Respecting the Maunga

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The Manawatu Standard has commented on DOC’s plans for the Tongariro National park this summer…(PDF)

First up, Stuff.co.nz, it’s not a two hour plod and that comment itself is disrespectful: it’s a proper climb in an environment that is nor forgiving. Mt Ngauruhoe deserves respect for that alone.

Secondly, referring to Mt Ngauruhoe as Mt Doom is equally disrespectful; more so when the request not to use this reference is a specific part of this summer’s campaign.

Thirdly, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is not a “…20-kilometre journey along one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks...” The TAC is not actually one of the nine Great Walks at all, although it shares part of the trail with the Tongariro Northern Circuit – which is one of the nine Great Walks.

I mean, really…? Did you even think about this before publishing it…? Even after the scorchings you have had for similar errors in the past..?

Mt Ngauruhoe, as with the two other summits, should be respected for its cultural significance. Some days it looks like an ant’s nest with unprepared visitors swarming over the north face. Just because they aren’t man-made structures (like pick a famous church) goes not mean they are worthy of any less respect.

People will still climb them – that genie is long out of the bottle – and the challenge now is to shape their behaviour towards one of greater respect. Being safe is part of that respectful behaviour: there is a risk in placing rangers to discourage visitors from the most popular route up the north face. This is an action that DOC specifically stated it would not take at the public meeting on this issue in Whakapapa two weeks ago.

That risk is that, by discouraging people from the most popular and safest route up the lave ridge on the north face, DOC will be encouraging them to select other routes. These other routes won’t be, for the average visitor, as safe as the north face route. In addition, the concentration of most climbers on the north face means that the very clear start point for search and rescue operations on Mt Ngauruhoe may no longer exist and that visitors in distress may be on any one of a number of less safe alternative routes.

Concentrating visitors on to one route or area also minimise the visitor impact on other areas of each mountain. That impact is not just the literal impact of pairs of feet, but of human waste (ewwww), rubbish, lost gear, and walking poles (each pole is like another foot striking the delicate volcanic surface).

The situation is aggravated by publications like Wilderness Magazine advocating alternative routes without differentiating them by risk or difficulty level, or information centres, with the best of intentions but perhaps not the best knowledge, recommending routes based on what’s looks OK on a map, or second-hand invalidated information from other visitors.

In a perfect work, we could all sit back and enjoy Tongariro and Ngauruhoe from afar, respecting their significance to local communities. But we’ve over-hyped and -marketed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for decades – and all involved need to share responsibility for this. We need to look to the future though – leave the past behind – and consider how we ALL can best play our “…guardian role in protecting not only Tongariro and his peaks, but also the safety and wellbeing of visitors to the region…?

This will only work if we do this together…

…to sow the seed of visitor expectation as soon as there is the faintest glow in the light bulb of “Let’s go Tongariro

…to must be consistent on our messaging and at time put aside, direct personal benefit…

…to make visitors feel welcome and safe…and informed…

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#westisbest

MHAW Photo-a-day Challenge – Oct. 12 – Creature

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Token creature…first one I saw in the image archives…

Been a long but satisfying day…

Louie and Kala went for their first ride sharing the back of the truck together with no major arguments – OK it was just to Lower Raurimu and back – so that’s an important milestone out of the way…

Picked up an old deck chair to restore – hence the visit to Lower Raurimu…

Learned how to make onion rings on an industrial scale…

Was a creature of habit in opting for fish’n’chips for dinner when i had the whole menu to choose from and there are still things I haven’t tried yet…

Was reminded not to pass up the opportunity off a meal when it’s quiet because quiet may not last…

Enjoying this hospitality gig…great to be busy and learning again…

…and there goes the (old) neighbourhood…

Very disappointed to see this poor reporting in the ODT “Clamp deadline for Tongariro hikers“:

1. “Hikers will have only four hours to do the 19km trail” Wrong! The 4 hour time limit for parking is to allow visitor to the park to do some of the shorter walks from Mangatepopo car park. In addition, any intimation that the Crossing is doable in 4 hours is simply irresponsible – yes, I saw the note about the normal times – first responders up here do enough rescues of people who can’t get their timing right already.

