Cold Mountain 50k Race Report

Let me start out by saying that for this race I did more ambitious training than usual. The last time I trained close to this hard (i.e. actually train) was for the Mount Mitchell Challenge 2019, my first ultrarunning race. After that I just kind of winged it for the rest of the year doing one long run per month between 26 and 50 miles (Link).

Knowing the course somewhat, having scouted it with friends, I knew the course had the potential to be a fast one. Besides one large climb at the beginning, the course was maintained logging roads and with a few miles of technical singletrack. I generally “train” on whatever trail I want to no matter how hard I expect it to be tending towards trails I haven’t seen yet. I just like experiencing new places and trails.

Race Day 3/13/21:
The race day was cool to warm making hydration an issue compared to the colder temperatures earlier in the year. Thanks to Nuun and the electrolytes that were at the aid stations, I was able to stay fairly well hydrated.

The first few miles are as close to singletrack as you get on the course. I spent much of that time chatting with the nice folks I was in the race with until I guess they got tired of me insisting on having a conversation with them, and let me pass. Everyone was super friendly. Entering the beginning of the climb I got in a really comfortable speed hike and took it easy up to the gap knowing that this was just the beginning of the race.  I even picked up an old birthday balloon 20 feet off the trail. I figured it would make the scenery of the race more enjoyable for the folks behind me.

The course is an out-and-back with three side trails that you have to go down to collect tokens on the way out, and then you turn around and bypass the side trails on the way back.   The longest side trail is the first hill, and I was surprised near the top of the hill when only 4 people passed me going back down as I got near the summit.  Could the small field of competitors mean that I could get a top 3 finish? Another strange result of the out and back was that I got to cheer everyone on as they came towards me and vice versa. With the remaining out and backs this was really a highlight. My initial thought with out-and-back courses is the monotony of having to cover the same ground but I think my whole perspective has changed on this format from this race. I got to cheer on new and old friends, as well as Christine, who ended up doing her first ultramarathon that day. This definitely helped keep my spirits up and pass the time.

The aid stations were fully stocked and full of energetic folks, chips, Little Debbies, and Uncrustables, which all kept me going. Overall the course is beautiful and passes by a number of streams and in clear weather has great views of the Balsam Ridge and Cold Mountain. When we were out there, there was quite a bit of fog which added to the mystique of the area. I love this kind of weather and I think it makes running much easier than on a sunny day.

Part of the way through before the second turn around, to collect a token, I passed the gentlemen in 3rd place. I really didn’t think it would be possible but it happened without too much thought. As I got to the second turn around the guy in second place jokingly said, “you need to slow down.” It seemed like he didn’t want to run harder and neither did I!

At the top of the hill, a couple of miles before we had to turn around and run back to the start, the guy in first place passed me and I was completely shocked.  He was probably 3 to 4 miles ahead of the guy in 2nd place! That guy was running his own race.

At the turn around aid station, I loaded up on my personal hydration stash from my drop bag, and as I was doing that a new person entered and left the aid station to pass me while saying, “I’m not feeling well, I think I’ll need to drop [out of the race] later.” I was instantly frustrated and amused. I spent the next 7 miles whittling away at his lead on me which was at an uncomfortable pace. Until I spotted Mr. “I need to drop” at the second to last aid station. He left seconds before I arrived. I had to try to catch him after what he said during our first encounter.

At the final aid station, I caught him and left first. Although in the process of catching him my calves started cramping up. Any patch of mud I hit, the cramps would get really aggravated. I guess I should have trained on more flat terrain. Mr. “I need to drop” was always just about 10 seconds behind me.  As we got to the final rocky single track my cramps were just too bad and had to let him pass because he was right on my heels. My feet at this point could no longer flex to a point making the rocky trail nearly impossible to run at a decent speed. I was still barely keeping up with him. As we got to the final gravel road I sped past him and just barely snuck past in the final 200 yards. So I managed to snag third place!

As I just finished, Mr. 2nd Place told me that I was less than 30 seconds behind him. A very close race with the exception of the 1st place finisher, who finished 30 minutes ahead of anyone else. Mr. 2nd Place invited me to soak my legs in the ice-cold river across the road which was appropriate considering my continued cramps.

I got comfortable at the finish line by changing into normal clothes and sitting in my official “bug the neighbors whenever they step out the door” lawn chair, which we used extensively during COVID times. Conversations with welcoming and friendly volunteers and 25k finishers really helped pass the time. All the while cheering everyone in. Eventually, I got my 3rd place award and was able to cheer Christine as she finished her first ultramarathon!

