Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Trial trip: new pack, new shoes, bag a hut

Last year I purchased a larger pack so I could fit all the packrafting paraphernalia inside, rather than having it strapped on the outside, risking damage or loss of gear, not to mention the discomfort of an overpacked bag and the difficulty negotiating technical or off track terrain. So I stumped up and purchased a 70L Aarn Load Limo, because if I'm going to carry a heavier pack I'm darn well going to do it in comfort.

Since I didn't want to go off on an expedition without trialling my new gear I devised a short in and out route that would see me doing a little paddling, a little tramping, some packing and unpacking of said packraft in new bag, and I could bag another hut I hadn't been to yet. Oh, and I also had new shoes to trial.

Tramping boots are not the best shoes to take on packrafting trips as they are heavy, bulky and even heavier when wet.  But they are great for serious tramping. When combining both tramping and paddling on one trip, was there another option? I decided to trial a pair of trail running shoes after Iain had walked the entire Great Ocean Walk in a pair of Hoka One One trail shoes and had raved about how comfortable they were.

I haven't had much success tramping in trail shoes, ahem massive toenail blisters from my Salomon running shoes. I read the reviews and decided that the Speedgoat looked to be a good quality shoe for technical trails, and they felt very comfortable with lots of toe room when I tried them on in the shop. But would they stand up to an actual tramp, and would my toenails survive?

I drove down to Manapouri, inflated the raft and paddled up the river and around the lake shore a few hundred metres before landing on a beach, packing up the raft and heading off along the track. You only need a watercraft to cross the river, but the day was pleasant and it's always nicer to paddle further than carry one's gear on one's back.

I was headed for Back Valley Hut, a small backcountry hut that was the only hut in that area I had yet to bag, having visited Hope Arm Hut on my epic first packrafting adventure to Mt Tititroa. It was a pretty easy stroll up the valley, with only a little bit of swampy ground to get through. The shoes were comfortable, but I had forgotten to bring my tramping poles, which meant taking extra care with my footing so I didn't twist an ankle.

At the hut I spent some time perfecting the best way to pack my raft inside my pack. Folding rather than rolling the packraft allowed me to place it within the pack more easily, and then put everything else in and around it. This included my four piece paddle, my drysuit, and my PFD, as well as my usual tramping paraphernalia. 

Packed and ready, the return trip was uneventful. The pack was comfortable to wear, the shoes were not an issue, and unpacking and inflating the raft also no big issue. Since I put the rest of my pack contents inside a dry bag there is no need to make the priority easy access to the packraft. I takes no time at all to remove the rest of the pack contents, pull out the packraft from the bottom of my pack and repack the contents. Should I use the Ti-zip to store my gear inside the packraft, the contents are already in the dry bag ready to be stashed. Sorted!

I launched further along the lake shore, where the track first joined it, which meant I got to paddle a little bit more on the way back. It was still far too short a trip but the objective had been achieved. Successful trial of new gear, and one more hut bagged!

I trialled one more piece of gear on this trip, also a success. I had been struggling with cold hands when wet, either whilst tramping or paddling and had been looking at various options, including neoprene gloves and pogies (a neoprene pouch attached to your paddle that you put your hands into), but the solution that covered both bases was found in a Montbell shop at Sapporo Station in Japan: rainshell gloves. Worn with or without liners, they cut windchill and keep me so much warmer. Perfect for paddling in cooler months, and great for cold wet days on the trail.  

I booked in to a backpackers in Te Anau overnight and put all my gear out to dry. Somehow I misplaced my rainshell gloves, but they turned up in the communal lounge the next morning, so I headed off on my next expedition with all my new gear accounted for. 

Thats next...

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

We can go tramping again! 3 days up the Matukituki.

The biggest nuisance for me with lockdown was not being able to go tramping. The weather through March and April was warm and sunny, perfect weather for exploring the alpine tops before the winter snows began. But it wasn't to be, since tramping was considered high risk due to the possibility of needing to be rescued by others, thus breaking bubbles.

At Level 2 we were once again able to head out into the Kiwi bush, although distancing was still important, and hut occupancy was set at half usual. I'm unsure how many trampers adhered to the guidelines, but for my first mission I was camping anyway. There weren't any huts!

I drove up the Matukituki Valley and parked at Cameron Flat. On went the Crocs, because the first mission was to cross the river. It was only shin deep at most, but icy cold, so on the far bank I took my time drying my feet and putting my socks and boots on. Then, through farmland for a few kms before hitting the national park boundary at Glacier Burn.

The track then follows the east branch of the Matukituki River all the way to it's source at Rabbit Pass. I was only going as far as Junction Flat, although my initial plan had been to head up to Albert Burn Pass and climb Dragonfly Peak. But the terrain got the better of me.

