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:

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: 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.