I can’t recommend this race enough. The token collection points on the out-and-backs add to the whimsy and cheerful nature of the race. Cheering your fellow runners on as you go was a great time also. Who needs a crowd of cheering spectators when you can be each other’s fans in an otherwise secluded beautiful place.

Post Thru-Hike Review of Gossamer Gear Mariposa (2017 Edition)

I used this pack for 4 months of traveling on New Zealand’s rough around the edges Te Araroa Trail (Tramping Track) over some of the most challenging and rough terrain I have encountered, as well as 1 month on the Benton MacKaye Trail in late autumn conditions. I used it for food carries as long as 9 days. After this period of time I realized this pack really was exactly what I needed and it still has quite a bit of life left in it.   

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Mariposa in front of Mt Ngauruhoe on the Tongariro Crossing of Te Araroa

Pros:

-Hipbelt very sturdy and comfortable.  The new hipbelt design is a game changer for lightweight packs.  The aluminium hoop stay is inserted directly into two dedicated sleeves in the hipbelt allowing weight transfer directly on to the hips. The hipbelt itself is also reinforced with a thick plastic backing to prevent hip belt sag which I’ve encountered with all my other previous backpacks that I used on previous long trails (SMD Starlight [discontinued], Gregory Z55[2009])

-Wider than average shoulder strap helped me keep comfortable while carrying the more massive loads (9 days of food).  

-The large capacity of pockets- The pockets are plentiful which helped me organize stuff I wanted to be easily accessible. The pockets stood the test of time and have cosmetic holes in them after throwing the pack around in NZ’s rocky Southern Alps.  This expected wear and tear has not produced a hole large enough for me to worry about losing anything. The mesh on the back pocket is of a fine texture; this design means holes do not become large.

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Walking down the Abel Tasman Coast

-Shoulder strap pocket!- I really enjoyed using this add-on in particular because I enjoy taking photos.  I was able to keep my Canon S110 in the pocket along with my phone which allowed me to get quick shots of fleeting moments: birds, sunsets, and beams of light coming through fern tree groves.  

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Shoulder Strap pocket good for phones, cameras, and snacks. In the Richmond Ranges of the South Island

Cons:

-The Gossamer Gear Clear Waterproof Pack Liners too small for this particular pack.  Although this is not a problem with the pack itself, it’s too bad they don’t work well together. I have feeling the specs for this liner were made for another GG pack, possibly the Gorilla. In NZ’s rainy climate I realized I had to pack even my food in a pack liner when I had no option other than to eat many waterlogged peanuts. I ended buying a Pack Liner by the NZ Mountain Safety Council and cutting it to size.  These pack liners can be found in many towns in NZ so it made eating peanuts a joy again! 🙂

-I enjoy having the over-the-top closure system which includes a top pocket.  However, large stuff sacks can be difficult to load into the pack especially when I put a lot of stuff in the top pocket.  I wound up using a pack liner as a funnel to help shake the large food stuff sack into the backpack, which worked as a solution for me. After I learned this trick, I was only bothered by this style of opening when carrying 5 or more days worth of food.  It’s possible this problem also could have been remedied by having multiple food bags.

-I love the idea behind the sitlight pad but the current version of the sitlight pad is too warm for me.  I prefer the old “egg-crate” design for comfort while walking. Unfortunately, Gossamer Gear doesn’t currently offer that style pad so I changed the pad out for a cheap Walmart pad. The Air Flow SitLight Camp Seat is something I will probably try in the future.

-The shoulder strap load lifters add a lot of support to the pack but had to be reinforced. I have a tendency to break these on all my backpacks.  A few stitches using dental floss did the trick. I have a feeling that the problem arises because the load lifter straps are connected to a location above the frame rather than on it.   

Over the past five months of hiking, my Mariposa and I have been through a lot. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa is built to last, comfortable, and easy to use while only weighing in around 2 lbs. I would recommend this pack for anyone who has a fairly low base weight but needs to occasionally carry larger than average amounts of food or water.  The pack is also great for lightweight hikers who are needing to carry more than usual for cooler seasons, long water carries, or snow gear.

Disclaimer: I was given this pack at no charge.

Mt Tamalpais from Public Transit

This post is from 2014 and I never published it.  Someone asked about Public Transit backpacking in the Bay Area so I thought I would finally publish it.  Here it is. This trip would be incredibly easy to travel with the map at this link to Marin Mountain Bike Map. Another good map to have is one of Point Reyes National Seashore as it can easily be added on if you have more time. DISCLAIMER: Always check for trail closures.  While publishing this BLOG I found that there were a few trails that I mention that are currently closed.   Maps are essential for dealing with closures on the fly.

Away we go!

