Thursday, December 31, 2009

Success for South Pole Women


Way back in July 2008, I blogged about a planned expedition marking the 60th anniversary of the British Commonwealth. They were looking for fit and adventurous women from 8 different countries to head for the South Pole on skis, and arrive in time for New Year's Eve 2010.

Well, I'm pleased to report that the team did arrive at the South Pole, on December 29, 2009.

The 8 members were from the UK, Jamaica, Singapore, New Zealand, Cyprus, Brunei Darussalam, and India. (Two were from the UK, as the member from Ghana had to pull out at the last minute due to malaria!)

Actually only 7 members made it to the Pole. The Jamaican member of the team unfortunately had to pull out right at the beginning on medical advice, due to severe frostbite on her fingers. It must have been terribly disappointing to come all that way and not even get to begin the expedition!

It took the ladies 37 days to ski from the "Messner Start" to the geographic South Pole, hauling 80kg sleds behind them. They covered an average distance of 24km per day.

You can find out more about the trip on the official website - Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition.

Now that it's all over, it's back to reality. As Kylie, the team member from New Zealand, said: I'm really looking forward to a shower and a cheese sandwich.

Go on Kylie - you've earned it!

Friday, December 25, 2009

2009 Wrap-up

On top of Kilimanjaro with G and our guides

Yes, it's that time of year when we stop to reflect on what we've done for the past 12 months and say "is that IT?"

Here are some of my highlights of 2009:

Best moment: summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro (although it didn't feel too good in the moment, more upon reflection afterwards!)

Best new gear purchase: Berghaus down jacket (thank you G) - sooooo cozy.

Best trail food: Pancakes made by our cook on Kili - if they'd had maple syrup I would have been in heaven.

Best day walk: I was pleasantly surprised by the Ridge Track in Kaitoke Regional Park. Although we were only up for a short walk that day, I'm keen to go back and walk the whole thing. There's nothing terribly earth shattering about it, just a pleasant stroll through lush bush.

Best lesson learned: Technically this was in '08, but it was New Year's Eve so I'm sneaking it in. We thought we'd spend New Year's tramping around Mt. Ruapehu, and get away from the crowds. Instead we ended up in a hut with 10 bunks and 18 people! The lesson is that if you want to 'get away from it all' for New Year's Eve, don't do it on a popular route!

I hope everyone is having a good holiday, and I wish you all happy trails for 2010!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Review: North Face (Nordwand)


Back in the early 1930s, the North Face of the Eiger was considered "the last great problem of the Alps". The Nazi government was desperate for a German climbing team to be the first to conquer this daunting climb, especially with the world's eyes on them for the Olympics.

North Face is based on the true story of a pair of German climbers, Toni Kurtz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, who were among several teams of climbers vying for a place in history.

After perhaps a bit too much lead up, the film follows Kurtz and Hinterstoisser, and an Austrian pair hot on their heels, as they head for the summit. From the luxury hotel facing the famous mountain, German press and curious tourists watch through telescopes and binoculars. Then the accidents and injuries begin, and the weather changes for the worse.

While the screenwriter has added a love interest to the story that likely never existed, the rest is quite believable. The scenes of the climbers struggling in a blinding blizzard make you feel the cold through your bones. You are kept on the edge of your seat as the drama unfolds, hoping against hope for a happy ending.

If you aren't familiar with the story, I won't ruin it for you. Let's just say there's a good reason that Hollywood has never taken up this particular story on the big screen. It took a German director to tell this very German story with the honesty it deserves.

North Face (or Nordwand in the original German) is doing the art house circuit - and can already be found on DVD in some countries. If you like mountaineering dramas like Alive or Touching the Void, this is worth a watch.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mal's The Man!

Mal and his supporters

If you've been following the blog for a while, you've heard me talk up Mal Law's 7 in 7 Challenge - running 7 of New Zealand's "Great Walks" in 7 days to raise funds for the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation.

Well - he's gone and done it! 360kms of trail running on two islands in seven days. It's a feat to be admired for sure. And he also blew his $50,000 fundraising goal out of the water - raising over $70,000 and hoping that with continued publicity he may be able to get all the way to $100,000.

In other New Zealand crazy runner for charity news...

Lisa Tamati encouraging young Kiwis to be active

Ultramarathon runner Lisa Tamati has run the entire length of New Zealand, that's 2,200km, in 33 days. That's like running 52 marathons!

Tamati was raising money for two children's charities - CanTeen (for kids with Cancer) and Cure Kids (for a variety of children's diseases).

Wow, I'm tired just writing about these people!