2. “Hikers can alternatively park at the Mangatepopo car park and then pay for a shuttle to the start” Mangatepopo IS the start of the Alpine Crossing.

3. “…at a cost of $30 per adult and $25 per child….” Where did these figures come from? The cost per adult ranges from $25-40; children less than 10-12 years old are not encouraged on the Crossing and so many operators do not have child prices. At a guess, this ‘reporter’ has only looked at one site and concluded they didn’t need to look further.

While this initiative is years overdue, it would have been more effective if DOC had not waited until only a couple of weeks before Labour Weekend, the typical start of summer walking, the weather notwithstanding, when many operators have already printed their brochures and accepted advanced bookings.

Visitors are encouraged to catch the buses that will be running from National Park Village every day that the weather permits.

Visitors are also asked to consider starting later in the day to avoid the traditional bubble of people that start the walk between 6 and 9AM. When the weather is good, the Crossing can be started at midday and completed by 8PM with a couple of hours of daylight left (take a torch in case you miscalculate) and if you have made arrangements to be picked up from the finish at Ketetahi.

#westisbest #getthebus #gettheapp  http://www.tongariroalpinecrossingapp.com/

The Challenge

Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand is 9-15 October this year. Each year, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand runs and sponsors a number of awareness activities.

The MHAW Photo Challenge runs from 1-15 October  Each day participants post an image that is their take on that day’s theme:

Oct. 1 – My view
Oct. 2 – Gratitude
Oct. 3 – Light
Oct. 4 – Water
Oct. 5 – Small treasures
Oct. 6 – Nature indoors
Oct. 7 – Bush walk
Oct. 8 – Art
Oct. 9 – Pop of colour
Oct. 10 – MHAW Lockout
Oct. 11 – Papatūānuku (Mother Earth)
Oct. 12 – Creature
Oct. 13 – Spring
Oct. 14 – Love my backyard
Oct. 15 – Nature is key to…

#MHAWNZ

Better than the beach…

As we near the end of the 2017 snow season, I took the opportunity for one last run on the free bus that has run from National Park Village to Whakapapa skifield this season.

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Signage is still non-existent: even with the special restrictions on signage in the Village, this is a little too minimalist. There was no indication where to go from SH4, and no sign that this was the right place to be for the bus – nice coffee and cake inside while waiting for the bus though…

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The car park still needs work. Even for a transport ‘experiment’, this is pretty rough – at least it’s not still covered in ice.

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The bus was a nice new 22-seater with rear bins for skis, poles and boards which otherwise might become hazardous inside – people have to be encouraged to use them though, otherwise it defeats the purpose.

It’s about a 20 minute drive from National Park Village up to the ski field – sit on the right side of the bus for great views of Ruapehu. One of the best things about catching the bus is that it drops you right at the top of the road and you don’t have to worry a. about navigating up from the car parks, b. getting skittled while navigating up from the car parks, or c. finding the car parks have filled and the road has been closed after you’ve departed National Park Village in the car.

Get the bus!should have been the RAL mantra this season. I’m not sold on the idea of the free (with caveats) bus although I’m most happy to use it while it’s there. It’s not clear what RAL was trying to achieve with this experiment when there is already an existing solid transport infrastructure  on the western side of the Mountain. If the problem it sought to address was inexperienced drivers on the approach roads, then reducing the number of car parks at the Top of the Bruce and allowing the existing transport operators to carry the load (literally) would have mitigated this hazard, especially if coupled with an effective information campaign.

Enough with the logistics though…a glorious bluebird day…and not too busy on a Friday, although everybody was bracing for a big weekend…!