A long time ago, on a BART car far far away…

I was not in the mood for hanging around the apartment twiddling my thumbs waiting for my lovely Dormouse to return from her trip visiting family, so I decided to walk out my front door and go for a little 3-day backpacking trip to one of the Bay Area’s most prominent mountains, Mt. Tamalpais.

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay not  far walking

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay

Located in Marin County, Mt. Tamalpais is surrounded by a plethora of public wild lands.  The Marin Headlands, Mt Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Mt. Tamalpais Watershed all are within less than one day’s walk of the summit.   Mt. Tam as it is known to Bay Area locals, is within view of much of San Francisco and is a fixture of the skyline.  Many people look at the the mountain and think it is far across the bay and requires a painful drive through traffic on the Golden Gate via 19th Ave if you are on the Peninsula or something far worse if you are in the East Bay.  If you live in these areas there is a solution! Make your trip to the mountain a part of your hike.  It is kind of funny how easy it is to get to by transit then walk on foot.  On this and other trips I have made to Mt Tam, I have utilized BART to get to the Embarcadero or Montgomery St stop and then walked from there.

I started the day with another Town Start (the opposite of an alpine start, at 11:30AM) even later than our trip to Henry Coe.  I really had to rush because I knew I had 22 miles to cover to get to Pantoll Ranger Station, where I planned to camp the night (because it is one of the few legal places to camp).  Pantoll is nice because it doesn’t require any reservations and is a purely walk-up campground.

STEP 1: Scenic City Walk to Golden Gate Bridge from Emarcadero or Montgomery St BART Stop (Unlimited Options: Red Inland Option through North Beach, Black Emarcadero Option)

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I made my way to BART and got off at the Montgomery St BART station.  I decided to head down Montgomery St to Columbus St because I could get some much needed shade during the rare 80F “heat wave” that we were experiencing in SF that weekend.  I enjoyed my choice because I got to walk past the Pan America Pyramid and through North Beach, skirting Chinatown.  It is easy to see the walk along Embarcadero as welcoming with its wide sidewalks and views of the waterfront, but this way is enjoyable for people-watching and seeing the interesting neighborhoods.

After reaching the end of Columbus I made my way to the In-N-Out on Jefferson St.  I ordered a milkshake so I didn’t have to wait for the delicious made to order burger and so I could walk and consume calories most easily.  I had that shake polished off before going over the hill to Fort Mason.  Now that’s efficiency!  From Fort Mason I past through Marina Green and Crissy Field.  At Crissy Field I saw many wild flowers in bloom.  If you are going through this area make sure you stay closest to the water, as it is much more scenic.  I’ve been doing this wrong for years.

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

From Crissy Field the signs were easy to follow to the Golden Gate Bridge.

STEP 2: Walk through Marin Headlands (Options Unlimited) No water after water fountain immediately after Golden Gate Bridge

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After crossing the bridge I picked up water from the water fountain at the overlook parking lot.  This was my last water source until Redwood Creek just short of 11 miles from there.  After downing some water and filling my bottles to the brim I walked down the the catwalk underneath the bridge to the Coastal Trail.   Now I was in the Marin Headlands (map).  The Coastal Trail switchbacks up until you reach a junction with the SCA Trail.  From there I took the straightest path to Pantoll passing by Morning Glory Trail (a great trail to Sausalito giving you a bail option on the way back), to Alta Trail, Bobcat, Marincello into Tennessee Valley.  I’m unsure if Tennessee Valley has drinking water, but you probably could find a spigot if you ask nicely at the horse stables there.  This would make the stretch of 11 miles much more tolerable. Hiking out of Tennessee Valley on the Miwok Trail is quite busy with mountain bikers.  I really don’t like this part of the area, but it is Marin County, where Mountain biking started, so I put up with it.  As it approached 6:30pm, close to Route 1, I came out of a grove of coast live oaks into some scrub and to my surprise I saw the stubby tail of a bobcat before it bolted.  This was only the second bobcat I’d seen while hiking hundreds of miles in the Bay Area.  I was elated.  Here I was a few miles from home seeing cool wildlife.  I walked up to where the cat was and found that I had literally scarred the crap out of it.  I’m guessing this is much more common then I had previously thought when watching this video.

Bobcat in Marin Headlands

Much less interesting than a picture of a Bobcat. At least you can see it’s fresh.

