was expecting pretty much an exact duplicate of my old one, but it seems that over the past 7 or 8 years, the Platypus has evolved a bit.
First of all, the plastic used for the bladder feels a bit thinner and more flexible. Hopefully it's just as strong. The old one was quite stiff, so it's kind of nice that this is more lightweight and bendy.

Also, the new one has a hanging loop at the top, so you can hang it from a tree to make a shower. (I assume this is what they expect that to be used for. Perhaps there are other reasons to hang your platypus that I haven't thought of. Rinsing dishes maybe?)
The new hose has a right-angle attachment which may help to reduce strain on the plastic where it attaches to the bladder. And the hose is blue instead of clear. No idea why that would help anything, other than making it hard to tell if the water you're drinking isn't clear. I guess you'd figure that out when you fill the bladder anyway.

So there you have it - the evolution of the Platypus. Perhaps in several years' time I'll discover the next step when this one needs to be replaced.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Top Tarp

A while back, we discovered that our emergency plan to use an extra ground sheet as a shelter if necessary was deeply flawed. First, the sheet was too small for the two of us to really shelter under in a storm and hope to stay dry. Second, it was not really designed for that purpose, so it lacked grommets and loops in all of the necessary places.

After much perusing in outdoors shops, we realised that what we wanted wasn't really available here in New Zealand. We were after a lightweight tarp (or fly if you prefer) that was going to keep the rain off, cover two people comfortably, and not weigh enough to make us ever leave it at home.

We ended up importing a tarp from Mountain Equipment Coop in Canada. (One of my favourite places to shop when I'm home for a visit!) It's 2.1m X 2.9m, and weighs just 438g. Today we had a trial run at setting it up on our hike along Cattle Ridge in the Rimutakas. I can tell you it certainly worked better than our old ground sheet! We'd easily fit under there, along with our gear. The loops and grommets are placed in logical positions, and well reinforced. And while my knot-tying skills still need some work, we got it looking pretty sturdy in a classic A-frame shape.
Meanwhile, we had a lovely 4-hour (minus tarp-trying and lunch-eating) hike on a beautiful spring day. There aren't a lot of open views from the ridge as it is below the bush line, but we did have this look over the harbour.
And if you need proof that spring has arrived in New Zealand, check out the koru (baby fern leaves) unravelling in the centre of this fern. For New Zealand, that's pretty much like daffodils sprouting from the ground! Fingers crossed for a warm, sunny summer.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New Toys

It was a good birthday for me this year! Among other wonderful events like dinner with friends and going to Samoa, I got a new camera (thanks G!)

My old Olympus decided to stop working properly after less than four years, which was rather upsetting. Whenever I turn it on, the camera zooms all of the way in and won't zoom back out. That makes it rather useless, and fixing the electronics in a digital camera is generally not worthwhile unless it's an SLR.

So here I am with a brand, spanking new Fuji Finepix 8000 fd, as pictured above. After debating an upgrade to SLR, I decided that the need to have two lenses for enough options, and the extra weight, made it unworkable for me. I need portable solutions!

So instead, I went for a point-and-shoot with mega-zoom. As you can see on the photo, this camera has a massive 18X optical zoom. That makes it a bit bulkier than my old camera (which had a 10X zoom) but hopefully the ability to take better wildlife photos is worth the extra size and weight. You know, if I see any wildlife...

Other good things about this camera include an upgrade from my old 4MP to 8MP (good enough for me!), and the fact that this camera takes AA batteries, so I'm not stuck trying to find a place to recharge if I'm in some remote spot.

One drawback, however, is that my old camera case wasn't big enough for my new camera. So I needed to do some shopping before I could take it along anywhere. Hence I went case-shopping today.
This is my new case - a Lowepro d-res 25, with all-weather cover! My camera just barely fits snugly inside, which is good. I didn't want to be carrying around some huge, lunchbox-sized camera bag somehow attached to my backpack. This one is still fairly compact, and has a strap on the back that attaches to itself with 2 separate velcro closures so it's unlikely to come off, even if it snags on something.