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Lorenz cafe and Vertical Retail front, ticket sales and lost and found (more on this later!) on the right. getting a ticket was fast and painless – the big screens over each counter display most of the information you need…

The first lift up to Knoll Ridge cafe goes from the left of the shop/cafe building…an easy walk in the snow…regardless of the day, though, be warm for the lift…

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Looking back at the top of the first (Rangatira) lift…

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…and walking towards the Waterfall Express lift for the final leg up to Knoll Ridge…

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There’s a short slope from the top of the Waterfall Express down to Knoll Ridge cafe…this needs a little care if it’s icy and also being aware of skiers and boarders around you in various states of control…

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Coffee!! Yes!! And, contrary to much of the social media cry-babying, prices are reasonable…in fact, no much different from those at the Station cafe while I was waiting for the bus…

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Just plant a chair in the snow and enjoy the view north…

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…and over my right shoulder…I think I dropped my lift pass when I paid for my coffee – you don’t need one to get back down but you do need one for the bus home to stay free – no drama, the young lady at the counter just smiled and handed me another: I am probably neither the first nor the last…

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Starting back down on the Waterfall Express – an image cleverly cropped to eliminate the fingers that filled most of the frame: I may have been a little worried about dropping my phone…I could happily have stayed another hour but I had a mission to complete before heading home…

A fried had been skiing with a mate a few days earlier…”post-ski beers” had prevented her mate clearing his gear from his locker in Happy Valley…could I please see if I could recover it for him? Armed only with my wits and what might have been the locker number (it wasn’t), I set off…

Happy Valley is the big success story from the Whakapapa 2017 snow season. The beneficiary of a multi-million dollar investment, it was able to open a month earlier than the tradition first week of July (and that usually with crappy rock-studded snow). The enabler for this early opening was a new-tech snow-maker that’s able to operate effectively in temperatures up to 24 degrees C. Thus not only was snow guaranteed for Queen’s Birthday Weekend, it was guaranteed to be rock-free…

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Looking down into Happy Valley from the plaza area in front of Lorenz’ and Vertical…the new elevators on the left and a far sharper means of ingress and egress; rentals at the base on the left and the revitalised Bistro cafe on the right; in the left distance is one of the new magic carpets to bring punters back up to the top of the Valley, on the right is the old chair lift that will hopefully disappear over summer.

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The top ends of two of the carpets…very smooth, very slick…

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…looking back up the elevator tower…

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…and the outside dining area in front of the Bistro…

So…my mission…onwards…actually it was pretty simple. I explained my challenge to the nice staff at the rentals counter in Happy Valley – again, not the first time they’ve managed this issue – once they were satisfied with my bona fides, senior staff member bypassed the locking mechanism to open what we had determined was the actually locker in question. I was soon in possession (thankfully temporary) of a Hunting and Fishing top, and some stinky sox and runners…

Getting the bus back to National Park is a little more complex than getting to Whakapapa…there aren’t any more signs but the staff are really helpful and make sure everyone knows which bus to aim for…

The Transit bus back to National Park was packed, not even standing room only. With the weight of skis, boards, boots, etc on a busy day, I wonder how close they get to overloaded..? I also wasn’t too fussed about the number of people carrying their ski/boarding gear on the bus with them: untidy in the event of an accident…

Strangely after all the hype about needing a valid pass for the day for the return bus to be free, there were no checks at the ski field or the transit stop in Whakapapa Village. I’d heard that this was the case with some drivers and I wonder why a ticket check is a. hard and b. how much this added to the total loss generated by this season’s ‘free’ transport experiment…?

As days go, my day on the mountain was great…blue skies, no wind, good coffee and awesome views… #betterthanthebeach

(…in fact, so much better than the beach, I’m seriously considering a an early season ticket for 2018…at the current early bird price, it would pay for itself just coffeeing @ Knoll Ridge…)

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Winter Office 2018..?

 

 

Alpine guide frustrated at casual attitudes – Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Truly awesome to see that the national media have picked up this story…the full text of Andrea’s story can be seen here with the current safety messages for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in winter here

We need to see more of the guiding community telling their stories and sharing their experiences on the Alpine Crossing as part of educating visitors to the Tongariro district.