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After crossing Route 1 I was in Mt Tamalpais State Park.  I would continue on Miwok Trail climbing up to Pantoll Ranger Station.  After crossing Muir Woods road I went up a combination of Deer Park Fire Road and the Dipsea Trail.  After going up Dipsea, I went over to Stapleveldt Trail to dip down into the upper part of Muir Woods then up to Pantoll (walking through Muir Woods main entrance/redwood grove on the way back helps avoid the crowds if you leave early).  The other longer way on TCC Trail has less elevation loss and gain if you are feeling tired at the end of the day.  I made it to Pantoll at 7:00pm and was pleased to sit down and relax.  I paid for a spot in the hike/bike-in site ($5/person 2014) and was surprised to see another tent there. In the past Dormouse and I have been the only ones at that site.  I set up my tent and hunkered down in the tent away from the wind and ate some cold rehydrated chili.  I was satisfied with the spicy, delicious, and quickly prepared meal.  I spent the rest of the night hanging out with my campsite mates.

Step 3: Mount Tam Walk from Stinson

I woke up around 6:15am.  I got my gear together, ate a granola bar and walked down Steep Ravine Trail.  I found the trail nice with plentiful vegetation, including wonderful California bay trees which provided shade.   A nice change from the long shade-less stretches of the Headlands.

Columbine in Steep Ravine

Columbines were all along the route. Pretty good for low light and using my trekking pole as a monopod (Ultrapod)

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

From Stinson Beach I climbed up Matt Davis Trail (at end of the street with the fire house on the corner.)  It’s a reasonably steep climb up the trail to the Coastal Trail which takes you out of the Douglas Fir/ Oak forest of Matt Davis to coastal grassland.

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the north approach to Mt Tam

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the northern approach to Mt Tam

At Camp Fire Road I took a turn north to cross the road so I could make my way to Cataract Falls.  Having such a dry couple of years, the falls were unfortunately a dud.  But in the wet season the falls are a great site.

Instead of turning back like many do when they reach the falls, I headed east on High Marsh Trail.  High Marsh Trail is great because it crosses a bunch of headwaters for streams going into Alpine Lake.  My enjoyment was multiplied by not seeing one person for several hours until I got on International Trail to Eastcrest Blvd and the Peak.  The north side of Mt Tam is really secluded if you like getting away from the crowds.

View from Mt Tamalpais

View from Mt Tamalpais

Heading down from the top I went down Fern Creek Trail to towards Throckmorton Fire Station.  A brief road walk on Panoramic Highway got me to Panoramic Trail which is just a path next to the road.  From there I could take the Ocean View and Lost Trail back down into Muir Woods.  While in Muir Woods I decided to go up Fern Creek Trail (yes the same creek, different trail.)  I was very surprised by how scenic and tranquil it was (and I was there on a free weekend!).  Definitely, make the extra effort to go up it if you have the time.  All my pictures really do not capture the scene, unfortunately.  Racing through the crowds I made my way to Muir Woods Road to catch the Miwok Trail back out to the Headlands.  I actually misread the map thinking that there was no coastal escape from Mt Tamalpais State Park to the Headlands (this can be done by taking Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach and road walking to Green Gulch Trail).

Mountain Lion Kill

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!  I nervously walked away from the kill thinking at least the cat probably isn’t hungry anymore.  After that scare I made a bee-line for the coast to hike a different trail from the way in and enjoyed the clear views.

In the morning after another windy night, I went into the Tennessee Valley to get some much needed freshwater.  From there I continued down the Coastal Trail past old army batteries through Rodeo Beach on my way back to the Golden Gate.

Along the way I passed a sign for Slacker Ridge a trail so small it is barely noticeable on the map.

Slacker Ridge: I'm surprised no one has mentioned it to me

Slacker Ridge: I’m surprised no one has mentioned it to me

After Slacker Ridge, the Golden Gate and BART were my destination.  I crossed the bridge, taking time to look out for sea life in the cold waters below.  I spotted a few sea lions here and there.  In the past we have seen porpoises and diving pelicans.  Walking down the Embarcadero was an excellent conclusion to my trip through the Marin Wilderness.

Other Extension Options:

Marin Municipal Water District Land  has tons of trails that can link Mt Tam to Point Reyes

Point Reyes is huge and you don’t have to use your imagination to hike here.

Other transit Options:

Marin Stagecoach from Tam Junction to Stinson Beach (Base of

Golden Gate Transit can significantly reduce your San Francisco Hiking

The Historic F Line can drop you off at Fisherman’s Wharf from Embarcadero BART

The Ferry to Sausalito can drop you off at BART after a walk down Morning Sun Trail into town

Do you have any Bay Area backpacking trips using public transit?  Let me know in the comments.

St Arnaud to Havelock (Richmond Ranges)

Day 48: St Arnaud to Red Hill Hut, ~15km

We hit the trail from St Arnaud after a hiatus during which we hiked in Abel Tasman National Park (see previous blog post).

