Monday, December 30, 2013

The Pinnacles - Goose Down Pillows, Bush Tucker and Gorgeous Sunrises

Well, where to start? I couldn’t figure out which retrospective adventure to write about first. I guess most people would say “start from the start, Megan”, but I never have been one to follow convention, so in keeping with that theme, I thought I would share with you some of my more recent adventures whilst they sit vividly in my mind.
 It was only a little over a week ago now that I joined up with two good mates, Sarah and Netty and a “friend to be”, Claire, in Thames to do an overnight hike to the Pinnacles in the Coromandel. Being the last day at work for most people meant that starting late in the afternoon on a Friday to avoid the Saturday crowds at the hut was very workable, and the fact that I had paid a surprise visit to Lisa in Auckland to see her off at the airport on her trip to Vietnam at midday on Friday fitted in perfectly with the plan.

After some faffing in the supermarket and then a rather robust discussion with my friends about how it is NOT OK to wear Crocs, we were on our way out to Kahurangi Forest park. I hadn’t really heard about the Pinnacles before (maybe because I don’t do a great deal of hiking) and I only made the decision to come along for the ride about two days beforehand, so I had no further expectations other than an enjoyable couple of days out with some mates, some quiet time and some good exercise. I have this saying that “if you want luxury, you have to carry it” and I decided on this trip, that in the interests of a good spot of training, I would carry lots of luxury to enjoy on our overnight stay in the hut. This included cider, fresh food, chocolate… And a goose down pillow.

It was a stunning afternoon. Blue skies accompanied a warm Summers day as we made our way up and along the track. The track consisted of hundreds of steps that had been hand-carved out of the bedrock by labourers years and years ago when the track was used as an accessway for a hydro project. The hike was warm, thirsty work, especially with 20kg pack on my back (but that goose down pillow sure was gonna make for comfy sleeping!). It took us about three hours to make our way to the “hut”, where we had booked beds for the night. It was about 6.30pm when we arrived and the plan was to drop our stuff off at the “hut” and then make our way to the summit before returning for a feed and some sleep.

Now you may notice that I have now put the word “hut” in inverted commas on three occasions now… Because it’s not really a hut… More like a lodge, or a backpackers, which sleeps 80 people and has a full kitchen, complete with pots and pans, cutlery and plates (you don’t even need to bring them yourself). Now, I was a little bit torn when I saw this hut from afar. On the one hand, I appreciate the sentiment behind making some of our most beautiful attractions easily accessible and comfortable for more people to see. On the flip side, this “mansion” for want of a better description, creates a scar on the beautiful landscape and, in my opinion, kind of defeats the purpose of getting out into the wilderness. My thoughts aside now, the hut was very nice and comfortable (but still didn’t sit right with me).

We dropped off our gear and headed up towards the summit, which incorporated 556 steps (yup, I counted them!), three ladders and a whole heap of rock scrambling, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As we made our way higher up the landscape, the track rose above the trees and on one side of us, we could see the Coromandel ranges… On the other, we could see the ocean stretching out as far as the eye could see to meet the bright blue horizon. The evening had cooled off from the scorching hot day and there wasn’t a breath of wind, although the mutated shapes of the trees suggested that wasn’t generally the case. We had been so lucky to score such a stellar evening.

At the top, perched on slanted rocks that had been carved by the elements, I had a 360 degree view of my surrounds. Words couldn’t describe just how stunning it was. It took my breath away. It was at this point that I announced to my companions that I would rise from bed at 5am the next morning to scale the steps and ladders again to watch the sunrise from this very spot. I knew if it was a clear morning, it would be stunning. They all politely declined my invite (unsure as to why…). We then made our way back down to the hut for a pretty grandiose feed, including some supplejack shoots that I had picked on our way there and boiled up to have with our meal (just like bush asparagus!)… I was surprised at just how good it was!
That night, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Probably partly because I was terrified my alarm would wake up the entire hut and partly also because I was so excited about my impending sunrise sojourn. I could see the stars in the night sky out the window and I knew that it was going to be a super clear morning, perfect for a beautiful sunrise over the sea.

I bounced out of bed at 5am, switching off my alarm before it barely even had the opportunity to go off, threw on my clothes which I had neatly laid out the night before to cause the least disturbance to my roomies, then sifted out the door into the cool morning air. It had been a while since I had immersed myself in an early morning experience like this and I realised at the moment how much I truly missed it. The moon was so bright it bathed the path to the top in a faint glow. I was full of energy as I bounded up the steps, stopping along the way to inhale the atmosphere around me and feast my eyes upon the array of colours that began seeping over the horizon with the dawn of the new day.

