Tag Archives: mountain climbing

Mount Cook, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

New Zealand: Mount Cook & the Southern Alps

At dawn, I signed out of my hotel in Christchurch. I carried my bags to my rental car in a very pebbly parking lot around the corner of the hotel. To my dismay, I found my car blocked by a car that was sitting about two feet from the rear end: there was nowhere for me to get out! There was no one around and I didn’t want to miss a lot of time, so I proceeded to maneuver my car.  A few inches forward, then a few inches back, until I was able to go up over a small embankment between two posts—only inches from each side of the car—then down over the sidewalk and curb to the street. Finally, free at last!

In addition to this experience in creative parking, I had to get used to the driver being on the right side in the car but driving on the left side of the road, just opposite of the USA and most other countries. I have driven alone in Australia, Ireland, and Great Britain, but it is something that I don’t do that often, so I had to stay focused. On this day, I was on my way out of town, heading southwest to Mount Cook.

New Zealand is not heavily populated, and not many cars were on the narrow, paved roads, compared to what I am used to back home. It was raining and the scenery is so beautiful. Everywhere you see green: there are pastures, trees, and shrubs, with a farm here and there, and cows and sheep grazing in the fields. There are rivers and streams and hills in all directions. New Zealand is so clean, too.

Lupine along the road to Mount Cook, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lupine along the road to Mount Cook, New Zealand. Photo by Madelyn Given.

For most of the day I drove from Christchurch, stopping for a coffee break and a church fair along the way. As I drove higher in elevation and closer to the Southern Alps, I caught glimpses of glaciers and snow-covered peaks. By late afternoon, I reached the Mount Cook National Park and checked into the Hermitage Hotel, a place of great history. Sir Edmund Hillary was a New Zealander. He hiked many times on Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, and in the Southern Alps; he was a trail blazer here. I learned a lot about Hillary when I trekked with Jamling Norgay in the Himalayas several years ago.  Hillary and Tanzing Norgay, Jamling’s father, were the first to summit Mt. Everest in 1953. This is one reason I was interested in coming here.

The weather was fair and the sky was clear; I enjoyed hiking in this perfect weather. I also had a ride on an Argo eight-wheel all-terrain vehicle, which took a rough route along a river into the center of the Southern Alps. My driver stopped and we walked up a steep little hill created by the murrain of a melting glacier hundreds of years ago. On the other side was a small glacier lake. I was not concerned about crawling over rocks, as there are no poisonous snakes, spiders, or dangerous animals in New Zealand. There are opossums and snooks, hawks and falcons. The vegetation is lovely and along the road to Mount Cook are fields of beautiful lupine, in shades from light pink to dark lavender.

Aside from hiking, I also took a helicopter ride over and around the peak of Mount Cook. Up and down and around the passes, all covered with ice and snow, and we came so close to hitting a peak—and then just in time, we rose above it! We landed on the upper part of the Franz Joseph Glacier. I walked around a bit and it was pretty awesome. There is some receding of the glaciers here, but not quite as severe as in Alaska. Although I have climbed on other high peaks, being here was a very special adventure.

(posted April 26, 2016)

On the Mount Redington trail in Maine, with Madelyn Given.

Mount Redington: Part Two

Although the summit of Mount Redington in Maine is a tundra-like area of scrub evergreens, broken only by the remains of concrete building supports, I was still excited that I had reached another peak. I set my pack down on a piece of concrete slab and began looking for a white canister. The info stated that it was difficult to find. I stood in the middle of the shrub-like opening, and Kevin and I both hunted for a few minutes before he spotted it on the back of a dead tree.

We opened the canister, documented our names and date on the paper inside, took a photo, put the lid back securely, and returned to our packs. The last person to sign it was 6 days ago. Not many climbers came out here, and now that winter was approaching, there would be even fewer.

I am sure we both would have enjoyed a good rest at the top of Redington, and we had enough food to have a picnic, but I was concerned that we had a very long hike ahead of us, and I didn’t want to be in this area after dark. I donned my pack and so did Kevin, and off we headed down the narrow trail on Mt. Redington. There was a thin layer of snow on the top third of each mountain, and it was too cold to melt, so I was able to see our footprints on the way back, which was another helpful aid. The photo at the top of this post was taken on the Redington trail.

We were the only people out in this area. We didn’t see any game, but birds kept us company, and I enjoyed identifying their songs. Going down Redington seemed to go smoothly, and we continued across the wooded valley, but once we started up Crocker Mountain, we both noticed it wasn’t the same as when we were fresh in the morning. It is a steep climb on that very narrow, unmaintained trail. There was enough ice and snow to make the footing slippery on rocks and roots.

