Just got back in from New Zealand where the weather was much much cooler then this blistering heat here in Alabama.
Approaching winter in Christchurch, New Zealand it is in the mid 50's during the day and lower 40's at night. I took my pack on the trip hoping I would get a chance during the 12 day holiday to break away and venture off into the wilderness on my own. That day came about midway into the trip, I rented the cheapest car I could find and off I went. I picked a spot a few hours northwest of Christchurch a little north of Arthur's Pass and right below Otira.
The track I took is known as the Waharoa Saddle. The weather in this area is a little cooler (Highs in the low 40's and low's a little below freezing). I arrived at the footbridge around noon as I had already stopped along the way for a quick 1 hour trek to a HUGE waterfall (429ft) called Devil's Punchbowl Falls.
When I parked my car I noticed I was the only vehicle in the area much to my enjoyment as I greatly enjoy the solitude and I wanted to be able to connect with nature as much as possible without any added distractions.
I began my journey crossing a beautiful crystal blue river over a long footbridge.
I continued across a big green field with the company of cows and sheep. I used my thunderbolt for tracking to ensure I did not get off course. There was no trail so I definitely wanted to be sure I didn't get lost out there. After about an hour of walking I made it to the base of the mountain. My trek was rated a notch below expert because it involves hiking up a large creek called the Paratu Stream which is pretty steep and very slippery.
Being a young man and in relatively good shape I decided that I would be able to handle it. After all it was only suppose to be about a 700ft climb in elevation to the top.
Starting up the mountain was not so bad, I was having to weave back and forth across the large creek bed (about 40-50ft wide) as the creek was steadily winding back and forth. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The air there smells so fresh and I don't remember seeing one bug during the entire trek. About half way up the mountain I noticed I was starting to get pretty tired and checked my gps because I was quite sure I had climbed at least 700ft in altitude and that is when I noticed my critical mistake. I was in NEW ZEALAND... They drive on the left side of the road, the have no IDEA was American football is all about and at last they USE the METRIC SYSTEM... so here I am with a 30 LB pack on or should I say 13.61 kg's hiking up a freaking 3000ft high mountain... about 2100ft from where I started my accent. I paused for a few moments trying to figure out the best course of action. My original plan was the hike up and over the saddle and camp in a large woodland area next to Lake Kaurapataka. At my current rate of climb I realized this would be impossible and if I was going to proceed forward it would mean I would have to make camp on top of the mountain.
I made a quick decision that this was my plan no matter how tough it would be or miserable it might be at the top. I had come almost 10,000 miles to get there and I was not going to be beaten quite that easy.
At this point I was still wearing my vibram's which most people would consider to be absolutely crazy since I was walking up jagged shark rock the entire way but I walk barefoot a lot and it does not bother my feet much plus I feel I have better grip and balance in these. I had brought my vasque hiking shoes along just in case my feet got really wet and cold.
The creek bed path started to get a little more narrow the higher I got. On both sides of the creek bed there were steep banks full of rain forest undergrowth which ensured you no other route except the creek bed. Also, I forget to mentioned that from the start of the journey as soon as I left my car there was a steady mist in the air. The mist came and went the entire journey. Realizing my wood at the top (if there was any at all) was most likely going to be soaking wet I gathered different forms of tender during my accent and placed the tender in my leg pocket so it would dry out from the warmth of my body.
About 3/4 of the way up I came to a point where the creek bed split. According to my map there was a few places that it showed some forks in the creek bed but from what I was told, I was suppose to always keep to the left. There was a large trail to the left and a very small trail to the right. I headed up the trail to the left. At this point there was no longer a creek to follow as the spring started father down the mountain. After probably 25 mins of climbing and probably 150ft in elevation change I noticed the rock face was getting much steeper and I was climbing literally on all fours and the rocks were sliding pretty bad out from under my feet. I stopped to take a rest and thought this just could not be right. I checked my gps and while I had no clear trail outlines I knew that this trek would be impossible to continue, especially with the heavy pack I was carrying. At this point I decided to travel back down to the fork and try the other track. This was a major blow as I was completely exhausted. My legs are not nearly used to this sort of terrain in Alabama and the mountain was certainly giving me a beating.