Year-round this is a beautiful place, one of the only areas in New Zealand that you can explore an active volcanic, but it is always a place to be respected. Respected for its cultural heritage and because it is unforgiving towards to the unprepared, ill-informed and complacent…

One of the best sources of current information on the Crossing is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing app that was released this year…available in the Google Playstore and iTunes…is your life, and the lives of your family and friends worth a small fee…? We would hope so…

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Get the app…

This pic is, of course of the Crossing in summer. In winter, this is what you will encounter:adrift fb winter 4.jpg

Know Before You Go

If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go

or

Go With A Guide

Field observations TAC 26/8/2017

Yesterday afternoon, I received this email from a  good friend who is an experienced guide in Tongariro National Park. The initial target audience was the visitor information centres around the Central Plateau – that audience has now grown…

To whom it may concern,

I am an alpine guide, currently working on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is my fourth season on the TAC. My primary duty of care is to the safety and well-being of the clients on my trip, however I am often asked by freedom walkers for information and advice. Far too many people recreating in Tongariro National Park are uninformed about the hazards on the TAC and are unprepared for the conditions they will encounter. In some cases, people are putting themselves in harms way or endangering those around them and I feel obliged to intervene. This is actually quite common, but most of us guiding in Tongariro see that we act as kaitiake for the people and the land and don’t hesitate to offer assistance. This is an ongoing problem and the number of people putting themselves in danger increases exponentially each season. This is a problem that many people involved in tourism, recreation, and the outdoors community in Central Ruapehu are well aware of.

I would like to make it clear that I am not against freedom walking the TAC in winter, but that I am against trail users getting bad advice or no advice, going unprepared, and exposing themselves to unnecessary risks.

I am writing this letter because of what I saw while I was guiding on the TAC on Saturday, 26 August 2017. The number of people walking the track in completely inappropriate gear with no clue and no humility was SHOCKING. People dressed only in sneakers and blue jeans, without rain jackets or warm hats and gloves. There was a much higher than average number of freedom walkers on the track that day. At a guess, I would say that there were a few hundred. Tongariro Expeditions were operating their transport only service that day, as well as a large number of groups both large and small providing their own transport.

It is my opinion that when transport only services operate in winter, the public is watching. They see “no risk” when in reality there exists a “low risk”. Understanding that difference is critical. It is also imperative that people understand the difference between a forecast and a guarantee. Weather in New Zealand mountains is unpredictable and rapidly changeable. I believe that the greatest danger to people on this day was the weather, and the perceived risk.

The forecast on Saturday 26 August 2017, according to Metservice, called for fine conditions and light winds. On paper, truly a beautiful day! My observations on track told a very different story. The lenticular clouds capping Ngauruhoe meant winds were much stronger than the 15km/h in the forecast for the Red Crater. Metvuw charts showed rain to the northwest of Tongariro, so I knew that those stronger than forecast winds would also bring clouds. In spite of the forecast I could see that we were in for a cold day, with no sun, strong winds, and white-out conditions. Which is exactly what we got. The Red Crater was being hit by 50km/h winds and the wind chill was hovering around -8. Cloud in the Central Crater caused poor visibility, fluctuating between 50 meters and 500 meters of visibility. These are challenging and hazardous conditions.

One unprepared (cold and scared) freedom walker was rescued (from Shelter Rock) by other hikers on their descent from the summit of the TAC and given extra gear and guidance back to the start of the track (Mangatepopo Car Park).  People were observed walking on cornices on the Red Crater, walking out onto the ice on the Emerald Lakes, onto the ice on the Blue Lake, and were advised of the dangers they were putting themselves into. Many people without proper attire continued to walk into worsening conditions in spite of warnings from myself, other guides, and members of a local tramping club.

Waikato Tramping Club was on their annual winter Tongariro trek and spent lot of time and energy trying to warn people of the risks involved in trekking in alpine conditions without proper gear or know-how. They attempted to turn around many people on this day that were unaware of the danger they were putting themselves in and unaware of the hazards on the TAC. I have reached out to the club and encouraged them to write a letter with their observations.

