Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hump Ridge Track

What started as my first multi-day backpacking trip and first hiking trip in New Zealand turned out 3 days later to be simultaneously the best and worst hiking I have ever experienced. With torrential downpour, gale force winds, flooded trails, and thunder snow storms it was difficult many times to find anything positive about what was going on at that exact moment, but looking around and seeing my new friends and our surprise guest for the trip, it was hard to not have the biggest smile across my face the entire adventure.

The trip began with a 4:00am wake up to pack the cars and begin the trek south. A 3 hour drive south of Dunedin, Te Anau was a quaint, quiet town (as most towns are at 7:30 in the morning on a Friday) as well as being the self-titled "Sausage Capital of New Zealand" as we were pleasantly informed by the town's only billboard. After a short scenic drive down a gravel road we reached the parking lot for the Waitutu tracks, the starting point for our 3 day journey.

It was here, just 5 minutes into unpacking the car and having a light breakfast, where we met a most unlikely guest who would eventually join us for the remainder of our 55km hike. Bounding out of a farm paddock that bordered the car park came a dog, who we assumed to be a farm dog for one of the many surrounding farms in the area. Like any soul-having human beings, we were overjoyed by our new visitor, feeding him some of our breakfast and showing him ample attention as we prepared for our trek. After finishing our breakfast we donned our backs and took the first of many steps that weekend. Fully expecting that the dog would run back home once we stopped giving him food and attention, we were all incredibly surprised when he lead the pack to the trailhead, then continued on down the track. A beautiful sunny day on the south tip of New Zealand, the nine of us were blissfully ignorant to what lay ahead of us.

Greeting our newest hiking partner in the car park
Following a slight detour that led us on a gorgeous walk along the beach, we headed back into the thicket of the jungle to begin what we thought would be the most difficult part of the hike, the incredibly steep climb over a short distance. Having gone to school a mile above sea level in Denver and done plenty of hiking around the front range of Colorado, I thought the hike wasn't going to be too bad. 3 hours later; however, I realized that I was very wrong. Climbing over boulders and roots that look like they were straight out of the Jurassic period, my body was at war with itself; my mind admiring the stunningly beautiful nature, while my body dreaded taking the next step up the side of the mountain.

The view atop Stag Point - Photo courtesy of Annie Westbury
A well needed morale boost came just an hour later as we reached Stag Point, which provided a stunning overlook of the Fiordlands, as well as even more welcoming view, the hut we were staying at for the night just over the next ridge. Finally reaching the Okaka Hut after 7 hours on the trail might have been the happiest moment I had since arriving in New Zealand. Completing the night with ramen over camp stoves and a whole lot of card games we hit our bunks for the night, not knowing what an adventure the next day held.

Looking down the trail at the end of day one

Alarms going off at 6:30, we awoke to the sounds of rain pelting the windows of the hut. With one look out the window and a resounding "Nope" from my friend Oliver, we all tucked back into our sleeping bags hoping the rain would blow over soon.

Well, it didn't. Packing up our stuff at 7:30 the wind still howled and the rain beat down on the roof of the hut, we stepped outside to brave what would eventually be the worst day of hiking I have ever experienced. Deciding we had come to far to not see the summit of the mountain, myself and 3 others took a slight detour up to the top of Hump Ridge. Sitting in the clouds, we couldn't see more than 30 yards in front of us, but knowing we had reached the top was an incredibly rewarding feeling. After a large clap of thunder however, we realized our time at the top was to be short lived. Heading back down the ridge to catch up with the others, little did we know that the day would just keep getting more and more interesting. The first surprise came right as we caught up with the others, as large white snowflakes began to fall from the sky, well, not really "fall" but more of a "blow sideways". Completely soaked through all of our layers not more than a few hours into the trip, we decided to take an early lunch break at the first emergency shelter we came upon on the trail. Nearly too cold to take out our food, we sat and quietly munched on trail mix and PB&Js as we watched the snow continue to fall.

