It’s late September 2020. I’m in Scotland and I’m about to climb my first Munro – a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet (914.4m), of which there are 282.
It also happens to be a volcano and the UK’s highest mountain.
Ben Nevis stands at a glorious 4,411 feet (1,345m) and is beautifully imposing. It is the remains of an ancient volcano that collapsed in on itself more than 400 million years ago, which was then moulded by the elements.
While not the hardest Munro to climb, it is the highest and for a first Munro it sets the standard.
April 2020 was spent in a yellow motel room in the small tourist town Te Anau in New Zealand. That first Covid lockdown put paid to my #WalkNZ adventure – just seven days from the finish line in Bluff.
Once things opened up in New Zealand, and the rest of the world was still on pause, my partner Mark and I did a tiki tour of the North Island.
And I climbed volcano number 23 in my #40by40 challenge.
A couple of weeks ago, I trod the Hadrian’s Wall Path in northern England from the east coast to the west coast. All 135km (84 miles) of it, walked in six days, passing through two cities, Newcastle and Carlisle, and following sections of ancient wall that had been built some 2,000 years ago to keep the marauding northerners out. It’s a walk I’ve wanted to do since I first arrived in the UK 15 years ago so to finally get round to doing it was pretty incredible.
Lightening strips of pain burned up the back of my legs.
My lungs were in meltdown trying to support my muscles that sucked up the scant oxygen in my blood, while my heart seemed to be in its death throes as it attempted to keep up with the relentless uphill movement of my legs as I inched slowly closer to yet another mountain saddle.
Five mountains over 1000m high in three days. Classic Te Araroa.
I have now walked just more than half of the South Island of New Zealand on part 2 of #WalkNZ.
More than 650km.
That explains why the tread on my shoes is looking a little bald and why I’m now slightly obsessed with food.
The past 10 days have provided some of the best highlights of the trail – wild West country and the greatest sense of remoteness so far, super wild camping spots, the highest point on the Te Araroa trail, a stunning ridgeline walk with views to New Zealand’s tallest mountain Mt Cook, and a 55km bike ride. Continue reading →
“So, what did you make of your first six days on the Te Araroa Trail?” I asked my boyfriend, who had newly flown in from the UK and was still suffering the after effects of jetlag.
“Well, it’s not so much a trail, rather a route,” he mused.
“The terrain is much wilder than I anticipated and the landscapes are vast. It feels like there’s a sense of being the first people to walk here because the path is non-existent, the route marking is quite frankly at times invisible. It doesn’t feel like you’re on a well-defined trail that thousands of people have walked. This feels more remote. There is an enormous sense of space.”
He added: “Walking uphill and down hill isn’t the most demanding bit. It’s the bit where you have to plan ahead for the river crossings because of the weather, and even some of the shallower river crossings can still be dangerous. The road walking, with its hard surface, is draining and monotonous – it’s more a mental challenge than a physical challenge. On occasion you have to do a long day to move ahead of a weather system or to find water. Progress can be slow like when you’re boulder hopping, it requires a lot of balance, concentration and endurance. But I’m loving it. Except for those flippin sandflies.”
He scratched the hundreds of red spots dotting his calves where the blood-thirsty critters had taken a liking to him.
Yes it had been something of a rude introduction to the Te Araroa Trail.
Within a six-day time frame we’d condensed the main aspects of what the trail was all about – uphill, down hill, mountains, forests, the good, the bad and the ugly. Continue reading →
Deep Heat does not deter sandflies; mice seem to have the magic skills of getting into a closed backpack to eat my peanuts; I have a selective memory of how hard the uphills are in the Richmond Ranges; five days warm up walking the Queen Charlotte Track is not sufficient for taking on “proper” mountains; a trail outlined on a topo map does not mean it is a trail that has been used recently; I love ridgeline tracks.
I know I already walked the Richmond Ranges last season – the most demanding section of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand due to its 8-10 days between civilisation points and ridiculously high mountains and exceptionally steep and exposed descents – so technically I didn’t really need to walk it again.
But the first four days from Pelorus Bridge were so lovely last year that I really wanted to experience it all over again. Continue reading →