Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Practical Corporate Gift? Wow!

I don't get a lot of corporate Christmas gifts at my day job, but I've seen enough of them to know that the best ones are usually edible/drinkable gifts, and the rest tend to be crappy knicknacks that you either throw away or leave on a shelf for a few years and then...throw away.

However, one of the two gifts I got this year was so practical I just had to share (even though it's slightly off topic for this blog, but not entirely.) Our printing company gave me this wind-up radio and flashlight!

Now as you may know, Wellington is situated on a few fault lines (as is most of New Zealand) and we really do need to be prepared for an earthquake at any time. So a flashligh and radio that will work when the power is out is a great idea. Not only that, but it comes with an adaptor cord so that you can use it to power other electronic devices too!

It's going straight into our emergency kit, along with a larger flashlight, extra batteries, non-perishable food (at least 3 days' worth) and our first aid kit. We also have two large (20 litre I think) jugs full of drinking water. Many people keep candles and matches in their emergency kit, which is fine unless the emergency is an earthquake. Aftershocks mean that candles can easily get knocked over and start a fire, so avoid open flames after an earthquake.

What we're missing, and just out of laziness of getting this together, is a "grab bag" in case we have to leave the house quickly. This should have warm and waterproof clothing, comfy shoes for walking, a few changes of underwear, hand sanitiser, flashlights, sleeping bags, and probably our tent.

With the major earthquake Christchurch experienced a few months ago, disaster supplies have made a bit of a comeback in New Zealand. But anyone, anywhere can lose electricity and water for a few days - so really all households should have supplies on hand.

US College blog Zen College life recently did their own version of what should be in an emergency kit - so you can read their list here.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mal Does it Again!

I'm pleased to report that totally insane trail runner Malcolm Law has just completed his second "7 in 7" series of runs, raising money for the Blood & Leukaemia Foundation.

Last year Mal ran 7 of New Zealand's "Great Walks" in 7 consecutive days. This year he did 7 more marathon runs on amazing South Island tracks - this time a little closer together so he could focus more on running and fundraising and less on getting from one track to the next.

This year's tracks in the run series were:
1. Twin Lakes Marathon
2. Young-Wilkin Circuit
3. Motatapu Gold
4. Wakatipu Wonderland
5. Rees-Dart Circuit
6. Greenstone-Mavora Walkway
7. Kepler Challenge

If you're not familiar with these routes (and therefore tired just looking at that list) bear in mind that most of these were longer than a marathon, with the Rees-Dart clocking in at a whopping 67km! Only the Kepler Challenge finale was a repeat from last year.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I haven't walked ANY of these tracks. Actually, I have done the Greenstone in combination with the Routeburn Track, so that counts for half or something.

While the runs have been a great success, Mal is still $6,000 shy of his ambitious $150,000 fundraising goal. If you want to help out, you can donate on his website.

Just before the runs began this year, Mal held an auction in Wanaka hosted by Kiwi sports celebrity Marc Ellis. The auction raised over $10,000, and I'm happy to say that I played some small (very small I imagine) part in that by donating a copy of Sex in a Tent. Here's a pic of Mal and Marc auctioning it off!

I guess Mal is having a good rest right about now. Congrats and well done!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Your Feet Wet

Soaked to the knees

One of my least favourite things about backpacking is hiking with soaking wet feet. In New Zealand, this is pretty much unavoidable. There are so many unbridged stream crossings that you'd have to pick your tracks very carefully to avoid wetting your boots. And I'm not talking about splashing through to test their "waterproof" qualities. I'm talking about the water gushing in over the top so there's full saturation!

Last weekend we went on our first overnighter in a while and yes, we crossed a stream that was just about up to my knees. Not deep enough to be a scary river crossing, but deep enough to get my boots thoroughly soaked for the weekend. There were also lots of muddy sections in the track, and a bit of bad judgement on one of them had me up to mid-calf in mud and wondering if I'd be able to pull my foot back out - and if I'd still be wearing my boot when I did. However, I digress.

Wet feet are a mere inconvenience most of the time, but on a long trip they can be a real problem if you don't deal with them properly. As we all remember from history class when we talked about WWI (you were paying attention, right?) "trench foot" can be quite crippling. It takes surprising little time with wet feet before the skin simply starts to fall apart. It's disgusting, painful, and sure makes hiking more difficult!

It's also easily avoided, by simply making sure your feet get dry for long enough to let the skin recover. To make sure this is possible, I always bring one pair of walking socks (which will probably get wet) and one pair of evening socks which I keep dry. As much as I hate putting those cold, wet socks back on in the morning, I know that I can't risk wearing my dry ones and letting them get wet too. Being left with no dry socks is not a good option.

Usually I also bring along a very stylish pair of fake crocs to wear in the evening. (I know, I know, but they're so light to carry!!) So my dry socks go into dry shoes at camp. If you don't carry a second pair of footwear and your boots are soaked, you can keep your dry socks dry by sticking your feet (with your dry socks on) into plastic bags before you put your wet boots back on. It's an even more fashionable look than my crocs!

