Sunday, April 27, 2008

To The Lighthouse

Hey, it's my very first Virginia Woolf reference! (I feel very educated right now. Although, I admit I don't remember much about the book.)

We had Friday off this week for ANZAC Day, and it was a beautiful, sunny fall day here. So since we had not planned a tramp, and didn't want to spend half of the day fighting long weekend traffic out of the city, we walked along the south coast of eastern side of Wellington Harbour.

The track is actually a dirt road, and on such a nice day it was busy with families and other couples out for walks and bike rides. Even the surfers were trying to take advantage of their day off. While Wellington doesn't have a whole lot of surf, there were at least 30 people out there hoping to catch a wave or two.
The rocky shores make for dramatic, scenes. I just love the sound of water crashing into the rocks, and the spray they create.

There are two lighthouses on Pencarrow Head, the old one sits atop a hill, and is being restored. We climbed the hill to have lunch and enjoy the view from the top.
The current lighthouse sits down at sea level. Most people turn around and head back at this point along the track, because the next thing you pass is the sewage outlet!

Are you a Scorsese of the wild?

Live For The Outdoors informs me that they have created a Homemade Mountain Movie Awards competition.

Despite the name, your movie doesn't have to be set in the mountains, any outdoor subject matter will do. Just keep it under 3 minutes in length. And bear in mind that the public will be able to watch all of the entries, so if you've been making "candid videos" of yourself with your partner, better check before you send them in!

The Grand Prize is a trip to Everest Base Camp (with monthly prizes of Osprey packs) so time to charge up your batteries in the camcorder (or phone) and get out there!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cuddle in a Cabin?

The folks over at the Camping Coop blog recently wrote a post about renting a Mountain Cabin. These cabins afford you some privacy which campgrounds often make difficult, while giving you a base in some of the most spectacular wilderness areas.

These are a good idea if you're trying to ease your partner into more wilderness activities, since you can have a comfortable base to return to after day hikes, and not miss out on too many creature comforts.

For others, a cabin rental might be a great way to get you close to the start of a longer trek, so you can head off early in the morning without a long drive from home. Plus, wouldn't it be great to have a lovely cabin to arrive at after your multiple days in the wild, and not have to get in the car and drive home right away?

There's information on their post about how to find the right cabin for you. While it may lack the "great outdoors" feel of spending the night in a tent, I think a cabin can be a great romantic getaway for the less outdoorsy, and hopefully lead to more adventurous vacations in the future!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review: A Blistered Kind of Love

I first heard about this book written by Angela and Duffy Ballard while I was doing research for Sex in a Tent, and thought it would be great to interview the authors to get their stories and advice for other couples. Sadly, I never quite got around to doing that - or reading their book, since it was not available anywhere in New Zealand. So when G asked me if there was anything I'd like to add to an order he was placing through, I jumped on the chance to finally check out A Blistered Kind of Love.
The book is written in alternating "he said, she said" chapters by the two authors, about their attempt to thru-hike the 2,655-mile Pacific Crest Trail. At the time neither of them was an experienced backpacker, and they were not yet married or even engaged. This trip would put their skills, endurance, and relationship to the test in a big way. Throughout their journey they deal with knee pain, giardia, panic attacks, running out of water, and of course getting lost. It's enough to test even the most experienced of us!
What I loved about the book was how it addressed the way a long-distance hike affects your mind and your way of relating to other people. This is not a trip report, or a day-by-day account of the trail. Instead it's almost a sociological book. What made them fight? How did they get over those tough times? What prevented them from giving up when they were sick or hurt? How did they define success or failure on the trail?
After returning home, they seem to have done some homework about the differences between male and female attitudes and how their struggles might have been due to some of these Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus differences. When you spend all of your time with one other person in such extreme conditions, all of those little differences can seem awfully big and difficult to overcome.
If I have anything negative to say about the book, it's that it seems heavily edited and I would have liked to hear more about the trail itself. We get glimpses of the landscape and conditions, but not quite enough to really form a mental picture, or get a sense of its enormity.
Overall, I think this is a good read for anyone who hikes or backpacks with their partner. You'll almost certainly see yourselves somewhere in the book, and it's nice to know that you're not alone.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Nelson Lakes National Park

The very first tramp of our trip around the South Island was at Nelson Lakes, and I didn't get around to blogging it at the time. So without further delay, here is the tale of our journey.

Nelson Lakes is at the north end of the Southern Alps. It is named for the two large lakes at its north end, Lake Rotoroa and Lake Rotoiti. Our original plan was to walk up Robert Ridge to Angelus Hut, on the shores on Lake Angelus nestled below the peak of Mt. Angelus. Then the next day we would descend via a poled route to Speargrass Hut down in the valley. The third day we would hike out via Speargrass Track, which would complete a loop back to the carpark.