So now I'm all set for another season of outdoor photography. I'm sure you'll be seeing the results here on my blog. Hopefully it won't take me too long to get used to the new tools!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sweating in Samoa

Yep, that's what I've been up to for several days. Sorry I haven't been able to blog from Samoa - did you miss me?

The thing about tropical islands is - man, they're hot! It's been a while since I spent any time in that climate. Not condusive to much physical activity I have to say. But despite that, we did manage to go on one short hike while we were staying in Apia, Western Samoa.

It seems that Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of such classics as Treasure Island and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, spent his final few years living in Samoa, in the late 1800s. His former house is now a museum dedicated to him, a few kilometres outside of central Apia (uphill, of course!)

He was buried, per his request, on top of a small mountain beside his home. The hike up to his grave is one of the few bushwalks near Apia, and takes 30-45 minutes each way. Here's me, already sweating at the start of the walk.

On the way up we saw some lovely birds, and an interesting array of tropical plants. It's hard to get any scale in the photos, but the plant in the photo below stood about six feet high.

When you make it to the grave you can see why he chose the spot. It overlooks the town with a view to the ocean beyond. Very nice and scenic, although I'm sure being dead and encased in stone blocks the view a bit.

Turning 90 degrees, you get a view over the valley towards more mountains. As you can see, there are houses and other buildings in the valley. Most of the population in Samoa lives right along the coastline, but Apia being the biggest "city" has spread inland farther than most villages.

That's about the most walking we did on our trip. It was enough to give me a heat rash on my legs, and put my clothing from that day into a plastic bag so that it couldn't contaminate the rest of my luggage!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Great Balls of Fire!

If you've been following the blog along lately, you'll know that G has been learning the craft of primitive fire making, largely by trial and error. Well, tonight we dropped in on the Tararua Tramping Club to see a presentation and demonstration on the bow technique for fire making - G's method of choice.

After showing us a short video of himself doing this at home in daylight, our instructor Steve took the crowd outside so he could try to replicate his success live. He also had extra sets of materials handy, so some of the onlookers could also give it a try. The materials consist of a bow (slightly flexible stick and nylon cord), base (mahoe), spindle (kaikomako), and top grip (green hardwood).
He began by drilling into a slight depression in the base until it began to smoke, then cut a groove in the side to let the hot dust gather. Once it was smoking a lot, he gave it 30 or 40 strokes at high speed until there was an ember to dump out.
He used his hand to fan the ember for a minute or two before transferring it to a sort of basket made of sturdy grasses, and containing dry tinder. The idea is to swing the basket around so that air is forced through, helping the ember to light the tinder.
Eventually... well, you saw the photo at the top. Fire! We didn't take it any further because we were not in a particularly fire-friendly location. But at least one of the other people who tried it afterwards also got a flame. So at least we've seen for ourselves that it can be done!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paying For Winter Laziness

It's been a long, lazy winter for me down here in New Zealand. Sure, we've gone for the occasional "hike" on a nice, sunny day. The kind of hike where you wake up late, have a leisurely breakfast, and hit the trail around noon for a couple of hours' strolling.

Last weekend we decided to do a proper day hike in Kaitoke Regional Park. We hadn't been there in a while, but our last walk there was decidedly gray and drizzly. This was a much nicer day by the looks of it.

We still started at the lazy hour of 11am, with our sights on a 5-hour (plus rest stops) loop up a ridge, then down to a river valley, and along the valley back to the start via a low saddle.

Our walk began with me immediately choosing the wrong fork of the track, and descending for 25 minutes on muddy clay before we realised we'd gone the wrong way. We did this last time too. I distinctly remembered taking the wrong track and having to backtrack. What I had forgotten was which track we took last time that was the wrong one. Hence, we took it again!

