Home made gear

I’d like to think completing this hike is all about me, but it good equipment plays a big part too. I’ve made some efforts to adjust some things to fit my plan and I thought they might be worth mentioning here. The first thing was the GPS logger by OHararp LLC which I’ve already gone on about. At my request they made a little voltage regulator so the solar panels I got could be used to keep it charged and logging without ever having to buy batteries or find a power outlet. I designed a very simple pot stand to go over the pepsi stoves I was making with my sister. I’ve since opted to go with a Trangia stove because it has a lid to put the flame out and hold the fuel in. A few nights ago my mum and I tried our hands at gaiter making, but it wasn’t a great success. Without a proper pattern to work to, and totally the wrong material, things were bunching in the wrong places and we couldn’t work out a cut that fit, so I’ve gone with Dirty Girl Gaiters despite them having the worst website since the early 90s. Today I finally got around to making the modification I have been planning for ages. I got my dad to pick up a Big Agnes Seedhouse Sl 1 last time he was in America. It’s nice and I like it but with an all mesh top putting it up in the rain will suck. I had planned a webbing mechanism that would involve straps between each pole and sewing hooks onto where the loops are on the inner tent, but in the end it turned out much simpler. With some strong cord I tied the front two poles together and then ran a length down to the other pole and tightened it until it held the poles in the same place as the inner tent does. I can now put the poles up by themselves, throw the fly on over the top and put my pack underneath to keep dry while I peg out the fly. From underneath I can undo the long pole, put it through the loops on the inner tent and back onto the cord. The loops run up that pole to their normal position. I then climb inside the inner tent with my pack and proceed to clip it onto the front poles. No rain has hit the inner tent, I am safe and dry, all is good. Of course some people would choose to skip the inner tent altogether and just sleep under the fly sheet. At that point it’s just a tarp tent with some fancy poling.

Here are the photos of setting it up
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 frame
Magic, a frame with no inner tent or fly!
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 as a tarp tent
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 as a tarp tent
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 threading the loops
Threading the loops
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 hanging the inner tent
Hanging the inner tent


Northern Circuit in one day

Yesterday I completed the challenge I was unable to finish last week. Under perfect skies I hiked, and at some points ran, the Tongariro Northern Circuit in one day. Less than 10.5 hours actually, and I’m pretty pleased with that because usually it is billed as 3-4 days though that does include a side trip to stay at the Ketetahi Hut. The day started with my alarm at 3am, the drive to Whakapapa which I know pretty well and I was on the path just after 7:30. The first leg, from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo is relatively flat, undulating within a 100m range over 9km. From there I joined in the queue as scores of day trippers fresh off the tour bus climbed the Devil’s Staircase as part of the Tongariro Crossing. I think I was doing pretty well at this stage, not that any of them really needed to rush but I was overtaking everyone and feeling good. I’ve never seen it so busy, because I’ve never been there so late on a sunny day, the crowd at the top of the staircase was really something else. Then comes the flat South Crater (which isn’t really a crater) and the steep ascent to the edge of Red Crater. This is where I had to turn back last time, but there was hardly any breeze this time and I cruised on through and got to my favourite part, the gravel descent 🙂 I like this bit the most because while others gingerly edge their way down, worried about falling over into the fairly soft rock, I jog down at quite a speed. The trick is to dig your heels into the soft area, then your feet can’t slide about and you can go fast. I almost wanted to walk back up to do it again. Then I came across Antz and Kat, two hut wardens waiting for the rest of them. I had met Kat last week as the three of us set off from Mangatepopo but she hadn’t identified herself as the warden then, so when she questioned our plans I thought she was just a tourist who didn’t like a small rain shower.

Tongariro Northern Circuit Profile
Click for a larger version

I pushed on and passed a couple of Californians. They had done parts of the Pacific Crest Trail last year and come across a few of the through hikers, but it wasn’t until I reach Oturere Hut that I thought about asking if they knew any names. I was only at the hut for 30 minutes so I never saw them again. Just after leaving Oturere, about 1:15pm now, I realised I had a problem with the balance pockets with the metal beam cutting a hole in the bag, not particularly great after less than 10 hours of use, the designer is going to see about reinforcing that part.
From Oturere to Waihohonu is mostly down hill, and all pretty easy. It’s open, it’s clear and the ground is easy, the real nasty lumpy volcanic stuff is well behind you now. There is a climb of about 150m just before the hut, but it’s all in the trees which is much better than being in the sun at that time of day. I know the path of the Northern Circuit, so I hadn’t bothered with a map and it wasn’t until I reached the Waihohonu Hut that I discovered that the final section, back to Whakapapa via the Tama Saddle, was 16km. I wanted to be back by 6pm which gave me only 3 hours. That was quite a slog, and into the sun the whole time. I didn’t even pause for water, drinking while on the go and marching on. Coming down hill from the saddle I ran for short bursts, trying not to shake the pack too much or slide on the sometimes-gravelly path. With two hiking poles going in time I was getting up quite a speed, I’d like to have tried it without 16kgs on my back. I came to the end of the track and closed the loop with a minute to spare, but I wasn’t at the visitors center yet, and by the time I got there it was closed. I left them a note, confirming that I was finished and not in need of a rescue (you leave an intentions form with them when you start a trip in the park and sign out when you leave).

