Sunday, 21 May 2017

Water proof socks

I wish I had these socks for this hike
After the frozen and numb feet hiking at Mt Taranaki I searched out some water proof socks. I was lucky enough to find some reasonably priced sealskin socks (Brand, not animal). I ordered their walking socks, thin weight so that I could wear them over my injinji compression socks when hiking. I was unsure of how good they would be, so I was testing them out on the hike to Crosbies hut.

The first thing I did was put them on and stood in my dog’s paddling pool, dry feet, no leaks, things were looking good.

The socks feel a little odd, with three layers, the middle layer being water proof, and the fit was a little small, but otherwise they felt great, very comfortable. The thin weight fit over my toe socks and in my shoes just fine, but I don’t think I would like heavy weight socks (I should try to be sure though).

Still like these as inner socks

I then walked the 6 hour track up to Crosbies hut in what I would describe as moderate to low level mud (Nothing like Mt Pirongia). It was odd stepping into a stream; the water was cold and filled my shoe, my feet felt like they were wet, but they weren’t, it was an odd sensation. Though all the mud I didn’t have to worry about me feet getting wet and cold, they were dry the whole way.

Sealskin socks, they don't look fancy but they work
Once we got to the hut I took my soaked shoes off, then the water proof socks to check my inner socks – bone dry. They were so dry I took them off and put them aside for the next day, as a test. The next day we were almost at the end of the track and while walking through a stream if felt a little water on my big toe. Then a little later I was standing in a puddle and felt a little more water. When I took my shoes off I found something had made its way into my shoe (lots of mud) and worked a little hole in near the big toe. It was a small hole and only let a little water in so the sock was still 98%. It was a real shame to get a hole in the sock on the first outing, but by no means was this the fault of the manufacture, or a let down on the quality of the socks. There was so much mud in my shoes this was likely to happen. In future I will need to take better care to keep debris out of my shoes.

My final verdict on these socks is that they are an amazing game changer; they will be with me on any hike set to be muddy or cold. I don’t think they are necessary in summer (accept maybe on Mt Pirongia) as I find even if there are river crossings the water warms up quickly and isn’t much of an issue, wet feet are sometime just part of life. I think if I had had these for Mt Taranaki the experience would have been much more enjoyable.

I always seem to pick hikes with a lot of mud

As always, I didn’t get paid to write this, and I bought the socks myself, and will probably buy myself another pair.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Crosbies Hut Via the Karaka Tramping Track

Near the start of the track
I had a number of friends who wanted to try an overnight hike for the first time so I had to try finding something appropriate. Not everyone had the gear or the inclination for camping so a hut was the best bet and since there could be as many as ten of us, something we could book was the best option. I have been to Crosbies hut before with friends and really enjoyed it. There were also several other tracks up to the hut I wanted to check out. The tracks weren’t too long or too short, and the elevation climb wasn’t anything major so this was a good first time option.
The Karaka tramping track looked like a good option (if muddy), of the many tracks from that area. The track was listed as 4-6 hours, but I planned on 6-8 just to be safe. We got started just after 10am which would give us a maximum of 8 hours of daylight.

The whole first day was light rain, with moderate levels of mud, which didn’t bother me one bit given my water proof socks (More on those next week). The track was otherwise very well maintained, with the second half of the track (the main range) a quad bike track, so very easy going. The climb was very moderate and mostly un-noticeable (to me at least).

An example of the Main Range track

This was track was also a good test for my gators, these worked pretty well keeping my socks somewhat free of mud, though I think I will test them out a few more time before I decide if they are worth it or not.

We made really good time for the first half of the walk, but that’s when the times got interesting. One sign said 1:45 to the hut, which was fine, but 45 minutes to an hours’ worth of walking got us to the next sign – 1:15 to the hut. So we were running a little slow we thought, no big deal. But after an hour an 15 minutes we still weren’t at the hut. Then we hit another sign, 30 minutes to the hut. It was partly a let-down and partly a relief. The signs were wrong, but we were nearly there.

What a difference a day makes

Given the rain and cloud we didn’t have a great view that night at the hut, but it had cleared by the morning and we had great weather and views for the whole walk down. The walk took us about 6 hours up and a little less down. I was leading the way, slower that I would usually walk, and stopping every now and then to let people catch up, so I could probably do the hike in 5 hours or less. I would have called my pace a slower walk, not too slow, but I had to be mindful about walking slower than I normally would. It was nice to walk a little slower, with mindfulness and to chat to different people than who normally hike with me. Next time I would maybe swap with someone and walk with the back group for a while, rather than leading the why the whole time. Just something to think about.

