Archive for April, 2012

Despite a large dinner and dessert, we all awoke super hungry again.  Tracy made excellent sweet couscous combo for all of us and then I made cornbread to pack over for lunch since we somehow have already almost run out of trail snack food.  Oh, right…it’s because we had three trying days in a row and did nothing but go up and down which sets appetites on the “raging” mode.

Good thing, we had a sleep in morning and met up at 10 a.m. for Andy to talk about orienteering using a model of the earth made with his clothes bag and a sharpie.  It made a rather decent impression of the earth but super lumpy looking.

About an hour later, we did the usual splitting into two groups and leaving about 15 minutes apart or so.  Today’s terrain was

Continuing up the Dingle Burn River

pretty easy since the valley had widened out, the track had room to run along the small plateaus next to the river instead of shooting up to get around cliffs that the river ran right up against.

We passed by a “historic hut” which had good camping near it.  We peered in and looked around for a moment and laughed at the sign that forbid people from staying in it.  That might work fine for fair weather but I imagined that many a person has stayed in it to get out of a nasty storm, like the ones that destroyed so many of our tent poles in the mountaineering section.

From there, we stumbled around a few times for the actual trail which was sometimes marked and sometimes not.  It had a few bright orange posts and triangles which were fairly easy to spot when they existed.  It was hard to actually get lost because we just had to stay river left and not leave the valley.  Not hard at all.  We did have one small run-in with a large patch of matagouri which ripped at our skin as we pushed our way through it.

Since we went first, we scouted out our campsite and began picking spots when the other group arrived not long after and joined us in setting everything up.  The sun shone brightly and the air temperature had risen into the 70s, a nice break from the snow and cold we had before.  It inspired us to go jump in the river since we’d dry quickly.  The river water was an entirely different story and I lasted a grand total of five seconds: enough to run in, duck under, and run back out.  Damn glacial melt water.

We even had to find shade from large matagouri bushes because the sun heated up the tents too much and we feared to open the doors and have the super duper annoying sand flies come in and attack us.  We survived and checked our food to make rough meal plans for the rest of the ration because we were afraid that our stomachs would take over and we would have no food left at the end as usual.  I nibbled on spoonfuls of peanut butter from my kilo when there was nothing else.  That was worth it’s weight in gold.  I still would have killed a pound every four days or so normally, but I rationed myself.

The next day, we decided to day hike up Mt. Gladwish which lay just to the east of us.  Instead of the usual two groups leaving 15 minutes apart, we left at the same time, but climbed different ridges to the top, then followed the opposite on the way down.  New Zealand proved its ability for steepness once again as we climbed about 1000 meters in 3 kilometers or, in American, about 3000 feet in 1.8 miles.  This time, we had much less on our backs though which made it quite a bit more pleasant.

We had a fun pow wow and photo-op on the summit since the weather held beautifully and we checked out the Ahuriri Valley which lay on the other side of the ridge where we wanted to head next.

The descent became a little trying on my knees because we went down the steeper, shorter ridge that the other group had gone up.  Tracy’s knees screamed too.  We made it down fine through the tussock grass and had a relaxing late afternoon until the sand flies came out in full force and the mosquito head nets came out quickly.  Haley discovered she could take her trucker hat and put the mesh over her face and secured it with the hood of her jacket easily enough by tightening the strings.  That worked until one got in and all of a sudden she jumped off her butt pad making a loud ruckus.

Our campsite is super small down in the matagouri

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The weather decided to hold up the seven faces of eve to give us a taste of all four seasons on our second day in the backpacking section.  In the morning, Jonah and I went over to Heather, Ryan, and JD’s tent to get breakfast water.  Since it still drizzled from the grey sky, we piled in on top of them with breakfast while they boiled water.

None of us wanted to venture out into the wetness that seemed to surround us: the lake, the river, the rain, the mud.  To get our spirits up and blood moving, we played a large game of Ninja.  That feeling went away fine after about ten minutes of walking though.  We split up in two groups again and slogged through the wet grass that made out rain pants slick within minutes.

The beginning of the terrain eased up nicely along the Dingle River delta and we moved fairly quickly chatting along the way.  Then the trail split: a high water track and a river track.  Judging by the height of the  water river we crossed in the morning and the other rivers in the area, we grudgingly took the high water track which immediately went up.

The precipitation returned turning the track into a muddy mess where we all slipped and slid around.  We followed a fence high above the river, occasionally holding onto it for balance and the rain came down faster until it turned into hail.  When the track went down a bit, it changed to snow and a bit later, back to rain.  It couldn’t decide which way the sky wanted to shit on us.

The rest of the way just went up and down, up and down, never flat.  The pack weight still annoyed me, but the terrain that day wasn’t horrible besides the mud.  At two spots, we had to put up handlines to get down sketchy mud-caked slopes.

At the bottom, we crossed the drainage that flowed back into the river and immediately went up on the other side where I definitely slipped and slid about fifteen feet or so and got a nice big mud stain on my butt.  I chilled with Haley in the back and after that we had fun pointing out new, exotic forms of bright, neon green moss.