I am passionate about the outdoors. I love Tongariro. I love creating safe experiences that are fun and memorable. If I can, I want to help more people come home safe and happy after a day in our mountains. I am reaching out to your organisation with my field observations because I believe that we are allies in this goal. I have provided below descriptions of the hazards, risks and consequences that are common on the TAC in winter, as well as the MetService forecast for the day. I personally observed people exposing themselves to each of the hazards below on this day. It is my sincere hope that this letter is useful in some way.

Thank you for your consideration,


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Below is a list of some hazards that exist on the TAC in winter. I have omitted to speak about avalanche hazards, as the Backcountry Avalanche Advisory does an excellent job of detailing the risks and hazards on a daily basis.

Walking on cornices

-large cornices exist around the rim and summit of the Red Crater. There are many others throughout the TAC but these are the cornices that are easiest to walk onto without realizing what you’re doing

-the risk is that by walking onto a cornice you will cause it to break and you will fall

-the consequences of breaking a cornice are VERY HIGH and potentially life-threatening, as you would fall 50+ meters and likely be buried in snow from the falling debris

Walking on the ice covering the Emerald Lakes

-the lakes are not well frozen and are currently thawing, so the risk of breaking the ice and falling into the lakes is VERY HIGH

-consequences of of falling through the ice into the lake are SERIOUS and potentially life-threatening, as both drowning and hypothermia are likely outcomes

Walking on the ice covering the Blue Lake

-the risk posed by walking on the Blue Lake is precisely the same as the Emerald Lakes, but the consequences are higher, as the size and depth of the lake would pose much larger problems for rescue

Not having the appropriate gear

-sunglasses, warm hats and gloves, boots, rain jackets, and intelligent layers are a must in an unpredictable alpine environment such as the TAC. To venture out unprepared is to risk frostbite or hypothermia, or in the case of not having sunglasses you are risking snowblindness

Not having the appropriate equipment

-at the very least it is necessary to carry a topographic map and compass (and know how to use them), the risk is that you will get lost. Poor visibility and featureless snow-fields (such as the Central and South Crater) create navigational challenges. Additionally, the summer track is generally considered unsafe in common winter conditions and an alternate track exists, many people aren’t even aware that they may encounter more than one track and this creates confusion

-often it is necessary to carry (and know how to use) crampons, ice-axe, and helmet. Without this gear you risk sliding down steep and long icy surfaces. Sliding can carry high consequences.

The feelings expressed here are shared by many of us who live up here: as much as we want people to come here and enjoy this wonderful location, we want them to do it safely.

Many of our visitors – and not just the international ones – don’t have any frame of reference for the hazards of an alpine environment…the closest many of them will get is watching Cliffhanger or Everest in FullHD with the woodburner fully cranked up…

Know Before You Go

If You Don’t Know, Don’t Go…

…Or Go With A Guide

 

Know Before you go; if you don’t know, don’t go…

‘Tis the season…for inexperienced (in New Zealand conditions) and poorly-prepared trampers to ‘walk’ the Tongariro Alpine Crossing…and every year Police and volunteer rescue teams put themselves at risk to rescue these wallies

Last week, this brochure was released to get the message to national and international visitors to Tongariro National Park. That message is really quite simple:

Know before you go:

Know the weather AND ground conditions

Know what to do in alpine conditions

Know what to do in avalanche terrain

Know what to do when the plan goes wrong

If you don’t know: don’t go – or go with a guide…

 

Tongariro Alpine Crossing_winter 1Tongariro Alpine Crossing winter 2

A lot of the information online and offered by staff in the hospitality line is well-intentioned but ill-informed. Many people, especially those off the mountain or not ‘mountain’ people, do not understand the hazards of the Crossing in winter, or during bad weather. Many think it is just a case of ‘giving it a go‘, of ‘going harder‘, or just ‘will-powering’ themselves over the snow and ice. Others think that it is more important to promote ‘tourism’ at all costs…

“…the trampers were lucky to escape with their lives…”

“…not sticking together caused the group to inadvertently separate…”

“…All their clothing was wet…they didn’t have it in waterproof packing…”

“…they didn’t call for help until it was very dark and one tramper was unable to walk…”

We don’t say these things, we don’t make the Crossing sound dangerous to scare visitors off, to try to keep the place for ourselves, to discourage commercial operations in the Park.