Of course, plans are there to be changed, and when we saw a forecast for rain and wind, and a recommendation not to attempt the ridge track, we decided to do the trip in reverse.
We started along the Speargrass Track (named for the sharp, annoying grass in the valley), as it followed the mossy valley floor, crossing small streams before they met the Speargrass Creek. A brief taste of sunshine made us second guess our change of plans, but the sun soon disappeared and clouds hung heavily over the ridge. What was the point of walking along the ridge, I reminded myself, if there was nothing to see from there but cloud? We continued on as the drizzle set in.

We reached Speargrass Hut around midday, and found a large group of Australian bushwalkers. With nine of them already taking up most of the 12-bunk hut, they were glad to hear that we planned to continue on to Angelus Hut. Having just hiked down from there, they told us that it had been crowded, even with its 36 bunks. But, they assured me, the route is very straightforward and easy to follow, even in the fog and mist.
Most of the way up, the route follows a stream. But in classic Kiwi fashion, it does not stay on one side of the stream. No, instead it crosses back and forth around a dozen times from one bank to the other. Sometimes leading us through the bush, sometimes across steep scree slopes.
If you follow my blog, you know that crossing streams and rivers is my least favourite part of tramping - so this was pretty much a nightmare track for me. The stream was too wide to leap across, and for several crossings there were not enough rocks to hop from one to another. Instead, it meant sloshing through the stream, icy water filling my boots, and trying not to topple over. While most of the crossings were clear, there were some places where it was hard to tell where we were meant to cross, or whether the place people seemed to cross was in fact the best place to try it on a rainy day. We missed one crossing completely, and rather than backtrack (my preferred method) we crossed at another point and scrambled up a steep, rocky bluff to rejoin the route. It was so steep that I could only do it without my pack on (my rock climbing skills are pretty limited) and G had to go back down and climb up a second time with my pack.
The higher we got, the more cloud surrounded us. Eventually the trail moved away from the stream (hooray!) but as we approached the ridge, it became more of a challenge to see the route markers. After we connected with the ridge trail, there were some moments of looking around to determine which way we should go to stay on the track, which was now all loose rock, and not find ourselves plummeting off the side of the ridge.

The rain was getting harder too, which made us want to move along as quickly as possible, but the rocks underfoot were not making that easy. Eventually we started our descent towards the hut, picking our way down through the rock. Then almost without warning there was a large lake in front of us, shrouded in clouds. Lake Angelus. A few steps further and we could make out the hut, perched on the edge of the lake. The rain continued to fall harder as we thankfully made our entrance.
The large hut was deserted. Apparently nobody else had made the decision to tackle the ridge, from any direction. This hut, filled to the rafters just a day earlier, was ours alone for the night. A hut warden wandered in from her private room to greet us and check our hut passes. She warned us that the rain tanks were almost empty, so we had to go outside to fill up from the last bit of the tank water, because there wasn't enough pressure to use the sinks inside the hut.

It rained all night, and in the morning it showed no signs of stopping while we considered our options. The ridge was still covered in cloud. The warden came in with the latest forecast, which included 50 km/hr winds on the tops. With that news, we regretfully abandoned our plans to try the ridge track, and decided to hike back down to Speargrass Hut by the same route as the day before.

Heading downhill made the walk less strenuous, but I still wasn't enjoying all of the stream crossings and at one point I lost my footing and found myself wet up to the groin. I also managed to plunge my leg into a hole hidden between some tussocks of grass. All in all, not my most graceful hiking experience.

When we arrived back at Speargrass Hut it was already occupied by a group of six from a bushwalking club in Melbourne. They'd been on the trails for six days, and were spending the night at Speargrass before hiking out. There was also a Kiwi couple there from Hamilton, and just after we arrived, a hunter and his girlfriend arrived. So it was a full house, even before a student from Austria showed up. It made for a lively evening, but everyone turned in pretty early (the Austrian student sleeping on the floor) and the first early-birds were up at 6:30.

Our walk out along the Speargrass Track was pleasant, as the rain finally cleared up and the forest took on that misty afterglow. It was not the summery start to our tip we'd been hoping for, but it did break in our trail legs nicely, and hopefully we'll be back to walk that ridge in the sunshine another day.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Blogging in Oz

Frank and Sue of Our Hiking Blog in Australia have been running a series of guest posts, giving advice for newbies on what kinds of camping gear to buy.

Today's post is by yours truly, and focuses on gear shopping as a couple. You can read my sage advice here.

And if you're planning a wilderness adventure in Oz, be sure to check out some of their other posts, featuring trip reports and recommendations.