Posts Tagged ‘hiking’


Alex: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

October 28, 2011

Yesterday, I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was life-changing in a way I thought not possible.

I am not a fit man. I am technically obese (I’ll spare you my rant on that system). I also do not handle heights well. I’m not petrified by them, but I certainly do not seek them out. So the idea of an 20-kilometer alpine mountain crossing was not the most attractive idea I have ever heard. I am so glad that I did it.
I’m having trouble articulating this experience in the usual way, which is to say circuitously. So, I’m going to cut straight to the action, and hopefully that will spring my brain into its usual florid, overly philosophical tone.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.3 kilometers long. It climbs up between two mountains, Mount Ngaurahoe (Mount Doom) and Mount Tongariro (not Mount Doom, but also awesome). It takes somewhere in the ballpark of 7 hours, if one does not summit either summit. Experienced a walker as I am, this was massively daunting to me.

But I did it. I soldiered on up the full hour of stair climbing. I kept my cool when I felt as if the wind would literally rip me from the side of the mountain. I walked in shorts in snow up to my knees. I saw massive heights, and in the face of them choked back my abject terror and took in the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen.

We were unable to summit Ngaurahoe, as it is quite steep and quite snow-covered, and requires crampons andice axes, of which we had neither. We did, however, summit Tongariro. It was perhaps the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. The snow was deep, the wind was strong and the heights were dizzying. The sky was clear, and the view in every direction was overwhelming. As I crossed a small, snowy ridge blasted by the wind, with nothing on either side but a steep slope down to a rocky demise, I had to keep my hood closed tight around my head just to limit my periphery and keep my cool. Only once we reached the summit and I was able to sit and hold firmly on to some rocks could I relax enough to keep my heart from beating out of my chest.

The view was absolutely worth every moment of terror. From here, one can see what seems like the entire world. The desert on one side of the mountains, and the rocky scrubland on the other. Down to the forest, and lakes Rotoaira and Taupo. It is truly magnificent.

On the descent from this summit, I saw the the huge red crater and the gorgeous emerald lakes, just beginning to peak out from underneath their frosty winter covering. I was assaulted by the smell of sulfur from the many volcanic vents in the area. I slid down treacherous loose gravel trails.

After all of this there was more walking. Lots more. We descended down past the snow line, and further down to where the vegetation began again. Before we knew it we were walking through sub-tropical forest.

Every part of my body hurt at the end of the day. I was sun-burnt on every exposed piece of skin. My hips, knees, feet, legs, and back all ached from a level of exertion they rarely, if ever see. I am still sore, and I suspect this burn will last some time.

It was fantastic.

Alex: Piha

August 20, 2011

I have been wanting to go to Piha since I decided to come to New Zealand. I’m told it is one of the most beautiful and most popular surfing beaches around. It did not disappoint.

One of the things on my must-do list while I am here in New Zealand is learning to surf. I got it in my head that Piha would be the place to do that, so when I heard the tramping club would be going on a day trip there, I was pretty excited. Certainly I wouldn’t be able to surf, but I could at least have a good look around.

So I woke up at seven-thirty in the morning, having forgotten to set an alarm but having a propensity for waking up early despite myself. I packed a bag and used my meager rations to cobble together a slim facsimile of a portable lunch. I got dressed in my tramping shorts (which I regretted later, but I didn’t bring any non-denim pants save pajamas) and headed out into the unseasonably cold and windy Auckland winter. After a short walk down to the library, I met the group assembled at the time, two of whom were Canadians whose almost-familiar accents comforted me somewhat.

The rest of the group assembled, and I learned throughout the day that they were all quite interesting people. There was a Norwegian girl with whom I bonded over our lack of melanin and resistance to cold temperatures. I learned from another member of the group, a native of Singapore, that Singapore has mandatory military conscription. There were many more people with even more stories, but I suspect they were much more interesting to me than they would be to you, dear reader. The important thing to note is that I did not know a single person on this trip when I left my apartment that morning, and now I have no qualms about calling a great many of them my friends.