The sign at the bottom of the summit walk tells us it takes 50 minutes to get to the summit. I’m pretty sure I was up there in less than half an hour, and in plenty of time to watch the first rays of sun peek over the ocean on the horizon, caressing the landscape with a warm glow and lighting up the rock formations like someone had switched on a giant orange spotlight and pointed it in my direction. The silhouette of the rocks stood defiantly in the way of this stunning display, carving shapes in the morning sunlight and reflecting a brilliant red glow back onto my face. An inversion cloud rested amongst the valleys and began rising as the heat from the sun warmed the air. I would nearly go as far as to say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.

I don’t know how long I sat up there, but I loved every minute of it. I loved being immersed in that experience, and in that environment. I remember wishing that Lisa was there to share it with. Clambering all over the rocks and watching the sunrise. As I descended towards the hut for breakfast, the cloud rolled in and closed the sky above me. When I arrived back, everyone was still asleep. I made some breakfast and a cuppa and read a book while people meandered into the kitchen in their half-awake state, remarking on how it was cloudy and they wouldn’t see anything on the summit that morning.

It blows me away that people miss opportunities like that. Everyone seems to think I am crazy for being up at 5am to greet the day… I would argue that if you are going to be out in the middle of this beautiful place anyway, why not make that small effort to see something that you may never witness again in your entire life? I doubt that I am the crazy one here (although I know many who would beg to differ).

We had a cruisy morning at the hut and then made our way back down towards the car, taking a longer route to return than we used to get to the hut the previous afternoon. The track on the way down was much different to the track we had climbed up. Not as well-worn, and it was obvious from the huge ruts and clay surface that the trail would be carnage in the rain. I spent a lot of time meandering along with Sarah. She’s one of my best buddies and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. It was lovely to catch up. We finished off the day with a dip in the waterhole (well, my legs took a dip… my body decided it wouldn’t subject itself to the cold on this occasion!)

What a gorgeous corner of the planet we reside in… And when you think you have seen the most amazing things, you are shown something to surpass it. Yet another reminder that to truly commit to the adventure in which you are partaking is where you will reap the finest rewards.

Excuses, Excuses!!!

OK, so I know what you’re thinking right now… “It’s been far too long since Megan entertained us with her witty brand of candid adventure story-telling”, and I feel your pain… I’ve missed it too.
It hasn’t been for lack of stories to tell… Actually, quite the opposite. In the last three months, I have climbed Mount Ruapehu one last time for the Winter, found myself a lovely young lady to share my adventures with (hi Lisa!!!), narrowly avoided been struck by lightning, raced a 24 hour solo world championship, participated in a Land Search and Rescue SAREX weekend, raced and won the Taniwha for the second year in a row, raced the Huka Challenge in Taupo, raced and won the Round Rangihoua 4 hour on Waiheke island, hosted numerous cycle tourists at my house, camped and rock climbed in Kawakawa Bay for a weekend and spent an inordinate amount of time playing in my backyard that is the Whaka forest. In fact, in the last week alone, I hiked to the Pinnacles, climbed Mount Tarawera and did a 3 day cycle tour around the Coromandel… Then to top it all off, I am spending new years eve camped out on the summit plateau of Mount Ruapehu…

Yep, it’s been full-on, but it’s pretty damn rude of me that I have kept these adventures to myself and not shared them with those of you who seem to live my crazy lifestyle in relative safety vicariously through my blog. There is no real excuse, but there has, in all honesty, being a genuine blockage in the way, and that is the processing of my experience at 24 hour solo world championships this year. I like to write with positive energy and foresight and after writing and rewriting about my experience numerous times, I still haven’t felt that I could do that yet… For some reason, I have come to the conclusion in my head that I simply can’t write about anything until I have written about world champs… Because world champs is THE most important thing. What absolute bullshit… So I guess I have taken the first step here in realising that there are, in fact, other way cool things going on in my life that it doesn’t need to be controlled by a single race.

The second part of that is that over the next few weeks, I’m going to bombard you with some musings on some amazing adventures accompanied by some even more amazing photos, which will hopefully then allow my brain some space to do the third…

Write about world champs… And you will, my dear friends, hear about that when I am damn well ready for it… In the meantime, enjoy the adventures you have in front of you!