After leaving the shelter, the snow soon turned to sleet, then rain yet again, caught in a personal identity crisis as we travelled across the ridge. Sanity was barely maintained through numerous games of "would you rather..." and sharing stories from back home in the states as we continued along the trail. It was also Dubya (the name we had given the dog, patriotically after our 43rd president) who kept smiles on our faces the entire trip. Playfully bounding through puddles that littered the trail and always leading the way, he kept morale just high enough for us all to keep going.

Finally reaching the descent into the valley, with the snow and rain starting to dissipate, we thought we were finally in the clear. What we didn't realize however, was when there is that much precipitation on top of the mountain, it all eventually goes somewhere... down. Reaching the bottom of the ridge we were greeted by the trail that would take us to hut number two. The problem was that there was no trail, but rather a long canal of water flowing along where the trail should have been.

What started as attempts to expertly avoid the water by jumping between the few dry parts of the trail soon turned into hiking straight through the makeshift creek, realizing that our boots could not get any more wet than they already were and a strong desire to make it to the next hut. Dubya remained to keep spirits high as he carelessly jumped through the puddles as the 9 of us grudgingly hiked through miles of ankle deep water.

Several hours and quite a few "river crossings" (poor drainage led to many large flood water rivers across the trail) later, we saw signage for the Port Craig hut, our safe haven for the night. Re-energized by the small glimmer of hope in such a dreary day, we carried on to complete the last 5km of the day.

Port Craig DOC Hut
Rounding the corner to see the hut in the middle of the clearing may have been one of my happiest moments during my stay in New Zealand. Shedding our water-filled boots at the door we entered the hut to find a massive one-room bunk house with a wood burning stove in the corner and a 4 story bunk bed capable of holding nearly 20 people. The true joy came when we turned around to see 2 bottles of wine and a few beers left on the tables by past campers, with the guest book graciously telling us to enjoy them after a day on the trail. Like true college adventurists, we enjoyed the wine and beer over our second night of ramen and endless games of cards. Nearly every article of clothing from everyone's packs was hung to dry over the fire, and while miserable from the grueling day we had on the trail, smiles and laughter filled the hut as we all knew this would be a trip never to be forgotten.
A thermal top, a pair of compression shorts, and a pair of stolen slippers, the only remaining clothes after day two
Photo courtesy of Justin Dalaba
Packing our still mostly damp clothes the next morning, we bid goodbye to the hut and were able to catch a stunning sunrise view over the South Pacific, looking out and realizing the only thing south of that point was Antarctica, all still astounded that we were standing at the south tip of New Zealand, tucked in the far corner of the globe.
Group photo on the morning of day three
Photo courtesy of Morgan Toms

We were appreciative to be greeted by fair weather for our last day of hiking, knowing it was going to be a long 19km back to the car park. Split between sadness that the trip had to end and pure joy that it was finally coming to a finish, 9 hours later we ended up back at the car park. Walking back to the cars and taking off our packs after a long 9 hours, Dubya ran back into the field he had ran out of just 3 days prior, going to rejoin his real family after his short weekend vacation.

Finally we had reached the end of our journey. 3 days and 57km later, full of steep climbs, thunder snow storms, flooded trails, hut wine nights, and man's best friend with us the entire way, we had conquered the Hump Ridge track. Bruised, soaked, sore, and ready for a whole lot of fish n chips and a real bed, we packed up the cars and the car park slowly became a spec in the rear view mirror. A trip that will never be forgotten, Hump Ridge will ever be in my heart the simultaneously best and worst backpacking trip I have ever taken.
A solid batch of fish n' chips to celebrate a successful tramp

Monday, June 30, 2014

6 Months Down Under

On Saturday June 28th at 3:30am I started what is set up to be one of the most amazing adventures of a lifetime. After nearly 36 hours of travel time, including a cross pacific journey, I landed in Dunedin a small city on the south island of New Zealand, a place that I will call home for the next 5 and a half months. While i'm still trying to comprehend that I'm almost 9,000 miles from home and getting used to cold winter weather in July, I can already tell that this is going to be an amazing time. There will without a doubt be many blog posts in the future, and I can't wait to share all of my experiences.

until next adventure,


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Affordable Skiing on a College Budget

Tips and tricks for DU students to enjoy winter quarter on the mountain

Skiers flood Arapahoe Basin for opening
day on October 13th
It’s winter quarter at the University of Denver and amidst the bustling of students walking in between classes; there is one question that can be heard from the mouths of freshman to seniors, international studies to biology majors, “Are you going skiing this weekend?” 