There were twenty or so of us, and swe split up into cars for the forty-five minute drive to Piha. Our driver, a German, clearly had much less fear of winding mountain roads than I do. But, we arrived safely and totally intact, although a bit well-shaken.

Fighting off the bitter cold and driving wind, we trekked across Piha beach. Piha is famous for two things: great surfing and black sand. I have been on two other ocean beaches in my life, both of them standard-issue brown. I was aware, intellectually, that sand could be black, but I had never witnessed it. It was glorious. It was not the color of black I was expecting. It’s not the color of obsidian and midnight, but closer to the color of moon-lit asphalt. It was the color of well-loved band tees and better-loved engines. And it shimmered. There were tiny bits of shining particulate in the sand that made the whole mass look like a tiny, shifting night sky. It is a good thing that this sand was so beautiful, because the driving wind drove it soundly into every orifice and wrinkle of clothing I possess. I am still cleaning it out of my ears.

We arrived at another beach, the name of which I cannot recall and refuse to break my writing stride to look up. At this beach, a group of three of us climbed to the top of a small hill that looked out over the ocean. It expanded in a huge green-blue arc in front of me. It was as if the whole world was rolled out in from of me like an algae-colored red carpet. It sounds silly, but it made me feel okay. It was as if I understood at that moment that there is a whole big world out there, and it is just waiting for me to grab it by the horns. Standing there on this hill, trying my damnedest not be blown off by gale-force winds, I had a revelatory moment. The world is awesome, and it is mine for the taking. Moments like this make all the work and school and money trouble and all of it worth while.

At this beach, in the driving wind, a small group decided to go swimming. Although I had brought my togs, the idea of changing on an open beach was not appealing, and walking back wet was even less appealing. So I passed, resolving to instead swim when we arrived back at Piha.

After the bitter-cold swimming and a lunch break, we headed up another trail and into the bush. When I say we ‘headed through the bush’ I mean that there was, in fact, a trail but it was slim and ill-maintained at best.

When I first arrived in New Zealand, and first trekked through the bush, I was surprised at how few biting/stinging/cutting/burning/poisonous plants there are. In Wisconsin, tramping through the woods, even in jeans usually means getting stung or cut or whipped by something, but at the time I believed that not to be the case in New Zealand. I was wrong. Although one certainly does not need to worry about poisonous plants like poison ivy or stinging ones like nettles, Aotearoa certainly has its share of barbed flora, which I discovered first hand. Might I remind the reader that I was wearing shorts on this trip. My shins were burning by the time we left the bush, and one nice bright red line had drawn itself sharply across one leg.

Back on our original beach, the wind was stronger than ever. The wind on Piha has some interesting behavior, or at least it did on this particular day. The wind comes in off the ocean and bounces off the rocks and the shore and stirs up huge whipping cyclones. If previously there had been any hope of not taking a beach home in one’s clothes, it was dashed by that wind. We prepared ourselves mentally and ran into the icy-cold winter Tasman Sea. The water was actually quite pleasant (said the man who used to jump in holes in the ice for fun), but the wind made coming out of that water practically unbearable. I think I’ve finally gotten used to dealing with salt water. You would think it would be an easy thing, but I have so much experience with fresh water that it is hard for a mouth-breather like me to remember simple things like keeping my damn mouth shut.

Swimming complete, we drove back where about half of us ate ice cream and celebrated our day. We discussed in detail the myriad and exciting ways in which we intended to get clean and warm when we finally got home. Personally, I spent nearly half an hour standing in the shower, with the water as hot as I could stand.

So ended my day at Piha: legs burning, and furiously adding many new friends on Facebook.