I also try to head off foot damage before it happens by putting first aid tape over the parts of my foot (back of my heel, and a couple of my toes) where I most often get rubbing/blisters. I now change the tape daily after giving myself a nasty rash on one trip by leaving the same tape on for 3 or 4 days. It turns out my skin doesn't like that very much. It itched for weeks!

Getting your boots dry between trips can also be a challenge. Putting them too close to heaters can cause damage. Leaving them out in the sun is good, if you happen to get the right weather for it. One thing we do which seems to really help is to stuff old newspaper inside the boots. It absorbs the water out of the boots much faster than just leaving them. Swapping the old, saturated newspaper for fresh paper once or twice a day speeds up the process.

Also, most boots have removable insoles. Taking these out and leaving them to dry separately will allow more air to get to the bottom of your wet boots.

I'd love to hear your tips on dealing with wet feet and boots - so if you've got some ideas to share please post them as comments!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Review: Katadyn Pro Hiker Filter

I must admit to becoming a bit spoiled as a tramper in New Zealand. Like many other Kiwis, I tend to rely on rainwater collection tanks at the backcountry huts for my supply of clean drinking and cooking water. Most huts have these tanks, and since the NZ backcountry is rarely hit with drought conditions, the tanks are not often empty.

However, when tenting away from the beaten track, or on the rare occasion when rainwater is not available, trampers here do need a backup method of getting their water supply. In the past, we have used either boiling (the most reliable method, but you use a lot of extra fuel) or purification tablets.

Last weekend, I was able to test drive a Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter, something I haven't used since I relocated to NZ. I got a review one from, who sell all kinds of water filtering equipment for both home and away. They only stock Katadyn filters, and I wanted to give the Hiker Pro a try because a) it's under $100 which makes it reasonable for most backcountry campers to add to their gear collections, and b) it's reasonably small and lightweight (11 oz.) so it's not a burden to bring along on a trip. It also claims to get up to 750 litre (200 gallons) through the filter before it needs replacing, which seems like good value.

What makes this mode the 'pro' version is that it has extra attachments to connect the filter to either a widemouth Nalgene bottle or a hydration bladder. Being a bladder-user myself, I thought this was a good feature. Unfortunately it doesn't connect to ALL bladders, just certain brands that have a quick connect fitting built in. So no easy connection for me. Even my Nalgene is a narrow mouth!

The initial set up was relatively straightforward and the instructions easy to follow. I pre-cleaned the filter as instructed by pumping about a litre of water through it before we left home. This cleaned the dust out of the filter (which was clearly necessary!)

I took the Hiker Pro out to one of our favourite spots in the Catchpool Valley on a lovely spring day. I stopped next to a running stream and gave it a go.

It was easy to pump, and quickly filled my bottle. Their fill rate of 1 quart (1 litre) per minute seems accurate. The water tasted great, and 24 hours later my tummy is just fine so it must have worked!

There is a good pre-filter at the end of the intake hose which keeps the filter from getting gunked up with leaves and other large particles.

They also supply you with a separate carrying baggie for the output hose, to keep it from getting cross-contamination when carried with the rest of the filter. Everything fits in a small, nylon pouch which packs well.

The Hiker Pro has a 0.3 micron filter. This is small enough to remove bacteria and protozoan cysts like Giardia. It will not filter out viruses, so if your water supply is likely to have viral contamination you should still boil it as a precaution.

This is not the smallest or lightest water purification you can buy, but unlike a Steripen you don't need to rely on batteries, unlike purification tablets it doesn't make the water taste strange, and unlike boiling you don't need fuel or fire. If I'm going somewhere with a questionable water supply, I will definitely be bringing it along.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Food to Go - a backpacking cookbook

Frank and Sue Wall, who run the popular Australian blog Our Hiking Blog recently released an e-book about eating well on the trails, co-authored by Sue Hadskis.

"Food to Go" is a bit different from other backpacking cookbooks. What I found unique about it is that it caters to a wide variety of ways to eat on a multi-day trip, rather than focusing on making dehydrated meals from scratch. It does cover recipes for such meals, but let's face it, there are a lot of backpackers who never cook from scratch when they're eating at home, and aren't about to start just because they're going on a trip!

There is a section comparing various pre-packaged freeze dried meals. These are growing in popularity, and it's nice to have some first-hand accounts regarding portion size, flavour and texture. While I wouldn't use these meals while hiking locally, I can see it being a good option if you are far from home and don't have access to a kitchen.

They also discuss dehydrating techniques at length, including examples of how to dehydrate a take-out meal for your trip. Brilliant! Even if you have no idea how to make a curry, you can buy one from your favourite restaurant, dehydrate it, and eat it at camp. Ditto your favourite stir fry or pad thai.

