Fangorn!? What madness drove them in there…Northland forest tracks


Nov 28, 2016

Km hiked 17.6
125.6 kms on TA

So it took us all of three days to complete the first section of TA.

The aptly titled Ninety Mile Beach that runs from Cape Reinga to the seaside community of Ahiparra.

Though this is only the beginning of the summer season here in new Zealand many of the streams, even ones that were once large enough to merit a name, ran dry.

Last time I had to hike more than ten miles without water was in the Shannendoah National Park in Virgina.  I was then hiking with Fresh Prince and Blue.

Blue was the youngest of us. So we made him stand on the side of road that wove in and out of the park, holding a sign up saying, ‘ THIRSTY HIKERS.’ Blue outdid himself by stripping down to his boxer shorts and boots as if to add a touch of drama to our dire situation. In less than an hour we collected little more than half a liter of water, sometimes in the form of ice cubes, and two cans of warm coke. That was enough. We made it to the next water source without risking dehydration.

The situation at 90 mile beach was deceptive. Our guide book indicated plenty of sources but also cautioned that to carry water sufficient for the day. It assumed that like most people carrying for the day meant for the first reliable stop which was a beach lodge right off the trail so that hikers can hydrate and refill.

Calling that quaint and otherwise charming establishment a lodge maybe a tad presumptuous, though. It did not have fruit for sale as our guide book advertised. Nor were we able to fill up om water. The water wasn’t free but available based on donation. Since we didn’t have any bills smaller than a 20 it didn’t seem a bargain to fill up two liters of water for that price.  Nobody was around to make change either.. It was a shame really. Both k2 and I were looking forward to a hot breakfast, perhaps least some fresh fruit, at least a drop or two of clean water.

So we pushed on. I had drunk a liter of water at km 40 at the bluff campsite and had just under 2 liters with me when I set out. K2 carried more. The stream where we hoped to camp that night was also dry so we settled in. I used  used about half a liter of the water for dinner.

The lodge was at km 69.5,morning and that was our last chance to get water and we didn’t. Next morning I walked 10 kms under a relentless sun and endless, shadeless seaside with less than 1 liters of water in my system. Not the most ideal scenario.

You may ask why not carry more water. Good question. There several reasons, but none of them has to do with laziness than they are about taking calculated risks. 

A liter of water weighs about 2 lbs or 1 kg.  Therefore there is always a cost-benefit analysis involved when carrying water. Of course individual preferences and theories on this contested issue differs but here’s my take.

First, I prefer to take water only in two, slim as possible one liter plastic bottles for most situations. I also carry a 1 liter soft plastic bottle as well with my swayer mini filter attached.

Here’s why. I typically settle on carrying two liters if I feel there are adequate water sources along the way to filter and refill water as I go. My sawyer is good for filtering water even from the most fetid pools and weighs just a few ounces. Once at such a source i would make sure to drink at least 500 ml to 1 liter of water and then refill my individual bottles that amount to 2 liters. So, at any given time I always have at least one liter of water and usually do not go into camp with less.  This system allows me to I camp wherever I please and still make dinner and hydrate if I’m not able to find a suitable camp site with a reliable water source.

By the way,  when it comes to camping what most people like are camp fires, roasting marshmallows or gazing into the vast expanse of the universe on a clear moonles night. I do too. But, above all, I love doing water chores. locating a good source and filtering water for your needs gives me a special kind of joy on the trail. For me this is the epitome of self reliance.

I am also fully aware of my body’s limits when it comes to hydration as well. This is something that I came to be increasingly aware the more I hike. On overcast, moderate terrain, I can hike for at least three hours (or 8 miles) without needing to drink water. On rough terrain under cover that drops to an hour. On any terrain that’s exposed  to the elements i’ll need a sip or two  every hour.

But why two one liters bottles? Why not a camelbak bladder? All good questions.

The answer is psychological.

Most people carry excessive water because they are over cautious. In itself this is not a bad practice and I would highly recommend this approach if you are just starting out backpacking in the back country. In fact even experienced hikers would carry more than they need if they feel it prudent to err on the side of caution.  A three liter bladder is usually a good choice for those starting out.