Alex: First day of classes

July 19, 2011

Yesterday was the first day of classes, and as much as my compatriots will probably bemoan this event, I welcomed it with open arms. As I’ve already said my primary motivation for visiting New Zealand is academic, so I was not exactly excited about classes, but I was relieved. At least this will give me some sense of normalcy, and give me something to keep me busy. I only had one class today, and thankfully all of the readings are online for the first 8 weeks, because I still don’t have money for books. My one class today was my only Maori Studies course, which is an introduction to “Te Ao Maori” or “The Maori World.” This is the class I was most excited for, but so far it’s just going over syllubi.

Still no response from any of the tattoo artists I contacted, but I intend to email a few professors just as soon as I finish writing this post. I doubt many of them will be able to get me to moko artists, which is what I really want, but perhaps they can get me some other resources.

I think I’m going to sign up for the Tramping (aka hiking) Club. I did get brand-new hiking boots just for this trip, afterall (thanks again, Grandma!) and I think my roommates are going to do it too so it will give me something to bond with them over. So far I think I can count the number of sentences we’ve spoken to each other on one hand.

Took a walk to get a few groceries yesterday and apparently the city central here really comes alive on the weekends. I saw at least a dozen street performers in six blocks, and that’s not including the living statue who doesn’t count because painting oneself gold and standing still does not a performance make.

So ends today: settling in to the long months of academia before me.


Heather: Return to Tanzania

April 21, 2010

Definitely one of the top 3 of weekends since I’ve been in Kenya. On Saturday morning I headed to Tanzania. Got on my bus at 7 a.m., and the only plan in mind was to get to Moshi, Tanzania. I was going to meet our friend Simon who we met while rafting in Uganda.

I was afraid we would miss each other because my bus was 1.5 hours late and there was no way I could get a hold of him, as he has no phone. So I got off the bus at Moshi, walked around for a few minutes having really no idea where I was, just praying that I would see another whitie. Luckily, he found me after only about 10 minutes. We started to figure out our plans for the weekend; I was really just planning on going along with anything. He met this guy who wanted to help us, but ended up wanting to charge us Tsh 90,000/person (~$75) for one night of going to this local village. Long story short, we ended up paying only Tsh 30,000/person.

We took a dalla-dalla (matatu thing) halfway up this mountain right near Kilimanjaro with Richard, the guy whose family we were going to stay with. We had to walk another 1.5 hours uphill the rest of the way to get to the village. The village we went to was called Metaruni and held the Chagga tribe. That night we walked around meeting his family and seeing what was around. We ate this really good pork along with some salty soup. We also tried some banana beer. Not so good. I was literally chewing my beer because there were chunks of grain in it. Played some checkers and headed back to get some dinner. Dinner was a banana, bean, and yam stew. It was ok.

The next morning we got up early to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was just a little too cloudy for this. However, we saw Mt. Kilimanjaro!! Greatest sight ever! Normally you can’t see it during the day because it’s so cloudy, but in the morning and at night you can see it if you’re lucky. Guess I was! We ate some breakfast (roasted peanuts, bread, plantains, homemade coffee, and tea) and headed out for the day. We hiked up to some waterfalls and swam for a bit, then hiked to some other falls and swam some more. The water was SO COLD! It was great hiking, but really tiring. I am rather sore from it. When we got back we grabbed some lunch (beef and banana stew). If you’re wondering about the bananas, they have a ton of banana trees around and they use them to make a ton of different things. I never knew you could do so much with a banana! But it was all really good, especially the stew. After lunch we went to go make some coffee. We ground up the seeds to get the coffee beans out, then roasted the beans, then ground the beans into a fine powder and there was the coffee. Then we hiked about 2 hours down the mountain to catch a ride back into Moshi.

Once in Moshi, we went to a hostel and got some rooms and went to get some dinner. Street food is so amazing! I got rice, bagia (fried dough stuff), cabbage, and tea and Simon got chapati, beans, bagia, and tea and we only paid Tsh 1000 total. That’s like 35 cents per meal. And it was really good too!