If you're willing to do a bit more work, there are also recipes which include the use of pre-packaged sauce mixes and other convenient ingredients. And of course for the purist there are recipes from scratch for both omnivores and vegetarians.

The book also includes sample four day menus from a variety of outdoors enthusiasts, myself included. It's quite interesting to see what different people like to eat on their trips. I know that when I'm at tramping huts in New Zealand, I'm always fascinated to see what other people are having for dinner. I think my biggest surprise was when some friends started cooking up garlic shrimp! (Granted, it was a one night trip.)

Food to Go costs $19.50 Australian - which is around US$17.50. You can download the pdf HERE.

Frank and Sue also have an e-book about hiking Tasmania's famous Overland Track - so if you're heading down under you may want to check that one out too.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Guest Post: Lingerie in a Tent

Photo: Jockey Underwear

Sorry for the long absence! Today I'm happy to say we have a special guest post from Maggie Ewles, who runs an informational website about swimwear and lingerie - two great things to take camping! You can visit her site at: Her post reinforces a lot of the advice in "Sex in a Tent", so it's nice to see more of us outdoorsy girls thinking along the same lines!

When hitting the great outdoors with your loved one for a little rest and relaxation, the authentic outdoors person will have a tried and true list of camping essentials. Topping the list will be all the survival basics such as a tent, hiking gear, cooking paraphernalia, knife, flashlights and bug spray. However, what if you were planning on surprising your partner with a little loving in the evenings? Nature lovers will shout out that true backwoods types don’t need props or foolish luxuries to get jiggy in the tent. However, I have found that a few tiny, pre-planned items included in your backpack can pack a heck of a wallop!

First things first…. We all know that bathing in the great outdoors isn’t always a sure thing. We also know that canoodling tends to involve the parts of our bodies that begin to smell rank right off the bat. You may be swimming every day, but quite frankly the things you have planned require a little more attention than a splash around four hours ago can provide. What’s a girl to do? Voila, to the rescue: baby wipes! Seriously, these little wonders offer more cleaning power and durability than your standard wet wipe napkin and they not only clean and freshen, your nether-belows, they also make pretty good kindling once they have dried out. Multifunctional and nice smelling things definitely deserve a little room in the pack, just be sure to pack them in a reseal-able bag or container.

How about your undies? Are you wearing the standard non-cotton (so they will dry overnight and not stay full of congealed sweat for the whole trip) underwear? Camping undies have come a long way in recent years. Backpackers can choose from a ridiculous amount of colors, patterns and styles and even find some that will double as swimwear which leaves more room in the bag for…yup a little lingerie.

We all love the look and feel of silk but let’s face it, silk really doesn’t pack or travel well. You want your fellow hiker staring in stunned awe at your curves and not your crinkly wrinkly whatever-that-thing-is hanging off your shoulders. So maybe now is the time to break out a little mesh slip or teddy that is completely inappropriate for the great outdoors. Seriously, the surprise factor here and the idea that you have planned this will be more than enough fuel to get your buddy fired up.

Next up, we have some important considerations for your body. If you are the type to shave/wax/depilate, consider changing the design of your bikini area. Like a gift being unwrapped, each layer provides a new surprise and thrill. If you are not the de-furring type, pat yourself on the back for not having to waste a good chunk of your life worrying about this crap.

Along with keeping your body clean and potentially less hairy, having visible chafe marks or grooves left from your standard daily underwear is pretty high on the not sexy list. Nothing like a massive welt running up each side of your hip to scream out; “I was wearing ill-fitting granny pants that reached up to my rib cage the whole day.” A likely mood killer, so, why not shop with an educated eye for a good fit and long term comfort when you are grabbing your camping gear?

Now is not the time to be overly eco-concerned. Bamboo and cotton are replenish-able resources, however, in a high humidity and sweat inducing environment, these are not the best choices. You could either bring a pair of cotton undies for each day of your trek with a few extras for those just-in-case scenarios, or you could bring two pairs of nylon/spandex or wool underwear and simply give them a good wash each evening and allow them to dry overnight, poof, so much more room in your pack for all of the little extras right? But don’t just grab the first pair of nylon briefs you see. Take a look at your body and decide what style is the most flattering; brief, bikini, thong or boyshort? Thank goodness the Tilley high-waist travel panties aren’t the only option any more. Once you have the style down, make sure they have no-chafe flat seams, are wedgie proof through all motions and are truly moisture wicking. If you are feeling fancy, by all means invest in some of the cooler high-tech options such as the inclusion of silver ions in the fibers for their anti bacterial/microbial action, sun blocking fabrics or the new no seam styles.