Colorado boasts over 300 inches of snow per year and with a solid start to 2014, Vail claimed Colorado has the “Best ski conditions in North America”. Seeking these unbeatable conditions, students have been flocking to the mountains since mid October.
Undoubtedly one of the most popular activities among DU students, the opportunity to ski and snowboard at the many resorts scattered across the Colorado Rocky Mountains is one reason many students choose to come to school here at DU. “Being from the suburbs of Chicago I knew I wanted to find somewhere outdoorsy when I went to college, Denver gave a great combination of education with some of the best skiing in the nation not too far away,” said Alec Brazeau, a DU sophomore.

With the topic of skiing at hand, college students are notoriously cash poor, and a weekend trip to the mountains isn't always in the budget. Here's a few ways to make a small investment last all season out on the slopes.
Lift Tickets
For most students, the cost of a lift ticket is the biggest hurdle in terms of their budget. Costing over $100 online for Vail, this is a major bank breaker for many college students. However, with the right investments, students can enjoy a full season of fun for just under $500 through the Epic Pass program of Vail Resorts.

The owners of Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, Vail Resorts offers a variety of different season pass bundles for their different mountains. One of the more popular passes among students is the Epic Local Pass, giving pass holders unlimited days to Breckenridge, Keystone, and A-Basin, with 10 days between Beaver Creek and Vail. A more cost effective pass is the Summit Value Pass, which offers the same days as the Epic Local minus the days at Beaver Creek and Vail.

Summit County Resort map
Day Pass Price

While these passes may seem like a large investment up front, these passes often pay for themselves in less than four visits, meaning if one is to ride as little as 10 days throughout the entire five month season, they more than doubled their investment.
A full set of skis, bindings, boots and poles
such as these can be picked up fairly cheap
with the right research
The next largest thing holding a student back from getting out for the elusive powder days is how much equipment costs. With many publications like Ski Magazine and Powder Magazine posting their Buyer’s Guides for the season, they are advertising ski sets in the upper hundreds and close to thousands of dollars. With the right research and proper timing, many local shops, such as Colorado Ski & Golf offer a used rental fleet where skiers can walk out the door with their own pair of skis, including boots and bindings, for under $200   For those just wanting to rent for the day many people are stuck paying upwards of $50 at the base of the mountain, however, with planning ahead, local Sports Authorities offer ski rentals for $20, less than half the amount for rentals at the mountain.

Now that skis and a pass are taken care of, there is only one thing standing in the way, how to get to the mountains. While many students find rides with their friends lucky enough to have their cars on campus, there is also a service started by DU students a few years ago called the University Ski Bus, costing only $10 round trip from Denver to select Summit County mountains close to every weekend of winter quarter. With an unbeatable price, the University Ski Bus system is a go-to for many students as they get a full day in the mountains without the worry of finding a ride to and from the resorts.
On-Campus Support
Another major beneficial group in student life in the mountains is DU’s own Alpine Club, the single largest student run club. Alpine Club has been around since 1928 and always stood behind their motto “Doing it in the mountains,” hosting a variety of different outdoor activities for students to enjoy all that Colorado has to offer. Check DU Alpine Club’s winter quarter trips for more opportunities to get out in the mountains.

With the right research and proper investments, even the most budgeted college student can afford to enjoy a day, weekend, and even an entire season of fun skiing in the mountains, taking full advantage of the beautiful state we live in.

About the Author: Jack Foersterling is currently a sophomore journalism student at the University of Denver where he writes for publications including the DU Reporter and Pioneer Business Review, and writes his own adventure blog Going to the Mountains is Going Home.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Opening Day at A Basin

No, this isn't another throwback post, today, October 13th I welcomed in the 2013-14 ski season at Colorado's very own Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort. Ever since the first snow hit the mountains a few weeks back, my roommate and I had slowly been counting down the days until ski season started. It turns out my dances to the snow gods worked (or something like that). Thanks to a few inches of snow cover in the last week and the magic of snow making machines, A Bay officially announced on friday that they would officially open the gates 8:30 am Sunday morning. Any pre-existing plans were instantly dropped on the spot, we were going skiing.