Very close to our campsite destination next to a two person hut, we had to traverse a section where the river lay about fifty feet below and the track was barely wide enough to put one foot on.  Placing my feet carefully, I went across with  no problem, but afterwards laughed because there was no way you could put both feet next to eat other that entire section.

Boy, were we hungry after that.  The replacement glue ball for the pump worked fantastically and Jonah made us baller pizza with some of the heavy freshies that we toted around in hopes to use them up so we didn’t have to carry them.

Before we went to bed, Christian and Andy told us we had to have an 8 a.m. start because the next section has a reputation for problems and getting into camp after midnight.  Great.  While the distance was short, it did nothing but shoot up and down constantly and the map had gotten the track wrong so the instructors were going off of a a route another instructor had penciled onto it.  Next to one part, it had arrows and a star indicating sketchy-as-shit pretty much.  This day proved to become one of our most difficult days the whole section and we then evaluated the difficulty of each day based on this third day.

We split into two groups as always, making sure each group was self sufficient in case anything happened and immediately hiked

The Dingle River Valley, New Zealand

upward.  Fantastic way to wake up.  None of us joked or talked – just kept going up.  I had to play “time keeper” and let everyone know when break time was every hour or so, depending on when we found a good spot.  Since the NOLS rations never really gave good opportunities for a regular lunch, we had to eat snacky stuff of leftovers from dinner every hour or so to keep our energy up.  I missed my peanut butter granola burritos and boots-off breaks.

After crossing a creek, we had the crux of the day coming up where the trail literally shot directly up gaining 400 meters of elevation in 1 kilometer which translates in American to about 1200 ft in .62 of a mile.  Hmmmmm.  Yeah.  Steep.  Lucky for us, it had not rained since the day before and the track did not have quite so much mud as before so we slipped and slid a little less.

About half way up, we hit an exposed nub with loose footing and almost no handholds.  The river lay a solid few hundred feet below on a very steep grade.  A handline might have been helpful, but after a bit of scouting and spotting, we found a way up, albeit definitely sketchy.  On top, we took a short break, then continued up far enough to hit a thin layer of snow that had fallen when we trudged through the rain the previous day.

Eventually, we reached the max height and began descending back to another drainage. From there we could actually see no other way around besides walking up the river the way the land had jutted.  Personally not a fan of wet feet, I enjoyed the view, but we all got cold up there and headed down slowly trying not to slip into each other.

“What is brown and sticky?” Andy asked us with a wry smile when we plopped down for some food on an awkward slope yet less steep than the surroundings.

“Mud,” someone answered.

“Poop,” someone else answered.

“A stick!” Andy shouted.

Great.  Thus started more and more bad jokes.  After the hard part ended, we checked the map and we had to cross five more drainages before finding our campsite, i.e. up, down five times with one small plateau atop and between two of them.  Toward the end, Heather had to stop and fix her foot twice which had begun to blister.

An airstrip showed on the map as our last landmark where the track would go across to the other side and we just had to go straight a few hundred feet and a hut would magically appear.  Relieved, we headed straight only to be startled by giant rabbits bounding out of nowhere across our path.  They were legit, bigger than small dogs.

We made peanut butter fudge for dessert that night since dinner filled no one up and we decided we deserved it after finishing in good time and having no significant problems to report.

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The field switch went smoothly as we huddled under a tarp eating the last remnants of the road brecky.  Andy and Christian came over afterwards who were our new instructors and they ended up making a great team, filling our heads with incredibly bad jokes for 26 days.

Back on the bus with Darrell, we listened to Mumford & Sons on repeat for a while, then shifted in a few DJs before stopping for lunch, conveniently near a grocery store.  I decided I would get some extra food to take with me to prevent the lack of food at the end of the rations, especially since my hiker appetite had kicked into full-swing by then and the NOLS rations lacked the heavy carbs and protein that I normally eat on trails.  I walked out of the grocery store with a kilo of peanut butter, a large loaf of bread, a box of tea, a pound of dark chocolate, and half a bag of extra oats that I split with Tracy.

We continued driving along and I slept a little bit on and off when JD or Jonah didn’t blast some old school rap song really loud, rapping along with it and turning their NOLS baseball hats backward or to the side.  Toward dinnertime, we came to a consensus that we wanted to stop for dinner and pay for a meal instead of using ration food which would give us an extra dinner later that week.  The choice was a burger joint in Wanaka where I got a humongous vegan burger.  I decided to eat past being full because I didn’t have anything to save it in because I did not want to carry the trash for a week and I knew I would need the extra calories soon.  I ended up so full that I couldn’t turn without turning my whole body around.  I had not remembered the last time I was that full.

At the campsite we picked the last place the bus could get to and turn around sufficiently, we did a re-ration and shifted the tent groups around.  I ended up in the four person tent for the first time since sea kayaking with James, Jonah, and Tracy.

While refilling the spice kits, I managed to get cayenne pepper in my eye and it stung really badly.  I sat with a piece of cloth over my eye for half an hour before I remembered the bread trick and I ran to rip a piece of bread and place it on my eye and it soaked up all the cayenne in only a few moments.  At that point, I silently thanked the old Irish guy who I hiked with a bit in Spain who taught me that trick and told me tales of his psychedelic drug adventures in the Himalayas.