If you want to applaud what they've achieved by donating to their causes, here are the websites to visit:

7 in 7: www.7in7.org.nz
NZ Run: www.nzrun.co.nz

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Book Review: One Step Beyond

Warren MacDonald's autobiographical book is actually about 10 years old, but I picked it up at my local library recently and thought I'd share my thoughts on it.

Warren was an Australian conservationist and wilderness guide. On a holiday in Queensland he headed over to Hinchbrook Island and after meeting a Dutch tourist decided to accompany him on a climb up the remote Mt Bowen.

This was meant to be a challenging but short trip. Instead it led to a life-changing accident. After losing the trail, Warren and his companion made camp for the night on a flat rock beside a creek. On a quick excursion to relieve himself on the other side of the creek, Warren dislodged a boulder and found himself pinned under it in the creek itself.

The book details the night they spent trying at first to free Warren's legs from the boulder, and then trying to keep him safe and warm until his companion could go for help in the morning. It then goes on to the (seemingly interminable) wait for help to arrive, and Warren's long road to accepting the reality of what has happened and what it will mean for the rest of his life.

The story is told both from Warren's point of view, and from his Dutch companion's. Getting inside both the "victim's" and "rescuer's" heads is quite interesting. I found myself constantly asking "What would I do?" "How would I deal with this?" "Would I survive something like this?"

This wasn't a glamourous accident on a famous mountaintop. This was just one of those split-second moments that can shatter a life. Luckily Warren didn't let it shatter his - at least not permanently.

While Warren's writing style is very typical Aussie bloke, no frills stuff, he does convey a lot of the emotion of the situation. For anyone who ever wondered what it's like to be on that razor edge between hope and hopelessness, this is worth a read.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Rambling through Rivendell

Yesterday we finally got a bit of summer weather here in Wellington, and we decided to go check out a part of Kaitoke Regional Park we'd never explored.

After a look around the camping and picnic area for possible future reference (and I was surprised how many people were using the campground considering it's not summer vacation time yet) we headed to the area best known for being the Rivendell set for Lord of the Rings.

There is no longer anything there to suggest elves, art nouveau architecture or anything else. Just a small, grassy flat with forest in the background. Nonetheless, we saw at least 2 movie tour vans in the carpark.

We decided to walk part of the Ridge Track, a track that leads from the Rivendell site to the reservoir "lakes" a few kilometres south.

The track is mostly wooded. It was the kind of forest I really enjoy - lush and green and full of fresh air! It was easy walking, although a bit mucky in places. The place was absolutely packed with ferns, from little kidney ferns to full blown tree ferns and everything in between. This one was just finishing the last unfurling of new growth.

Most of the track was in the bush, but we did get one view from the top of the ridge, where a memorial bench was set up to take in the surroundings.

Later we passed a tree that had fallen over, but never made it to the ground because the surrounding trees were holding it up. I wonder how long it will take before it finally finished the short journey to the ground.

We had an easy day of it, only walking for a few hours. But it was a pleasant way to spend one of the first warm, non-windy Saturdays of the season. Hopefully there are more to come!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's All Downhill With Heli-hiking

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town

Last week there was an article in my local newspaper about a particular branch of glamping called heli-hiking. This involves taking a helicopter up to some scenic outlook, and then making your way back to civilization with a guided hike. If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it!

My first reaction to this was to label it "cheating". After all, those who slog their way up the hill to the scenic outlook have earned the view - those who flew up in a helicopter have not!

On the other hand, there are lots of places around the world where people take a cable car or some other mode of transportation up a hill and then wander their way back down. The only difference with heli-hiking is that the location may be more remote or challenging.

Admittedly, I used a similar "cheat" in Cape Town, although the other way around. After slogging our way up the steep, rocky path to the top of Table Mountain, we took the Cable Car back down to the bottom to save our knees (and some time.)

Cable Car on Table Mountain

In the end, everyone has their own limits, and their own idea of how much effort is enjoyable and how much is just suffering for the sake of suffering. The only time I would rail against the heli-hikers is if they start using areas that are popular with regular hikers, and ruin the atmosphere with their noisy flights.

Anyone out there been on a heli-hike? I'd be curious to hear what you thought of it. Leave a comment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

7 in 7 Challenge Update


A while back I blogged about a trail runner named Mal Law who is doing an absolutely insane fundraising challenge called the Mizone 7 in 7 Challenge.

The challenge: Run 360kms through iconic New Zealand landscapes, traversing the 7 Great Walks in just 7 days, to raise $50,000 for the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation.

The start of Mal's big run is just two weeks away, and it seems fundraising efforts are going well. He's already past the $43,000 mark. And Mal assures me that the costs involved with the run are all covered by his team and sponsors, so the money donated will all go to the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation.