Waking up groggy eyed to my alarm at 6:45 this morning, I rolled out of bed and began to pull on my ski gear. Wool socks were followed by shorts and snow pants. Beanies were stuffed into coat pockets, gloves into ski boots, after triple checking our passes were still hanging around our necks, we grabbed our gear and headed out the door. 
On the road at 7:30, we got in the car and headed West, where all the greatest adventures are waiting to be had. Snow capped mountains peek over the foothills in the distance.

Making our way towards the mountains, we passed the all-too-familiar landmarks any Colorado skiier can name by heart. Idaho Springs came and passed, the Georgetown scenic train chugged along the side of the mountain, and the bumblebee yellow Camaro monster truck stood proudly in front of the trailer park as it always does. Soon enough we had traversed Loveland Pass, crossed the Continental divide, and landed ourselves in the A Bay upper parking lot.

First official skiing picture of the year, proudly taken in the Arapahoe Basin Upper Parking Lot.
Buckling boots, strapping helmets and zipping jackets, skis over-shoulder, we made our way to the base of the mountain. While it was only half an hour since the lift had started running, the lines were long. Like us, many other skiers and snowboarders across the state couldn't wait to get back on the mountain.
With one lift open and hundreds of eager snow-enthusiasts wanting to get their opening day ski in, lift times were between 20 and 40 minutes long, for the short 2 minute trip back down the mountain. Worth it? Absolutely.

After the first grueling wait in the lift line, we had finally made it to the front. Passes scanned, we shuffled to the yellow "WAIT HERE" line in the snow. The four person chair swung around the corner and scooped us up. The feeling of the chair lifting you off the ground and up the mountain is one you will never forget, and let loose a feeling of bliss when we began to ascend the hill, officially starting our 2013 ski season at 9:16 on October 13th.

Getting off the lift at the top, we skied over to the top of the one run they had open for the day. Amidst the mess of people making their way down the hill, the moment was surreal, it seemed like it was just me, my skis, and the mountain. Carving my way down the hill, I was still in awe at what I was doing. It was the middle of October, Not even two weeks from Halloween, and I was skiing. 65 back in Denver and a torrential downpour back home in the midwest, I had found a slice of heaven that just happened to be covered in a blanket of snow. 

Ending the day with 7 runs, quite a few hours of waiting in line, and numerous impromptu snowball fights in the lift line, we packed up the car and headed back in the direction of Denver, leaving a successful opening day behind us. Starting my ski season almost a full 12 weeks ahead of last year, things are looking good, and there is no doubt there will be another ski report to come in the near future.

Until next adventure,

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ellison Bay

This post is a little bit of a throwback in terms of what I have posted and will be posting in the next week or so. Though not much of an adventure, I found some killer pictures from the trip I wanted to share. Mid-June after my Senior year of high school I helped my dad install some cabinets for a client of his at their summer home in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. Leaving a day after him, I made the 5 hour trek to nearly the tip of Door County, WI with a last minute door and cabinet shelving units in tow. 
Growing up so close to the Wisconsin border, this sign was always... well, a sign, of good things to come. From mountain biking to the cottage to the Walworth County Fair, this sign meant freedom.

After 5 hours and a necessary Hardy's pitstop, where I fueled up on anything and everything they would deep fry and put bacon and cheese on, I found my self at my final destination, Ellison Bay. Knowing I still had a little bit of a drive to the cottage, I stopped at the first small park I could see the water from.
After driving for 5 hours there was no better sight to see than the water. 
Even though it was Mid-July, Ellison Bay was freezing, being one of the most northern bays in the greater Green Bay and Lake Michigan as a whole. Either way, there is no better feeling than getting your feet wet after a long drive.

Finishing the drive after my short detour, I arrived at the cottage just around sunset, just in time to snap a few pictures from the pier and beach just out the back door.