The trail has changed recently and we only figured that out after we started heading steeply up the trail starting only at 4pm. My notes indicated that it was a 7.5km walk from the road to Red Hill Hut but with the new route it was actually about 12km. That error was not in our favor. Plus our packs were heavy for this section with about 7-8 days of food. Luckily we were well rested and well fed so we had the energy to power up the hill.

After a long climb we had great views of the surrounding area. We continued into forest which had quite a few wasps buzzing around, and at one point John cursed, and I found out one had stung him in the arm. Poor John- it turns out this is his third sting! I haven’t gotten stung at all yet – lucky me, because I’m the one with the phobia.

In the forest we heard something flying right over our head and into a tree right next to us, and it was an owl! The native owl here is called Morepork. We were able to get a picture of it as it wasn’t afraid of us at all (just like all the other New Zealand birds).

We managed to reach the hut after just 3.5 hours of hiking, which is surprising because we’re (I’m) usually slower than that. I was glad to get there before the sunset.

We entered the hut and found our friend Jeremy – the first northbounder we met on the trail many weeks ago now. It was great to catch up with him while eating dinner and setting up for the night.

Day 49: Red Hill Hut to Hunters Hut, 19.5 km

We woke after a sound sleep in the cozy hut. We made our way down the trail and immediately had wet feet in the the nearby bog. We were joined most of the day by our friend Jeremy, a software engineer and cat lover from Portland, OR.

The walking was generally easy. Along the way, the landscape became more austere with more scrubby vegetation, and it also became more difficult. The soil became increasingly colorful with reds, greens, and blues appearing on the hillsides. The colors and vegetation were colored because of the presences of rare rock and mineral types found in the area.

Hiker cleaning station

As we approached hut for the night, there was a boulder field. The rocks in the boulder field were incredibly heavy for their size because they were composed of magnetite a rock primarily made out of iron.

We got to the hut and made a fire in the wood stove after eating dinner. We also did a few gear repairs- sewing John’s shoes some more with dental floss and sewing the handle back into John’s food bag- something I broke two days ago when it was over full with food.

Day 50: Hunters Hut to Mid Wairoa, 17.5km

When we woke up in the morning I was very surprised to see that another person was sleeping next to us in the bunk bed. Apparently this guy came in around 10pm last night and nobody heard him come in. I was pretty impressed that he didn’t wake us up – we must have all been out cold once we fell asleep.

We left the hut and dropped down to a river which was supposed to be the last water source for a while but we followed it for a while before heading up towards Mt. Ellis which was quite a climb. The views were amazing as we climbed up and it got colder and colder as well along with strong wind.

We put our rain jackets on to keep warm. We got great views of the Tasman Bay as well as a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. At the same time we were being practically blown off the mountain by huge gusts of wind.

The track then went down towards Top Wairoa Hut, but as it did we had to cross a ton of boulder fields. By this point I was exhausted and in need of lunch, and the boulder field were kicking my butt. Finally when I got another view of the hut, I realized we were still quite far, so I sat down and had a snack.

We didn’t stop for too long in the hut since we were told that the next section was perhaps the hardest section in the Richmonds, and I didn’t want to be stuck hiking too far into the evening.

The next section was along a river with about 8 crossings, and some steep ups and downs. Sections were quite narrow with some serious drop offs if one were to fall, but the foot and hand holds were always solid and I was never actually afraid of falling. In fact for most of the section I kept wondering where the hard part would be. It never came.

The river was beautiful with many waterfalls and crystal clear pools one of which John decided to take a dip in.

The only part of this section I didn’t like were the yellow jackets, but there weren’t too many of them. I was just afraid that one would get me when I was in a precarious spot.

We made it to the hut faster than I had anticipated and there was a lovely swimming hole nearby. The water was cold and the air temperature wasn’t that warm, so I opted to stay dry, but John and Jeremy both jumped in, screaming as they went out of shock because of how cold the water was. John described the water as painful and amazing.

In the hut we found a bottle of olive oil. We added generous pours to our dinners in hopes of getting a few more calories. We’re a bit nervous about how much food we have for the next 5 days. We may be a bit hungry by the end of this section.

Day 50: Mid Wairau Hut to Rintoul Hut, 14.5km

In the morning we crossed the river one last time via a swing bridge that was very tricky to get up onto -it started above my waist level so I had to clamber up to it. Then we had a long slow climb up to the ridge. It was probably about a 1000m (3000ft) climb through forest.

We passed a few southbounders including a group of four middle aged kiwis one of which had fallen on Rintoul Mountain which we will climb perhaps tomorrow if we get any good weather (apparently it is supposed to rain). The section over Rintoul Mountain is supposed to be one of the hardest if not the hardest part of this section. The lady that fell knocked some teeth out and busted open her lips. It looked bad, but she was just going to carry on.