The next morning we went to the market to grab some fruit for breakfast. I have never had so much fruit in one sitting. We made a GIGANTIC fruit salad (only Tsh 5500, ~$4.50). I couldn’t even finish it: 5 bananas, 2 oranges, papaya, watermelon, and mango. Delish. We packed our bags for the day and jumped on a dalla-dalla to go to Marangu, a town about 1 hour from Moshi. We went to some caves and then more waterfalls.

Caught my bus in the moning to head back to Mombasa. I took about 8 hours (ugh), but I saw about 30 elephants and 10 giraffes on my way. We passed through Tsavo West National Park on the way. This was one National Park I wanted to get to, but unfortunately never had time. But, at least I can say I passed through it and officially saw some wildlife of the park!


Daniel: Popocatépetl in Person

April 2, 2010

These photos come from a trip I recently took to Popocatépetl with my host mother’s brother who, as I believe I have explained, is a professional photographer. We just went for the day with some of his current and past students who were very interested in the trip until we started hiking and the temperature was close to 35 degrees F. We hiked for a few hours on a portion of a pass not directly on Popo itself, but quite close to the volcano as that portion is closed right now. I’m planning on going back either this coming weekend or the weekend after to camp for a few days, do some mountain biking, and of course, take a gratuitous amount of pictures. Couldn’t be more excited for that.


Emma: Hanging with the kiwis

March 23, 2010

I don’t even know where to begin with my New Zealand Adventures. It all started on Thursday night when I arrived at the airport and entered the Duty Free Shop in the international terminal. HEAVEN on EARTH. After my little bit of excitement over some of the cheapest things I have seen since coming here, my flight took off to Auckland, New Zealand—the City of Sails.

The weekend was off to a great start when we got on the ferry to Waiheke Island right off the coast of Auckland. When we arrived on the island, we hiked around for a few hours and saw some of the beautiful landscapes. We then rented a mini-bus and learned to drive on the “other side of the road.”

We made our way to U-Save Car and Truck rentals to pick up our 10 person mini-bus. The old man who gave us the keys warned us of people getting killed and bad car accidents and you know pretty much everything you ever wanted to hear before driving for the first time in a foreign country. He then ended with “make sure you put the club on the wheel whenever you leave the car.” HA! (One of the those red things you people used to lock their steering wheels with about 15 years ago in the States). We were then off taking “short lefts and wide rights.” For about the next 4 hours.

When we arrived in Turangi, we drove to the campsite, only to find the office closed… So what do we do!? Pitch our tents, stay the night, and head off in the morning without saying a word. Yes that meant free camping for night number 1. After finding out we missed the bus to Mt. Doom that day and also that there were 55 MPH winds at the top of the mountain we had a huge change of plans. We headed into Taupo and went on a hike to Huka Falls.

The next day, we caught a bus to Mount Nguaruhoe, AKA Mt. Doom (from Lord of the Rings) and started out on the most strenuous trek of my life. We hiked for about 5 K and then came upon the bottom of the mountain. Now as the bus driver said “Mount Doom…it’s between you and God,” we started up the mountain with no trail just rocks and sand everywhere. I was literally crawling on all fours up this thing with my limbs flailing in every direction. If this was not a sight for sore eyes I literally do not know what is. There were numerous times I was asking myself what the hell I was thinking but eventually I made it all the way to the summit of the volcano and looked straight into the crater. SO AMAZING and the view was not all that bad either—lakes, hot springs, mountains. Miles of the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen.

Finally after we made it down (we skied on the dirt the whole way) we continued our trek for another 15 K. All in all we hiked a total of 15 miles that day, and man was I tired. Most people train for things like this… New Zealand is gorgeous, and there is so so much more that I would love to see. I guess I will just have to go back some day.