If you're keen to support Mal's madness, or just want to follow along, he has a website and a Facebook group.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't believe everything you read!

Someone has been up to some mischeif down here in New Zealand recently. On the famous Routeburn Track, visitors have been greeted with official looking signs laying down some unusual toileting rules.
Photo: Southland Times

The signs are fakes, and have been removed by actual Department of Conservation staff. But it's not yet clear how many visitors were thinking they'd have to wear a diaper on their tramp!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Just for Fun

This one is making the rounds by e-mail, but here it is if you've missed it:
http://www.thingsbearslove.com/

Friday, November 06, 2009

Going the Distance in Australia

Cape York (photo: Government of Queensland)

Sometimes it's easy to forget just how big Australia is. It's around the size of the lower 48 states in the US, but with less than 10% of the population. That sure leaves a lot of room to go "walkabout"!

There are already some pretty long walks available around Aussie. There's the Bubbulmun Track, which covers nearly 1000km from the outskirts of Perth to the southern coast. There's also the Larapinta Trail, just 225km long but starting in the outback town of Alice Springs and heading through some of the hottest desert conditions you could ever hope to encounter.

Now there's a new trail in the works, and it will encompass some very different scenery and climate than the existing trails. Up at the tippy top of Queensland near Cape York, there is a plan to create The Dreaming Trails. (The Dreaming is the aboriginal Australian creation mythology, which encorporates features of the landscape into tales of how the earth was formed.)

Rather than a single route, The Dreaming Trails are meant to incorporate a 2,000km network of walking tracks. This approach may give them much more flexiblity to offer different levels of difficulty, different scenery and conditions, and different types of facilities to cater to a wide range of visitors.

It all sounds very lovely, and they're looking for input to figure out what kinds of things hikers and bushwalkers are looking for in these trails. So if you're keen, go to their website and take 5 minutes to go through their survey. Who knows, they may end up creating the trail of your dreams!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coyote Attack

Photo: Naturescapes Starters
Every once in a while there is a tragedy that reminds me why I don't go out into the wilderness alone. The quiet and solitude must be wonderful, but for me they are more than counter-balanced by the fear of getting lost, getting injured and being unable to contact anyone, and in some places the possibility of becoming prey for an animal or group of animals.
This last danger has been in the news lately, after a 19 year old Canadian woman was attacked by two coyotes in Nova Scotia and died from her injuries. This is a very unusual situation, as coyotes are not often brave enough to go after people, and prefer to pick off pets or other small wildlife. Sometimes they team up to take down deer.
Nobody is sure what happened, since the woman was alone and didn't live to tell the story. She may have run from the coyotes, thus triggering their chase instincts. She may have tried to get too close to them. They may have been desperately hungry and willing to kill whatever they could find.
One thing I feel fairly confident about is that it wouldn't have happened if she hadn't been alone. Attacking lone prey is much easier than attacking a group. In fact, they probably would have stayed hidden if there had been a group of people around.
I know that many people cherish their solo time in the wilderness. Hopefully they have taken the time to learn about the local wildlife, and how to protect themselves in case of a threat. I consider it a real treat to spot wildlife in its natural habitat, but I'm all too aware that I'm on their turf and need to play by their rules.
If you want to read about the woman attacked by the coyotes, there's a story here. In the mean time, please be careful out there!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cool idea - the rain skirt

Photo: Craftzine.com

One of the least used items in my outdoors wardrobe is my pair of rain pants. They are a pain to put on once I'm on the trail because they don't go over my boots. They make me so sweaty that I end up soaked through anyway. They are, generally speaking, not worth the bother unless it's absolutely pouring.

Craftzine, a blog for the sew-it-yourself crowd, recently put up a post on how to make yourself a rain skirt out of an old raincoat. This is quite brilliant! You can put it on over your hiking pants and shorts, and take it off again, easily and without removing your boots! The open bottom makes it much less sweaty than rain pants too.

I can see that in rough terrain, where scrambling is necessary for instance, a long skirt would not be practical. But for other hikes where the trail is fairly flat or well benched, this could be an awesome solution.

In fact, I'm surprised none of the outdoor clothing manufacturers have tried this yet. The only change I would make to the suggested method on the Craftzine blog is that I would put snaps all the way down the opening. That way you can put it on and take it off easily, and you can have them closed up for more protection, or open some for more freedom of movement.