We stopped for lunch at Tarn Hut, and Jeremy caught up with us. The next section was a mostly beautiful ridge walk and climb up Purple Mountain which had amazing views. The ridge, however, had so many wasps that sometimes it felt like we were swimming in them. Luckily nobody got stung, but they frequently bumped into us while flying about. I just walked with my head down trying my best to breathe slowly and only through my nose in case one decided to fly into my mouth.

Before we got to the hut we was another morepork owl which sat in a tree watching us as we walked by. This is the second owl we’ve seen in this section.

We made it to Rintoul Hut and two other southbounders were already there and two more arrived shortly after we did. Between the seven of us, we will squeeze into the 6 bunk hut for the night. Tomorrow looks like rain, and we may need to sit in this hut and wait for better weather in order to attempt this really difficult section tomorrow. It is all exposed and there is a lot of loose rock (scree) and it will be very steep. Hopefully going up will be easier than going down.

Day 51: Rintoul Hut, 0km

We woke up to a thick layer of clouds. John, Jeremy and I decided to sleep in and wait for the weather to clear before trying to head up Rintoul. Jeremy started a fire, and we stayed in our sleeping bags for quite a while.

We are low on food, so we didn’t eat any breakfast. The dark clouds continued to hang around, so we started to play some cards. John started getting quite hungry – I could tell because he was getting very grumpy.

We decided that we would take a zero in the hut if the weather did not improve before 2pm, and as it started to rain around that time, we called it. We took some time chopping fire wood and doing some laundry in a small bowl that I found in the hut.

I took out all our food and rationed it so that we could eat something without jeopardizing the next few days.

The view of the bay cleared up, but the clouds over head didn’t clear up until late afternoon.

Eventually some other northbounders showed up to the hut. There were three of them: two guys from Sweden and a guy from Scotland.

Annoyingly, the sun came out and we couldn’t hike on because it would take us 5 hours over gnarly terrain to get to the next hut.

Before long the conversation turned to food and we spent several hours torturing ourselves by talking about food. Somehow the conversation always circled back around to food.

Eventually we all ate some dinner and settled down. That evening we enjoyed an amazing sunset.

Day 52: Rintoul Hut to Starveal Hut, 19.5km

We woke up to fog, and were a bit disappointed that there was a good chance that we wouldn’t get any views from Rintoul. We had no choice but to head out based on our food situation, so we packed up.

As we left the hut, the clouds looked like they may clear a little bit.

Jeremy and I headed out first leaving John behind to poop before leaving the hut (last place to poop for many hours). We headed straight up Rintoul at the rate of 480m climb in just over a kilometer. It was loose scree going up and quite hard to make forward progress, but I was so glad to be going up and not down.

Before too long John caught up and we did get a few glimpses here and there of the mountain and views.

From the top of Mt Rintoul we had to go along a steep ridge to reach Little Rintoul, which involved some scrambling. I felt like my rock climbing skills came in handy because I just treated it like an easy rock climbing project rather than a hike. It was fun.

Clambering up and down steeply. The only part I really didn’t like was walking on boulder fields which I just seem to be bad at. I think it’s an issue of balance.

We got done with the most technically difficult bit before I knew it, and we could see Old Man Hut. We didn’t stop there though because it was 300m (elevation) down from the trail itself and we brought enough water to be able to skip the hut. Plus it was very cold out- just above freezing with lots of clouds, sometimes spitting a little bit of a drizzle at us.

We ate lunch at the trail junction to Old Man Hut and continued on towards Slaty Hut. It was a beautiful walk first climbing Old Man Mountain, but then walking along a picturesque ridge with occasional views. If we had had a perfectly sunny day, the views today would have been really amazing.

We made it to Slaty Hut in really good time, stopping there to have another meal, and continuing down to Starveall Hut. We decided that if we made it to Starveall Hut today, we could probably finish this section in just 2 more days after today, instead of 3 allowing us to eat more of our food, and also bringing us closer to a burger in town. Food has become a big motivator.

We walked mostly through forest, which with the fog looked really moody and picturesque. We had a couple more small mountains to climb- in particular, Mount Starveall. When we reached Mount Stearveall, the clouds parted and we got fantastic views for the last descent into the hut.

By the time we got to Starveall Hut, however, it was fully packed and there was already someone camping outside. The other three northbounders had got there before us, and there were people out for the weekend as well (we forgot that it was Saturday).

