You will be able to follow me in New Zealand on the map below. It will be updated automatically every day around midnight, starting from around the 3rd of january, 2015.
This is my planned route:
You will be able to follow me in New Zealand on the map below. It will be updated automatically every day around midnight, starting from around the 3rd of january, 2015.
This is my planned route:
Just 10 more days and we’re flying out to the opposite side of the globe! High time for a last update, which will focus on the gear I will take to New Zealand.
Every long trip poses its own, specific questions concerning gear, and it has not been different this time. Although my gear list is largely similar to the one for my Greenland expedition in 2013, I’ll make some important changes, mainly in terms of footwear. My total backpack weight (without food and water) will be about 12.4kg for the packrafting sections, and 8.4kg for the 5-week hiking section at the start of the trek. I’ll have a few extra kilo’s (clothes, shoes, trekking poles, camera, …) on my body. You can download my full packing list via this link: Gear list New Zealand 2015.
Let’s start with the backpack. It will be the same old ULA Epic, which I have been using on every single trip over the last 3 years. I’ll have carried it for over 300 days by the time I come back from NZ, but the pack seems almost indestructible and I’m very confident it won’t let me down. I’ll take a 79L Ortlieb PS21 drybag with it. At 439g, it weighs more than the drybags I used previously (the Sea to Summit 65L and the Exped 95L pack liner), but it should be sturdy enough to survive sections through the wild rainforest along the west coast, and large enough to easily store supplies for up to 9 days. My previous bags were either too small or too vulnerable during bushwhacking, so I consider the extra grams to be worth the trade-off.
I’ll use my MLD Cricket Tent again as my shelter for the 60-day solo leg. It combines a Silnylon flysheet with a mesh inner net, which will offer some comfort for reading and trip planning during the evening hours as the sandfly pressure could be pretty high on some parts a the trip. The Cricket Tent is not the very best shelter in high-wind bivouacs, but I will have possibilities to descend deeper into the valley and camp at a sheltered spot almost everywhere during the trip should the weather be too inclement. My sleeping bag will be the Cumulus Panyam 600. It will replace my good old Alpkit Pipedream 600, which has become less warm than it ever was. Sub-zero temperatures are to be expected during high bivouacs under clear conditions, and I don’t want my sleeping bag to be a limitation to camp on the best and highest spots when possible. The Therm-a-rest XTherm, which yields an incredible 5.7 R-values for 420g, will be my mattress again. It is be far the best sleeping pad I have ever had; incredibly light, warm and comfortable at the same time.
The biggest ‘innovation’ compared to my last trips will be my footwear. For all my trips until 2011 I used sturdy mountain boots with a stiff sole. When I finally switched to Inov8 Flyroc 310 trailrunners for my Scandinavia trip in 2012, it was a relief. The trailrunners offered me so much walking comfort, speed and reduced risk of injuries that I easily forgot my mostly soaked feet (I am lucky never to have blisters). The only problem was the durability, both of the sole and the shoe itself. I started my Greenland expedition with brand new shoes, but by the time I reached Nanortalik 25 days of rough terrain later, the profile of the sole was almost gone and you could almost count my toes from the outside. As expect very rough terrain during the last 6 weeks of my upcoming South Island traverse, with many miles on boulders and endless scree, this was not a comforting thought. Furthermore, I expect quite some (steep) snowfields on the passes between Arthur’s Pass and Mount Cook. As I’m not taking crampons, the combination with trailrunners felt a bit unwise.
So after the big leap from mountain boots to trailrunners, I’m now taking a small step back for this NZ trip. I’ll make the traverse with the Millet Trident Guide approach shoes. They are still low and pretty light (985g for a pair according to my measurment; Millet claims 840g), but feel much more durable and have a stiffer Vibram sole, which should last at least 1000km. I’ll reinforce the seams with SeamGrip before the trip.
I’ll not take waterproof SealSkinz or GoreTex socks like I did in Scandinavia and Greenland. My experience is that they are not durable, and invariably start leaking after 5-10 days (or even less for the Sealskinz) when used inside trailrunners on rough terrain. I will have to cross so many streams that I’ll just accept my feet will be wet most of the time.