Now all I need is a sewing machine...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mt. Kilimanjaro - part 3

Frosty ground at Barranco Camp the morning of day four

The fourth day of our trek started off frosty, with a coating of white on the ground and our tent.
Our walk for the day began with the dreaded Barranco Wall. This is a fairly steep climb up a rocky bluff, which involves a fair bit of scrambling (especially for short legs like mine).
The top of the Barranco Wall

Thanks to the altitude it was more tiring than it should have been. It took us two hours to reach the top. However, I really felt for the porters who were scaling the same bluff, but carrying heavy loads on their backs, or heads, or both!

The top of the wall got us up to around 4,200m, which was our high spot for the day. But it was by no means the end of our climbing. The rest of the day's trek involved lots of up and down, some of it quite steep. However, since we didn't climb too high I managed to get through the day without a headache or nausea - so that was a bonus.

On day five we were off to Barufo Camp, which sits at around 4,600m. This is the launching point for the summit, so the excitement was starting to grow.
Cairn marking the way to Barufo Camp, summit in the distance.

We got there by early afternoon, and found to our surprise that there were folks up there selling t-shirts, sodas, chocolate bars, and even beer! All for greatly inflated prices of course - after all they had to drag the stuff up to 4,600m.

The campsite was long and narrow, and on a fairly sloping ridge. We camped at the far end, which was fine with me as it meant less walking later on, when we started for the summit.

After lunch we were sent off to nap in our tents for a few hours. Then we woke at 5pm for an early dinner, then more napping. It was freezing cold at this altitude, so there wasn't much sleep to be had. And of course we were getting anxious about the summit attempt.

Sunset from Barufo Camp, summit of Mt Meru in the distance

We got up at 11pm for tea and cookies, then put on all our layers to head up. I was wearing a silkweight shirt, a thermal shirt, two merino layers, a fleece, and my rain jacket on top. On the bottom I wore thermals, hiking pants and rain pants. I also had a warm hat and fleece gloves. We set off at midnight.

It was the day after the full moon, so although we had our headlamps with us we didn't really need them. It was preferable to climb in the moonlight, so we could see beyond the few feet in front of us.

It was a steep, rocky start, which meant I had to scramble up onto the rocks quite a bit. This left me winded at altitude after the first half hour. Our guide insisted on carrying my pack after that. He and the assistant guide were not carrying anything - not even water! This didn't seem terribly bright to me, but it does give them the ability to carry our crap when we can't any more.

We continued up, feeling exhausted, nauseated and cold. The rocks changed to ash and scree. The steep angle never really changed. G was not looking well, and I was concerned that he might push himself too far, not wanting to quit if I was still going. Eventually he handed over his pack to one of the guides too.

We tried to drink our water, although a couple of sips now and then was all I could manage. Our pockets were stuffed with snacks, but we felt to awful to eat. I think I had 3 dried apricots on the entire climb. Eventually, all I could think about was sitting down to rest. Somehow I convinced myself to keep shuffling upwards.

Around 5:45am we reached Stella Point, which is the end of the steep climb. From there it is almost flat to Uhuru Point, which is the summit. There is only a 100m vertical difference between the two. Along the way you pass the top of a glacier, and you can feel the icy wind blowing off it. Very pretty - but I wasn't stopping to get my camera out!

We got to the summit at around 6:25, just after sunrise. The sign at the summit was the congregation point as climbers posed for the obligatory picture there. Around 20 others were on top when we arrived.

The obligatory summit photo

We posed for our summit photo, and it was absolutely freezing up there! I was glad to have made it, but not particularly interested in lingering up there. Down seemed like a great way to go!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mt Kilimanjaro - part 2

Above the clouds on Kilimanjaro

From the second day, the terrain became much more volcanic. The lush jungle of day one was left behind (or below) and the vegetation became scrubby and sparse.

The track also became steeper and more rocky, but the most noticeable change was the dust! We were climbing in dry season, which means the track was unlikely to be muddy and slippery. Instead there was dust everywhere, including up my nose and in my teeth!

Our guide on the volcanic terrain

However, it was a sunny, hot day and we got to our next camp, Shira Camp, by 1:30pm for a late lunch. Shira Camp sits at around 3,800m, and by the time we arrived my head was aching from the altitude. I took some pain relief, and that helped ease it off a bit - but having already felt the effects of the altitude on day two I was pretty concerned about how I would hold up for the rest of the trip.

My worries intensified that night. About an hour after dinner I began to feel unwell, but was taken by surprise when I suddenly had to stick my head outside the tent and vomit. It happened a second time later that night (although by this time I had a plastic bag at the ready!) I knew this was a common reaction to altitude, but it did little for my confidence. It was only day two!!

I did manage to hold down my porridge the next morning (I avoided eating anything more rich than that) which was good because day three involved quite a long walk. We ascended to 4,600m at a place called the Lava Tower, then descended to Barranco Camp, back down at 3,900m for the evening.

