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Torches, boots, hills and Wellington

For all of today, Wellington was doing a cute thing that it does several times a year. The clouds come in low over the harbour and drift over the city. Living in the hills, it’s possible to either be inside the clouds, or above them and looking down over a flat desert of smooth drifty white. In Northland, on the western side of the Tinakori Hill, our view of Otari Wilton’s Bush was relatively clear but for the walls of fog creeping around the end of the hill and making their way towards us, but always evaporating before they reached us. Many people living in the cloud would stay at home for the day, believing it to be dreary and depressing weather, but I find walking through this subtle kind of environment fascinating.

Stacey and I went for a walk down into the central city, 20-50 minutes away depending on urgency, and the view over the harbour was iconic of these kinds of days. Much of the mist would have evaporated by the time we saw it at 11.30am, but with the Orongorongas highlighted by their contrast in the background behind the city and the harbour as they lead towards the southern extent of the Tararuas, it’s a good sight all the same.

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It was an expensive day. I’ve had a busy week at work for various reasons, and a certain amount of stress has been compounded my the loss of my miniature Silva L4 head-torch (like this one [2]). It’s not the losing of the torch that irked me, but that being in mid-winter without a torch has meant I haven’t been able to take the much more scenic and through-the-forested-town-belt route on my walk home from work every night. It was the original head-torch that I bought for tramping several years ago, easily durable enough to have been through the washing machine a couple of times without a scratch. When I had more time for amateur astronomy, the red LED doubled as an excellent light for reading of star maps and fiddling with observing tools in the dark with minimal interruption of night vision.

The only thing I disliked about the Silva L4 was changing the batteries. Even in full daylight, at home and armed with a full selection of kitchen implements, I’ve never been able to get the thing open to change the batteries in less than 10 minutes. I dreaded the day that I might be trapped in the dark having to fight with it, and this was part of the reason I ultimately replaced it. The other reason I replaced it was that as great as it is for short range light, there’s not a very strong beam and so it wasn’t ideally suited for tramping at night, which is something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Since I retired it from tramping in favour of a Black Diamond Icon [3], which I like for different reasons, the L4 has experienced its retirement as a handy light-weight torch that I’d simply carry everywhere I went, and was thus very handy any time I decided I wanted to walk home in the dark via the scenic routes.

I’d been looking around the house for 2 weeks, searching everywhere I could think of. With no success whatsoever, I finally decided this morning to accept it was gone, and buy a new one. After some brief research, I decided that a Black Diamond Gizmo [4] was about what I wanted, and it was also the price I was prepared to pay (roughly $40). Literally 20 minutes later, Stacey and I were sitting on a bench in Courtenay Place, I had my back-pack on my lap, and I found my old Silva L4 lodged in a gap between the outside of my daypack and its harness. I walk that daypack to work and back every day and it must have been lodged there for a good 2 weeks. Irony abound. So now I have two quite nice torches for walking home with. I think I might try the Gizmo for a while and see how I like it for coming over the hill at night.

The torch wasn’t my most costly purchase of the day. As of a couple of weeks ago, I’ve needed new boots. I’ve been using some relatively light-weight Zamberlans for non-alpine tramping for a while and they’ve been going well, but after a couple of weeks ago I decided they were just too worn out. It doesn’t seem to matter which boots I get or how carefully I look after them between going tramping, they only ever seem to last 2 years. I guess they get thrashed to an extent when I use them (especially rivers, mud and scree), but I’ve more or less decided that when I’m out enjoying myself, I’m not going to sacrifice that enjoyment or safety to look after gear. I’ll do whatever I need to to look after gear when it’s at home, but I very rarely rock-hop over rivers to prevent water getting in, for instance, because I’m not personally very comfortable balancing on rocks when I find can feel more secure wedging my foot on something underwater and just let my feet get wet.

I’ve been looking at what’s available for a couple of weeks, and unfortunately the selection of stocked tramping boots in Wellington retailers is quite feeble right now. I eventually narrowed it down to a pair of Scarpa Trek boots, though. These are about the simplest boots that Scarpa makes, and to be honest it’s part of the appeal. Maybe I’m not careful enough, but I’ve had all kinds of frustrating problems with boots in the past. It’s usually related to bits and pieces such as boot-lace eyelets popping off, things bending and poking holes through my gaiters, seams coming un-glued then catching on things and tearing off even worse. The list goes on. Plus, I’m really sick of Gore-Tex lined boots. It’s very difficult in tramping shops to get boots that aren’t Gore-Tex lined, even though they take the better part of a week to properly dry out once they’re saturated, and it’s typical in New Zealand to walk in rivers and get boots saturated inside and out when tramping.

If I followed the advice of a tramping friend, I’d give up on the flashy branded imports and excepting alpine conditions, run around the Tararuas and Ruahines in something from Para Rubber [5] (which he does and he’s been at it for 20+ years), but I haven’t quite evolved to that level of thinking yet. I’m hoping the Scarpas will prove to be reliable and less likely to break, and I guess we’ll see. They have a good reputation for that kind of thing, at least. At a glance the construction seams reasonably sturdy, there aren’t many obvious seams that might come apart and catch on things (one of the first things I checked), and they’re not Gore-Tex lined. I guess I’ll need to wear them in over a day or two of walking in them, then I’ll see how they go. It’s strange in a way — I never thought I’d own more than a couple of pairs of shoes. Now I own six. Five are directly connected with walking or tramping and the last pair I only own because I needed to attend a job interview.

I dropped into work for a couple of hours this afternoon to tidy up a few things that I couldn’t do during the week, said hello to a few others working on the weekend, and then noticed that the Tinakori Hill was enshrouded in a wonderful cloud. How quaint. So now armed with two head torches in my day-pack, I made my way up and over the Tinakori Hill for the first time in several weeks. It was fun and I’m glad of it. Standing on the top of the hill and looking down over the stillness of the cloud covering Wellington City, faint shapes were still visible in the distance and despite it being a 20 minute grind to get up here from the city side and adding 10-15 minutes to my walk home, it reminded me of why I enjoy it so much irrespective of the weather or the time of day or night. Plus, it was dark enough under the trees for me to be able to try out my torch on the other side. All in all a good day.

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