Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The coldest winter I ever saw...

was a summer in New Zealand." 
Jeff Sambur

Prologue: As I was having my Passport stamped at Kiwi Customs, the friendly Agent said this, "Welcome to New Zealand! Be sure to pick up your complimentary cold germ before you leave the airport. You can choose to be infected with a head or chest cold, or both."

"Heck! I'll take both!" I can never pass up a good deal.

Now The Saga:
The Round the Mountain backpack trip in Tongariro National Park.

Laden with a frightfully heavy backpack, and a energy sucking virus, I set off to my first Hut. The reason for the ridiculous load was a crappy forecast. Gale force winds, threat of rain and sub-summery temperatures. I was carrying kilos of warm clothes. 

Let's talk Kiwi wind. It's no summer breeze and it won't make you feel fine. When the winds take the Express Train out of nearby Antarctica, there's practically ice crystals accompanying them. It's an instant chill despite the sunshine. I tried to limit my fuss breaks, the sweating to clammy cycle was too harsh. 

It can get psychotic windy in Kiwi-Land. Long ago a backcountry Hut near Mount Cook blew away. There were four unhappy campers inside. Now I noticed steel guy-wires holding down outhouses. That's extreme wind. 

A word about Kiwi Huts: The sleeping arrangements are not set to Americans idea of personal space and privacy. Mattresses are placed side by side on a wooden platform. There's not a toothpick-thin space of wiggle room between them. You can be facing a grimy stranger (like me) face to face with less than an arm's length separation. It freaked me out. I ended up carrying my mattress to the kitchen area when everyone settled down. 

Back to the Hike: The tramp was described as a route. Luckily, neon-orange poles are placed about 60 feet apart. Without them, one could quickly get lost in a sometimes featureless landscape. The trail (that's a joke!) is more like an obstacle course. There's relentless climbs and descents bisecting gulches, gorges and canyons. There's no wimpy switchbacks or contouring involved. The routes goes straight up and straight down. It's in-your-face hiking. 

The other obstructions to forward progress are mud, bowling ball-sized boulders, tree roots, scree fields and icy river crossings. (I was up to my waist in one snow-melt waterway.) There were times I was crawling on my knees. I fell a few times each day. On the really hard parts, I averaged about one mile/Hour. It was all so humbling. 

I returned back to civilization the most thumped and exhausted I've ever been from a backpack trip. Ahh...but the scenery was there. Tongariro National Park is comprised of still active volcanoes. I stumbled my way around one of them.

Oh yeah, I also nearly chopped off my finger while splitting firewood! So far, this has been a rough start to my Kiwi Adventure. 

Now as I cough, sneeze and drink an IPA outside my hotel room, I'm feeling warm for the first time since my arrival here. Maybe my fortune is changing. I can only hope.

On the positive side, locals are incredibly friendly and I've adapted to driving on the opposite side of the road. 

Tomorrow I'll start another three-night backpack trip on a far gentler trail. Wish me luck. 

Come on Summer!


  1. Hope you're feeling better! Years ago, friends of ours went to New Zealand on sabbatical, with four children in tow. Soon, the entire family was sick with fevers and bad coughs, and they went for a visit to the local doctor. He announced, "That's the trouble with you Yanks! You just can't get used to standing upside down!"

    1. Bring lots of warm clothes here. The locals say there might not be a summer.
      Everyone is hacking here.