Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mount Pirongia Hike

Present: Paul, Kate and Stef (support crew)

Mt Pirongia’s distinctive green summit dominates the otherwise flat skyline of the Waikato plains south of Hamilton. It was on one of the first fair weather weekends in Hamilton, finally signalled the onset of warmer weather. Without further ado Billy-Bob and Kate decided to tackle the local green monster as a ‘warm up’ to the bigger walk in the new year - the infamous Tongagaro crossing - already verified in the TCA log book as a fair old walk!

Billy-Bob dusted off his leaving present from earlier in the year, a compact paper book ‘North Island Weekend Tramps by Shaun Barnett’. He thumbed his way to the Mount Pirongia section and noted from the description it was graded medium, 1- 2 days, well marked footpath. Cautious as ever with his TCA route planning he noted the length and difficulty chapter which stated a medium walk may encounter river crossings, steep sections of track or some travel on unmarked, open tops….travel times could be five to six hours per day. Undaunted Billy-Bob and Kate decided that it was well within their capabilities. As a seasoned walker Billy-Bob was quite confident that walk would take 8 hours, having enquired at the local camping shop just a few weeks earlier.

The Start (Apologies for slack map work)

Mount Pirongia is a modest summit standing at 959 metres (or 3146 ft for the imperial readers) and is probably the most sought after summit in the Waikato. The easiest access is via Tirohanga Track however, those seeking a slightly more rugged round trip, can start instead from Grey Road (S.Barret 2002). Billy-Bob (in true TCA style) opted for the latter. According to the book times the route was the Mahaukura Track from Grey Road to the Summit (4-5hours) and then returning via the Tirohanga Track (3- 4 hours). The astute among you will automatically see that already this medium walk is 9 hours at the upper limits. Stef in her now accustomed role of support crew dropped the pair of intrepid walkers off at the start of the walk at Grey Road end, marked by an unmanned information centre. Both lathered up with factor 30 in preparation for a hot days tramping!

The ascent was gradual at first, very enclosed within an almost snake like casing of rimu and kahikatea trees with peppered outcrops of the nikau palms. The darkness of their enclosure screened to some extent the change in gradient from gradual to steep to near vertical. The moist almost swamp like ground under foot made the intrepid duo’s ascent hard. Although it no longer resembles one, the forest clad mountain was once a large volcano which went someway to explain the dark volcanic humus soil underfoot.

The ascent, Billy-Bob style

After only a brief spell on the track the contrast in walking styles was clearly evident with Billy-Bob’s more efficient lumbering, Shrek-like gate often outpacing Kate’s nimble Ninjaesque traverse of the ridges. The ascent continued and after 2 hours of hard slog in one upwards direction; it was becoming very clear to them the kind of 'moderate' this walk was turning out to be. But, no fear! Billybob had figured that if they made the summit of Wharauroa by 1pm, then it should only be another one and half hours over the second ridge to Pirongia.

After almost 3 hours of further hard slog the summit of Wharauroa was reached just after 1pm, perfect timing. Mount Wharauroa whilst smaller nevertheless stood majestically above the green carpet of forest below like an unlanced boil on the chin of a rugged woodsman. Although this section required the use of a chain already set into the rock to secure a safe ascent, this was achieved relatively easily.

The only Summit

Whilst Kate sat down on the rocky knoll for a well earned breather and reapplication of sun lotion Billy-Bob rounded the corner for a discrete well earned 'rest' stop. It was at this point the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of nearing their target was wiped from Billy-Bob’s face: The next rocky knoll in the visible distance was not as Billybob had hoped the comforting rugged backside of Pirongia. Sadly it became evident from the DOC sign next to Billy-Bobs legs which read….Pirongia 3 hours that way!. Thankfully Kate was well out of ear shot and did not witness what then spilled out of Billy-Bob’s mouth: A quick calculation of the route in Billy-Bob's head meant that at best the summit would be reached by 4:15pm. This sadly would mean leaving little or no time for the all important lunch stop, let alone an impossibly quick descent to get off the slopes by nightfall! Certainly the initial 6pm return they had told Stef was now NOT possible.