We searched around for a suitable place to camp and found very little. Jeremy opted to camp on the helicopter landing area where there was a no camping sign, and we crammed our tent between a couple of trees on the edge of the trail.

It’ll be cold tonight, especially since we’re not in a hut, but at least we have warm sleeping bags. My guess is it will drop below freezing, but I’m not sure by how much.

Day 53: Starveall Hut to Middy Hut, 28km

We woke up quite cold, but I don’t think it was below freezing. We teamed up with Jeremy again and headed downhill towards Hacket Hut. It warmed up tremendously as we descended.

We had a bunch of stream crossings, so for the first time in a couple of days we got our feet wet. It has certainly been a novelty to have dry feet recently.

At the hut we ate two lunches since we will get to town a day early. I had tuna and chips as well as a tortilla with Nutella. We got back to the trail and my stomach was gurgling it was so full. We had to climb up again, and I had trouble going up hill with any kind of speed because my stomach was busy trying to digest. Eventually I put my pack down and went to dig a hole, and after that I was full of energy and feeling quite a bit lighter!

The next section had a lot of downed trees, and we were impressed with the trail maintenance that went into this track. Unusual for the Te Araroa Trail. We did have a few trees to clamber over, and I even misplaced the trail once, leading us astray for a short period of time.

We got to Rocks Hut and Jeremy decided that he wanted to stay there. It was a larger hut (sleeps 16) and somehow had flushing toilets. Nobody was there, so Jeremy probably got the place to himself. John and I decided to carry on to Middy Hut knowing that tomorrow will be hellishly long if we didn’t. We all wanted to make it at least to Pelorous Campground where they have some sort of cafe by tomorrow night.

MIddy Hut was only another 2 hours away and I felt good heading downhill one more time although my knees and ankles did start to feel it. We got to a swing bridge and knew we were nearly there.

At Middy Hut we caught up to the three other Northbounders. Middy Hut was next to a river with a giant swimming hole and we took off all our clothes and jumped in for only half a minute before we were freezing our butts off. Sand flies tried to devour us as we scrambled to put some clothes back on and run to the hut.

We decided to camp instead of sleep in the hut – first because there were only top bunks left (and no ladders to get to them!), and second because we plan to wake up before sunrise to get a head start on tomorrow and hopefully get to the campground before the cafe closes at 5pm.

As I’m typing this, a resident weka just walked up to the tent and walked straight into the bug netting obviously not seeing it was there. These birds are so funny. I’m going to have to close the vestibule door on the tent so it doesn’t somehow try to peck through the bug netting while we’re trying to sleep. Never thought I’d have to worry about flightless bird attacks.

Day 54: Middy Hut to Havelock,

We got up at 6:30am, and we were on the trail walking by 7am before it was really light out. We quickly made it to Captain’s Creek Hut and I signed the intentions book and noticed that someone had left there that morning.

We carried on along the Pelorus River which had many beautiful crystal blue swimming pools one of which John decided to jump into.

We carried on along the river and got to a turn off to Emerald Pools- another great swimming hole where we ran into three Koreans who had all come from Captains Creek Hut. I found out that they were getting picked up at the trail head by some friends. John took his second swim of the day while I hiked forward, trying to make forward progress. I knew that we had a long road walk ahead of us and it was unlikely anyone would pick us up since the road dead ends in the mountains.

We got to the road and carried on a ways before a car drove up and stopped to ask us if they were in the right spot for getting to the trail head. I asked if they were there to pick up three hikers, and they said yes. I dismissed the idea that they would be able to also give us a ride out since there were two of them and they were picking up 3 more people plus all their bags.

A half hour later we stopped at the side of the road to have lunch. Just as we were finishing our lunch, the same car came driving back towards us and stopped again.

“We made room for you guys!” Said one of the Korean hikers.

They had literally packed all their bags in a huge wall blocking the entire rear view but making enough space for John to squeeze in the trunk while I squeezed next to 3 other petite ladies in the back seat. It was an uncomfortable but completely worthwhile ride down the road to the campground. Meanwhile we learned that there is at least one long distance track in South Korea, and these hikers had done all the 9 Great Walks in New Zealand as well as many that aren’t Great Walks. They thought that probably their favorite hike they had done in New Zealand was the one they had just finished through the Richmond Ranges. I had to agree that this was one of the most beautiful walks I had ever done too. And probably one of the hardest too.

We had been hearing about the Richmond Ranges ever since we started hiking in New Zealand. Every Southbounder gave us the same story: “just wait until the Richmonds!’ mostly referring to difficulty: sketchy trail with rock scrambles, loose rock with terrifying drops and footpaths so narrow that one false move or one gust of wind and you’ll fall to your death.