As I made my way back down I was having to travel from side to side as I was causing some pretty large rock slides behind me. Once I reached the track I decided to replace my soaking wet vibrams with my hiking shoes. The weather was starting to get much cooler and it was only a couple of hours until dark. I continued to push forward with every bit of energy I had left. I found my-self setting small goals at a time like a certain tree that was a few hundred feet away or a large boulder just to try to make the entire mountain seem a little smaller.
After a few hundred feet up the smaller track I noticed some ribbon on the trees indicating this was the correct path. The track continued to get smaller and smaller until I was on a small foot path with brush hitting my legs on both sides. The change in terrain added a new found energy burst as I was excited knowing I was close to the top. After a 15 mins or so I rounded a corner and saw ahead of me my last obstacle. A 45 degree gravel bank was the only thing in my way of self satisfaction and rest. The bank wasn't that far really... Maybe only 40-50 ft... but as tired as I was it seemed like another entire mountain. I used every last bit I had left and literally crawled to the top.
Once there I took of the heavy pack and marveled at the spectacular views around me.
It was absolutely beautiful. I felt accomplished and proud never having undertaking anything nearly this difficult.
After a few moments of soaking it all in reality came across me and I remembered... I have got the get a fire going and find a place for shelter. My first priority was shelter. MANY MANY THANKS to bigbamaguy for letting my borrow his clark nx-200 hammock. Up this high there are not to many options (trees) to hang a hammock. The wind was a real issue and the wind speed was roaring over the saddle, I definitely knew I wanted to make sure I stayed somewhere with a little cover even though I did have a tarp.
I found a spot, really the ONLY spot and after a little light clear cutting to make enough room to fit my hammock I strapped it up. Not having nearly the amount of room you would normally require I had to just make due with the space I had.
After I finished setting up the hammock I started my search for dry wood. After looking all around the saddle I realized my previous fears were now my reality.
There was absolutely nothing dry in the area. I found some dead wood and cut along the side until I got the dryer parts of the inside. After stripping a large collection of inner shavings I took out my tender that I had drying in my pocket. To my satisfaction it was very dry and looked ready to take a spark. I took out my blastmatch and went to work. The tender caught relatively quickly. As my tender ball went up in flames I quick started to add in my dead tree shavings. I was having trouble and the wood just didn't seem to want to light. It had been windy, but I was doing a pretty good job of blocking most of it. After a few mins of blowing trying to nurture the flame the worst happened and it was lights out.
Accepting my fate, and the cold night ahead of me I decided to not waste anymore time in self pity and to just eat my cold dinner consisting of tuna fish and crackers and turn in for the night. Taking off my dirty hiking pants I noticed they smelled very clean. I put the leg area up to my nose and smelled, I swear, the cleanest evergreen fresh scent I have ever smelt in my life. It must have been from all the wet brush hitting my legs on the narrow path close to the top of the mountain.
Once I entered the hammock I quickly zipped close the external windbreak. This was my first experience in a Clark Jungle hammock. Immediately I could tell the difference in comfort to my cheap byers hammock. After a few more minutes I also realized I was not very cold inside of it either, even while the temps were by then already at or below freezing.
I slept very well that night and only woke up a couple of times. By morning my feet were a little cold but nothing to severe or out of the ordinary for camping in cold weather.
I must thank bigbamaguy for being so generous and letting me borrow this hammock! After just joining the forum and not even knowing anyone his generosity was very unexpected but greatly appreciated. From my short time here so far I have already seen and personally experienced what a great group of guys you all are and look forward to being able to be a part of that.
After I woke up I had a quick breakfast, packed up my belongings and made my way back down the mountain. On the trek down I was a little sore but it was definitely easier and I made it to my car by around lunch.
It was a great trip and one I will never ever forget. And made much more enjoyable by bigbamaguy and you guys at hammock forums.
Hear are some more pictures of my hike/hang in New Zealand or tramp/hang as the kiwis would call it.