I’ve never spent a lot of money on clothing and it won’t be different for this trip. Except for my hardshell Rab Latok Alpine jacket and rain pants I am now completely equiped with Decathlon clothing. Even the more expensive Decathlon stuff (which I am using) costs only 30-40% of the brand clothing from which they are cloned. My experience is that they often outperform the clothing of the well-known outdoor brands in terms of durabily. I’ll take a hoodie for the first time, and leave my cap at home. I’ll not take neoprene socks to packraft, but rather just keep my shoes on (assuming they will be wet anyway before I even reach the rivers).
I’ll include an ice axe in my food drop near Arthur’s Pass, which I will send back to my ‘base camp’ in Christchurch again after have crossed the Mount Cook range. The passes I will tackle should be fine without an ice axe even when there’s small snowfields lingering on the steepest bits, but I’ll take one anyway for extra safety.
For cooking I will use my home-made alcohol stove with 0.1mm Aluminum windscreen again, combined with the Alpkit MytiPot. Having a soup and a hot meal (either pasta or freeze-dried), I estimate I’ll need about 35mL of alcohol every day, which I will buy in local drug stores or include in my food drops.
Then there is the electronics-part, which is always a difficult exercise. I’ll take a GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition sports camera for movies during walking and packrafting and for timelapses, together with my Olympus PEN EP-L 3 camera with a 14-150mm lens, UV-filter and polarisation filter, a combi weighing about 600g. I’ll carry both on my breast in a LowePro camera bag, which I can attach to the shoulder straps of my backpack with 2 minibiners. I’ll take my mobile phone as a communication device, MP3-player and voice recorder for my diary.
I cannot take batteries for the entire trip, but don’t want to loose too much time to charge everything seperatly either. So I’ll take all my chargers together with a compact triple socket splitter, which will allow me to charge all my batteries simultaneously when I have electricity at my resupply points – combined with a Euro-NZ adapter. I’ll take 3 batteries for every device to be sure never to run out of power. All the batteries and chargers together will weigh almost half a kilo – it’s the part of my gear list which feels too heavy, but I don’t see a different solution which I’m sure will work and make me feel comfortable.
Finally, the SPOT 2 Satellite Messenger will assure I can make contact with the emergency services should something really bad happen.
This is the first trip in which I count my maps in kilo’s rather than in numbers. It’s almost impossible (and it would cost a fortune) to buy maps for the entire trip. New Zealand has a fantastic online map service on which I have downloaded everything I will need, and printed everything (a total of about 80 1/50000 map sheets and 10 1/250000 overview maps) recto-verso on A3 paper, a cheap and light (‘only’ 1.4kg of maps in total) solution. I’ll include a batch of new maps in my food drops, while sending the used ones back to Christchurch.
And then there is my packraft, which I will pick up after 5 weeks in Erewhon Station. I’m still paddling in my 2011 Yukon Yak, which is equiped with a Cruiser Spraydeck. Together with inflation bag, repair kit, my 4-piece Manta Ray paddle and an inflatable PFD, I’ll carry just under 4kg of packrafting gear across the passes of the Southern Alps.
I’m thrilled to announce I’m currently in full preperation for a new big challenge. I’ll take three months off from work, and travel to New Zealand in mid-december for a thru-hike and -packrafting expedition along the alpine watershed of the South Island through Austral summer.
NZ’s South Island is – together with Patagonia – an obvious choice for a long hiking and packrafting expedition in the Southern Hemisphere. Altough some sections could be a bit more crowded, I’ve picked NZ because of the relative ease to organize practical issues like food drops compared to the sparsely populated expanses of the extreme Southern Andes. I started preparing this trip more than a year ago, and am now meticulously working on the last details.
I’ll write a few posts about my preperations in the coming weeks. The first one will be about my itinerary. Almost all pictures embeded within my text are copyrighted Southern Alps Photography.
My route choice has been a studious and painstaking work again. Rather than following the well-known Te Araroa trail, which cross-cuts the island but mainly remains well east of the watershed, I’ve tried to draw a line from north to south combining daring off-trail sections through the Southern Alps, trodden and well-known DOC walks like the Queen Charlotte Track and the Routeburn Track, sections with some huts and shelters in the damp temperate rainforest west of the watershed, and packrafting sections on lakes and endless braided rivers. The main idea is to pick a route as spectacular and varied as possible, but also balanced enough to allow my body and mind some rest and recuperation on easy sections every now and then – thus bypassing some equally outstanding scenery. Trying to do ‘everything’ – and hiking difficult and long stages day after day without a chance to let things sink in and recuperate – has been the main error I have made while planning very long hikes during the first part of my hiking career. My time schedule is less Spartan than during my Transscandinavia trip in 2012, and should allow me to make some detours or climb a summit or two when the scenery and conditions are inviting.