So 45 minutes and a fair bit of climbing after we began, we were back at the start of the track, heading the right way. This time the track went very much uphill, which is helpful when you're trying to climb a ridge! Aside from a bit of mud, there wasn't much evidence of recent storms in the area. No big trees blown over or anything.

By the time we hit the turn off the ridge I was feeling like we'd accomplished the hard part of the day. I was horribly mistaken! First of all, once you descend a bit off the ridge there's another hill to climb before you even begin to head down to the river. We made it up that and started our descent. The descent is much steeper than the climb up, so I figured we'd be down to the river in a matter of 20 minutes or so. Wrong again!

Down, down, down we went. It was never-ending. My lazy quads began to whine, then shout, then turn into jelly. By the time we hit the riverbed my legs no longer felt like part of my body. They had divorced me.

At least, I figured, we now had a couple of kilometres of flat walking ahead of us before we had to cross up and over the saddle. We took a good rest before starting on our way again, assured that this part of the hike would be quite easy. No such luck.

A detour sign popped up immediately thanks to a slip by the river. Something in the dark recesses of my mind told me the detour had been there last time, but I'd forgotten about it - as you sometimes do with traumatic experiences. So instead of enjoying a stroll along a flat track, we were heading straight up the steep slope to get above the slip. Then we sidled across for a bit before going straight back down. My legs were very grumpy about this. The rest of me was not impressed either.

So half an hour later, we had made hardly any progress towards the end of the loop, but at last the walking was easier. We eventually sweated our way up the saddle and back down to the car park. I looked at my watch. 6pm. We'd been going for 7 hours to complete a 5 hour hike (plus a 45 minute excursion on the wrong track, plus a half-hour detour, and a couple of rest breaks.)

I was tired but feeling OK about it when we got home. What I didn't expect was that I'd spend the next three days barely able to get up or down stairs because my quads were stuffed! I mean, I knew I was a bit out of practice, but to waddle around for three days after a reasonable day hike is just pathetic! So now I see that sitting out the winter can do a lot of damage to my fitness levels. And since we've got big plans for a trek next September, I'd better be more vigilant when this summer ends!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NZ Government buys farmland for conservation

The St. James Walkway

Last summer on our South Island tramping holiday, we walked the St. James Walkway.

The 5-day (at a rather relaxed pace!) route was partly through crown-owned conservation land, and partly through a privately-owned farm called St. James Station. Now the family who own the farm have decided to sell it to the government so that it can be protected.

The farm isn't just part of the Walkway. According to Prime Minister (for now) Helen Clark: "It has 11 different tramping routes, the Amuri ski field, and great mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, horse riding and hunting opportunities. The property's almost untouched landscape is dominated by exceptional natural features.

"Some 430 indigenous species of flora have been identified on the property and 30 native bird species have been sighted there."

The farm covers over 78,000 hectares of land, but recently only about 13 percent of it has been used for grazing. I'm thinking that 13 percent must all be along the St. James Walkway, because we sure saw a lot of cows on our tramp.
Animals grazing on the walkway

Here's hoping that the cows get moved to new homes, so the walkway can return to a more nautral state and those of us who enjoy a good tramp don't have to watch out for cow patties everywhere!

The acquisition of this land completes a coast-to-coast protected corridor across the South Island, which is very cool. Now if only they could finish creating that north-south trail they've been talking about for years...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spring Storms Make For Dangerous Tramping

A river in flood can be a terrifying thing.

It may be going on fall for many of you, but down here spring is in the air and we are basking in the delights of daylight saving time. It's so tempting once the longer days arrive to head for the hills and enjoy some quality time in the bush. But with spring bringing some intense weather this year, it has led to unexpected adventures for some.

One recent even has a happy ending. A Scottish man went tramping in the Tararua ranges, but got into trouble when he slipped and fell down a steep slope. To climb back up to the track with an injured leg he had to ditch much of the weight in his pack, and he was unable to walk out.

