How I survived the Pinnacle hike...

Me after a four-hour-hike at the top of the Pinnacles at 759m.

... I honestly still don't know. I'm not made for hiking. And I certainly wonder why on earth I decided to do this once again. Yesterday's hike was not too bad, quite steep and exhausting, but we had heaps of breaks so it didn't bother me that much. But today???

We had chosen to hike all the way up to the Pinnacles, a 759 meters high rock formation near Thames. It took us half an hour to drive to the tourist information and another half hour to get to the car park at the bottom of the hike. The guidebooks say this walk is "the most popular" hike on the Coromandel Peninsula. The Lonely Planet also calls it a "challenging six- to eight-hour return journey".

Well, let me tell you. It definitly is challenging. The first half hour was alright with a nice pathway leading slightly steep uphill. Then the steps started. And when I say steps, I mean STEEP steps. And HUNDREDS of them. And definitely not designed for normal humans as some of them were up to 0.5 meters tall. You really had to climb the steps rather than walk them. Don't believe me? Look at this picture...

Now with my exercise induced asthma this kind of stuff is exactly what's killing me. I managed to hike for another 1.5 hours before I got really close to an asthma attack. Lucky me I had my puffer with me - not knowing though that it had expired three months ago ;-/ After taking a deep breath I didn't feel any difference at all. My whole system felt like it was collapsing. My ears were ringing, my head was pounding, my stomach got queasy and my legs turned into a wobbly mass. Still I went on. Going back just wasn't an option...

Eventually I simply ran out of energy and turned into auto pilot. Walk, walk, walk. That was all my brain kept telling my legs. And I walked. I took one step after the other. For another whole hour. Time just didn't seem to pass. And whenever we met some people coming down the hill we got different answers to our question "How far away is the hut?". Some guys said another easy hour. Half an hour later we had a couple saying at least another hour and a bit. Very unreliable...

Finally we came to a sign that said "Pinnacles Hut 20mins". What a relief. That is where I wanted to make it to. Screw the final climb to the top. The hut was my goal, my last straw. There I could finally sit down, have a long break, get something to eat (we all had some snacks and sandwiches prepared). I was sure as I would stay behind, let the others do the final 50mins to the top. I would wait at the hut for their return and then just go back down again.

Maybe I should have done exactly that. But after having had something to eat and taking a break I felt wonderfully refreshed and was stupid enough to join the girls on the final climb. This is where we were heading to. Have a close look at the picture and you will see the millions of stairs leading to the top of that rock formation...

Well, it wasn't millions of stairs - but 530. Nina counted them. But you know what? They weren't the worst. Because after those 530 steps there were two ladders - no problem - and then it was FREE-CLIMBING!!! At an almost 180° angle it was finding stones and roots and whatever else you could find, push yourself up and make your way to the top. That was too much me.

And when all the sudden one of the straps on my backback broke and the whole thing almost fell down more than 700 meters into the abyss I lost it. I scared Cecilia by yelling a few obscene words - poor girl thought I was falling down... But no, someone must have been watching over me very closely and kept me from just doing exactly that.

Instead Cecilia and I switched backpacks and she carried my broken one to the top while giving me a hand climbing up and trying to cheer me up. Must have worked because after a while I actually found myself on the very top of the pinnacles. And then I just cried and cried and cried. Like I said - I am not made for things like this. And worse - I had no idea how I'd ever be able to make it back down.

But of course I somehow managed to do that as well. After having spent more than half an hour at the top and time getting closer and closer to sunset even I gathered enough strength to start the descent. Made it to the car by 7.30pm - not without me getting a cramp in my toes only meters away from the carpark. What a day...

So in the end I realize I have a lot of things to be grateful for:
- First of all my guardian angel who not only helped me finish this hike but come out of it alive. I not only saw my backpack fall down 750 meters but me follow it straight away, too.
- Cecilia for carrying my broken backpack up the last few meters while freeclimbing and giving me a massage when I was crying out of sheer exhaustion on top of the mountain.
- Nina for fixing my backpack as good as possible so I could carry it back to the car.
- Anita for staying with me most of the time on the way down lending me a helping hand and keeping me company.
- All the girls for their patience and understanding.
- Our couchsurfing hosts Patrick and Christiane who awaited us with dinner and refreshments, listened to our stories and even let me have a hot bath to relax body and soul.

Guys, this trip is only so great because of you!!!! I feel really sad for having to part with some of you tomorrow. It was a wonderful time with you!!!

Now the only probem is: How am I going to conquer Tongariro? I've signed up for New Zealand's most popular hike for next Wednesday. You're supposed to be able to do it in about eight hours. However, after today's experience, I'm thinking about splitting it up into two days with spending one night in one of the huts. Will probably talk to the people at the hostel since I've already booked my accomodation. We'll see what happens...

Nina has already done it and she said it is even steeper than the Pinnacles - but easier to walk since there are barely any stairs (mostly the path just leads evenly uphill) and definitely no free-climbing. So what should I do?

Here are a few tips for anyone who wants to do the hike to the Pinnacles:

1. Start early enough to allow yourself time for breaks and picture stops. We didn't start until noon and not only had the sun shining strong above us but also pushed it quite far coming back down before sunset. Including breaks and picture-stops the complete hike to the top and back took us aprrox. eight hours.

2. Wear appropriate shoes. Of course hiking boots would be best. But sneakers are ok, too, depending on how comfortable you feel in them. I chose mine over trekking sandals today and was happy I did. It gets too slippery and uneven at points and you might really hurt yourself with the wrong footwear.

3. Think about hiking up to the hut the first day, then stay overnight and do the climb to the top the next morning when you're still fresh and full of energy.

4. Take at least two 1.5-liter-bottles of water! We only had one bottle each and most of it was gone by the time we made it to the top. There is no chance to refill your bottle anywhere along the treck.

5. Apply sunblock before you leave and remember to reapply it while you're walking. Part of the track is in the bush and you'll be safe from the sun. But especially during the last parts you'll be exposed to the sun without any shade at all.

6. Bring your togs! Once you've completed the hike and are back at the car park drive back towards the tourist information center and stop at Hoffman pools for a quick swim to refresh yourself.

7. If you want maps they have heaps at the tourist information center. Most cost between $1.50 and $2 but they have a free one for the Pinnacles as well. Jusk ask - the staff is very friendly and will also give you heaps of advice on other tracks around New Zealand.

You'll find heaps of pictures of the Pinnacles on Facebook. Just follow this link...


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