Having grown up going to southern Wisconsin lakes for water skiing and fishing, my mind was blown seeing how flat and clear the water was here. With the water as flat as glass, you could see out easily 50 feet in front of you, and from that, it was crystal clear straight to the bottom of the lake, each stone as clear as it would be holding it in front of your face.

The other amazing part about the "beach" outside the cottage was that it was made entirely of smooth stone, as was the entire bay floor. Every step you took you would find the most perfect skipping stone you'd ever found in your life, only to have that one trumped by one you found 15 seconds later. In what seemed like a dream, the stones would skip for ages across the flat water, finally sinking just as they became blurry in your line of vision. What else were the flat rocks good for? Stacking of course. The 'high score' for the weekend was 16, captured in this photo.

The second coolest shot I captured all trip, seeing the blue water meet the horizon in the seemingly endless distance across the bay was stunning, with the pier seemingly perching on top of the glassy pane of water.
No matter how corny it sounds, sunsets are beautiful, end of story

By far the most beautiful shot I took all trip. The last day we were there the winds kicked up a little bit, causing the water to break for the first time all trip and creating some crazy cloud formations as well.

Happening before I had even arrived on campus here at Denver, looking back on this trip I realized it doesn't take a certain place to have an adventure, but rather a state of mind. I'll quote the movie Up for this one, "Adventure is out there!" it's just up to you to get out there and find it for yourself.

Until next adventure, 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fruita, Colorado Time lapse

As I'm going through all the pictures I've taken in the last year here in Colorado, I realized I've got my work cut out for me in terms of posting stuff until I'm completely caught up, so for now I'll start with something I've had for a while but just got around to posting.

Last spring break 3 friends and I packed our bikes and a week's worth of gear and food into the back of their '99 Suburban and set off with the end goal of Moab, Utah, also known as the holy ground of mountain biking in the United States. I'll have a full trip recap up hopefully later this week, but for now here is a time lapse I took on my GoPro our last night of camping, which we spent back in Fruita, Colorado, just outside of Grand Junction.

Unfortunately because of my lack of planning my GoPro ran out of battery way faster than I anticipated, but I still managed to grab a solid chunk of the evening on footage. Set up on a picnic table to snap a photo every 60 seconds, I even had the luck of catching a shooting star (check around :08). What this whole video really captures is what I absolutely love about camping, just you and your friends sitting around a camp fire having a good time. Camped out on the edge of a cliff with nobody within a 10 mile radius, we were just enjoying our last night of freedom before having to return back to society the next day.

Again, full Moab summary to come, this is just a little teaser for now

Until next adventure,

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Going to the Mountains is Going Home - Intro

I'm Jack Foersterling. I'm a mountain biker, skier, writer, bike mechanic, slackliner, Eagle Scout, fisherman, rock climber, hammock-enthusiast, amateur iPhone photographer, longboarder, camper, and all around adventurer. Graduating high school in 2012 I sought to escape the Midwest that I had spent the last 18 years in and find something new. I landed myself at the University of Denver in beautiful Colorado. Growing up in Boy Scouts and eventually reaching my dream of Eagle Scout, I have always strived for adventure, from building mountain biking trails in my backyard, to living out of the back of a car for 5 days in Moab, Utah spending the days biking and exploring. I have always found peace within nature. There's something about leaving the fast-paced society that too many of us are stuck in and simply going on an adventure. John Muir said it best over 100 years ago,
"The tendency nowadays to wander in wildernesses is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil's spinning in all-day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth; jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the songs of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise. So also is the growing interest in the care and preservation of forests and wild places in general, and in the half wild parks and gardens of towns. Even the scenery habit in its most artificial forms, mixed with spectacles, silliness, and kodaks; its devotees arrayed more gorgeously than scarlet tanagers, frightening the wild game with red umbrellas, — even this is encouraging, and may well be regarded as a hopeful sign of the times." -John Muir, Our National Parks, 1901
Looking out my dorm window I see the now snowcapped Rocky Mountains in the not-too-far distance. To me they are more than just something to look at, they are somewhere to go, to explore, to write about, to be at home in, and that is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.