Last weekend I had the bloody time of my life ‘bush-craft training’ at the foot of the Ruahine Range/s with OTNZ.
And, the whole experience got me thinking about the kinds of things we do (or in some cases, clearly don’t (but probably should have)) to proactively keep ourselves safe outdoors.
Doing a fairly extensive “crash course” in ‘how to survive’ can certainly spark thoughts and memories regarding previous encounters with our Earth Māmā ‘Papatūānuku’ that were, in all certainty, dice-rolls and ‘lucky escapes’.
I’m sure I more than ‘hold my own’ in these terms, particularly as a relative beginner to tramping (3 years is sweet fuck-all, y’all), but I’m not so certain that this is the best, most learn-worthy approach to have, because what I’ve noticed more than these ‘moments’ are all the times I’ve totes smoked the ‘should be proud’ standard, too.
There’s a lesser peak that sits alongside Mount Taranaki, called ‘Panitahi’ (or “Fantham’s Peak”, after Fanny Fantham), and over Easter my mountaineering mate Mave and I opted to try climbing all the way up to the top.
The weather forecast for our particular day described an initially rainy morning that would clear early-afternoon, potentially allowing us to ascend in the sun, the usual Mount Taranaki cloud-cover flowing in and out, as usual.
[We tend to amble up mountains; we give ourselves plenty of time, there are regular stops for snacks, I need to keep hydrated (“delicate” kidneys, *ugh*) so there’s a whole lot o’ supping goin’ on – you know, the stuff you do when you’ve got your own groove with another person you know really well, and that happens to be how you successfully get (epic) shit done, together.]
Safe to say, all this happened on the day. The mountain has a shelter ’bout an hour up the route (‘Hooker Shelter’), so we stopped there to snack and allow a rain shower to pass. Another 30-45 minutes up the line, we got stuck in another (*bigger) downpour, and were able to take cover at the local alpine club’s lodge (‘Kāpuni Lodge’), fire-up the cooker, brew ourselves a coffee, and have another munch.
But, the “unknown factor” in all this was still to come. What we weren’t to know (nor could we have, realistically, without prior experience) was how incredibly exposed the scree route would be. An additional ‘wero’ (“challenge”) on the day was the fact that the weather never cleared.
By this stage I personally was fuming. I’d had four+ hours of rain and wanting things to clear so I could just push, and move, finally.
Never fucking happened.
I was pissed off. I was actually yelling, screaming my lungs out, pleading with ‘Ranginui’ (our Māori “Sky Father”) and ‘Tāwhirimātea’ (‘atua’ (“deity”) of storms and winds): please, just stop.
Now, there was
possibly probably a time when I would’ve simply persevered in those crap conditions out of sheer stupidity, stubbornness, and selfishness.
That’s actually terrifying.
No-no, feeling miserable and suitably chilled to our very cores we turned around, descending in the rain the whole way.
Today, I still feel immensely proud of our decision; mature is also an appropriate word, I think. And this is one thing that was absolutely reiterated for me over the weekend, this notion that you can totally choose to turn around or back-out of whatever’s happening, and come back, refreshed and alive, on another day.
Here’s more of what I learned (without taking you through the entire course, which should be nothing less than compulsory for anyone who spends time in our fair nation’s outdoor/s environment):
- So-so-so much about gear – specifically my gear, but not exclusively. In terms of your “wet set”, well, if moisture and precipitation are persistent and significant, you’re likely to get wet somewhere no matter what you do. But, this doesn’t have to be a massive ‘thing’ – I had my rain jacket on, long gaiters, boots, VS. river crossing after river crossing, rain, hail, and showers. My ploypro and fleece tops were a tad sweaty (after some serious off-track navigation), but of course they’re designed to dry quickly, and were fine to keep wearing all day. My socks suffered heavily though, which meant my poor tootsies did too – however, a couple of plastic supermarket shopping bags (slip these over dry socks, before stepping back into squishy boots) would’ve easily reinstated the kupu ‘mahana’ (“warm”) back into my vocab. Sadly, the “plastic-free wannabe” in me allowed for one solitary, useless, utter-waste-of-time bag. Dumb.
- Think ahead – like, seriously, think hard. Saving my merino thermals for the sub-zero-cold evening that was Saturday at the frost-bitten toes of the Ruahines likely kept me from the clutches of hypothermia. Hail from earlier in the day lay around the outside of my tent, not to mention all over the roof, and my Kathmandu-branded sleeping bag was unfortunately no match for the -0 degree (C) temps. Having dry polypro and fleece clothing to add to the merino and fleece I was already wearing, as-well-as my Gore-Tex rain jacket, my buff, beanie, and my 3 pairs of wool socks (*along with shoving my 65-litre pack against the side wall of my tent to act as a barrier) helped me to finally get warm again. Scary stuff.
- Also, review your gear online – are the promises true? We’re a community, a clan, a hapū, and that means giving a shit and a subsequent heads-up where possible, pre-purchase, IMO. Use your reo, Bro.
- Topographic maps – yes, those maps we all rely on to move from start to finish with some success – are not error-free. This means, if you’re planning to travel off-track at any moment, you may (*like me and my crew) have to come to terms with the reality that you may only move 300 meters in 1.5 hours – especially wherever the endemic rain-forest vine “supple-jack” (‘kareao’) is a contributing factor.
Finally, I shall leave you with one of the pieces of “advice” from my weekend that was, regarding ‘cirrus’ or “mare’s tails” clouds:
What does a mare do when she lifts her tail..?
‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’, or: “Go well, and return safely”, always;