Although he managed to raise the alarm the next day (nobody has said how he did this - but it's possible he had cell reception in the area) the winds were gusting up to 150 km/h so a helicopter rescue was out of the question. Teams were sent in on foot to locate him. He spent a second night in the bush, having made himself a little 'nest' out of flax on a sheltered ledge.

By the time he was found he was in the early stages of hypothermia, but rescuers got him to a backcountry hut where they looked after him overnight until a helicopter flight was possible. Rescuers were impressed with his mental toughness, and believe that's what got him through the experience.

The other recent spring storm story does not have a happy ending. A woman in her fifties, who was an ecologist and botanist (and therefore should know a thing or two about the natural environment) was out tramping in Egmont National Park with her daughter. Despite a warning from Dept. of Conservation staff about the possibility of rising river levels after heavy rain, she attempted to cross a swollen stream.

The stream was waist-deep and moving fast after a night of heavy rain. The rain had arrived ahead of the predicted time, and the two trampers decided to continue on their planned route rather than taking an alternative track that would not cross the stream.

Wearing a heavy pack, the woman was swept off her feet while her daughter was helpless to save her. Rescuers found the woman's body 500 metres downstream.

River crossings claim more trampers' lives in New Zealand than any other kind of accident. People seem to forget that a river that was crossable yesterday, may be impassable today. Hopefully the unfortunate woman's death with serve as a timely reminder during these unpredictable spring rains.

Windy Hilltops was also inspired to write a post on river crossing after this unfortunate event.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

One Book - Two Titles

I'm doing some reading as part of my research for "Take On Camping", including other instructional books on the subject.

Recently I took the well-known guide "The Backpacker's Field Manual" out of the library for a bit of a refresher. There are some interesting things in there, although it is mainly geared towards people leading groups into the backcountry.

Last weekend that book was due back at the library, so I returned it and had another browse around the bookshelf to see if there were other books on the topic I hadn't checked out yet. There I found the "Collins Camping and Hiking Manual."

I grabbed it and signed it out figuring there would probably be some worthwhile reading in it. Then I cracked it open when I got home, and much to my surprise it looked awfully familiar. Kind of like the book I had just returned.

In fact, they are exactly the same book - just slightly revised in the Collins edition to suit the UK market. (ie. metric measurements are more prevalent)

This was kind of funny to me - but what really took the cake was looking up the Collins book on Amazon.co.uk. If you shop on Amazon at all, you'll know that they often pair up two books and offer a slightly discounted price if you buy both together. Well, they were offering a discounted price to buy "The Backpacker's Field Manual" AND "Collins Camping and Hiking Manual" - that's right, two versions of THE SAME BOOK!

I'm guessing Amazon simply didn't realise these were the same book with two titles - or at least I hope not. I hate to think they were intentionally trying to rip people off like that. It's a useful book and all, but I think one copy is enough for most people.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Camping for Swingers

I was doing some more book research today, and started looking into camping hammocks. I've never had the opportunity to try one out myself, but they seem like a great idea. Light, small, no poles required - that all makes a lot of sense. I'm not so sure about the two-person model in the photo above. Hammocks are tricky for sex at the best of times (which I discuss briefly in Sex in a Tent) but sex in one of these capsule-like hammocks would be limiting at best. Even just sleeping side-by-side in a hammock like this is for the few and the brave. I think it would be tricky if either of you toss and turn in your sleep, or don't like another sweaty body pressed against yours outside the sexual realm.

Solo hammocking, however, looks like a nice way to enjoy the outdoors. You don't see a lot of hammock campers around New Zealand, however, for a few good reasons. First of all, most Kiwis sleep in backcountry huts, so they don't need a hammock.

Second, it sure can get windy here! Trying to sleep in a suspended bed in the middle of a gale sounds cold and somewhat terrifying.