Overall, this traverse is the most complete trip I have ever planned in terms of terrain variability. I’ll carry an ice axe and a packraft with me at the same time to demonstrate that. The walk will include world-class fjord landscapes, vast open valleys, dense rainforest, and forgotten passes in highly alpine terrain; I’ll paddle on massive braided rivers, through deep canyons, and across large lakes. Although I’ll avoid potentially dangerous sections as much as possible, I will be the one trip in which I will have to combine all my knowledge and expierence, but also the one that should reward me with jaw-dropping scenery almost every single day. I intend to cover almost the entire distance alone, making it by far the longest solo adventure of my life.
Part 1: Preparation, and Ship’s cove to Arthur’s Pass
I’ll travel to NZ together with Elien in mid-december. We will rent a car for three weeks and drive around the island, combining daytrips and a few short hiking and packrafting tours in parts of the island where I will not pass during the walk itself. This will allow us to get rid of our jetlag, and get fitter (it’s hard to train with a full-time job in the short and humid winter days of Northwest Europe). On the road, we will drop 7-10 food drops I will pick up during the walk.
A few days after New Year, we will start our traverse on the well-known and crowded Queen Charlotte Track, one of New Zealand’s so-called ‘Great Walks’. Elien will leave me and fly back to Belgium just before I cross over to the Richmond Range. I will complete the remainder of the trek solo. The Richmond Range includes long ridgewalks, which will become ever more alpine as I approach the real mountains. The Travers Range should offer the first big views of the trip, with alpine passes and the possibility to climb a few nice summits.
After that I’m set for what I expect to be the least interesting week of the trip, mainly through wooded valleys and across the watershed until I reach Arthur’s Pass, where I will have another resupply before climbing higher into the mountains.
This album of thru-hiker Matthias Kodym gives a good idea about the first part of the walk, which follows the Te Araroa trail on many sections. It should take me about 24 days to complete.
Part 2: Arthur’s Pass to Lake Pukaki
I will wave the Te Araroa Trail goodbye near Arthur’s Pass and tackle less trodden trails through the mountains west of the watershed, with a few alpine passes – where I will take my ice axe in case I encounter lingering steep snowfields – and harsh sections through the damp rainforest along cristal clear rivers, in an area which receives about 5000mm of rainfall throughout the year. I guess I’ll be happy there’s quite a few shelters on this part of the walk! I could avoid this ‘bad weather section’ by staying east of the watershed, but I think such a section should be a part of any South Island crossing.
I’ll cross the watershed again at Whitcombe Pass and the landscape will change dramatically, with massive rivers braiding through vast valleys at the eastern foothills of the Southern Alps, now with large glaciers draping almost every major summit. It will be a challenge to find a wading spot across the main tributaries of the Rakaia River before crossing the Jollie Range via Buttlers Saddle (see first half of this album)
I will pick up my packraft at Erewhon station, immediately paddle across the massive Rangitata River, and then make a long and daring 7-day traverse of the Southern outskirts of Mount Cook Range across 4 high passes, all of them entirely off-trail. It will be one of the hardest bits of the entire traverse, but one which should reward me with world-class views. No link here, you’ll see some bits later! I’ll be rewarded with a float down New Zealands most mighty river, the Tasman, and a float across turquoise Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the back. I’ll have been on the trail for about 6 weeks at that point.
Part 3: Lake Pukaki to the Pacific
As the mountains become a bit less alpine further south, I’ll start adding packrafting sections on the rivers (Dobson River, Ahuriri River, Hunter River) to the trip, with hikes high through the Ben Ohau an Barrier Ranges to link them. The scenery should remain stunning throughout (check out another cracking album at the Southern Alps Photography website).
Long flatwater packrafting sections on the Hawea and Wanaka lakes will guide me towards yet another jewel on the crown of South Island’s mountain ranges, the Mount Aspiring Range. It should be yet another outstanding week through sensational scenery, and during which I will allow myself some time to climb a few summit it conditions allow. A long float down Dart River will take me towards the start of the second Great Walk I’ll hike, the Routeburn Track.