It was a relief to see familiar places, some very beautiful. One section is like a fairy forest, with layers of moss on big rocks and lichen covering the trees. The deciduous trees still had most of their leaves with all the autumn colors. We couldn’t have asked for better weather. On we hiked, one foot ahead of the other, and we were both glad to reach the summit of Crocker, now for the second time.

Now we met up with the Appalachian Trail: I was happy, as it is wider and a maintained trail. Ww didn’t hesitate or skip a beat, but just kept on trekking. We had two rock faces to hike, and a steep downhill for over a mile, before it gradually leveled out after the spur to the Crocker tent site. Part way down we caught up with the first hikers who had gone to North Crocker and were on their way down too. A chipmunk sat on a branch, waiting to greet us, and except for bobcat, coyote, and deer tracks on the fresh snow, life was silently hiding from us.

Down over the rocks, one by one: it was a slow, steady descent, and by the time we reached the logging road, our legs had had it! After a successful, exciting, and adventurous hike like this, the feeling of accomplishment stays with you for awhile and spurs you on in daily life. Kevin was happy to have summited two more mountains in Maine; I am looking forward to bagging my 14th and the last 4,000 footer in Maine next summer.

There will be other mountains to hike, some again and again. There is something about the mountains that continues to beckon you and brings such joy.

(posted December 8, 2015)

Kevin joined Madelyn Given to hike Mount Redington in Maine.

Mount Redington in Maine

Have you heard the term “Peak-Bagger”? Only recently have I heard that people who climb mountains have this attached to their name. Recently I climbed Mount Redington, a 4,000 foot mountain in Maine. For the past few summers a friend and I have hiked a mountain in Maine. Although Kevin is very physically fit, he is new at mountain climbing, but he’s adapted well, as you can see in the photo above. It is always more exciting for me to climb one I haven’t done before, so I chose Redington, the only one of two 4,000 mountains I had not yet summited in Maine. For Kevin, he would add two new ones on this climb, as we had to climb Crocker Mountain, also 4,000’, to reach Redington. Redington has another element that is challenging: it is the only 4,000’ footer that has no maintained trail. There are only two of these in all of New England; I knew this would be a good challenge, and Kevin was very excited about the adventure.

We were up and out before 5 am for a two hour drive to the trail head. It would be an all-day climb, and to reach Redington would require bushwhacking to the summit. It is considered difficult and a GPS is required. I had looked up several sites on Google and downloaded information; along with a GPS and survival essentials in our packs, we were prepared for the mountainous hike.

We started out on a clear, crisp day with little wind, and it was the first time I had ever hiked on Halloween. We followed Rt. 16/27 to Stratton and turned off onto Caribou Valley Road, an unmarked dirt road to the trail head. After approximately 4 miles, the road was blocked with a metal gate and a small parking space. There were no markings or signs for directions to the trail. I followed the downloaded information: beyond the gate, we walked less than a mile on the dirt road, looking for a trail on the right. We crossed a metal grilled bridge after the gate, plus two more wooden bridges, and then we saw a worn trail with no sign or markings. We decided to try it—but not far down the trail, there was an Appalachian Trail sign.

This was the trail to South and North Crocker, with Redington off the trail on the west side of South Crocker. It was a scenic, 1.0 mile gradual hike to Crocker Cirque Tent site, which is a side trail off the AT. We had no difficulty and made good time. Then the trail became steep all the way to South Crocker summit, another 1.1 miles. Here, at the summit, the trail to Redington began, and we had to find it. Near the wooded peak of South Crocker was a sign for a turn off for to a viewpoint. We followed that, and just before the viewpoint was a herd trail to Redington—again unmarked. It went through a dense evergreen forest, and since it looked like the right direction, we took that trail.

The trail became a narrow path: some places were so narrow that I had to squeeze through, with my daypack brushing on both sides. We were now on the opposite side of South Crocker. It was very steep going down; we knew that later we would be retracing our steps on this same path on our return, going up South Crocker, across the summit, and then down the other side. It was steep and unmaintained. There were many places you could lose your bearings and get mixed up, especially at sharp turns and around downed trees. Someone had put orange plastic ribbon on branches, and this was very helpful. We followed the trail to a cut-down boundary line, unmarked, which was not the trail to Redington—we continued on the narrow path instead.

It was exciting: the air crisp and clean, and a perfect day for climbing, but it took full concentration to watch our footing ,and at the same time, not lose our path. We reached the valley between the two mountains. There was a small opening of shrub brush, and in the distance, we could see Redington straight ahead. Now we had to climb our second 4,000 footer of the day on this narrow and unpredictable trail. After a while, the path in the dense forest came out to a cairn and an overgrown logging road. We followed this for a short distance and then the trail went off in the woods again to the summit.

We checked our watches, knowing we had only so much daylight to reach the summit and then retrace our steps—and we had many hours of climbing still to do. Our level of energy was still high, and we both were excited to bag another peak.

(posted December 1, 2015)