We came across a little striped mouse on one of our breaks, who was busy looking for dropped crumbs and other goodies.
By the time we were approaching the Lava Tower my head was hurting again, as this was another new high altitude. I was hopeful that as we went back down towards the camp the headache would subside. That's the point of these "acclimatisation days" where you walk up to a higher altitude, then sleep lower down. To some extent I did feel better when we got to camp, consider the seven hours we'd been walking.

In front of the Lava Tower
As a reward for our efforts, the clouds parted and we got a clear view of the summit before it got too dark.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mt Kilimanjaro - part 1

Kilimanjaro as seen from the air

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, has been on my "to do" list practically since I started hiking. It's hard to say why, except that it's one of the few well known mountains that can be climbed by those of us with absolutely no mountaineering skills. The idea that I could knock off one of the Seven Summits without crampons or a harness was very tempting indeed.

Luckily G felt the same way, and so when we were planning a trip to Africa we immediately included a Kili trek on our agenda. But deciding to climb is only the first of many decisions. There are several routes up the mountain, different time frames for climbing, and of course many, many companies that will guide you on your trek (you're not permitted to go unguided) in various degrees of comfort for various prices.

In the end, we decided on the 7-day Machame route. Taking seven days increases the time you have to acclimatise to the altitude, which in turn improves your chances of summiting. Some trips take as little as five days, but apparently the odds of summiting on those is about 50/50.

We went with a company called Zara, who also do safari trips, Zanzibar trips etc. They're a bit of a one-stop shop in Tanzania with their own hotels and so on, which was why we chose them. We were able to combine a Kili climb and a five day safari trip into a brief two week visit to Tanzania, and they handled all of the logistics. If you've got time on your hands, I'm sure you could find something cheaper, but we were willing to pay a bit more for the convenience of knowing we were booked in, and not having to arrange anything when we got there.

Machame Gate
The climb started off at Machame Gate, which is already 1900m above sea level. It's a chaos of bags, porters, walkers, vehicles, and in our case thick mist. How they keep track of which bags, food, tents etc. come from which groups I have no idea, but it all seemed to work out.

The first day's walk was relatively easy, and followed a gradual incline through misty jungle. It was quite beautiful walking through the mist, even though there were an awful lot of people on the trail.

Eventually it started raining, but not so hard that it made us uncomfortable. However, most of our first day was spent with raincoats on.


Machame Hut marks the first stop at 3,000m. There was a large campground, and we were already above cloud level. G and I had our own tent, Jonathan, the other member of our group, had his own tent. We also had a little dining tent, complete with table and chairs. All of our breakfasts and dinners were served in there, which protected us from any rain, wind or cold. As we got higher up the mountain, I was definitely glad to have it!


The low point of the trip was probably the toilets at the campgrounds. They were all long drops, mainly squat style. This in itself is no problem, but when you're dealing with large numbers of campers who are not used to squat toilets, there's a lot of missing the hole! Generally it was OK when we arrived in the afternoons, but by morning the toilets were revolting!

I was surprised how cold it was already on the first night, and a little concerned about what was in store for use higher up!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why did the ---- cross the road?


We went on two safari trips while we were in Africa: one in Tanzania (taking in the famous Serengeti) and one in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

While taking my hundreds of wildlife photos, I began to realise I had quite a few photos of different animals crossing the road. After all, the animals have the right of way in these places!

I decided I'd add my bit to the world's oldest joke. No chickens here (but one is pretty close.) If you have a great punchline about why any of these guys are crossing the road, leave it as a comment!

Why did the zebras cross the road?
Why did the giraffe cross the road?

Why did the waterbuck cross the road?

Why did the guinea fowl cross the road?

Why did the buffalo cross the road?

Why did the elephants cross the road?

Why did the impala cross the road?

More to come from the Africa files soon...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Back and blogging!

Photo: New Zealand Land Search & Rescue

Did you miss me?

I promise there will be lots of photos and stories about my trip to Africa coming soon. First I have over 750 photos to sort through! (Ah, I love the age of digital photography...)

In the mean time, I found an interesting follow-up story about how New Zealand is trying to replace their current, and somewhat ineffective, backcountry intentions forms. I first blogged about it here.

Currently, people going into the backcountry are encouraged to fill out a paper form outlining their intended route and return date and time, and include contact info. Upon their return, they are meant to confirm that they have safely completed their trip. Unfortunately, a lot of people forget to do that part (in their excitement over the proximity of a shower and a cheeseburger) which makes for a lot of unnecessary and expensive follow up work for the Department of Conservation and Land Search & Rescue.