Third, a lot of serious trampers here spend a significant number of nights above the bushline, where there would be no trees to suspend the hammock from. Some can be set up like tents using hiking poles, but that would somewhat defeat the purpose of having a hammock in the first place.

So I may not get a chance to go hammocking here in NZ, but I'd like to try it out someday in a temperate, dry climate. I think I'd enjoy spending a night or two swinging under the stars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's in the (sleeping) bag

I love my sleeping bag. It has kept me warm and cozy every night that I've ventured outside of the civilized world and slept in a tent or hut, or without either. It has been with me for about 8 years, and shows no real signs of wear and tear. My sleeping bag is an MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop, a Canadian retailer) Cygnet down bag, like the one pictured above except that it's purple. But my wonderful sleeping bag has one drawback - sometimes it's just too darn warm!

Having a sleeping bag rated to -10C seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, better to be too warm than too cold. But now that I stay in backcountry huts a lot, and tend to do most of my camping in the summer, I'm thinking I could use something not quite so cosy.

Yesterday we popped into a few outdoors shops to see what was on offer by way or summer-weight bags. Some were ridiculously expensive ($400? I don't think so!) Others were ridiculously heavy. But a few are real contenders for becoming my next bit of gear.

One that I quite liked was the Marmot Trestles women's bag. It's a synthetic, which means it's cheaper than down but not quite as light. It comes in a delightful 2-tone green look as you can see from the photo below.

But in the long run, I'm thinking that another down bag may be worth the extra expense. Not just to save weight, but also because they pack down so much smaller. This would leave more space in my back for important things like another bar of chocolate, or the mini-tripod for my camera. (I also have to buy a new camera, but that's a whole other story!)

So now the great down vs synthetic debate is occupying my thoughts. In case you haven't had the debate yet, this is how it goes:

The down bags are so much smaller and lighter - and what's the point of getting a summer-weight bag that's just as big and heavy as my warm bag?

Yeah, but the down is expensive, and I already have one. Plus, it's no good if I get it wet. I can get a decent synthetic one for like, $100. Down will cost at least double that.

Sure, but my other down bag has lasted for years - probably way longer than a synthetic fill would last. So that makes up for the extra cost.

I dunno - let me think about it...

And so here I am, thinking about it. What I can say is that it's nice to see more sleeping bags available in a "women's" size, not just standard or long. Of course, they could have just called it "small" instead. Either way, it beats carrying around twice the bag I need for my size.

Stay tuned to find out if I eventually make a decision! (I can waffle for a surprisingly long time about these things. Don't be surprised if the decision takes a while!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Where the Bloody Hell Are Your Clothes?

While 45km of New Zealand beach is being proposed for "clothing optional" status, our neighbours in Australia are apparently far more conservative when it comes to letting it all hang out.

A proposal by Freebeach Australia to allow nudity on the beach in the Mudjimba Beach area has been rejected via a petition signed by 450 locals who are opposed to the idea. Apparently they had both moral and "safety concerns" about a nude beach.

Safety concerns? Nudity is very safe - it prevents people from concealing weapons, and also eliminates any reason to mug anyone. Clearly they'd have nothing "on them" to steal!

So the sunbathing debate is a hot topic on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Stay tuned for more news as it unfolds!

Read the story from the Sunshine Coast Daily

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Being the conscientious hikers that we are, even on day hikes we bring our ten essentials along to make sure that - should things go horribly wrong - we'd be safe overnight in the bush.

One of the things we always bring is an emergency shelter, and some cord to put it up. The emergency shelter we generally pack is essentially a ground sheet. It has one reflective side so it doubles as an emergency blanket. But it isn't very big, and because it's not really meant to be used as a shelter, it only has grommets on the four corners. So G sewed on some nylon loops to tie the cord through in the centre, and on the sides.

Having an emergency shelter with us is somewhat comforting. But G brought up the point that in fact we had never tried to put it up, and really had no idea whether we'd be able to use it if the unfortunate situation arose. He wanted to take it for a test run in a realistic setting.

