A tough, wet and windy trek - or how to almost loose a shoe up in the mountains (Mt. Taranaki Circuit, North Island, New Zealand)

Published: January 21st 2010
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(Day 652 on the road) I guess I can't be lucky with the weather all the times on my hikes here in New Zealand. During the last one, a four-day circuit around the cone-shaped volcano of Mt. Taranaki near New Plymouth, it was pretty much raining and storming non-stop. New Plymouth by the way is the self-proclaimed "most livable city in New Zealand", whatever that means. The town didn't seem all that appealing to me, and a quick check on the world's most livable citiessomehow doesn't quite include New Plymouth (but places like Vienna, Vancouver or Zurich. Funny that.

I set off in a drizzle, and when during the late afternoon the clouds cleared I was somewhat hopeful that the dire weather report I had seen earlier was wrong as usual. But despite a few spells of nice weather on day two it was rainy and windy the whole time. That was a shame, because in fine weather the trek around and up Mt. Taranaki must be quite spectacular (I didn't enjoy too many views).

On top of the foul weather, I also found the trek extremely tedious and slow-going due to countless unbridged river crossings. On day two I stopped counting after wading through about 25 streams and rivers, some bigger, some smaller, some knee deep, some not much more than a trickle. A Czech guy I had met at the hut on my first night had apparently done the same stretch in four and a half hours. It took me eight hours of fairly swift and steady walking with only two short breaks (including a wasted hour retrieving my shoe, see below). I have no idea how he could have done it in such a short period of time; he must have been either super-fit or running.

At the morning of day two, I learnt an important trekking lesson the hard way: Never throw your hiking boots across a river to the other side. I thought it was a good idea to take off my boots at a particularly deep river-crossing. The shoe hit a tree on the other side, bounced back and landed in the stream. At first it looked okay, but after a few seconds the current slowly got hold of it, and ever so slowly it began to float downstream. It then caught entered a small rapid, and within seconds my boot was of sight around a corner. Fantastic!

I had no choice but to somehow retrieve it. Walking alongside the river was impossible due to the steep terrain, so without any other option I stripped naked and got into the freezing water, at first ankle-deep, soon up to my waist, later swimming through some sections, but mostly scrambling through rapids and over sharp rocks.

The river was coming down straight from the snow-capped top of Mt. Taranaki, so you can imagine how ice-cold the water was. Within minutes my body was turning numb, and after 10 minutes or so of going downstream I was about to give up. I wasn't sure if I had missed my boot somewhere - maybe it had sunk at one point, or maybe it was caught somewhere on the side of the river where I didn't spot it. Just as I was about to turn around I saw it caught on a piece of wood, right before another rapid. I literally made a jump for it, tremendously relieved. Ten minutes after or so I was back at my pack, shaking all over from the cold water, waiting for the feeling to slowly return to my body.

It is ironic in more ways than one: Attempting to keep dry feet I ended up being wet all over, plus a soaking shoe. Also, I always prepare for quite a number of emergency scenarios during my hikes, carrying a range of emergency equipment. But I never once considered loosing one of my hiking boots on a trek. It would not have been a life-threatening situation, but hiking six to seven hours on a rough and rocky trek to the nearest road with only one shoe would have been very tough in an case.

Speaking of my feet: They are in a pretty bad state at the moment: On top of countless scars from where I scratched sandfly bites earlier I now have some nasty cuts from the little shoe-recovery-episode, plus hiking in wet boots and socks for three straight days has left me with some rather impressive blisters. Not a pretty sight all in all.

Day three of the trek was no easier, though there were less rivers to cross as I chose the high route near the peak as opposed to the lower one through the valley. But I had to climb across Bobs Bluff, a steep and lengthy climb on the southern side of the mountain. The weather could not have been any worse, and at one point on a particularly exposed ridge I choose to advance on all fours out of fear of being blown over the edge. It must have been an interesting sight had anyone observed me (I didn't see another person for two days).

Also, staying on the track (a poled route) was by no means an easy undertaking. The heavy fog made it tough to see even the next pole, and more often than not poles had fallen down due to the heavy wind and there was no way to determine which way to go. The 1:50.000 map that I had was not detailed enough to help much either, so a considerable number of times I found myself with pretty much having to try a few directions more or less randomly to see which way I needed to go before finding the track again. As such, the going was slow and tough, but at the same time it felt great to be exposed to the fierce elements.

Finally arriving at the hut in the late afternoon did feel very nice however, and within 20 minutes I had the possibly biggest fire going this hut had ever witnessed. Well, maybe more like 40 minutes, as my fire-making skills could need a bit of brushing up (I have since added firestarters to my first-aid kit). I was the only person at the hut (not surprising really considering the weather) and slept right next to the fire in the living room - very cosy!

On the morning of day four, the weather hadn't improved a bit. I had had the intention of summiting that day (via Syme Hut), but there was no point of attempting that. I was left with the choice of doing eight hours to complete the loop of the mountain, three hours to the nearest road and hitchhike back, or stay put for a day at the hut. I had finished my book the night before and was thus not too keen of a full 24h inside the hut with nothing to do at all. So off I was. My boots were wet again after just 15 minutes on the muddy path, so the decision what to do was a no-brainer really. By 12h I was at the car park in Dawson Falls, and another three hours and four cars later I was back at where I started. Down in the valley, the weather was just beautiful with lots of sunshine, what a change from up in the mountains!

I went straight to the hot springs and sauna at the swimming pool in Wellington, and after feeling sufficiently refreshed I headed south towards Wellington, somewhat keen to cross over to the South Island soon.

Next stop: Wellington (North Island, New Zealand).

To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


21st January 2010

one adventure with every blog
Oh my goodness, there is one adventure with every blog: stolen money, the capsize and now the rescue of your trekking shoes in cold water. Wow! We have 4 weeks left and we are on the road again! Kambodia we are coming!
22nd January 2010

Hey you! That's the horrible truth about mountains, it can be sunny AND rainy (mostly the latter!). I didn't see a thing while climbing mt kinabalu in Borneo. How do you like NZ so far? Didyou know beforehand you would do so much hiking?
22nd January 2010

hut reservations?
Hi Ben, I was just wondering, how far in advance did you have to book your hut reservations for all of your hiking trips? or in most cases are you able just to walk on? Thanks, Kathie
29th January 2010

god, awesome view!

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