In the end, the reality of this section totally missed the expectations I had going into it. The trail was hard but never scary, and usually the challenging bits were really quite fun and in superbly scenic places. It was never tough with no reward or for no reason. I’ve never walked through such a diverse and gorgeous section of trail for such a long period of time with so many amazingly beautiful spots. I would recommend it to anyone even if you’re afraid of heights.

We got to Havelock and ate an embarrassing amount of food from the local “Takeaways”. We found a place to spend the night at the Holiday Park before planning the next portion of our hike which will be on the Queen Charlotte Track.

Trail Magic & Leave No Trace: A Hiker’s Responsibility

There are many articles and blogs about Leave No Trace Ethics with respect to Thru-Hiking.  They all have important information, but I often feel like they miss an important point.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into a debate about how to wipe your butt.  If that is really what you are looking for, just go to any of the PCT Facebook groups and ask about how people dig a hole.  It will surely start a lively debate.

 What I feel is missing from most Leave No Trace articles is a mention of what a hiker should do when they encounter trail magic.  Many of the articles I have seen place the burden of responsibility on the trail angels.  Many articles ask individuals not to leave trail magic, but to personally hand someone their little piece of heaven.  This is fair and I fully support this opinion.  Unattended food can be eaten by wildlife, which can cause problem animals that will expect food from humans.

Still trail magic is left along the long distance trails.  So, what’s a hiker to do?  The answer is obvious, consume something tasty.  What happens then?  This is where I used to stop thinking and continue on, satisfied having just eaten a honey bun or pop tart.  Free calories.  LIFE. IS. GOOD.  But it doesn’t end there.  What happens with the trash you just accumulated?  You know, the empty can of soda or candy bar wrapper.

Here are possibilities and let us imagine the magic is in a ice chest so that small animals do not get into the food:  I have put these in order of worst Leave No Trace practices to best.

1. Hitch into town and “piggy back” off the existing trail magic by putting your own treats there for other hikers to enjoy.
2. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest along with the past few day’s worth of trash, wrappers, and old fuel cannisters there as well.
3. Leave the wrapper generated by consuming trail magic in the ice chest.
4. Consume your caloric prize as you walk away with its associated trash.
5. Eat your treat and walk away with the trash generated by you and a little more trash from the cache.

6. Walk away with the whole cooler and deposit all the magic into a hiker box in town so that animals don’t get into it.

Trail Magic Gone Wrong

Trail Magic Gone Wrong (PCTA.org)

The first scenario is terrible, as cases like this can easily get out of control and just turn into something that resembles a garbage heap.  The second can result in an overflowing ice chest with garbage winding up far from the source.  The third, I believe, is the most common practice.  The fourth through sixth are what I would like people to consider standard practice to reduce impact.  These behaviors will also eventually lead to a cleaner trail!  Obviously walking away with the whole cooler is a bit extreme, but in some circumstances, I have been motivated to given the snowball effect of some trail magic.

While thru-hiking, you look to other hikers to see what is socially acceptable.  Just because something is common practice does not mean it is the right thing to do.  Not much thought goes into these small choices because hikers are tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and trying to make X more miles before the end of the day.  We are so grateful to get calories that we didn’t carry 20 or more miles.  Little thought is put into these fleeting but impactful decisions of what to do with the trash.

Just look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In order to think critically of how to handle the situation, you need to be quite high on this theoretical pyramid, probably around the level of self-actualization.  All your other needs have to be met before you can think on that level.

A pyramid representing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

A pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

You might think, “But disposing of that trash is not my responsibility!  The trail angel who left the trail magic should come back and pick it up!”

This is not necessarily what happens.  You cannot be sure that someone will take the remains of trail magic.  Sometimes people are only by the trail for the weekend and really want to help thru-hikers, and so they leave something without the intention of taking the trash away later on.  Trail angels might see “drive-by trail magic” as helping hikers, when in fact they are also creating a situation where trash is left in the woods.  This is especially true if thru-hikers do not take responsibility for the trash that they have willingly generated by eating the food.

I hope this article will help hikers think about how to handle different situations with regards to trail magic. Just remember, you are directly involved in how the wilderness is perceived by everyone who visits after you. It is your responsibility to make sure someone visiting nature for the first time sees the world for its beauty and not as a garbage can.  On many city streets, people are paid to pick up trash.  In the wilderness, we are all responsible.

Wherever you are on the Leave No Trace spectrum, please help inform other hikers who might be too hungry or tired to make the best decision.

How do you handle encounters with trail magic?  What have you done when you encounter a large amount of trash possibly from old trail magic?  Please share your ideas so that we can all discuss how to practically tackle this problem.