Heather: Mt. Longonot National Park

February 14, 2010

On Friday we only had 2 classes, and we got out really early from the second one, so we the four of us went to Uchumi to get a few more groceries and some lunch before we started the trip to Mt. Longonot. We headed out and waited for a bus to take us into town to get on a matatu to take us to Longonot. Our friend Ruehl, who helped us last weekend with Hell’s Gate must have seen us waiting by the bus stop and he came over and took us to a different bus stop. We finally got on a bus. The bus conductor guy tried to charge me for 2 seats because I had my big packing bag on the seat next to me, but Ruehl argued with him. The conductor called Ruehl a traitor for helping us.

So we finally made it downtown, and thank god Ruehl was with us because I would have had no idea where we were going! And I didn’t know where we had to buy the matatu tickets either. But we got it all figured out and we got on a matatu that was going to Naivasha. Ruehl talked to the driver and told him that we needed to get dropped off at Mt. Longonot because that’s not a normal stop. It’s so nice to have Kenyan friends who can figure everything out!

The drive up to Longonot wasn’t too bad, just kind of hot. We literally got dropped off on the side of the road, it was crazy! We had to walk 2.5 miles to get to the park entrance. Luckily, some park rangers pulled up and gave us a ride. We rode in the back of those green army truck things! The people at Longonot were much nicer than the people at Hell’s Gate. We got in for Ksh650, the same as Hell’s Gate. We walked a little ways to the campsite and started to set up.

We just hung around for most of the night, made a fire and had some dinner. We went to bed fairly early. The next morning we were all up about 6:30-7ish. We weren’t planning on starting to hike until 9-10ish, but we decided to start earlier. The rangers said it would take 6 hours to do: one hour up the mountain, 4 hours around the crater, and one hour back down. We left at 8:30. The hike up was insane. It wasn’t hard because it was a rough climb, but it was hard because it was so difficult to breathe! We had to stop every couple of minutes. When we finally got to the top, the view was amazing!! There were even steam vents from the heat underneath the earth. Some of the rock was still warm if you touched it. This volcano hasn’t erupted in a long time, and I’m not sure when it’s due to again. Oh, if you look at the photo , it actually is a pretty good picture of what it looked like. Except that the rest of the mountain was all green too, not just inside the crater. The bottom right of the mountain you can kind of see the hiking trail up. And then we hiked the whole rim of the crater. The huge steep part on the back side of the crater was a beast. But so worth is when you got to the top. We could see everything..Hell’s Gate, Lake Naivasha, even Mt. Kenya we think. We finished the hike around and started the trek back down. We ended up half running down the mountain because it hurt our knees too much to walk down. We made it down in 25 minutes! We got back to the campsite at 12:30; it took us exactly half the time they told us it would, and we weren’t even going that fast.

We were so drained after we got back that we ate some lunch and took the sleeping bags out of the tent and layed out in the middle of the campsite and took a nap. It felt so good to just lay down! We then packed up and headed to the main entrance and started the 2.5 mile hike to the road again. No army trucks this time…

We got to the road and Cyrus told us to just wait for a matatu that drove by and flag it down. We must have looked so dumb standing there. We didn’t see any matatus come by, but a bus did that was going to Nairobi. We were only waiting there for like 15 minutes, our lucky day! The bus pulled over and we got on. We had a few weird looks as we were walking to the back of the bus, but mostly everyone was very nice. And it only costed Ksh100, whereas the matatu costed us Ksh170 and we had less room and it was less comfortable!

We got back to Nairobi and were definitely in the ghetto of town! We had to walk a little ways to get on the proper matatus to get home. I had to call Irene to make sure we were going in the right direction, but we found the matatu station and got on the 16, the one that would take us right to Highrise.


