outfoxed on mt. fox

One of the last things that Phil suggested I do was this really cool walk up Mt. Fox, near the Fox glacier. Sounded good to me, so he printed off a b&w topo for me, and bade Wendy and him adieu.

A few hours later, I arrived at the Fox glacier village, filled out an intentions form at the Department of Conservation (DOC), and drove back out to the trailhead.

My plan was to walk up Mt. Fox, bivy on the ridge leading up to Mt. Craig, tag Craig in the morning, and then return to the car. Having returned all the stuff Wendy and Phil had lent me and a desire to travel somewhat on the lighter side, I basically had my bivy sack, sleeping bag, food, and camera.

Deliberately, I decided not to bring the one man tent, since it was heavy and bulky, and as I had no stove, only had cold food like canned tuna (and chocolate :).

I quickly blasted up the trailhead and just as quickly, immediately lost the trail. Now for those people who have never walked in New Zealand, let me just say that the trails (well, called “tracks” in their parlance) are not really anything like what we have in the States, and this being a not highly trafficked trail meant that it was more overgrown than normal.

Literally two minutes after starting, I found myself faffing about and writhing around in dense undergrowth. For ten minutes, I thrashed around until I finally found a triangle marking the track.

The poison track.

You see, the Kiwis use plastic orange triangles to mark the track meant for humans, and they use both blue and pink triangles to mark the tracks where they lay out poison traps to kill off the possums and stoats so as to give the native birds a chance to live.

The poison tracks are way bushier than the human tracks, so I knew I was in a bad way. Frustated and feeling stupid,, I finally pulled out the topo, and slapped myself across the face for being so dumb. Don’t cross the river, dummy! D’oh!

Ok, that problem solved, I basically had to fight my way all the way back to the start and tried to keep a better eye on the orange triangles. Returning back to the initial point of confusion, I was … still confused. For the life of me, I really couldn’t find the next happy orange triangle, so I made another guess, and luckily, due to my finely honed mountaineering instinct (or the fact that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while), saw a flash of orange … after more bushwhacking.

Seriously, this track was third class jungleering, at multiple points having to climb straight up 6 and 7 foot high root formations to keep going. I estimate that the majority of this track at 60% or steeper grade.

What would make things better? A game! I started playing a game where I would give myself a point every time I got concerned about getting seriously lost and not being able to find my way either up or down. Well, the point was only scored after experiencing those feelings and then successfully finding the next blessed orange triangle.

At this point in my trip, I was actually back in hiking shape, and was able to actually make decent progress. The guidebook author suggested that it would take 2 hours of “climbing through the beech forest before gaining the ridge” and it took me about 1:45 of writhing up slippery roots, muddy rocks, huge mossy trees, and scoring points, so that’s not too shabby.

Finally, I reached the trig point (a white tower thingy used for surveying), and breathed a sigh of relief. “A ha!” I thought — no more bushwhacking! Yay!

Well, kinda. See, there were these 6 foot high tussock grasses completely growing and reaching across the trail. Normally not a problem, but when a giant cloud is sitting on top of the mountain, and further when one recalls that clouds are made of water and observes the gentle mist condensing on the huge grasses, well, simply walking through the giant grasses means one is going to end up as soaked and wet as if it were actually raining.

So much for the “fine weather” report from the DOC.

I kept at it for about another half K and maybe another 50 vertical metres, and while i found the track to be extremely easygoing, I was completely wet wet wet.

Maybe I shouldn’t have started my endeavour at 4:20 pm. Oopsie.

The astute reader will now deduct that it was 6:30 pm or thereabouts, and darkfall was going to happen at 8:45 or so. It was scheduled to be another hour or so to the Mt. Fox summit, but the huge cloud simply wasn’t lifting.

I was at a decision point — keep on trucking or retreat? The factors for consideration:

  • all of the clothing I was wearing was wet
  • my sleeping bag and vest (for warmth) were down
  • my long pants (dry) were cotton, but I did have a polypro base layer long sleeve top
  • I had no way to make a fire
  • no tent, only a bivy sack, which wouldn’t have been so great in a real rain
  • the descent was going to take at least another two hours, probably longer due to a sore and achy knee
  • I hate retreating

Well, it seems that I have learned something in my old age. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I made the decision to turn around.

Two and a half miserable hours later, I was back at the car and reading the LP for hostel recommendations.