But I find that cumbersome and even potentially dangerous, at least for me. According to the measurements above three liters of water weighs six lbs. That is significant when you think about carrying that extra weight for miles upon miles. After all my tent and sleeping bag together weigh less than three liters of water.

Moreover carrying more weight tends to slow you down and therefore you need to drink more water while toting a heavier pack.

‘But the more you drink the less it weighs’, you say.

Yes, this is true. But the same anxiety that compels people to carry more water than they need may also prevents them from adequately rehydrating, in case they run out of water. More often than not I’d meet beginner hikers coming into camp with 2 liters of water still in their pack, having only drunk one. They carried 4 lbs of weight for nothing. When asked why they just didn’t drink it and refill, the usual answer is that once your pack fully packed and is on it is too cumbersome to remove the bladder to refill little quantities at a time.  Most of the time, the weight loss due to water drinking is so negligible,  when you  are drinkin few sips at a time. Unless it gets to be significantly low, it is hard to discern just how much water is left in your bladder. 
It can an all or nothing game and takes a lot of experience and confidence in your ability to find water to risk running out of water. 
Yup, it is a paradox. 
I’d much rather be aware of how much water I’m carrying and consuming at all times, while reducing excessive water weight than be perennially gripped by water anxiety.

Besides the less weight you carry, more room for chocolate!

Unless of course you are about to hike a dessert then suck it up and carry five liters of water.  No amount of chocolate will save you when your pee starts to seem like a reasonable option.

But still you ask why two single liter bottles? Simple: even weight distribution.

The point is that everything about how to pack a bag and how much of what to carry depends on so many careful considerations. There are no absolute rules, but experience can suggest some tried and tested patterns.

K2 I think has the more efficient system even than mine at the expensive carrying a bit more weight. She carries two 2 single liter bottles like me. It also carries a 1 liter bladder in her pack and drinks freely from it. The possibility of of a pack getting lighter as the day goes on motivated her to hydrate more from the bladder, drinking it dry but still having the two single liter bottles as back so that she is able to reliably and efficiently asses her hydration needs without playing the all or nothing bladder game. She knows that when she is down to her single liter of water he bladder is already empty!

{If you have any questions about this or anything else, please get in touch with me and I’d be happy to go over things)

OK so that took longer than I had anticipated, but it is important and can save your life.

So as I said I had already walked 29kms with just under two liters. Part of the reason was that I assumed, reasonably but incorrectly, that a stream that had a name and a trail note stating that it is a good source would in fact have water. Second, I wasn’t able to find two one liter bottles in new Zealand so I carried one 1.5 liter and a small 300 ml bottle I kept in my snack pouch, and of course my empty 1 L soft plastic I kept for filtering dirty water.

Steam after stream ran dry and I tried my best to conserve water. I knew that I had already drunk 4l of water that day and chances of serious dehydration was not yet imminent. But it was uncomfortable.  After the lodge not a single stream was wet enough to fill a cup. The only option was pushing on 15 more kms to another named stream, the karaka.  I was down to 300ml and we had 9 more km to the source. I tried not to think about it but my feet didn’t. K2 and I reached that stream within little more than hour. since our pace was blistering we only got mkre thirsty.

The source had to run, otherwise a big waterless push to town was imperative. Needless to say that that was not a mouth watering prospect…

We got to Karaka but the stream did not run to the beach like the guide book promised, but we spotted an oil slick trickle shimmering further in and we hoped it wasn’t a mirage.

Karaka was a swamp, thick with heavy pampas grass, and it’s surface refracted the light to show us a greasy rainbow.

But I had my filter. Hallelujah! we were saved.

I even made myself a mango coconut drink from the water I filtered after first drinking an entire liter filtered straight into my patches throat…

That was a good day.

Rehydrated we pushed into Ahiparra after all. 101.4 km in three days.

90 mile beach done.

Did I tell you that todag I met TreeBeared, the Sheppard of the forest on the track through the Harekino forest?

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About timeplacedrift

hiker nomad writer dreamer, View all posts by timeplacedrift

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