Now that we have your day to day stuff worked out and guaranteed not to leave unsightly wear and tear marks on your body, let’s talk about lingerie. A matching set definitely has a wow factor, but only if there is light in the tent. In which case, you will also be putting on quite the puppet show for all the forest animals and any intrusive camping neighbors. How about texture? Will you bring along something that is satiny smooth or heavily embroidered? Little ribbons and bows are really cute…until they get caught on the zipper of your sleeping bag and you end up needing to be cut free from the metal teeth. The lesson here is don’t bring something you don’t mind losing or destroying. Think of the shock and awe philosophy; after all you aren’t looking to get some real wear and tear out of it, just stimulate some interesting conversation.

We can move on to the third consideration; scarves. Lovely, long, silk or organza scarves can be used in so many different ways. Like… to hang up your every-day undies while they dry, restrain and immobilize an over extended… ankle that you sprained while distractedly daydreaming during your hike or even to tie up… a pulsating wound in a tourniquet when someone overestimates their lumberjack abilities. See? Scarves can be justified for a multitude of uses while also being exceptionally light and easy to pack and quite frankly an excellent source of entertainment, limited only by your imagination.

Whatever you decide to pack in your bag, just remember that confidence is truly the most titillating part of any lingerie set. Now stand tall and show off those sequins, just remember that Park Rangers seldom have a sense of humor so don’t try to pull any streaking Yeti jokes.

Maggie Ewles is the type of person will forgo that extra emergency food ration in order to pack a sexy little camisole set. She is an avid hiker and believes that women have sacrificed comfort for style for far too long. There is no good reason that stylish swimwear can’t look good and be wearable at the same time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Knives for Camping - What's Best

Imagine that you're dropped naked on a deserted island and you can only have one piece of equipment. What do you choose? Sleeping bag? Lighter? Compass? If you really had to fend for yourself, you probably would need a knife above all else. With a knife comes the possibility of food and shelter - and perhaps some makeshift clothes too!

We've all been told that a knife is one of those "essentials" we need to take on any hiking or camping trip. Most of the time they get used for slicing dinner ingredients, or maybe cutting off a length of cord for a laundry line - but when things go wrong you may need your knife to help you build a shelter, hunt, or fix your gear.

There are a ridiculous number of options out there when it comes to buying a knife. And today's post comes to you thanks to my partner G, who has spent a lot of time learning about knives and which ones are best for which tasks. He took me through the main types of knives you may take camping or hiking with you, and their pros and cons. If you have a favourite knife to bring along, leave a comment and let me know what it is and why it's the best!

Fixed blade

A fixed blade knife is not often the first choice for campers. The fact that it doesn't fold up means that you'll need a sheath or other carrying case - and that means extra weight. But a fixed blade is inherently stronger because there is one piece of metal that continues from the blade straight through the handle (inside the comfort grip) called the "tang". You may not always need that kind of strength - but if you found yourself actually depending on a knife for survival, you'd want one that wasn't likely to snap in half!

The knife pictured on top has a certain "Rambo" appeal with the serrated top and upturned "clipped point" blade. However, it is heavy and the thin tip is likely to break off under pressure. The bottom knife blade has a much stronger and more practical shape for general use, with a "dropped point".

Gimmicks like hollow blades to make the knife lighter also make it weaker, so if you don't want to carry anything heavy, you'll be sacrificing dependability in exchange for weight.

Single folding blade
A knife which folds is more convenient for hitting the trails since it will fit in a pocket and be lighter. The weak point of the folding knife is obviously the hinge. However, a single folding blade like the ones in the photo often come with a locking mechanism to prevent the blade from folding shut while in use. This is a handy feature that often isn't found on inexpensive camping knives.

The blades on the knives pictured are substantially bigger than you would find on a standard Swiss Army or Leatherman type of tool. This makes them more useful for big jobs like cutting branches, gutting fish, skinning an animal, etc. Again, these might not be tasks you need to do on an average camping trip, but if you were lost or hurt, it could be the difference between being able to put together a makeshift leg splint or not.

The multitool (Leatherman is the best known brand) has many uses. Most models come with an array of blades, screwdrivers, pliers, wire cutters etc. for fixing a wide variety of items. However, they are usually not designed with camping in mind. The knife blades tend to be small and narrow, which means that they are not suited to tough jobs. Many of the other tools (screwdrivers come to mind) are unlikely to be needed on a camping or hiking trip.

Where multitools are really handy is a trip with lots of equipment that may need repair. So if you are on a long cycling trek, mountaineering, or on any big expedition, I expect you will want one of these on hand to fix mechanical faults. For general camping, I don't see them being worth their weight, which is significant.

"Swiss Army" knife
For me, the Swiss Army style of knife has always been a part of camping. The array of models available these days is a bit overwhelming. You can get everything from a magnifying glass to a USB drive on your knife. But the more toys attached to a knife, the heavier it gets.

For my money, the best tools to have on a camping knife of this type are a good blade (all come with 1-2 small blades), a saw for cutting small branches (the knife blades are too small for this) and an awl for punching holes and making small repairs to packs or other gear.