We say this because we want visitors to come here, enjoy themselves and leave safely.

We say this because we don’t want our people putting their lives on the line for rescues that are unnecessary; being dragged from their beds or jobs at all hours because of good intentions and poor information…

Don’t become a statistic

Know before you go

If you don’t know, don’t go

…or go with a guide…

 

Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study

Last day of July, three and a half hours til August (at the time I started typing) and I realise I haven’t written anything all month…

DJI Phantom

Unmanned aircraft is a subject that I thought I had moved on from but this report popped up in my inbox this evening…only a couple of days after I spoke with a couple of clowns flying a large drone over the Chateau Golf Course in Whakapapa Village. They pleaded ignorance of both National Park and Civil Aviation Agency legislation relating to flying drones in or over the Park but really? You don’t buy and operate a big drone like that without knowing the law.

That law is quite simple:

It is illegal to land, take-off or hover an aircraft in, from or over Tongariro National Park. A drone (of any class or size) is regarded as an aircraft. Any exceptions must have prior formal written approval from the Department of Conservation.

The land-owner’s prior permission is required before a drone can be flown over private land; or the permission from the mandated controlling authority for public land e.g. the local council or, for the Park, the Department of Conservation.

 In addition, rescue helicopters can and do enter the Park at any time of day or night, from any direction. Even on a clear day, the setting sun can obscure vision to such an extent that a pilot may not see a drone in time to avoid it.

airfield 4km

CAA Rules also prohibit the operation of drones within 4km of an airfield, that is 4km from the closest boundary of an airfield. For Whakapapa Village, that 4km limit takes you to just above the bridge over the Whakapapanui Stream. It means that you can’t fly your drone:

at Discovery Lodge (which has its own heli-pad in any case) or

at the camp site at Mangahuia, further along SH47 towards National Park Village, or

over Mahuia Rapids just along 47 in the other direction or

on the Tawhai Falls or Mound Walk trails that come off SH48.

Those who say that a small drone wouldn’t do any significant damage to an manned aircraft should read the report that I received this evening. You can find the report, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study, here.

It is sobering reading: even a small (think Toyworld) drone can cause considerable damage to a light aircraft or helicopter, particularly the windscreen and tail rotor. Any components ingested into the engine may also cause unneeded excitement for the pilot and passengers of that manned aircraft.

the bits that hurt

The bits that hurt…

In a way this report is quite gratifying as it supports the work that I did for the Air and Space Interoperability Council and subsequently NATO on the hazards of small unmanned aircraft sharing operational airspace with manned aircraft.

If you own a drone of any sort in New Zealand, you do need to read Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Agency Rules, and the note RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft. You won’t, of course, because you think you have an ultimate right to do whatever you like in the Park…that’s alright…but don’t be surprised if guides or Rangers just snap your pic and send it directly to CAA for action…

You might think it’s great your drone will follow your phone as you rip down the slopes at Whakapapa or Turoa…on a ‘good’ day in winter, there may be a half dozen or more rescue helicopter flights on to the ski fields or around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often in restricted visibility: that’s hard enough without the pilot having to worry about some goon operating their drone illegally.

Similarly, around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, no one wants to be subjected to mosquito-like totally annoying whine of your drone…nor should should pilots have to look out for them as they approach for a rescue – when you’re too dumb to hear the helo coming in and dump your drone…

What we really need are a few good prosecutions to drive this message home BEFORE we have an accident…

Aviation Related Concern

To report an aviation safety or security concern, that may include complaints, or allegations of suspected breaches of civil aviation legislation, call: 0508 4SAFETY (0508 472 338) available office hours (voicemail after hours), or email: isi@caa.govt.nz.

Pictures, video, rego numbers are useful information to back up your complaint and hopefully lead to a successful prosecution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse…

Carry a big stick…

TACAPP

Further on the safety message aspect of this post and the comments, a local crew has just released a new app that comprehensively covers the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Mt Ngauruhoe side trail…yes, you have to pay for it – a whole $2.99 – but it is worth it as both a top reference to the walk and as the one stop shop of what you need to know before you set out…

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.greattrailsoftheworld.tac

The World According to Me...