Heather: Hell’s Gate National Park

February 7, 2010

Ten of us left for Hell’s Gate on Friday after classes. We were supposed to be picked up at 2pm at school, but the matatu did not get there until 4:30. Yes, 4:30. That is even beyond “Kenyan time.” I was pissed. We were supposed to get to the park and have an hour long safari ride and then set up camp and go to town for dinner. Well, none of that worked out. We didn’t even get out of Nairobi until 5:30.

We finally reached Hell’s Gate around 7:30, but ran into some more problems. The ranger station at the front was closed and there was no one around to let us in. Finally we got to talk to someone and he said we couldn’t get in because the front entrance was closed. After a bunch of talking, he finally agreed to let us in, but then told us that we couldn’t walk because it was after dark so we would have to pay 2500bob for the matatu to bring us in. Lame. And then he wouldn’t believe that we were Kenyan residents, even though we had the papers in our passports to prove it. And we also had the Pupil’s Pass, that proves we are students. The tourist charge to get into the park and camp for one night is $40, but as Kenyan resident students, we should have gotten it for $7. He kept saying that we needed a letter from the Embassy stating that we’re students. Well no one knew about that, not even the MSID advisors when we called them. It really makes me mad how a lot of the Kenyan people try to charge us a lot more simply because we’re American. It’s happened more than once. The gate person kept trying to tell me that the student rate was 500bob and I knew that wasn’t right. So I got out my pamphlet that my host dad gave to me and proved to him that it was 250bob. He didn’t like that very much. They must not think that there actually are some people who plan and do research before hand and we’re not just going to give into anything. I had everything all set aside and ready to show the gate person when asked about it.

The ten of us made a decision to camp somewhere else for the night and hike into Hell’s Gate in the morning. Our matatu brought us to Fisherman’s Camp on Lake Naivasha, a couple miles away. We set up camp there and had a fire and ate some food there for the rest of the night. We had a lot of fun just sitting around the fire and talking and getting to know each other more. The next morning we packed up and started the 5km hike down to Hell’s Gate. We finally got there and got entrance and camping for the night. The total came to 650bob..about $8.50. We couldn’t get the student rate, but it was ok. We also then each paid 250bob for bike rental. Waste of time and money, they were terrible! We didn’t even use them the rest of the day. We started the next 5km hike to our campsite. We saw the campsite from the road; it was up on a huge hill/cliff side. From where we were it was about 1.5km to get up there, but our guide told us we could climb up the side of it if we wanted to, even though there weren’t any paths. So we started the trek up. Oh baby was that rough. It was extremely steep and I had my pack with two tents on it. If I leaned backward I would be rolling back down the side.

After everyone got up, we made some lunch and started back down the hill to hike to the gorge. That was another 5.2km. And it was HOT! It is a gorgeous park, with cliffs everywhere you look. From what I heard, The Lion King was based off this park, so we kept looking for Pride Rock. We saw a few places that had potential. We treked through the gorge and saw where Mufasa was killed. Or so we assumed. There was also a part of the gorge that an Indiana Jones movie was filmed at. We did some serious hiking up through the gorge. There were times when the rock went straight down and we had to shimmy our way down or up. Crazy, but fun stuff. We were getting really tired and finally started on our way back. We climbed up out of the gorge and went all the way to the top of the cliffs. We could see everything; it was awesome! We walked back and up our cliff again to the campsite. Overall we hiked about 30km that day. We were beat. Everyone went to bed extremely early that night.

This morning we got up and basically hung around camp for awhile until we started packing up. We left in groups, and I was in the last group to leave. We got lucky because there were some campers that were next to us and they were leaving too, but they had their truck so they volunteered to take our bags for us and drop them off at the entrance so we didn’t have to carry them. Everything worked out really well this weekend, except for the mishap on Friday afternoon. Our guide more than made up for it though, and he charged us less for the ride there and back too.

Overall it was a great park to visit. We didn’t get to see a lot of animals, but we did see a giraffe, some zebras and buffalos. It was more for the gorges than anything. But we camped in Africa with no fences around us, and that I think, is pretty amazing.

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