DoC is now looking at an online/mobile system to replace the paper forms. This article outlines one of the proposed options. It sounds pretty good to me. Getting tourists to use it may be a challenge though, since they may not have internet access prior to their backcountry excursions.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Please Stand By...

If you read my last post you know that I'm off to Africa. I'll be gone for almost six weeks, and I'm not at all sure whether I'll be getting much internet time. So probably, things will be very quiet here for a while.

On the bright side, I will return with tales of adventure and excitement aplenty (or I should do anyway) and will start posting those as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, you can turn off your computer and go outside! ;o)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What to Pack When You Need Everything

Packing for an active overseas trip is a challenge at the best of times. You need a lot of gear, it's hard to know what you'll be able to buy at your destination, you want to make sure you're prepared for the unexpected etc, etc.

What's even worse is a trip where you're going to be facing a variety of different weather, conditions and activities.

Right now, G and I are preparing for our trip to Africa. While we are on this trip we will be:
  • trekking up Mt Kilimanjaro for a week, where temperatures may well dip below freezing at night

  • going on a camping safari in the Serengeti where malaria is a concern and temperatures will be pretty hot during the day

  • staying in a cabin in Kruger National Park in South Africa where it could also be hot during the day, and possibly quite chilly at night

  • hanging out in Cape Town where it would be nice to look like we didn't just crawl out of the bush

  • visiting wine country, and attempting to show how classy we are - or at least get allowed into the tasting rooms!
So - what to pack? We're bringing one piece of checked luggage and one carry on each. I'm fitting in everything from a swimsuit to a down jacket, from sunscreen and a floppy hat to fleece gloves and thermals.

Strangely, when I went to choose a shirt to wear on safari that would afford me some protection from mosquitoes, I realised I didn't have a single thing that met the simple criteria of long sleeves, high neck, no holes or mesh, not too clingy, and too thick to bite through. I actually had to go buy a new shirt just for malaria protection! (And yes, we're also taking anti-malarial pills.)

And that's another issue - what medications to take along. Which anti-malarial? What about diarrhea? Altitude sickness? Bladder infections? We appear to be packing a small pharmacy, complete with water purification tablets. Better safe than sorry and all that.

I guess the upside of all of this is that I won't be tempted to buy a lot of cheesy souvenirs, since I'll have nowhere to pack them to bring back! I am, however, bringing an extra memory card for my camera so that I can bring back lots and lots of photos!! (Many of which I'll be posting here no doubt.)

So I'd better get back to it. Time to find out just how many stuff sacks I own!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One for the Ladies

Hanging out with Sir Ed Hillary (in statue form) reminds me that we need more hiking role models for women

There are lots and lots of resources out there for hikers and backpackers - but very few are aimed specifically at women. Now there is a new chick on the block - Hiking Lady.

This site has the makings of a good resource, but is still looking like it's just getting off the ground with just a few bits of gear and clothing listed so far.

I was a little disappointed that the books featured on the "Book of the Month" list are all by and about male adventurers. Come on - if you're going for the girl market, give us books about women, by women, or at least acknowledging the existence of women! Perhaps I need to send over a copy of "Sex in a Tent" for review ;o)

I'll be keeping an eye on this site to see if it lives up to its potential. Sadly I'm just a bit too lazy to set up such a resource myself. Maybe I'll get around to it eventually! I've already done most of the research - I just need to build the website to put it on.

Meanwhile I hope the Hiking Lady keeps building up her site and gets support from the outdoor women's community.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Sleeping Bags Get Sexier!

Photo: Outdoor Retailer Show 2009 (photographer unknown)

Sleeping bags are design to be warm, light, durable, and compact - but finally someone has gone and specifically designed a sleeping bag that is meant to make it easier to have sex in a tent!
Alite Designs are newcomers in the outdoor gear world, but they are certainly doing their best to make a new niche for themselves. At the recent Outdoor Retailer show (which I had to read about online because I live way too far away to attend) they launched a range of new camping products - among them the "Sexy Hotness" sleeping bag.
What makes it designed for sex? The main feature is a zipper that opens straight up the middle of the bag, exposing your necessary bits without forcing you out of the bag completely. As an added bonus, this means you can walk around wearing the sleeping bag, and they've added reinforced "booties" on the bottom for this purpose.
The bag also has outer pockets where you can keep sexy essentials like condoms, lubricant and tissues, or whatever you like to have on hand. I'm told there's also a sexy Kama Sutra print inside the bag, in case you need inspiration.
The Sexy Hotness bags can be zipped together, or to other sleeping bags with a compatible zipper size, for added space.
I'm not sure how this will catch on. Zipping two regular sleeping bags together still seems like a better option to me, since you can remain completely inside an envelope of warmth and have easy access to each other. But perhaps this one will have appeal to some couples in ways I have not yet imagined!
To see a demo of the "Sexy Hotness" bag, check out the GO Blog video here. It's quite entertaining.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bears: 1 - Engineers: 0

It was always just a matter of time before bears were found to outsmart "bear proof" food containers. There have been claims of breached food containers for a while now, but recently the New York Times ran an article about a particular black bear who has bested the Bear Vault 500.