…or to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt “Tread carefully and carry a big stick“…two concepts directly related to my summit of Mt Ngauruhoe yesterday…

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This is Stick. Stick is a little miffed that it missed out on going up Mt Tongariro last week, but that’s kinda what happens when you hide away in a dark corner of the garage. Stick is way more useful than lightweight aluminium walking poles which are too flimsy to brace your weight against. Stick is also really good as a counter-balance and a brace when descending scree slopes…

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Tuesday and yesterday offered the best weather windows for another go at Ngauruhoe; yesterday had the least wind and Tuesday was off the list when I remembered that I had to speak to a visiting Duke of Edinburgh group from Karamu School. The day opening with a beautifully clear sunset that boded well for the day’s adventure.

Mt Ngauruhoe…

View original post 1,607 more words

If I could…

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On the trail to Oturere Hut

…what would I say to any one venturing into Tongariro National Park for a day walk or an overnighter..? I had been thinking about writing something like this after my Brutal post yesterday but this comment on my Carry a Big Stick post from my last excursion up Mt Ngauruhoe pretty much made the decision for me (thanks, Rob!)…

I would start with the weather. I would say to only check the Metservice forecast for Tongariro National Park. There may be other sites and apps that may tell you want to want to hear but only Metservice has trained meteorologists in the analytical loop. The Metservice forecast for the park is only for five days: three in detail for Whakapapa Village at 1135m and Red Crater at 1868m; the last two days in outline.

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Snow in December

Updates are issued each day around 7-30AM and around midday: each update may be quite different from the forecast it replaces. Do not expect the actual weather to always conform to the letter of the forecast. In the end it is your decision to carry on: if you think the conditions are taking you outside your comfort zone (perhaps too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too slippery i.e. icy, too cloudy, etc) stop and think about what you are doing and review your options…

The weather here is very changeable so sometimes even the five day forecast is subject the swings of extreme: unlike the South Island which has long mountain ranges that keep the weather pattern relatively stable, our weather can not only switch just like that but can also manifest itself as radically different micro-climates in close proximity to each other..a couple of years back, two inches of hail were dumped at Mangatepopo without even darkening the blue skies over Whakapapa Village…

Regardless of the forecast, be prepared for four season in one day: a good thermal layer and a good wind- and rain-proof layer, gloves and beanie but also sun hat, sunglasses and sunblock; good walking shoes or boots – not jandals or heels; enough water, at least 1.5 litres, for the day and enough food for the day: good snacky energy food…

So what if something happens…?

In New Zealand, cell phone coverage generally follows the highways : Tongariro National Park is sandwiched between four highways and enjoys reasonable but NOT PERFECT coverage – a lot may depend on the specific model of phone and your service provider – if you need assistance, for example, you are lost, injured or assisting someone else, dial 111 and ask for Police – in New Zealand, the Police are responsible for all off-road rescues. Even if it is an injury: if you are off the road, ask for the Police!!

Three safety questions

Regardless of whether you are going out for a day or overnight, there are three questions you need to ask yourself:

Does someone I trust know what my detailed plans are? Contrary to some myths, this does not have to be someone in New Zealand. It is better that it is someone you trust at home than some bloke you met the night before in the backpackers.

Does this person know when I will contact them after the walk to say I am OK? Ideally this would be no later than the night you finish the walk. If your trusted person is overseas, be very clear about whose time zone it is that you will contact them.

Does this person know who to call if I do not return? If they are in New Zealand, they should dial 111, ask for police and say that they have  a friend or family member in Tongariro National Park on the XXXX walk, that you did not contact them when expected and that they are unable to contact them. Information that it is good for your trusted person to have ready to pass onto the Police:

Your DOC booking number if you are booked into one of the huts or campsites. If you are just on a day walk, where are you staying that night?

Your car registration number. This allows Police to check cars parked around the Park and also to check to see if you may have left the Park and then been involved in an accident somewhere else.