Once I’ll reach ‘The Divide’ at the southern terminus of the Routeburn Track, I’ve have about one week to go and things will start winding down towards the end as the mountains get lower during my off-trail crossing of the Livingstone Range. I’ll hike down towards the vast Te Anau lake, where I will inflate my packraft again and paddle almost 150km across the lake, down the Waiau River, and into the Pacific.
I estimate the complete traverse will take me 9 to 10 weeks. The total distance will amount to 1250km, including nearly 300km of packrafting and well over 200km of off-trail hiking on harsh terrain in the Southern Alps. This is – of course – just the plan. Weather and the unexpected will no doubt require me (or allow me) to make changes.
After our splendid days near Heinabergsjökull we travel further east towards the village of Höfn. Our initial plan was to make another 4-day trek in the Lónsöraefi area east of Vatnajökull. But when we check the weather forecast -which predicts another 20-hour rainy episode – we decide to give up this plan. We forget the miserable weather in the thermal swimming pool of the coastal town, and start our way back to Reykjavik the next day.
Our first stop on the way is – once more – the Skaftafell National Park. The weather is better this time. We start climbing towards the Kristinarstindar summit late in the morning. After a long climb (about 1100m of altitude difference), most of it easy but the last bit on steep scree, we arrive on the summit late in the afternoon.
The views from the airy summit ridge are sensational. Massive glaciers stream and tumble down from the Vatnajökull ice sheet and the slopes of the island’s highest mountains, their snouts giving birth to countless braided rivers snaking through the coastal outwash plains towards the Atlantic coast. I stay on the summit almost 6 hours for sunset, while Elien already starts the long descent to the campsite. The sun remains behind clouds for hours, appears again just half an hour before sunset – just as I hoped. The colours and alpenglow are fantastic, it is the best view of the entire trip. I run all the way back down through twighlight.
We make another stop in the coastal town of Vik. The massive cliffs dropping vertically into the sea are almost empty during the days, but in the evening thousands of puffins return from the fishing grounds and skim along the cliffs.
Back in Reykjavik we rent a small car for two days, and make the obligatory tour towards Geysir and Gullfoss in nice weather. We drive towards the Snaefellsnes peninsula in the west for a few short hikes.
Our three weeks in Iceland have come to an end. I will certainly go back, with a packraft!
Our next planned stop after leaving Landmannalaugar is the well-known Skaftafell National Park at the southern edge of Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest ice cap. Skaftafell is a crowded place, with well over 100 tents on the campsite, but the walk up to Kristanarstindar mountain is one we do not want to miss. Unfortunately, the next morning brings more drizzle and very low clouds, and the weather forecast does not look good either. After a short stroll towards the Svartifoss waterfall we decide to travel further east towards Heinabergsjokull, another glacier coming down from the ice sheet.
Although it is located only a few kilometers from the ring road around the island, this is not a well-known spot and we will encounter just 2 other people during the next four days. After another miserable rainy day, which we spend in our tent near the proglacial lake, the weather finally improves and we hike up the Heinabergsdalur valley up to the pass seperating it from Vatnsdalur.
The views up the Heinabergsjökull glacier towards the ice sheet from our bivouac spot on the pass are jaw-dropping. We climb the Geitakinn mountain (725m) in the evening, and while Elien enjoys our first real warm day of the trip near the Trailstar, I hike up the Meingilstindur north of the pass and track a sweet ridge nearly all the way to Meingilsbotn (1299m) the next morning.
The Heinabergsjökull glacier has retreated at amazing speed throughout the last 150 years, with some major jökulhlaupt events. You can read more about it below.
In july I went to Iceland for three weeks with Elien. I have (too) little time to write a full trip report these days, but will post some pictures in a series of three blog entries.
We left for Reykjavik the day after I came back from my rainy IML course in the Jura Mountains. Unfortunately, while Scandinavia enjoyed it’s best summer in many years, the weather in Iceland was dull and rainy; we spend many hours in our tent, and the sun only shines a handful of hours during the first 8 days of our trip.
After arranging our food drops in the cozy capital, we leave for Skógafoss by bus to start our hike all the way towards Landmannalaugar.
In Skógafoss we quickly climb away from the beautiful yet crowded waterfull, and start heading up the slopes of the infamous Eyjafallajökull volcano along a beautiful ravine. We camp at the highest spot we can find before the landscape transforms into a mineral wilderness of snow and ash.
