Daily Archives: December 30, 2015

Way up there

Mark and Sue of Macushla hosted us for a long catch-up happy hour and told us about the great hikes they’ve done around this bay. The most visible here is St. Paul’s Rock, which dominates our view. Our guide book advised that for the last bit there’s a chain to assist on the steep rocks. Frankly it didn’t sound like much fun to me, but if Sue, who also frequently wrestles with a pesky back, can do it I guess I can too. I neglected to factor in my fear of heights. 

We had one more day of good weather before we’d catch the edge of the predicted gale, so even though we would have liked a day of rest after our bumpy ride up here we headed to shore and started the walk.  


As soon as we turned away from the water the road kicked up to at least a 15% grade. I had to stop every 50 feet to catch my breath, and it was at that point we realized we’d left our carefully filled water bottles on the boat. 

“I can’t do it,” I told Jack. My heart was pounding out of my chest and we hadn’t even got to the trail yet. Finally the switchback road leveled out a little and we saw the beginning of the trail. Ah, good. We should be close now. But no. As we stepped out from under the trees the Rock looked unattainably distant.   


Our guide book said it was a 20 minute hike from this point. Right. We started up, negotiating two stiles over pasture fences, and then the trail kicked up in earnest. I paused every few feet of elevation to repeat my mantra: I’m parched, I’m exhausted and my back hurt. Jack kept tromping along but I had lost my will to go on. Jack pointed out that everyone we passed coming back down had bulging leg muscles, apparently used to this kind of thing. We are not.


As we gained elevation the views got better and better and frankly I was thinking this was good enough for me. We don’t have photos of the really steep bits of the trail because we were both often on all fours at a steep drop off and neither of us wanted to stop and pull the camera out. After a while I couldn’t look down and kept my attenton on my feet. We both agreed a trail like this would never exist in the US, or at least not without frequent dire warnings and guard rails.


Finally we made it to the rock itself. Now the hard part.   

The trail wound around and up another very steep climb to a cleft in the rock with a chain to assist in climbing the final bit. I took one look at that and sat down. “I can’t do it,” I said. “You go.” I was parched, exhausted and my back hurt. But more than that, and what the photos don’t convey, it was steep.  I have that height thing, you know.  


So Jack disappeared around the final switchback. I sat as two young women came down, then two young men went up. I’m an idiot, I thought, and started up the rocks. I got about six or eight feet up and got scared and came back down again. Sitting and waiting was fine, I thought. It’s a pretty good view. When Jack came down again I asked if he would go up again with me, and he said he would. I whimpered the whole time, scared to look down, as Jack gently encouraged me. And then I was up. There was a final short trail to the very summit and we were there. Wow.  



Going down was marginally easier than going up, and took just as long. Twenty minutes my ass.  

The best part was later, drinks in hand, watching the sun go down behind St. Paul’s Rock. Mark and Sue told us another climb, Duke’s Nose, is even tougher. Pass. 



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Predictably unpredicted 

It seemed prudent to get out of Dodge. A kind of perfect storm of reasons, coalescing into a major imperative to decamp from the Bay of Islands. First, the barometer was dropping like a stone. Second, we were determined to have a little company for New Year’s, and our old friends on Macushla were heading for the beautiful fiord-like Whangaroa Harbor, with its narrow entrance surrounded by high green hills, as great a hurricane hole as I’ve ever seen. Thirty five miles northwest of Opua and with benign conditions predicted as long as we make it before the low pressure trough hits. Anyone but the most pessimistic would announce problem solved. Easy peazy. We leave at first light tomorrow.

Moving day dawned sunny with a heavy dew on the deck, and soon we were steaming past Russell in a dead calm with the promise of a sailor’s wind out in the ocean.  


Coastal sailing features much to look at, but much to run into as well as countless decisions in the manor of “should we go around that outlying island or can we squeeze through without losing the bottom?” Marce was feeling quite lucky and I was more hesitant but as the day wore on and our wind didn’t show up so the shorter distance won out every time.   


When the wind finally showed up it was predictably unpredicted on the nose with an increasing intensity far beyond anything forecast. Shooting the gaps between rocks and the coast only funneled the nasty wind and exacerbated the nasty sea conditions. The mantra became just hang on it will be over soon, but with Marce’s tender back “soon” was really not soon enough. There were times when with both engines at full cruising power, pinching with our blade jib up, we were barely making a knot and a half. As we closed with what our chart plotter said was the incredibly narrow entrance to Whangaroa Harbor we counted no less than ten yachts all desperately seeking the same harbor of refuge at the same time. All it took was a lot of faith but once inside the 30 knot wind disappeared so we could drop the jib in relative calm.  


As we putted down the fiord it was like Shangri-La in here, you would never know what was going on out there. We found Macushla and dropped anchor in quiet Waitapu Bay under the shadow of mighty St Paul’s Rock which of course with any luck at all, we will summit tomorrow morning and take a picture of Escape Velocity from the top.
It’s good to be home.   


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