Off we went to the Rimutakas for a day walk and shelter experiment. We wandered a little way off the trail and found an area with some good trees and relatively flat ground. What did we discover? Our ground sheet is too small and too tear-able to make a decent shelter!

In theory the two of us could spoon under there for a night, but it the rain was heavy or being blown by the wind, there wasn't enough cover to keep us dry.

So now we are on the lookout for a more durable, lightweight and slightly larger fly to use as a shelter. Unfortunately, these seem to be harder to come by in NZ than in other places. I guess we're so spoiled by the tramping huts that many people just don't carry shelter at all! (Risky, if for some reason you can't make it to, or can't find, the next hut!) There is one fly available, but it's bigger and heavier than we want at 3X4 metres and 1.2 kilos.

So we're on the lookout for a shelter - if anyone has recommendations. Feel free to comment!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remember your first time?

As part of doing my research for "Take On Camping", I'm thinking it would be fun to get various women to share their memories of their first wilderness experience, whether it was camping, hiking, paddling, or whatever. We all started out as wilderness virgins - but no two stories of innocence lost are quite the same!

If you have a story to share, please e-mail it to loveinatent AT hotmail DOT com. (You know the drill, make it into a real e-mail address.)

Include your name and where you're from, unless you're keen to stay anonymous. The best stories will show up here on my blog and in the book!

To be fair - I'll start it off with my first experience. Unfortunately, I was only three years old so I don't remember much about it.

We were on a family trip to Vancouver, visiting friends of my parents. They took us into the mountains for a camping trip, and I assume we spent one night out but I really can't remember it. In fact, I have only two memories of the whole trip:

First, I remember seeing white water for the very first time. I recall being completely fascinated by it. It's water - but you can't see through it! I'm still fascinated by white water - so much power, so much chaos, so much noise - all because there are rocks in a river.

Second, I remember throwing up in the back of my parents friends' Volkswagen Beetle. I think it was orange (the Beetle, not my vomit.) but the rest is a blur.

I can't really call that the trip that made me into a camper. But still, you always remember your first time - right girls? ;o)

I'm looking forward to hearing your hopefully more complete stories!

Monday, September 15, 2008

45km of Nude Beach

Photo: Dominion Post, Andrew Gorrie

Chalk another one up for Nude Zealand! It looks like 45km of beach along the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington will be clothing-optional in the near future.

There have been naturists enjoying Kapiti for years, especially on Peka Peka Beach (oh the puns!) which has long been popular with gay men. But if the new bylaws pass, people will not be prosecuted for nudity anywhere on the beach. There will be no specific areas for folks who want to let it all hang out.

Considering the number of families I usually see on the beach during the summer, I expect there will be a certain amount of backlash as people fear their children will be somehow damaged by the "exposure" to human bodies in the buff. But hopefully the local council will stick to their guns and tell the paranoid parents to get over themselves.

I enjoy a good walk along Kapiti's beaches, which are ideal for strolling. Flat, wide and continuing for long stretches without a break, you can practically call a walk on the beach here a day hike! So the question is - will this new rule attract members of the nude hiking community to Kapiti in numbers? Only time, and the summer weather, will tell!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bears vs The Dot

So, I'm working on "Take On Camping", a book for women who want to learn how to camp, and I'm dealing with the oh-so-pleasant topic of how to deal with having your period (I can hear the guys clicking off this page around now).

As a sidebar, I'm looking into the wilderness myth (like an urban myth but away from the city) that bears are attracted to menstrual blood and will attack women who camp during their periods. My first question was - what gave anyone the idea that this was happening? (My second question was, who would win in a fight between a hungry bear and a woman with wicked PMS - but I haven't found any studies on that yet...)

It turns out the story that started the myth dates back to 1967, when two women were attacked and killed by a grizzly during a camping trip. It also happened that both women had their periods. This was apparently conclusive enough for the forest service to start warning women that they shouldn't camp in bear country while menstruating.