I enjoyed walking with a larger group, leading that way, next time I’d like to do a bit of reading about the track and the area, so that I could talk a little about the area and the history, as much for myself as for everyone else.

Lots of old mine shafts in this area

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Attempting Round the Mountain – Taranaki

I say attempting because we didn’t make it around Mt Taranaki this trip, I don’t think we even saw the mountain at all. This is because we were trying to walk the track during an Ex Tropical cyclone after some of the wettest weather the country has seen.

The plan was to walk around the mountain in four days, staying in the North Islands highest DoC hut, hiking mostly higher tracks. This wasn’t to be. When we got to the DoC office at Dawsons falls we spoke to a warden about our plans to go up to Syme hut (highest in the North Island) and carry on around the mountain. We were quickly informed that there was forecast to be 130kph winds that high up the mountain and the safety limit for hiking was 69kph. With our big packs weighing 20kg each we would likely get blown off our feet. And that was just the beginning. We were told that we may not make the hut on the next day’s walk; we could get blocked by a river 10 minutes from the hut if the rain were to worsen (which it did). And if by chance we got past that river, there were several more on the next day, any one of which we could find ourselves unable to cross. At the time we said we would risk it, we had the gear to sleep in the bush if need be.

So we set off from Dawson’s falls to Lake Dive hut, via the high track, hoping to stay out of the mud on the low track. The track was very well maintained, but very wet. As we climbed the visibility lowered, the rain increased, and the temperature dropped. Other than the weather the walk was great, I’m sure there are amazing views, not that we could see further than 50m for much of the time. 

Average visibility for the day

At the highest part of the climb, approximately 1500m the wind was very strong, and basically at the limit of safety, so I can see why we were warned about going any higher. This was also the coldest section of the walk, the rain was pouring down hard and cold, which wasn’t too much of a problem, except that it was running down my jacket, onto my non water proof gloves. Every few minutes I could make a fist and squeeze out the freezing water. Eventually the gloves were doing more harm than good and my hands warmed up after taking them off. The other issue was the water in the track; 100mm in most places, up to about 300mm deep. It seemed like every other step flushed new cold water in to freeze my feet. There was no getting away from it. Eventually the soles of my feet were numb. It’s an odd, uncomfortable, heavy feeling to hike on numb feet.

So much water, but not too much mud

Eventually we made it to Lake Dive Hut, a very nice hut, all to ourselves, seems no one else was crazy enough to hike during a cyclone. We got the fire going, but never really got it roaring. It warmed the hut up well, but wasn’t enough to properly dry anything. We managed to get a view of what I believe is Fathoms Peak during a break in the clouds which was cool to see. Overnight the storm really rolled in, driving wind and rain almost all night. This vindicated the decision to turn back, and abandon going around the mountain. With the heavy rain the rivers would definitely be up, and we may or may not have gotten across. I didn’t want to get almost to a hut only to camp in the wind and rain and have to walk back the next day. Even more so I didn’t want to put us in the position of trying to cross a river that we shouldn’t. It would prove nothing to get across, whether we make it across a swollen river or not, it’s still a bad call.

I think this is Fathoms Peak, but I can't be sure

The next day we spent some time chopping fire wood for the hut before setting off back to the car via the low track. Wet again, but not particularly muddy the track had a few wind fall and wash outs but otherwise was very well maintained. I was very impressed with the quality of the tracks. Both the low and high track took us 3 and a half hours and we made it back to the car in one piece. 

DoC had already build a walk-around this wash out

It was disappointing not to be able to do the hike as we had wanted to, but we chose the safe option, so we can come back next year, maybe January or February for better weather.  

Still an enjoyable hike

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Consistency, volume and frequency

This post is about getting better at something. Maybe you suck at it and want to get better, maybe you hate it, but it’s something you should do anyway, or maybe you’re just struggling to make progress.

For a great many things once a week isn’t enough. Trying to learn a skill, once a week practice won’t get you very far very fast. Trying to make a change (in your body or life) working on it once a week and ignoring it the other 6 days isn’t going to do much in the way of change. You’re basically wasting your time.

To make progress you (often) need at least twice a week, three times a week is possibly even better, four or more could be too often depending on what you are doing. Two examples of this that I have found is my shoulder mobility, and my wrist prep.