Andy and Christian decided we should have a 10 a.m. meeting time to hike about 10km down the dirt road to a track along Lake Hawea.  All of us stared blankly not believing we would meet anytime after 7 or 8 in the morning after Roger.

In the morning we did have to delay it a bit because our stove wouldn’t work.  We took the whole thing apart, cleaned it, checked just about everything for about an hour and still couldn’t get it to work.  We finally borrowed a stove from another group to make breakfast, get our departure time delayed slightly and decided to fix it when we set up camp later.

We split into two groups and set out about 15 minutes apart.  The sun shone brightly and our packs were newly heavy after adding the whole ration of food and copious amounts of fuel to them.  At that point, I felt like karma kicked me in the ass for laughing at people who backpacked with frying pans and any food that needs more cooking than just boiling water because they weigh so much.

The 10 km went by quickly and we got to our campsite tucked into a grove of manuka trees.  On the way, some rain had come in for a bit, but soon passed and the skies opened back up for the sun by the time we saw the manuka head between the river and the lake.

Since we arrived in the first group, we scouted campsites, set up the tarp and filled the dromedaries for cooking later.  Not long after, the second group arrived and helped us set everything else up.  We went to work on deciphering the problem of the broken stove and discovered that the stove itself had no problems, but rather an obscure little rubber ball inside the pump had mysteriously disappeared.  Poking through the MSR repair kit, we had just about everything but the ball part.  We tried several things including cutting a small notch out of my plastic blue fake crocs as well as a few of the balls on my earings, but none of those worked.  Andy and James set out to McGiver a part together.  Andy made a super glue ball while James used a washer covered in glue.

In the meantime we played magical stoves to cook dinner that night and then the four person group sent two people to one three person tent and two to the other for breakfast hot water the next morning.

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We had more misty weather gathering above in the morning when we woke up as we lazed around all morning with a 12 noon leaving time.  For the first time in a week, we would head to a hut which excited all of us and we wanted to have a hut party for Halloween.  According to Roger, it looks old and haunted…i.e. perfect.

A mere five kilometers down river we walked until we happened upon Top Hut which looked like a dilapidated old barn like structure with a tin roof, set farther back into the hill than was convenient to get water.  It excited us nonetheless and we moved in and sprawled out.  Packs exploded all over the ground outside of the hut as we began preparations for our party.  Instead of a potluck dinner, we decided to do potluck desserts.

Before we could start cooking and eating, Roger and Sean imposed a mandatory laundry rule since we would go straight from the mountaineering section to the backpacking section without a town switch and normal laundry.  Using almost all of our soap rations, we set to work washing clothes in anything we could find with steaming hot water since we had plenty of fuel leftover.

Roger realized he left his ice axe back at the other camp, so after he made sure we started laundry, he walked back to get it.  Luckily, it was only five kilometers.

That evening when we all gathered around the picnic table in the hut, Roger busted out speakers and ipod which we weren’t supposed to have and it overjoyed everyone.  However, it got a song by the killers stuck in my head for at least a week more.  We shared desserts and hung out while Sean and Roger made lattes for those who drank coffee.

Nothing too traumatic happened in that hut – no one fell off their bunks or anything.  We got ready and made to move back into the Cameron Valley through a pass only a few kilometers from where we entered to make a circle back to where we had begun twenty days previously.

Overjoyed by the remnants of a road for the first while, we walked on and up thanking the 4×4 track for making an easier path through the ankle twisting tussock grasses.  It even conveniently went up to the pass we looked at crossing on the map.  Leading us up in winding switchbacks, it dropped us off at a fence which the mapmakers were so kind as to even mark so we knew exactly where we were.

Weaving our way down, we found herd paths here and there making our knees thank us  for the long decent which we made down

Matagouri, surrounded by tussock grass.

to the trail we had followed into the Cameron Valley before.

Eventually, we made camp a little under a kilometer back from our pick up point because it was the best camping area, where the area by the pick up had a significantly higher amount of animal droppings scattered near the water.

We had the next day off because of paperwork and we needed to tie up the ends of the section.  It was a good thing because almost all of us were pretty much out of food.  That morning, between Ryan, Kyle and I we had the very last bits of oatmeal and semolina to eat with only a handful of popcorn for lunch.  The rest of the day, we tried desperately to fill up on tea until dinner of which we only had a bag of couscous and some garlic.  Roger and Sean ran out completely of food by lunch and Roger decided he was fasting and would not accept anymore food from anyone.  Sean borrowed some of our seconds so he could have dinner.

Closing out the evening, we had a campfire just like the beginning and the only two of the entire section and remembered everything we had done.

When the morning came around, we all wanted breakfast badly and it motivated us to move since the bus would bring road “brecky” as New Zealanders call it.  Getting there, we dropped stuff, gave Amy the program supervisor a hug, then asked where the food was.  She knew she wouldn’t get anywhere in a debrief with us unless she fed us, so she opened it all up and we dug in.

Then we began transitioning between sections.

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