Of course, the can opener can be useful if you cook from cans, and the corkscrew seems to be unavoidable for some reason! The tweezers can also come in handy, although they are not the most effective tweezers around. Usually they'll do in a pinch when a sliver of wood is making life miserable.

Swiss Army knives are probably not great survival tools with their small, easily dulled blades. But their small size, light weight and low price will probably keep them at the top of the popularity charts for most campers and hikers. And as long as nothing goes too badly wrong - they'll certainly do the trick.

Of course a knife is only as good as it is sharp, so in a future post I'll talk about how to sharpen a knife.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Mal's at it again! And you can help

This is what happens when the power of alcohol is used for good, not evil!

Last year I blogged about trail runner Mal Law's "7 in 7 Challenge" where he ran 7 of New Zealand's Great Walks in 7 days to raise money for Leukaemia.

Now he's decided to make this a going concern, and plans to run another 350 km on the trails in just 7 days this year. His new goal for fundraising - a total of $250,000.

But here's how you can help without even reaching into your pockets. New Zealand beer brand "Steinlager Pure" is giving away $100,000 in funding to the best idea for a "pure future". Mal has added his 7 in 7 Challenge to the ideas competing for the funding, and he's in the lead!

You can vote for Mal's idea to help him secure the money to make his second challenge week happen without grovelling at the feet of corporate sponsors. Just follow this link and cast your vote for Malcolm Law.

Voting continues throughout this year, so make sure you spread the word.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Spring Fever?

There must be something in the air around this time of year. Last spring I was interviewed by three leading women's magazines about outdoor sex/romance. Although in the end, only one of the articles made it to print (in Cosmo, no less).

This year, spring fever seems to have struck again. Within a week of one another I was contacted by a writer working on an article for Backpacker magazine, and one writing a column for Esquire. Thanks to the very long lead times for magazines, it will be a few months before I can confirm whether any of this will go to print. But it's still great to be considered an expert source!

I can tell you one thing - when I wrote this book I never would have guessed it might get me quoted in Cosmo and Esquire!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Campground Rage" at Bachelor Party

A photographers enjoys the (normally) tranquil Glenorchy

The normally quiet little village of Glenorchy on New Zealand's South Island (absolutely STUNNING place, by the way) got a taste of urban violence a while back when some guys decided to have a big night out for their friend's bachelor party, then stumble back to the campground late at night. I'm a little late getting this posted - it happened back in March.

Here's the whole story according to the Southland Times:

Celebrating a friend's impending marriage went horribly wrong for a man in Glenorchy when he was stabbed twice at a campsite in the early hours of yesterday.

Detective Sergeant Grahme Bartlett said an argument developed about 2.50am between a 53-year-old British man camping in a tent at the Glenorchy Holiday Park and two men who were using the nearby kitchen.

During the argument one of the men who had been in the kitchen was stabbed twice, once in the chest and once in the side of his stomach, he said.

The man was taken by ambulance to Dunedin Hospital and was last night in a serious but stable condition.

The second man who had been in the kitchen suffered a minor knife wound to his finger but managed to restrain the British man for about an hour until police arrived, Mr Bartlett said.

The two men in the kitchen are understood to have been part of a group from Gore who were in town for a stag party.

Holiday Park manager Stan Roney said there was a group of about 20 people staying at the campsite who had been out drinking and he understood two of them had decided to "have a feed".

Mr Roney said he had moved to Glenorchy from the Gold Coast in Australia to escape this kind of violence so it was disturbing to have it happen in such a quiet place.

"Over there (the Gold Coast) you get this all the time. You come back here and get something like this and it's a little bit frightening," he said.

The attack has shocked the sleepy settlement at the top of Lake Wakatipu, with many residents spoken to by The Southland Times struggling to remember the last time a similar incident occurred.

Nicole Scott, who has lived in Glenorchy for 15 years, said as far as she knew there had never been another stabbing since she had lived there.

"Everybody will be quite surprised. It's not exactly something that happens every day," she said.

Another longtime resident, Ronda Gollap, said she had lived in Glenorchy all her life and had never heard of anything like this happening before.

She could understand being upset at people making noise late at night but an argument escalating into such violence was unbelievable, she said.

The British man has been charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and assault with a weapon.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Reclaimation by Nature

I love visiting places where man's influence is being slowly replaced by what nature intended.

Over Easter weekend, we took a trip up to the Coromandel Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island. It's an area that has been quite heavily mined for gold in the past (and to some degree even now) so there are a lot of relics of old mines around.

We visited the Karangahake Gorge, once the site of a large gold mining operation. While some of the tunnels, tracks, etc. are being preserved by the Dept. of Conservation, you can see where nature is taking its course.

Ferns and other plants are sprouting up in cracks in the old walls.

It's an interesting juxtaposition of man made and natural environments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Every Day's A Good Day

Here in New Zealand, we are sometimes a bit blasé about using active vocanoes for our recreational activities. Mt. Ruapehu has had fairly major eruptions as recently as 1996, but we continue to ski, climb and hike on it year-round.