Kate 'n' Chain

After pushing on for another hour in vain hope that their pace would quicken and another sign might appear along the way with the words …’shortcut to summit for f**kwits’ it was decided that the next visible rocky outcrop would be their lunch stop and final stop. At 2:30pm they made the penultimate ridge to Pirongia but alas it was still another hour plus away. Not ever wanting to call it a day it was decided unanimously that it was the best thing to do; the pair sat down and tucked into their sweat-drenched sandwiches and cheesel’s crisps before turning about and taking the aborted route off the mountain. Whilst deflated that the summit had not been reached it would still mean that the pair of hikers could get safely off the mountain by 6:30pm having done a good eight and a half hours solid walking.

The Exit

A further 3 hours of steep descent clambering through the intertwined roots of the spindly spiderwood trees Kate and Billy-Bob finally emerged from the Ents-like forest just after 6pm. The forest opened up into some stunning undulating volcanic hills and meadows dotted with hundreds of sheep who were in a full chorus "Baaa...". Billybob imagined them laughing at their failed attempt of Pirongia but it was he who had the laugh as Mrs.B.B had rung saying they were just in time for the lamb stew she had simmering in the slow cooker – oh yes!

(Posted by: Paul)

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At 9:00 pm, December 19, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Just another normal walk when Billy-Bob's in charge of the map! Top effort chaps.

Good blogging.


At 9:44 pm, December 19, 2006, Blogger simon said...

looks a really fantastic walk! for sure!

At 9:56 am, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tongariro Crossing eh? When's that scheduled for?

We did that walk as a part of our leadership training. Isn't the red crater of Ngauruhoe (pronounced [roughly] 'nara-hoe-ee') just beautiful? Only it sort of ended up being a bit of survival training instead. Never mind they breed us tough in NZ. Lot's of overseas walkers asked us why we were all wearing shorts though...

Glad you didn't give up at the first knock back BB, though any seasoned tramper in NZ would tell you the summit is never the summit! There's always a higher hill just over the horizon. Always. And really - you weren't giving up at all, just ensuring Stef didn't report you missing!

Basically - I'm impressed!

PS - will you be going up or down the devil's staircase when you do the crossing?

At 9:58 am, December 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Valiant Effort in any case, cut short as a result of the TCA members big ideas and sense of immortality sustained over many years of competing with Al....

Happy Christmas All,


At 7:07 am, December 21, 2006, Blogger simon said...

Hey Ju's LS you a walker too?!

We do not have "mountains" like you guys... But its tough terrain anyway..

Merry Christmas.. peace and joy for the new year to you all!

At 8:07 am, December 21, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

JLS - Crossing is planned for some time in the new year, maybe end Jan/ if your interested! You are right it is a stunning walk, I did it 5 years ago as a young freshfaced backpaker (well almost). Route as yet undecided but shorts compulsory.

Many thanks for your praise, its always a hard decision to cut a walk short but always another day I say.

Festive wishes to all readers and may 07 be a good one.


At 3:50 pm, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas to all at TCA 2006. I look forward to tackling some geocaches in TCA country...

At 4:34 pm, December 29, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BB - those photos made me so homesick! Glad you enjoyed the hike and can't believe you were snacking on cheezels - woops just shortcircuited the keyboard with all my drool - I crave them so much!

Wish we could come out and do the Tongariro Crossing with you....will make do with a week in a mini castle in Scotland end of Jan climbing some Hills....

Anyway, hope you had a good Christmas


At 11:07 pm, January 06, 2007, Blogger Davy said...

Excellent Blog! I don't know where you find the time. Happy New Year You. Santa bring you anymore lycra?

Slainté and Solangé

Big Dave

At 8:55 am, February 01, 2007, Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Hey I drove near the base of Pirongia just last Saturday! Quite easy work in a car!


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