I had been working the wrist prep series from the gymnastic bodies’ handstand course once a week for a long time. There are four different exercises with multiple progressions. For three of the exercises I was able to make good progress, but one of them I was getting nowhere.  Every week was the same with very little observable progress. So I stepped it up to twice a week. Progress has still been slow, but it is there. I get observably better week to week. The element in question was more about gaining greater flexibly in my palm and fingers, stretching what must be quite tough muscle and connective tissue in the hand. Once a week was not enough to activate, and maintain a positive change in these tissues, but twice a week seems to be working. Three times a week might be better, and maybe I will try, but for now slow progress is still progress.

An example of slow but viable progress

I’ve written about my struggle gaining shoulder mobility before and some things that have helped in my post on the mobility stick. Another major help for increasing my shoulder mobility has been working in 2-3 times per week with multiple modalities. Previously I had been working shoulder mobility only once a week, with dislocates and another behind the back movement. I was getting better slowly, but not effectively. By adding in the shoulder and thoracic stretch routine weekly, and adding an additional day with the mobility stick I’ve been able to make slightly faster and more effective progress. I’m still far from perfect but I’m able to gain more mobility, and use the new range of motion more frequently during the week. 

In both cases it was not just consistently training these elements, but more frequency and more volume by adding a second training session. Often move volume is needed for better results, but be careful, stay withing recoverable limits or you'll do more harm than good.

If you want to make true change, once a week is not enough. If you care about something, focus on it, spend time on it. Start with one element you want to get better at, but are only working on once a week, and add a second day. Then re-evaluate, maybe add another day, or maybe pick another element which could use a twice a week scheduling. This way you are more likely to make these changes routine, trying to add too much all at once will burn you out physically and mentally and won’t create the change you’re after.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Squat stands (and bench stands).

As is my usual writing style, this is post is a bit long and wordy, but there is a point to it. I built these my way because it suits what I want to do with them but there are easier ways to go about setting this up so it’s (hopefully) worth reading to get some ideas that might suit you better. Also the end product looks a little scrappy, part off that is to do with saving money and part is to do with having these stands work for multiple purposes. You might not need so much functionality, and so your stands can look a lot better than mine.

I wanted to build myself some squat stands so after much Pinterest searching, and contemplating, I had to list of things I wanted from these stands. I wanted them to be movable, I wanted squat and bench height, for myself and my wife, and I want them to fit my fat bar (50mm). That’s a lot of functionality, and a lot going on in a small space.

First step was measuring and planning. The sizes that follow are for myself and my wife, and will likely be different for you, but I’ll list them anyway so you will have a ball park figure in mind. The bar height for me is 1460mm (Squat) and 1110mm (Bench). The bar height for my wife is 1360 (Squat) and 1010 (Bench). The front stops are 40mm higher on each, and the central back stop is 100mm higher than my squat bar height (I.E. 1560mm).

Front rack/Squat height with the fat bar
This is a lot of material and a lot of functionality. It would be much simpler (and cheaper) for just one person or for just squatting, or without wanting it to fit a fat bar. But I think if something is worth doing its worth over doing. Another option, if it is available to you, would be to get just two uprights from a squat stand or power cage, and concrete these into a bucket each, job done.

I bought dressed (smooth), H3 treated (above ground) framing timber. This is 92mm wide by 45mm thick. I cut each of these to the bar height sizes. I then cut the front stops for each bar height from 92x18mm window framing timber. The centre stops were then set up with off cuts. Having these sections not run full length save me some money, but makes the whole thing look a little scrappy.

That is the bulk of the material needed, but the 45mm thickness would not fit my fat bar. I cut some 8mm plywood packers to fit between the framing timber and the front stops, so that there would be space to fit the fat bar. I used plywood I had spare, so again there don’t run all the way, saving some money but making it look scrappy.

This is the two squat heights set up
Everything was screwed together, nailed together, and stood up in a bucket each. I filled each bucket with one bag of quick set cement which I mixed in a third, old bucket. Once set these were heavy enough to stay in place without wobbling too much, but light enough to move (A short distance).

These stands can do everything I want them to which is great. By no means am I saying this is the best design, it’s certainly not the simplest, but I hope it gives to some ideas of features and how you might go about them for your own stands.

Also for comparison these cost me about $130 to build and the cheapest commercially available option for me was a bit more than twice this price.

Should have warmed up first