William Pike is a Kiwi who found himself in just the wrong place at the wrong time. During a climbing trip with a friend on Ruapehu in 2007 they stopped for the night at Dome Shelter, a small hut just below the crater lake. That night, the mountain had a severe case of indigestion and sent a lahar (powerful stream of mud and rocks) straight through the hut on its way down the mountain.

William's companion was miraculously unhurt, but William was blasted by rocks, and had one leg pinned in what amounted to natural concrete. Every Day's a Good Day is the story of William's ordeal on the mountain, rescue, and recovery.

I really wanted to like this book, because I admire those who take such a major setback in their lives (in the case the amputation of his right leg below the knee) with such acceptance and optimism. Throught the story, William never seems to feel hard done by with his extreme bad luck, despite being the ONLY person hurt by the eruption. Nor does it alter his love of the outdoors or of mountaineering. There's no doubt that faced with similar circumstances, I would hope to find that kind of strength and positive attitude in myself.

Unfortunately, William is not a particularly strong writer. Although his story is compelling, he fails to make the readers feel like they are living through it with him. It also seems that he couldn't find enough to say about the actual incident to fill out a book, so instead he tells us irrelevant stories about his childhood firing a pea-shooter and his youth on the school water polo team.

Coincidentally William has just been in the news here again. (No he hasn't lost another limb!) He has just launched the William Pike Challenge Award for students. Participants will do a mix of community service, such as helping clean up ski areas, and take part in outdoor activities such as climbing the central plateau mountains, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

William is a school teacher and wanted to encourage more young people to gain new skills and confidence by participating in outdoor activites. Good on ya William!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Bus to Paradise

I've never owned a car. I'm not a big fan of driving, and I have always been fortunate enough to live somewhere with public transit good enough to get me where I want to go most of the time.

However, as a person who loves getting away to wilderness areas, not having a car is a real problem sometimes. Public transit doesn't tend to reach the wilderness. So I have worked around this in the past by relying on friends, clubs, etc. to get me out of town.

Now, a group in Toronto is trying to get a bus service up and running on summer weekends between the city an Algonquin Provincial Park. For those unfamiliar with Algonquin, it's an absolutely HUGE park around 3-4 hours north of Toronto. It has campgrounds, cabins, and a very extensive backcountry, most of which is only accessible by canoe.

The idea of getting dropped off at the park by bus, and picked up again to return to the city, would have been like a dream come true for me when I lived in Toronto! So I'm really hoping this gets off the ground, even though it's too late for me. I'm also hoping it sets an example that others may follow - making it easier for those without their own cars to access the wilderness, and also giving people the "greener" option of leaving their cars at home.

If you want to find out more about the proposed "Park Bus" service - check out their website:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hills over the Harbour

First of all, my apologies for not posting anything for so long. I'm afraid it hasn't been a very tramping-heavy summer for me. Too much non-blogworthy stuff to do!

Today, though, we decided we were long overdue for a decent walk. On my insistence, we checked out a track we've never walked before. This track went from Lowry Bay to Days Bay via the Main Ridge Track in Wellington region's East Harbour Regional Park.The first challenge was to find one of the trailheads so that we could get started! The one we aimed for first didn't actually exist, or at least we couldn't see it. Instead we went to an alternate trailhead which turned out to be the wrong one.

So we begin our hike by walking up one side of a big hill and down the other, just to get to what should have been our starting point. Ah well, we needed the exercise, right?

We walked up to the ridge again, and found an opening in the bush which allowed for a nice view south, towards the entrance to Wellington harbour. As you can see in the photo, we are quite close to civilization here, and at times you could hear traffic from the track - but considering we drove less than 30 minutes from our house to get there, it did feel pretty remote most of the time we were up there. The bush is dense and until you get a view like this, you could be deep in the forest!Rather than do something pretty close to a loop in the park, we descended towards Days Bay, which is a few kilometres south of our starting point. After stopping to use a washroom and buy a couple of Popsicles (well, Fruju really, but you can't get Popsicle brand here) we headed back along the harbour to Lowry Bay.

All in all we walk for about four hours, which was quite enough once we hit the sunshine along the beach. It's amazing how quickly the sun can sap your energy!

A nice walk for the most part - although the "track maintenance" we waded through on our way down was a bit of a mess. Considering the convenient location, we're likely to hit the East Harbour again!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bears in New Zealand?

Fiordland, New Zealand - rugged and remote, but currently bear-free

If nearly 10,000 (and counting) Kiwi "Man vs Wild" fans have their way, Fiordland will play host to it's first bear. Bear Grylls, that is.

Some local enthusiasts have started a Facebook group petitioning for Bear to record an episode of Man vs Wild in this rugged, challenging area of New Zealand.

