outfoxed on mt. fox
climbing newzealand2008 travel
One of the last things that Phil suggested I do was this really cool walk up Mt. Fox, near the Fox glacier. Sounded good to me, so he printed off a b&w topo for me, and bade Wendy and him adieu.
A few hours later, I arrived at the Fox glacier village, filled out an intentions form at the Department of Conservation (DOC), and drove back out to the trailhead.
My plan was to walk up Mt. Fox, bivy on the ridge leading up to Mt. Craig, tag Craig in the morning, and then return to the car. Having returned all the stuff Wendy and Phil had lent me and a desire to travel somewhat on the lighter side, I basically had my bivy sack, sleeping bag, food, and camera.
Deliberately, I decided not to bring the one man tent, since it was heavy and bulky, and as I had no stove, only had cold food like canned tuna (and chocolate :).
I quickly blasted up the trailhead and just as quickly, immediately lost the trail. Now for those people who have never walked in New Zealand, let me just say that the trails (well, called “tracks” in their parlance) are not really anything like what we have in the States, and this being a not highly trafficked trail meant that it was more overgrown than normal.
Literally two minutes after starting, I found myself faffing about and writhing around in dense undergrowth. For ten minutes, I thrashed around until I finally found a triangle marking the track.
The poison track.
You see, the Kiwis use plastic orange triangles to mark the track meant for humans, and they use both blue and pink triangles to mark the tracks where they lay out poison traps to kill off the possums and stoats so as to give the native birds a chance to live.
The poison tracks are way bushier than the human tracks, so I knew I was in a bad way. Frustated and feeling stupid,, I finally pulled out the topo, and slapped myself across the face for being so dumb. Don’t cross the river, dummy! D’oh!
Ok, that problem solved, I basically had to fight my way all the way back to the start and tried to keep a better eye on the orange triangles. Returning back to the initial point of confusion, I was … still confused. For the life of me, I really couldn’t find the next happy orange triangle, so I made another guess, and luckily, due to my finely honed mountaineering instinct (or the fact that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while), saw a flash of orange … after more bushwhacking.
Seriously, this track was third class jungleering, at multiple points having to climb straight up 6 and 7 foot high root formations to keep going. I estimate that the majority of this track at 60% or steeper grade.
What would make things better? A game! I started playing a game where I would give myself a point every time I got concerned about getting seriously lost and not being able to find my way either up or down. Well, the point was only scored after experiencing those feelings and then successfully finding the next blessed orange triangle.
At this point in my trip, I was actually back in hiking shape, and was able to actually make decent progress. The guidebook author suggested that it would take 2 hours of “climbing through the beech forest before gaining the ridge” and it took me about 1:45 of writhing up slippery roots, muddy rocks, huge mossy trees, and scoring points, so that’s not too shabby.
Finally, I reached the trig point (a white tower thingy used for surveying), and breathed a sigh of relief. “A ha!” I thought — no more bushwhacking! Yay!
Well, kinda. See, there were these 6 foot high tussock grasses completely growing and reaching across the trail. Normally not a problem, but when a giant cloud is sitting on top of the mountain, and further when one recalls that clouds are made of water and observes the gentle mist condensing on the huge grasses, well, simply walking through the giant grasses means one is going to end up as soaked and wet as if it were actually raining.
So much for the “fine weather” report from the DOC.
I kept at it for about another half K and maybe another 50 vertical metres, and while i found the track to be extremely easygoing, I was completely wet wet wet.
Maybe I shouldn’t have started my endeavour at 4:20 pm. Oopsie.
The astute reader will now deduct that it was 6:30 pm or thereabouts, and darkfall was going to happen at 8:45 or so. It was scheduled to be another hour or so to the Mt. Fox summit, but the huge cloud simply wasn’t lifting.
I was at a decision point — keep on trucking or retreat? The factors for consideration:
all of the clothing I was wearing was wet
my sleeping bag and vest (for warmth) were down
my long pants (dry) were cotton, but I did have a polypro base layer long sleeve top
I had no way to make a fire
no tent, only a bivy sack, which wouldn’t have been so great in a real rain
the descent was going to take at least another two hours, probably longer due to a sore and achy knee
I hate retreating
Two and a half miserable hours later, I was back at the car and reading the LP for hostel recommendations.
Now realize that I like to spin a good yarn, and I like to make myself look and sound kinda bumbly because let’s face it, that kind of writing is much more interesting, but for those of you who might be wondering about my decision making skills, here was how I decided to attempt this walk in the first place:
The DOC projected “fine weather” for several days, and there was a huge high pressure system parked off the west coast; at no time did it actually ever precipitate on the ground
I was actually quite dry in the forest, even though it was somewhat wet and muddy. It wasn’t until walking through the tussock grass clumps near the ridgeline that I got soaked (and the description didn’t really mention anything about the grass)
the cloud buildup on the mountain was actually a common afternoon occurrence and normally lifts in the evenings; this particular cloud sat there for another 36 hours
I was fit (knee notwithstanding), so I knew timewise, I could do it in less than the projected time (total time projected at 8-12 hours for just Mt. Fox; at my pace, it would have been 6 hrs total), and starting off at 4pm or so wasn’t actually that unreasonable