Argh, I’ve written too much again. I also carried my GPS datalogger and got the whole thing down in 1s and 0s. I have Google Earth files with and without altitude data (without because the GE terrain is totally wrong and obscures most of my track, leaving the rest waaaaay up in the air)

And the mountain roared!

The Mount Ruapehu lahar went off today and apparently everything went to plan, road closures, track closures all that guff. I wasn’t there to see it but the Herald has some photos. I crossed that river a month ago while doing the Round The Mountain, I might try to get back there and see when the landscape is like now.

And I roared!

The three of us set off on Friday night so that we’d be down at Whakapapa bright and early to attempt the Northern Circuit in one day. Last time I was there it took Dad, Ruth and I three days, so this time our plan was ambitious, but achievable given the right circumstances. I now have my Aarn balance pockets attached to my MacPac so I was doing a full gear test on this trip.
We set off from Whakapapa at 7:30am in mist and cloud. The path was quite wet and surprisingly overgrown for one of New Zealands’s “Great Walks”. It was the vegetation encroaching on the path that really got us wet, with the leader absorbing most on the first pass. It took us only 2 hours to reach Mangetepopo, very good considering the condition of the track and the list time of up to 5 hours in bad weather. From there we tackled the Devil’s Staircase and the weather got worse. We were most of the way up when it became obvious that continuing was foolish. The TrailWalker, for which the ladies are training, would definitely be called off well before it got to that stage. I however don’t have that option. If I get to Oregon and the weather is bad, I had to get through because it won’t get any better. Wait a few days and you’re just a few days further into winter. So while they went back to shelter in the hut and think of a plan, I went on.
At South Crater the wind stopped. It was almost pleasant for a few hundred meters but the ridge on the other side was something else. It was a real fight to get up to Red Crater. I passed two other groups debating returning as they were buffeted about by wild winds. I reached the edge of the crater and was momentarily proud that I’d battled on but that didn’t last long. I couldn’t see down the other side at all. Not only was it far too cloudy, and rainy, to see anything, but it was too windy to get anywhere near the edge. Every step I took along the path sent me two steps the wrong way. I’ve never been outside in wind like that and to be at the top of a mountain, in biting rain and gale force winds was insane. So I roared! I roared at being beaten, roared at being young and fit but still unable to continue with a simple plan, and roared at the wind because there was no-one else mad enough to be up there that could tell me to be quiet, or look at me in a funny way, then I turned around and fled.
I overtook the two groups on the way down, both were glad to see that I was safe and that they weren’t wimps for turning back. If the crazy solo mountain man can’t do it, then why should they? Rachael and Tania were at the hut and keeping warm. I returned to the trail and found one of the groups was getting a shuttle to take them back to National Park so their driver helped me out. He got me to the Whakapapa road and from there I was going to walk the 6km but three nice Slovakians picked me up and I was at my car a few minutes later. It didn’t take long for me to get the chance to repay the karma as there was a couple in the same situation as me, trying to hitch back to their car at Mangatepopo, a 7km gravel road where no-one should be going at that time of day. But I was so I gave them a lift, got the ladies and returned home. I’ll try again another weekend.

Thanks to the datalogger and GPSVisualizer here is a profile view of the hike. It shows the low walk from Whakapapa to Mangatepopo (9km), then the climb to Soda Springs before the near vertical Devil’s Staircase, flat across South Crater and then up to Red, which is where I turned back.