It's not a bad choice for the show. Certainly there are lots of waterfalls to rappel down, which seems to be his signature move. There are plenty of backcountry huts for the crew to relax in between shots. And to keep it dramatic, you can almost guarantee that it will be pissing down with rain at least half of the time.

My only worry is that it will inspire a bunch of Bear copycats, who will decide to go off track in this very remote corner of New Zealand to test out their skills, and end up needing extremely expensive and risky rescues!

I guess the only question is - what disgusting creature can they get him to eat? Maybe a giant weta?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Value of Nature

Untouched beauty - for now

I saw an interesting ad recently - New Zealand's Ministry of Tourism is looking for someone who can devise a methodology for determining the value of natural resources (ie. keeping our national parks pristine etc.) to the country.

This comes at an interesting time. The government is currently doing a "stocktake" of mineral resources on crown land, including national parks. They say they're just interested in knowing what lurks below the surface, but anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see that they're thinking of allowing more mining, fossil fuel exploration and so on as a way to boost the economy. They've even admitted that they'd think about moving the boundaries of special status areas (where no mining or forestry is currently permitted) if there was reason to do so.

Obviously the government thinks that New Zealand is sitting (perhaps literally) on a gold mine of unused minerals that could be mined and exported. They claim that using moder methods this would cause "minimal disruption" to the natural beauty and ecosystems.

So to counter this (although they haven't officially said this is the reason for their project) the Ministry of Tourism is trying to put a value on leaving nature as it is - so that future tourists will continue to come to New Zealand for its natural beauty and untouched wilderness - one of our major drawcards currently. If it's worth more in its current state, it may influence any decisions to allow people to dig it up.

I will be waiting to see how this all plays out. I hope there will be a willingness to resist the quick bucks and preserve the economic, environmental, and lifestyle value of New Zealand's amazing natural landscapes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hopelessly Devoted to Your Gear?

A girl and her pack - a love story?

Recently I was reading an issue of New Zealand Wilderness magazine, and came across an article which mentioned a postgraduate student trying to determine whether Kiwis are emotionally attached to their tramping gear.

To me, the answer was a no-brainer. Of course we are!

I expect that any non-tramper would question why. After all, we're just talking about practical "stuff". But I also expect a number of those same people are a little too fond of their cars, or their i-phones, or whatever they spend their time with.

As humans, we tend to create stronger bonds with one another when we've been through something challenging or life-changing together. The more challenging or life-changing, the stronger the bond is likely to be. This is why war buddies are often life-long friends. They've been to hell and back together, and the bond is about as strong as it gets!

This is one of my selling points for tramping as a couple. You face challenges together while tramping, and come out with a stronger bond at the other end of it. Many of the couples I surveyed while writing Sex in a Tent confirmed that this one of the best things about their outdoor adventures together.

So if this works between people, why not (to a lesser degree) between a person and his or her gear? My backpack has been there with me through a lot. I've thought about shopping for a nice, new one - maybe with some more hi-tech features, or lower weight - but I've grown rather fond of mine.

It was lent to me by my Aunt Judy for my first multi-day jaunt into the wilderness some six years ago. When I told her how well it had worked for me, she let me keep it since her backpacking days were pretty much behind her. It moved with me to New Zealand, and has been on every tramp I've been on since.

Perhaps that's an extreme example, since most gear is not a family heirloom. But even things like hiking boots are difficult for me to throw away when the time comes. They've walked the miles, and it's sad to see them go.

I'm not sure how far this extends. I guess it depends on your personal experiences. If your life once depended on your camping knife, or your headlamp, or some other item that might otherwise seem pretty impersonal, you could find it hard to part with.

Of course this is the sort of thinking that drives retailers and manufacturers nuts. They would prefer we got quickly tired of our gear and excited about the latest marvel of technology they're selling. Instead, some of us wander into the shops lamenting how they "don't make 'em like they used to".

I do have a pair of boots that are at the end of their usefulness. By the time summer is over, I will have to bid them a fond farewell. They've served me well, and I will lament their passing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paying for Rescue

Photo: New Zealand Land Search & Rescue

Recently in New Zealand, an empty kayak was seen floating down a very swollen river on the South Island. Search & Rescue was alerted, a helicopter dispatched to scan the river, and two kayakers rescued from the riverbank.

After the rescue, the two were asked to pay for the $4000 rescue, because conditions were very dangerous and they should have known better than to try to run the river while it was in flood. The kayakers claim they were OK and the rescue was unnecessary and unrequested, so they don't feel they should have to pay for it.

It raises an interesting issue which comes up in the press now and then here. Should people who get themselves into trouble in the wilderness because they are unprepared or unskilled have to pay back the cost of their rescue? Or is this a public service that should never cost the end user money? And who gets to decide whether their situation was due to incompetence or circumstances beyond their control?