Subsequently, a few different researchers have attempted to find some kind of scientific data that would either support or disprove this assumption that bears are attracted to menstrual blood. Bizarrely, none of the tests have been done using grizzly bears, which was the species involved in the 1967 attack.

One study using polar bears did find that they reacted more to menstrual blood than to non-menstrual human blood. So chalk one up for the myth, but how many of us camp in polar bear territory?

A couple of studies have used black bears, which are by far the most commonly encountered bears in North America. (New Zealand is bear-free, so I don't have to even think about this most of the time.) In the first study, the bears showed no particular interest in tampons soaked with menstrual blood, when compared with clean tampons, and tampons soaked with non-menstrual human blood. A second study gave bears the option of a tampon soaked in beef fat. Guess what? Ten out of ten black bears prefer beef fat to menstrual blood!

Bear precautions are no laughing matter, however, and used sanitary items should be treated as potential bear attractors in the same way that food and food waste are treated. Don't bury them, because if bears start getting used to them as a food source that could make this myth actually have some merit. Hang your waste from a tree, or keep it in a bear-proof container. But don't cancel your camping trip just because you'll have to bring along your Aunt Flo.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

One Woman's Bi-Polar Adventures

Well, what else would you call a book written by a woman who has visited both the North and South Poles? She called it South Pole 2000, but I like my title better!

Caroline Hamilton was not an experienced adventurer or mountaineer when she decided she had to see the Arctic. She was a reasonably fit woman with a hell of a lot of determination.

First she set up a relay expedition where five teams of women took it in turns to ski from Resolute in northern Canada to the North Pole. From her descriptions, it certainly sounds like a rough journey, but with each team doing a reasonably short stint it would not seem so bad.

After that she abandoned the relay idea and decided to put together a small team of women to ski from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole in time for the millennium. (The book is a bit old now.) The biggest challenge, it would seem, was getting the funding in place to make such an expedition possible.

Reading her day-by-day account of the journey itself was my main draw to this book. What would it be like to live in that kind of extreme environment for two months? How would a group of women cope with the repetitive nature of that lifestyle, living in a single tent, trudging over the ice day after day hauling a heavy sledge?

It certainly wasn't problem-free, from a three week weather delay before they could even fly to Antarctica, to a range of physical ailments from a broken tooth to arm, back and leg injuries.

For me, I can't imagine spending that length of time without seeing a tree or an animal anywhere. The lack of landscape in the middle of Antarctica might very well drive me to despair. Two months of constant travel I could probably cope with, but the feeling that every day's surroundings would be almost identical would be very disheartening. (Two months hanging out around the edge of Antarctica watching the penguins and checking out the icebergs, on the other hand, would be awesome!)

The lure of the 'big trip' ebbs and flows with me. Sometimes I love the idea of taking some time out from the modern world and going on a long, simple journey in nature. Whether it's a long-distance hike, cross-country skiing, or maybe even a dog sled! Other times, I think I'd get bored and impatient with the routine of such an expeditions. Eat, move, sleep. Repeat. I think there would at least have to be some variety in the landscape to keep me moving on.

I guess the only way to find out for sure is to give it a try. It won't happen this year, but hopefully someday I'll manage to find out whether I'm a long-distance wanderer or not.

Meanwhile, it was a bit of an eye-opener to read Caroline Hamilton's book. It left me wondering what she has been doing since, because she didn't seem like these trips got the goal-oriented bug out of her system. Instead, I suspect she has taken on other grand plans.

I noted recently that there are plans underway for a group of 8 women from various Commonwealth nations to ski to the South Pole. After reading this book, the think I that worries me most about that upcoming expedition is how the personal relationships will hold up. Eight women from eight different countries and cultures, who will have to live in very close quarters, and trust one another with their lives. Sure it will be a physical challenge, but I think the real issues will surround these women and how they interact.