It starts raining heavily during the evening hours, rain which lasts for almost 36 hours. We spend a full day in our spacious Trailstar, and continue hiking the day after. We cross the Fimmvorduhals saddle through fog and drizzle. The weather improves as we descend towards beautiful Porsmork, with massive views through deep gorges, down to braided rivers snaking down to the lowlands, and all the way to the glaciers of Mýrdalsjoküll.
I climb the panoramic Valahnúk hill the next morning, and we explore the beautiful, wooded Slyppugil valley after that before dropping down towards the Prönga river and joining the famous Laugavegur trail.
The first bit of the trail is rather monotonous. We cross a lot of guided groups – this is the most crowded bit of the entire 4-day trail, by far the most reknown and popular on Iceland The next few days we will see about 40-80 people a day. The landscape starts to change dramatically as we reach the Markarfljót canyon, and drop down towards the wild Fremri-Emstrua river soon after, with the Myrdalsjökull as a massive backdrop. We camp in a hidden side valley, and during the evening hours I hike up the slopes of Stóra Mófell for a better view towards the ice sheet.
The Laugavegur is crowded, but it is so for a reason. It is by far the most remarkably varied 4-day walk I have done in the Nordics so far. The next day is a windy walk through lunar ash plains, interlaced by massive glacial rivers draining the Myrdalsjökull ice cap.
Another long, rainy episode keeps us tentbound almost the entire next day, and things don’t improve too much as we climb through the Kaldaklofsfjöll mountains and cross the plateaus towards Landmannalaugar in thick fog. We finally descend below the cloud base while approaching the crowded campsite of ‘the tourist capital of the Highlands’, and plunge into the wonderful natural hot springs in the evening.
Low clouds thwart our plans to make a long dayhike through the hearth of Landmannalaugar’s colourful rhyolite hills the next day, and we turn back towards the hot springs after a quick climb of Bláhnúkur and a nameless hill above the beautiful, braided Jökulgilskvisl river (looks like a packrafter’s dream!).
I cannot deny I am a little frustrated we have not seen the unique Landmannalaugar wilderness in sunshine. But while we wait for the bus the next day, the clouds suddenly start to break for the first time in many days. We sprint up exactly the same hills as the day before, but this time the landscape is full of warmth and colour. Aaah, mission accomplished!
Finally, a new blog post after half a year of silence!
As I already mentioned in an earlier post, I started my training to become an International Mountain Leader, organised by the CAB (Club Alpin Belge), this year. After the entrance exam last year in october, we had a pretty intensive schedule the last few months which we concluded with a week in the Jura mountains in early july. The first year of this 3-year training schedule concentrates on ‘hilly’ terrain. The real mountaineous terrain like in Alps and Pyrenees make up the main course of the second year, whilst the 3rd year concentrates on trekkings in winter.
A wide array of topics are eludicated during this first year: first aid and mountain resue, physiology, meteorology, geology, biology (generalities + a list of about 100 species which we have to recognize with ease – and know some extra’s about), pastoralism and traditional way of life, building styles, some notions of law and insurance, quite of bit of orientation including a test during the night, trip planning, guiding of groups and handling ‘difficult’ clients, rope techniques, …
We first had a series of ‘theory’ lectures before going out on the field, and eventually finishing our first year with a 3-day trip in the Belgian Ardennes and a very rainy 5-day evaluation trip in the French and Swiss Jura Mountains.
Overall, the training has easily met and surpassed my expectations, both in terms of content and quality of the courses, and professionalism of our teachers. My experience in trip planning and long (solo) expeditions made me feel comfortable for the bits like trip planning and orientation, but my learning curve on other disciplines like the biology or rope techniques was steep. The language barrier (I follow the course in French) was an obstacle and made studying hard at times, certainly for the more technical bits like law, first aid and biology, but thanks to the open-minded attitude of our coaches Markus and Dominique and of all the other Walloon participants did not pose major problems in the end.
I’m already looking forward to the next bits! Unfortunately, as we are too little candidates, the second year of the training will only be organised during the first half of 2016, preceded by a serious entrance exam in october 2015.
I highly recommend taking this course to any Belgian interested in either guiding groups in the mountains, or just expanding his or her knowledge. The first year will be organised again in 2015 (with an entrance exam on the 27th of september), all details about enrollment can be found on the CAB website.