Now realize that I like to spin a good yarn, and I like to make myself look and sound kinda bumbly because let’s face it, that kind of writing is much more interesting, but for those of you who might be wondering about my decision making skills, here was how I decided to attempt this walk in the first place:

  • The DOC projected “fine weather” for several days, and there was a huge high pressure system parked off the west coast; at no time did it actually ever precipitate on the ground
  • I was actually quite dry in the forest, even though it was somewhat wet and muddy. It wasn’t until walking through the tussock grass clumps near the ridgeline that I got soaked (and the description didn’t really mention anything about the grass)
  • the cloud buildup on the mountain was actually a common afternoon occurrence and normally lifts in the evenings; this particular cloud sat there for another 36 hours
  • I was fit (knee notwithstanding), so I knew timewise, I could do it in less than the projected time (total time projected at 8-12 hours for just Mt. Fox; at my pace, it would have been 6 hrs total), and starting off at 4pm or so wasn’t actually that unreasonable

So you see, I’m not 100% stupid, let’s call it just 80% or so, and leave it at that. In any case, I ran away so that I can blog about a successful trip in the future. :)


nz / au mcd’s field report

One of my many weird personality quirks is that I like to eat at McDonald’s in every new country that I visit. Hey, since American “culture” is our biggest export, I figure I may as well check in on it and see how it’s doing in other countries…

First up, the mcd’s at MEL. They were no longer serving the Aussie burger, much to my disappointment, but they did have a tandoori chicken wrap! How odd. The flavor of the chicken was actually quite adequate, but there was a lot of disgusting mayo in there too. Blech.

Today, I dined at a combination BP petrol station / mcd’s in Wellington, NZ, and of course, I got the Kiwi burger, which is essentially a burger with a fried egg and a huge slice of pickled beet, which is perhaps the oddest combination of flavors I’ve had thus far in my experiments. Not being a huge fan of beets to begin with, I must say this was not my favorite burger. But if you like beets, I suppose it’d be good.

These are added to my list of other burgers I’ve eaten: the McRosti in Switzerland (a burger with basically a hashbrown on top, which is supposed to represent rosti potatoes) and a McPalta in Peru, which is a burger with avocado. Yum.

In Mexico, I ate some weird refried bean, cheese, and jalapeno pepper combination served on top of english muffin halves for breakfast food. Surprisingly, not too shabby.

One thing I really appreciate is getting proper ketchup while out of the country. I’m not a heavy ketchup user to begin with, but when I do use it, I’ve found that I really like the Heinz recipe. Other countries tend to add too much sugar or do other things that make the ketchup taste weird. Thanks to the McDonald’s corporation for going through the effort to spread good American ketchup across the world.


When you find kindred spirits vibrating along the same superstring in our cosmic universe, life becomes a Miles Davis milkshake. Falling back in the groove with Wendy and Philip was smoother than apple pie.

With open arms, huge smiles, and glasses of fine wines endemic to the greater Tasman region, they welcomed me into their home and without skipping a beat, started sending me on little missions.

“Of course go check out Milford Sound, but we reckon there’s some good climbing and walking on the way back.”

“You might like Cascade Saddle, heaps o’ good tramping in the Matukituki, Dart, and Rees valleys.”

“Views from Mt. Fox might be pretty amazing.”

Multiple days, tens of Ks, hundreds of photos, and thousands of vertical metres later; with achey creaky knees, itchy insect bites, reeking shoes, dorky farmer’s tan, and one tiny blister, I’m smiling.

Life is good here in the N-Zed and leaving is hard.

Reluctantly rapidly, wending my way up the west, cursing the arrow of time; my only consolation comes from a whispered MacArthurian promise to myself.


hello kiwis!

single cone summit (2300m)

So it turns that Kiwi immigration laws aren’t so conducive to a devil-may-care attitude to travel.

During my checkin attempt at MEL, the ticket agent asked for my return flight information. My response of “Um, I only bought a one-way ticket because I don’t know when and where I plan on flying out of” resulted in the forced purchase of a return ticket at the counter. Whoopsie.

And it turns out when the border official at CHC asks you, “what are your plans for the next three weeks?”, that is not the proper time nor place to impart your romantic notions of wanderlust upon said official. Trust me, leading off with “I’m not really sure yet” and a charming smile… well, my smile must not be as dazzling as I’d thought, and only results in alarm and concern in exactly the one person on the planet at the moment who you are trying very hard not to alarm. My bad, New Zealand.

In the end, they let me in anyhow, so +1 Alex. Whoo.

Alas, the struggle to travel unencumbered and carefree is foregone. In what is becoming a disturbing trend in my holiday travels, I’ve hired a car with which to zoom around the island.

Yes, someone is going to give a 1000 kilo metallic missile to the guy who was complaining about not even being able to figure out how to walk properly in this country. Good thing New Zealand doesn’t read my blog.

My time in Christchurch was short but idyllic, having spent it with my hostel roommates, an unlikely combination of two French, two Germans, and YT, yammering away in the international language of globe-ish, wandering around the city generally enjoying life, and wrapping it up at an even unlikelier Chinese restaurant called “Luck” where the owners were from Taiwan, and I was able to manage enough Chinese to order a fantastic meal that included delish veggies from their own garden. Not too shabby.

The small bitey beastie population of Christchurch seem to have a penchant for eating Chinese too and have discovered a new favorite hangout, namely me.

Now I turn my face south and aim towards Queenstown to meet up with some old climbing friends I met on the slopes of the Peruvian Andes so many years ago. After that, who knows, so please don’t tell the New Zealand Department of Immigrations.