I hadn't exactly been all that active over lockdown, and the track was a lot more technical than I had expected, with a number of boulder climbs and slightly gnarly creek crossings to negotiate. Nothing I couldn't handle, but it took me much longer than expected to get to Junction Flat, and I was a bit tired when I got there. I looked up at where I had planned to tramp to, and decided to pitch my tent in the trees at Junction Flat instead. I had a late lunch and enjoyed a lazy few hours reading before the sun left the valley and the cold kicked in. I snuggled up in my sleeping bag, enjoying the comfort of my new sleeping mat (my old one began to delaminate on the GOW), and enjoyed a cosy night.

Quite a few people had passed by whilst I was at Junction Flat, and the next morning I met them all again as they began their walk back out. They had all walked in to Aspiring Flat, either camping on the Kitchener Valley floor and waking to a thick frost, or staying at the Rock of Ages shelter. I, however, didn't have a frost encrusted tent, and got to walk the track in to Aspiring Flat and have the entire valley to myself.

The Kitchener Glacier adorns the eastern face of Mount Aspiring, and is a glorious thing to behold. Yes, the water was bracingly cold and the river had to be crossed multiple times to make one's way up the valley, but that's part of the adventure. This time the boots stayed on.

Again I had lunch in the sun and then made my home at the rock shelter for the night. The sun left the valley pretty early, so I collected firewood and made myself comfy up at the shelter for another long cold night. I was toasty warm, but the resident mouse climbing over me in the night didn't make for undisturbed sleep.

Next morning I headed back down the valley to Junction Flat, and then followed the Matukituki down to the car. The boots came off for the final river crossing because my feet really needed that cold icy soak after all those hours of plodding.

It was nice to be out tramping again. No, it was bloody brilliant!!!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

When the world got a virus

 I have been extraordinarily lucky with timing. I left Japan late February, spent 4 weeks in Australia catching up with family and friends, travelled interstate to go on a tramping trip, then flew back to NZ just before they closed the borders. Don't get me wrong, I was acutely aware of the escalating situation, taking considerable care with distancing and personal hygiene in public places during my entire time travelling back from Japan and whilst travelling in Oz. Then 2 days before I was due to fly back to NZ the NZ Government introduced mandatory self isolation for all international arrivals. 

I had to make a decision whether to return to WA, or stick with my original plan, knowing that it would be highly likely borders would close completely and I would be stuck living wherever that was for the next 12 months minimum. I didn't know whether the NZ ski fields would even open for the winter, especially as ski fields were rapidly closing all over Europe and North America as COVID spread rapidly. 

I decided to continue on to NZ, knowing I wouldn't be spending my summer windsurfing in Geraldton, or skiing in Japan. A summer of tramping in NZ sounded like a perfectly good alternative, although you could be forgiven for noticing I need either a significant eye injury or a world pandemic to keep me away from either of the above!!

Of course things escalated pretty quickly once I got to NZ. I travelled on my Kiwi passport, washed my hands religiously whilst passing through each airport terminal and flew to Queenstown on an almost empty plane. I was met at Queenstown Airport by health officials who took my details and informed me of my need to self isolate, and quarantine officials did their usual thorough job of inspecting and cleaning all my camping gear. Karen, my flatmate in Wanaka, had kindly driven over to pick me up, and I patiently sat in the back seat to stay distanced and waited in the PaknSave carpark whilst she did my grocery shopping! Karen's summer flatmate was also in Australia on holiday, but she decided to stay there so I was able to move back into my old bedroom.

A week later the entire country went into Lockdown. Level 4 for 5 weeks, and a further 2 weeks at Level 3. Aside from going to the supermarket (after my mandatory 2 weeks at home were over) we were restricted to low risk activities close to home. That meant walking, running, cycling....packrafting not allowed.

I decided to start jogging to improve my fitness, but a week into that I jarred my back and spent the next couple of weeks in pain without access to my trusty masseur Marlene who would have sorted it in no time. Instead I stretched and went on walks along the Clutha River.

I celebrated my birthday during Lockdown. Karen baked me a cake, and I purchased a nice bottle of champagne. 

And in another example of needing a world pandemic to get something done, I asked my neighbour in Geraldton to find a hard drive full of video footage and send over to me. Then I sat down and began editing a trip to Tanzania I did with my good friend Naomi back in the early noughties, before she had kids. She is hoping to see the footage before her kids leave home!

Unfortunately the lockdown didn't last long enough. I got to a point where staring at a computer screen all day began to drive me bananas, and as we transitioned into Level 3 we were able to go on longer walks, and include a couple of other people in our bubbles. Sue and Graham lent me an old bike they had lying around, so that gave me a few more opportunities to get out of the house. The editing project is about 3/4 finished, and I have no idea when I'll get back to it....

I did a few day walks. One up the Fern Burn with Karen and her friend Deb.

Another up the adjoining Motatapu River track.

And then once we went to Level 2, I packed my bags, put on the tramping boots and headed up the Matukituki Valley for a multiday tramp.

That's next!