The surprising thing is that the bear has not just overpowered the container and ripped it apart. She has instead systematically learned how to undo the locking mechanism to open the vault and get the food out. For anyone who has ever been frustrated by a "childproof" container, you know what an accomplishment this can be!
Bear canisters have become the preferred method of storing food in the Adirondaks in recent years because the clever black bears had figured out that food bangs hung from trees could be accessed by finding the rope and chewing or tearing it down. Now that one bear has figured out the canister, it's only a matter of time before others learn the trick too!

Other types of canister are available which require a screwdriver or a coin to open the locking mechanism, and bears have so far not found any way to get through those ones. (Although I can almost picture one rummaging around the campsite looking for loose change!) So if you are camping in bear country, that might be the way to go for now.

If you're determined to avoid bear encounters altogether you're left with a few choices. First, you could camp during the winter while the bears are hibernating. Second, you could join me down in New Zealand where there aren't any bears in the woods. Or third, you could turn your camping trip into a major detox and not bring any food! (OK, I don't recommend that one.)

Anyway, let this be a lesson to anyone who thought that bears were just big brutes without much intelligence. They are not to be underestimated - and they can climb trees, swim, and outrun you!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sharing and Caring

Belmont Trig - reachable by foot or mountain bike

Yesterday at work we were discussing the shared pedestrian and cycle lane one of my colleagues uses to walk to work and back. It got me thinking about the number of shared pathways through the wilderness, and whether they work.

More and more it seems there is competition for trails between the hikers and the mountain bikers. Hikers want to keep the wilderness pristine (rut-free) and quiet, with narrow, unassuming tracks. Mountain bikers want enough space to safely enjoy the ride, and get around the non-bikers if necessary. Often this leads to track being designated either for hiking or for biking. Sometimes, though, we are asked to share.

Last weekend G and I were using a shared track in Belmont Regional Park. It was a beautiful, sunny winter day and there were many people out enjoying the break in the weather which thankfully fell on a Sunday. The track is popular because it can be accessed right from the town of Petone. So we shared the track with lots of dog walkers, some trail runners, and a number of mountain bikers.

This particular track follows a stream through a gorge, so at times the track is narrow and drops off to one side, with a steep wall on the other side. It could lead to problems as people try to get past each other, but everyone was very accommodating. If we could step aside to let a cyclist through, that's what we did. If there was a narrow bit coming up, the cyclists would stop if someone was walking through, rather than try to scrape by.

Sharing a track is easy, but it means thinking about what's going on around you, and not just getting lost in your own experience. A daydreaming walker can be infuriating to runners and cyclist, ambling up the middle of a track oblivious to those behind; cyclists enjoying the thrill of a good downhill run can terrorise hikers heading up (or down) the same hill; a poorly behaved dog can give chase to a terrified cyclist.

Shared tracks are a sometimes unfortunate reality, but they're not going away so we all have to learn to get along out there. It's easy to get frustrated, but remember that you're out in the wilderness to relax. It's not a hiker's fault that hiking is slow. It's not a cyclist's fault that their wheels can spray mud; but it is the dog owner's fault if there's poop on the track! (Bring a baggie, it's not that hard!)

So go out there and enjoy the trails however you prefer. But remember to respect you fellow user, and be prepared to break your stride so we can all safely stay on track.

(I feel like a public service announcement. Oh well, sermon over.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

7 Great Walks in 7 Days!


Mad trail runner Mal Law - photo: 7in7.org.nz

If you've been reading this blog for long, you've heard about New Zealand's "Great Walks" - a collection of 8 hikes and 1 river journey that have been selected for their stunning scenery and diversity as targets for wilderness tourism here in NZ.

I've done a few of the walks myself - The Milford Track, The Routeburn Track, The Tongariro Northern Circuit - and many people both Kiwi and visitors make a point of getting through all of them in their lifetimes.

One man, however, is planning to put us all to shame. He is hoping to become the first person to complete the 7 Great Walks on the two main islands in 7 consecutive days! (He will skip the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island and the Wanganui River Journey.)

The madman's name is Malcolm (Mal) Law, and he is doing this as a fundraiser for Leukaemia and Blood New Zealand. He's attempting to raise $50,000 in total, and he's got some support crew and some sponsors on board to help out.