Your cell number – written out not just as a number in an address book: for when the Police ask for the number.

Your Personal Locator Beacon ID number, if you have one. If you do not, especially if travelling on your own, a PLB can be rented for about $10 from various locations around the Park.

Any medical history you or anyone in your group may have that may affect your ability to complete the walk and/or that may be useful for a search party to know.

It is quite important that your trusted person does not fall into the trap of ‘Oh, I’ll just give it another couple of hours’ or ‘I’m sure they’re OK, I’ll call in the morning‘. If they do not hear from you when they expect to and cannot contact you they should make the call.

If your trusted person does not speak good English, it is a good idea for you or them to write down what they want to say in English so they can just read it out (www.translate.com is your friend)

If you are the trusted person for someone, don’t waste time playing amateur detective trying to find someone. Under New Zealand law, companies and agencies cannot release information on who may be booked with them or not. All you are doing is wasting time – call the Police and let them do this.

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New Zealand is a beautiful place and we all want everyone to come here to enjoy it but…

We don’t close things if they might be unsafe: we rely on visitors to make informed decisions against their own experience and equipment. If in doubt don’t…

Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook or hear in the backpackers about what is or is not doable…

Take responsibility for your safety and that of your friends and family…

Have a Plan B…and C and probably D…

There is no view worth a free helicopter ride…

…it’s not actually free…these cost a lot of money to maintain and operate…

Brutal

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My temporary office/shelter at Soda Springs, about 1200m ASL

A few weeks back, work was pretty slow, so i decided to go for a walk up to Red Crater to check the ground conditions: even though the rest of the country might have been enjoying Spring, Tongariro weather is always changeable  and even now, almost into December, the forecast promises gale force winds and snow to low levels…

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The original forecast for my day in the Park looked quite nice but turned for the worse overnight…I almost gave it a miss but decided to go up to see how many people also decided to ventured into the mess…I’m always interested to learn where our visitors get their information from and what decision process they apply (or perhaps not) when deciding to venture out into the Park when the weather is less than its best.

The first leg up to Soda Springs was quite pleasant, drizzly but not really cold and just a light wind. I made good time as they were only a very few people on the trail – a stark change from the ant farm of a decent weather day…a few hundred metres short of the Springs, there was a distinct temperature gradient and the light drizzle changed into a quite brutal sleet shower: not pleasant at all. It was clearly snowing further up and I didn’t see much point pressing on…

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A guided group preparing to head further up the trail – going with a guide in these conditions adds an extra layer of safety

A group of three that I had passed on my way up stopped for a chat. They had checked the forecast before departing but were unaware that the first morning update comes though about 7-30. The previous forecast had been for nicer weather and improving as the day progressed: the guy leading them had fixated on this improvement and was expecting this ti happen as they worked their way up the Crossing. One of the girls only had a light jacket and was only wearing tight-fitting track pants: it wasn’t hard to see the early signs of hypothermia…dragging feet, slurred speech, diminished motor control…. I suggested that perhaps they might to turn back and get her dried off and warmed up…

I walked back with them to make sure they made it back alright. The guy, Eric, was quite a good bloke and we chatted on that walk back: Chinese he had attended high School in Hamilton and had considered himself reasonably experienced in the New Zealand bush: many weekends he and his fellow boarders had been dispatched  on bush tramps and walks. He was quite annoyed that no one at the lodge they were staying at had warned them about the weather or told them to wait until the morning update before checking the weather.

As we descended towards Mangatepopo car park, and away from tat temperature gradient, the weather warmed up and Eric’s friend improved along the way. Misinformation about conditions and hazards in Tongariro National Park is common. Where information does exist it is more often of a tourism promotion ‘ happy happy joy joy’nature and less of the simple easy to understand bullet points that should be shaping visitor expectations from the time they first consider visiting New Zealand.

All’s well that ends well and Eric and his friends came in the next day to say thank you for the assist.That notwithstanding, there have been some gnarly rescues in this area of the Park, most of of which have been caused by the rescuees aspirations getting a head of their capabilities…

Come visit but be safe…