Rangitoto Night Hike

Rachael, Tania and I got in another practice hike last weekend with the added bonus of a fireworks display (from a distance) and a entertainment in the form of Rotary Club team-building exercises for idiots.
We caught the afternoon ferry over to Rangitoto, The dominating volcano in Auckland’s harbour and sat around the wharf area waiting for dark. I took the chance for a quick march to the summit and back while the girls settled in to watching the army put some Rotary Club people through their paces. We were near “the Spider’s Web”, a net with 12 holes through which a team of seven must climb without touching the material. Pretty simple yeah? Not so for the team that took 15 minutes to get their first person through. The next team took about 1 minute, but they screwed up by all climbing through the same hole and not helping each other. If the army dudes weren’t all in camo gear and packing some pretty big knives I’d have liked to give some advice to the trainees, but I kept quiet. I got the chance to try on an army pack, boy do they ever need some help with their ergonomics. No waist support at all, there must have been 15kgs+ all on two tiny little shoulder straps, that’s no way to look after your military.
At 8 we tried to watch the Group F performance that was on the mainland, but the fireworks were too low level so we packed up and started to walk. With only two torches between us (d’oh) and very uneven rocky ground the coast track to Islington Bay was hard going. Not physically tiring, but hard work none the less. Emerging in Islington Bay was beautiful. There were dozen of boats floating on glassy water, and the lights made it look like a sleeping village on the hillside. We crossed the causeway to Motutapu and got onto the Motutapu Walkway. The moon was just rising and we did it mostly without the torches. The marker posts aren’t reflective, because this is really targeted as a walk for clear summer days, and it mostly follows fence lines anyways. We had a very surreal moment cresting a hill when two silhouettes ran in front of the moon. Large bird-like bodies, small point heads, two legs and just a little velociraptor like. They were actually just turkeys, but darkness plays tricks and they looked a lot bigger at the time. The walk was really nice and coming down into Home Bay I decided I would take my little brothers there someday.
Walking at night, when it’s clear and after a very warm day, has the definite advantage of being a good temperature for exercise and so we marched on. Back to Rangitoto, this time we took the dirt road to the wharf. We returned to we we’re stashed some bags only to find it now inside the Rotary Club’s camp. Someone heard us approaching and asked the time. It was 3am and they had overslept an hour. Think about that, they were sleeping on some benches, on an island where you’re generally not allowed to camp and we just happened to be walking by to wake them up. They’d have been pretty upset to wake at sunrise anouther 4 hours away. Anyway we continued across to McKenzie Bay on the other side. It was past late now and was becoming early. Good moonlight saw us safely up the track to the summit by about 5:30am where we found the communications post for the army. They’d lost track of two teams and no-one had been up there since 2pm the day before, what a sucky job. It was pretty easy to sleep, with over 22 miles under my feet at that point. I felt very much the part in my new MacPac jacket and polyprop beanie eating muesli with powered milk. Sunrise was as beautiful as expected and we walked gently down to the wharf and went home, exhausted and very tired.

I was carrying a heavy load (15kgs+) for this hike, even though I don’t expect to be up to that distance for a few weeks into the trail. I also carried my datalogger and after running the output through GPSVisualizer.com I have produced a track file for Google Earth and one for viewing online in Google Maps

P.S. Don’t expect anything like this length of entry when I’m hiking. A paragraph or two is all I think I’ll be able to type into my PocketMail each night.

Pick a pack

I got a lot done in the last 24 hours. I now have a suitable backpack. I chose a MacPac Ascent Classic. It’s only 55ltr which I feel is pretty small, but it’ll help me limit what I take and I have the Aarn Balance Pockets coming to add 15ltr on the front. If you’re in New Zealand and looking for long distance stuff you’re recommended to talk to Paul of Living Simply, he’s done the A.T. and Te Araroa which is pretty cool. I also picked up a Trangia stove and a MacPac windstopper, mustardy-yellow in colour should help me be spotted if a search party ever has to come looking for me 🙂

I’ll be using all three tomorrow and I expect to come back with views on all of them, except it’s supposed to be dry this weekend so the waterproofness can’t be tested.

Oh yeah I got my train ticket to San Diego, now I’m all sorted for transport.

All quiet on the western front?

I haven’t forgotten my plan to walk to Canada, but other things have come up. last weekend was my sister’s wedding. A very nice affair it was too, out on Waiheke Island, gorgeous weather, lots of friends and family, everything went well. In the meantime I’ve continued to test the GPS Datalogger from OHararp LLC. The first run lasted 88 hours continuous logging every second. Now I’m trying to simulate the conditions I’ll be hiking under, that is recording while I’m walking in sunlight, but I can’t be outside all day so I’ve left it by my window and hope that will do. This weekend I’ll get back to hiking with a trip to Rangitoto so I’ll be getting some proper use out of the logger. I still haven’t sorted out my gear with only 5 weeks to go I need a stove, a pack and a windshirt and more, though some things can be bought in my week in San Diego.
I’ve also had a chance to play around with Google Maps.


In 2003 Scott “Squatch” Herriott discovered the Pacific Crest Trail during his daily commute. He had stumbled into the world of long distance hiking and the film he made that year shows it really made an impression. In 2006 he walked a considerable amount of the trail and gathered film and photos from other hikers to create the third installment of the Walk series called Even More Walking (view the trailer). I really enjoyed the first two, and this third continues the tradition. I read a few TrailJournals last year and it was very cool to see and hear the people I had read about. Even Gloves, the one who told me about the PCT rather than the AT makes a guest appearance. My favourite bit? The guy jumping into the watering hole, and falling, and falling, and falling. I’m going to try to find that place. And the high sierra sequence, I’m really looking forward to 10 days in those hills.

Training comes and goes. I do walk 5km to work every day, and sometimes replace that with an hour in the onsite gym if I need to drive for some reason. This weekend is a write off as my sister is in town to get married! Next weekend is the Rangitoto night hike which will be novel.