Is it possible? I can't imagine how, but this guy seems like if anyone can do it he can. He has already done the gruelling Coast-to-Coast race, the Mizone Endurazone Race (the entire length of New Zealand!), The Kaweka Challenge Mountain Marathon etc.

To give you an idea of how big a challenge this is - here are the recommended walking times for the Great Walks he's doing:

Tongariro Northern Circuit - 4 days
Lake Waikaremoana Track - 3-4 days
Heaphy Track - 4-6 days
Abel Tasman Coastal Track- 3-5 days
Routeburn Track - 2-3 days
Milford Track - 3-4 days
Kepler Track - 3-4 days

Total distance: 359.7 km

He's going to attempt all of that in 7 days including transport between the tracks. Good luck Mal! If you want to learn more about his 7 in 7 challenge you can check out the website: http://7in7.org.nz/ He's still looking for sponsorship, and of course donations. The challenge will begin on November 29, 2009 and finish on December 5 at the annual Kepler Challenge.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Hearing Nature

Kapiti Island nature reserve - full of bird life it sounds like much of New Zealand would have souded before humans arrived.

One of less celebrated joys of getting out into nature is the exposure to a world of sounds that are normally either absent from our lives, or drowned out by the city din.

We tend to focus on the visual aspects of natural beauty. But nobody can deny that a wilderness experience is incomplete without the sound of a rushing river, leaves rustling in the breeze, birds calling at dawn, and unidentifiable shuffling noises outside your tent at night. (OK, maybe the last one you could do without...)

The point is, we tend not to focus on sound, but it does affect our moods and our enjoyment of the outdoors. The lack of traffic noise and ringing phones goes a long way to help us relax and let go of our stress.

Some sounds are getting more difficult to locate in today's world. In an effort to share the world's precious sounds, the BBC are trying to piece together a world audio map. The project is called Save Our Sounds, and they're looking for contributions. Not just the sounds of nature, but also things that define different parts of the world like musical instruments, cooking sounds, laughter, etc.

It's about time we started paying more attention to what we hear around us. So next time you're out hiking or otherwise enjoying your surroundings, close your eyes for a few minutes (please stop hiking to do this, or you may walk off a cliff!) and take note of what you can hear around you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Adventure vs. Nature in Queenstown


Queenstown, New Zealand - naturally beautiful but rarely this peaceful.

First off, sorry for the long absence. I've been busy guiding a group of students and journalists from India around New Zealand for the past couple of weeks. It's been pretty full on, so no time for blogging. But I'm back now. Did you miss me?

One of the highlights of the trip for the visitors was, of course, Queenstown. New Zealand's adventure capital also happens to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Jagged mountains covered in snow, a stunning blue lake fed by even more stunning glacially fed rivers, and all nestled in the alpine surroundings of the Southern Alps. It's hard to argue with the natural beauty of the place.

However, as Queenstown's popularity has increased, so have the number of "adrenaline" activities that run commercially in it's most beautiful places. The Shotover and Kawarau Rivers are gorgeous settings with towering granite canyons and bright turquoise waters. But the peace you'd expect to find in such a setting is disturbed by the roar of jet boats tearing through at high speed, filled with shrieking tourists.
Other river spots have become the setting for bungy jumps. The historic Kawerau Bridge is picture perfect, but for 20 years has been the home of AJ Hackett Bungy - the first commercial bungy jumping operation in the world.
The mountains themselves are home to ski fields over the winter, and Queenstown is the apr├Ęs ski party capital of the Southern Hemisphere, so there isn't much chance of quiet reflection as you admire the peaks.

So has adventure tourism ruined the natural beauty of Queenstown? Or is it elitist to want to keep such a place in its natural state, knowing that this would prevent most people from having a chance to see it? It's a tough call, and one that has to be made in many areas of natural beauty.

In New Zealand there seems to be a tendency to "sacrifice" the most popular and publicized destinations, making them suitable to large visitor numbers. This is not only true of Queenstown, but also places like Milford Sound, The Tongariro Crossing, and Abel Tasman National Park. By offering easy access and modern facilities, tourists are chanelled into these few chosen areas to appreciate New Zealand nature.

That leaves the rest of the backcountry more or less untouched so that those of us who don't mind a bit of hard work in return for a pristine setting can hold onto some of the amazing scenery for ourselves.

I'm not saying that Queenstown shouldn't be touristy, or that tourism is a bad thing for New Zealand. In fact, I think tourism is necessary and good for New Zealand. But I can't help thinking, whenever I am in Queenstown, that it would have been wonderful to see the place 100 years ago when it was just a little village in the mountains.