Monday, January 3, 2011

2011/01/03 Success ! Around Ruapehu in a day .

I'm told it's a 67km walk . It's rated as a 4-6 day walk but the first time I tried to do it in 3 days I failed . A 25 kg pack and not drinking enough water left me pulling out at the Turoa road with a sore knee . During that trip I met two people trying to do the "Round the mountain 24 hour challenge" and decided to try it myself . That attempt ended in disaster . That was 8 months ago and I've been preparing for "round two" ever since . Ruapehu has won too many times for my liking and I was determined to finish it this time . Sunday morning I was sitting thinking about it after two botched attempts a week ago and decided that I have to do it . I said to everyone I saw that morning " Tell me I can go around Ruapehu in 15 hours !" - after enough people had said it I knew I had to do it.

This time I decided that since both previous attempts had involved pulling out at the Turoa road I would go counter-clockwise for a change - this would serve several purposes :
1.) I would have that psychological obstacle out of my way early .
2.) I would be walking mostly downhill in much of the desert area and soft sand .
3.) Crossing that road early would mean I would have no escape route and would have to finish it .

Unfortunately my compact camera failed the day before and I had no camera with me so will have to dig out some of my older pictures.
The evening before I stayed in my car at the doc campground - there was a road pointing to Ruapehu and I walked up and down it several times and before heading off to sleep took one final look at Ruapehu and said " I'm back and this time I will not fail  " .

That night was unusually warm - the first time I haven't been able to fully cover myself with the sleeping bag due to heat , rather strange for Ruapehu . I set the alarm for 4:30 am but woke up at 4:00 am and couldn't go back to sleep so decided it was a good time to start . I drove up to Whakapapa , parked my car and started walking up the 4.5 km of road at 4:20 am . It was a clear starry sky and bright enough to walk without a torch . At 5:00 am I reached the beginning of the track . The sign stated " Mangaturuturu hut 6 1/2 hours " - that took me 3 hours 5 minutes and I was at the hut at 8:05 am . I ran out of water one hour before the hut - my hydration pack was supposedly 3 litres ? On the way there I was already feeling uncomfortably warm at 6:00 am though I was in the shade . I got talking to someone there and ended up having 18 minutes rest instead of my planned 15 minutes . This was the hut where my last attempt ended when I went the other way around the mountain . It was also the hut where there was no water in the tank and I ended up drinking bad river water and getting sick . Even though there was water in the tank this time I still added a water purification tablet "just in case" .
The sign mentioned "Mangaheuhu hut 5 1/2 hours" and I managed to reach it at 11:00 am but had to stop and splash water on myself at the rivers a few times because the heat was getting  a bit much - I had only been going 7 hours and was already tiring due to the heat - and I hadn't reached the desert yet.

From here it is a supposed 6 hour walk to Rangipo hut which I can usually do in 2 3/4 hours but it took me 3 hours this time . There is a large valley to cross and no vegetation because it is New Zealand's only desert area .
The sun was getting to me and I ended up dipping my shirt in a river and wrapping it around my head to try and cool myself down - down in the lower areas of the valleys there was no wind movement , sun right above me , and keeping my face down to avoid the sun meant feeling the heat coming up from the ground and rocks of the desert . 3 times I almost fainted due to the heat and adjusted my walking pace to prevent it - which is probably where I lost that 15 minutes .
I hadn't even reached the halfway mark and was already drained from the heat - it wasn't looking good at all . My watch has a thermometer that basically tells me the temperature of my wrist if I have it on . I checked that and at one stage my arm was at 40 degrees celsius .
At Rangipo hut I knew I had passed the halfway mark and just had to keep walking for another 7 hours to finish .
This is an older image - it was very bright sunlight when I got there .

After 15 minutes of rest again I headed for the Waihohonu hut [now a brand new hut that I've never seen before ] , rated at 5 1/2 hours it took me 3 hours - still 15 minutes worse than my previous time though there was the occasional warm breeze that almost made me feel better. In the desert area there are one or two large rivers but much lower down from the track and too much effort to reach . You do cross a few dry river beds and the occasional annoying rocky river bed where you can hear the ice cold snow-melt water gurgling away out of sight and reach .
I had decided that I would give an extra amount of concentration to where I step to avoid twisting my ankle like I did three times on the last attempt and fortunately there were only 2 or 3 close encounters but no actual injuries which is probably what got me through .

By this time my hands were swollen to 1 1/2 times their normal size for some reason , my face was badly burned [ I had some sun-block on but not on my forehead to prevent it getting in my eyes ] and my feet were starting to feel blisters underneath though I think in general I was in pretty good condition .
Since I was generally going down-hill there were a few places I managed to run to make up for lost time .
I must have reached the hut at around 5:10 pm and decided to give myself a longer rest for the final home stretch . I had given up trying to do it in 15 hours and just wanted to finish in less than 24 hours for once .
There was a little high cloud by now but I would be walking back directly into the sun.
There were quite a few people at the hut and all asked if I was ok so maybe I didn't look too good . I lay down for a while , walked around a bit , sat outside and started psyching myself up . It was a good thing there was no escape route and I knew that if I stayed there the night I would feel terrible in the morning . After half an hour my hands were tingling like crazy and the swelling had gone down .
I had spent the day eating energy bars , energy gels , and these strange energy bars that tasted like 3 day old camel poo mixed with custard powder - not exactly the same but very similar .
I was exhausted but determined to succeed this time - I kept dropping things and the people were trying to convince me to stay the night but I told them that Ruapehu has beaten me enough times , I've planned for it for 8 months and I will finish what I started finally.
I think the problem was that I rested for too long and gave my body time to go into shock . It is a very modern hut and the warden brought me some ice cubes to put into my hydration pack to cool the lukewarm water . Once I got my pack back on and convinced myself that I was going to finish I told them I was heading off . The warden told me "It's another 5 hours" and I told her "I'll do it in 3 " . Then one guy said to me "You're very brave " and I said to him " My mother always told me there's a difference between 'brave' and 'stupid' , I don't think she would call me brave " .
I suddenly felt energetic and started running back - that only lasted about 2 minutes though . It took me exactly 3 hours to get back and I was at my car at 20:45 pm - 16 hours and 25 minutes since starting.
I looked up at Ruapehu and said "See , I respect you but I don't fear you" . 

I still wasn't sure where I would be sleeping and decided to allow myself a little luxury - I drove to a lodge and booked in for the night - because I couldn't stand straight one of the staff members told me I was showing all the symptoms of  heat exhaustion - the swelling in my hands had gone down once again and they were tingling and shaking . They brought  me some food and water and suggested I drink some coke to help my sugar levels - somehow the food managed to stay down .
I never got much sleep that night , it felt like I had heartburn and it didn't feel like my food was going to stay down though fortunately it did .
It's got to rate as one of the best days of my life I suppose , almost as good as the day I smashed my work van into the side of a bus and had to be cut out by the fire department !


  1. I hope you are feeling better my friend ! Oscar

  2. It's less than 24 hours since I finished . The pharmacy has given me some electrolytes to help me recover and my shins are hurting like crazy . I'll probably be ok in a few days :)

  3. Tendon on left shin took 10 days to heal , 5 days to recover from heat exhaustion . Next attempt perhaps sleeping on top of Ruapehu in a snow trench .

  4. Wow thats some adventure :D altho i must say driving your van into a bus doesnt seem like a good idea to me lol

  5. That's a close call! I guess it's not left hand drive otherwise your legs may have been in another condition... Bernadette.

  6. Ok.....I hope now that to have a better half that you'll be a bit more careful hey !!!

    stay well for now ron