People have called in rescue teams for some pretty stupid stuff here in NZ. People who went on multi-day tramps with almost no food because they didn't want to carry extra weight. People who decided to take "short cuts" and got lost or hurt, people who tried to climb in alpine terrain in shorts and a t-shirt because it was sunny and warm at the bottom of the mountain. I've even heard of people calling for rescue because they decided they were too tired to walk back to the trailhead.

Often tourists are blamed for this sort of behaviour. But locals actually account for the majority of rescues in New Zealand. However, the general feeling seems to be that if you are visiting the country, since you aren't a taxpayer, you should get an invoice for your rescue.

I have no idea how this works in other countries. Maybe some of you can enlighten me as to what happens if you need to be rescued in the US? In Europe? In Australia? Do you get asked to pay for it?

I'm of two minds with this. On the one hand I know that the system gets abused because it's free. On the other hand, I'd hate to see a situation where people died in the wilderness because they felt they couldn't afford the help they needed.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two out of Three Ain't Bad

Above the Waiohine River in the southern Tararuas

Even though it is officially summer, the weather in the Tararua ranges is always a bit of a crapshoot. Since we were off for almost 2 weeks for the Christmas/New Years holidays, we kept an eye on the forecast and decided to go tramping for three days starting December 27.

We arrived to pleasant, sunny weather on our first day. The campground at Waiohine Gorge Roadend was bustling, as you would expect at this time of year. But we were determined not to repeat last year's mistake of getting stuck in overcrowded huts, so we brought our tent along and decided we'd avoid the huts altogether.

Our trip started with a big, steep climb up to (almost) Cone Saddle. It's strange how I can go to the gym several times a week, and still be immediately out of breath as soon as I have to tramp uphill with a pack on! Oh well, I don't think I could deal with the strange looks if I started showing up at the gym with a loaded backpack.

The sun was thankfully having a hard time penetrating the tree cover, so we were sweaty, but not unbearably hot. And the last part of our tramp for the day was a descent down the opposite side of the ride past historic Cone Hut.

Cone hut is very basic, and only has bunks for 6 people at best. I was glad we weren't planning to stop there for the night, because a group of 6 (plus one dog) showed up just behind us. They weren't too sure about staying in the "well preserved" hut either, and at least one couple opted to sleep nearby in their tent instead.

We continued down to Smith Creek, where there is a relatively well established camping area. (No facilities though.) We picked a flattish, sheltered spot and set ourselves up in the tent. I had a bit of a wipe down by the river, but had to be a bit subtle because the Cone Hut group were also lounging down there.

The evening was very pleasant, and we were quite pleased to be on our own, away from the hordes.

Overnight it began to rain, and we avoided getting up in the morning as we tried to use our sheer will to make it stop. Eventually we had to give up hope, and have breakfast in the light drizzle. We packed up the wet tent, and headed back up the hill to Cone Saddle.

The rain stopped and started all day, making everything wet and a bit slippery. Both of us lost our footing now and then on a bit of mud or a slick tree root. Nothing major though. It was one of those days where you can never quite decide whether to keep your rain jacket on, or take if off. Either way you're going to end up damp - either from drizzle or from sweat.

We descended back over to the Waiohine Gorge side of the ridge, and decided to camp at a small spot by the river. Our original plan was to follow the river trail up to Totara Flats, and camp closer to the hut. However, there was a fairly large stream to cross first, and with the rain it was not very appealing to me. With a perfectly good campsite on our side of the stream, I opted to stay there (and G humoured me.)

The drizzle wouldn't relent, so we basically spent the entire time inside the tent until morning. It had dried overnight, but the wind had picked up too. However, I was happy to be out of the tent, and I really liked the little ferns that were growing all over the trunk of the tree fern by our tent.

We packed up and headed back along the Waiohine Gorge towards the road end. The trail seemed longer than it looked on the map - but perhaps I'm in worse shape than I like to think!

The sun had returned, so although it was windy we had pretty pleasant walking conditions. There was a lot of mud from the previous day's rain though, so we probably went slower than usual trying not to sink ourselves in too much.

There was one big stream crossing on the way back. Most people rock hop over it without too much trouble. But as I've pointed out before, stream crossings and I don't get along very well. I made it about 3/4 of the way across from rock to rock, then got to a place where it was too far for me to step or hop.

I decided I would have to step into the stream with one foot, then climb up onto the last rock. It seemed like a good plan, but my execution was somewhat flawed. I didn't step far enough up onto the rock, and instead tried to put my weight onto the mossy, slimy side of the rock. Needless to say I slipped, banging my knee on the rock. I wasn't hurt (other than a bit of a scrape and a bruise) but I was very frustrated and pissed off at myself for doing this yet again! You'd think I'd get better at it with experience, but somehow I just keep on messing it up.

Anyway, the rest of the walk out was pretty uneventful. I had an ice cream in Greytown to drown my sorrows on our way back to Wellington. Within a couple of days the weather turned and the Tararuas have had strong wind and heavy rain warnings since New Year's day. So it looks like we lucked out, with just one drizzly day.