Recently we teamed up with an exploration team called Comfort Theory. They are a group of creative explorers united by a single theory: When nothing is certain, anything is possible. Follow along and learn more about their recent journey into New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail with the help of Garmin outdoor products. Here is Kole Krieger describing the expedition in his own words.
My mind awakens. Not wanting to open my eyes or move from my comfy resting place I try to fight the urge to pee and go back to sleep. Eventually I can’t stand it and with my eyes still closed I rise to crawl out my tent. My swollen feet ache when I put weight on them, screaming when I step on a piece of gravel. Suddenly awake I look up to the starry sky.
Six hours before, we made camp in this volcanic crater. At the time it was a white out with wind gusts that nearly knocked us off the ridges.
I now realize we have front row seats to the best show on earth. The Southern Cross shines and the Milky Way blankets the sky, creating silhouettes of the crater around us. Out of instinct, I reach for my wrist and tap the backlight on my fēnix 3 as my eyes flash down for my morning update. Time: 4:50 AM. Sunrise: 6:02 AM. One more tap and I see that the barometric pressure has been steady for the past few hours. “It’s about to be the sunrise of a lifetime ” I say to myself. “But shit, I won’t see a damn thing from inside this crater.” At this point I realize just how cold it is and scroll through the fēnix 3 widgets. The temperature gauge, communicating with the Tempe sensor on the back of my pack, gives an accurate reading of three degrees Celsius.
My mind jumps into overdrive. Still talking to myself I say, “Let’s climb the biggest peak. We have an hour.”
I rip down my tent, haphazardly jam my gear into stuff sacks and throw everything I won’t need for the climb between a few boulders. Time is ticking so I fill a bottle with protein, muesli, and some freeze-dried coffee. I put on my heart rate monitor, don my head mounted VIRB, grab my day-pack, and take off. The last thing I do is tap the side of my fēnix 3 twice to start the GPS. I wonder how I will navigate back to this spot and then remember; even if I can’t find my gear when I return, my watch will.
All of my fellow teammates are still fast asleep in their tents. I debate going to wake them. But they’re a hundred meters away in the wrong direction and I don’t have the time for it. I’m reminded of what they say on the mountain— “there’s no friends on a powder day.” Justified. So instead, I just give them a few courtesy yells, “Wake up ya lazy bums! Its gonna be an epic sunrise!” I don’t see any movement and my watch vibrates telling me it has a GPS fix. I look down at the alert: 45 minutes to sunrise. That’s my cue to get going. I chug my breakfast, give the legs a quick stretch and start jogging. The grade is steep but the ground solid under my feet.
I’m headed for the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe, many know it as Mt. Doom as made famous by the Lord of the Rings. It stands at 2,291m (7,516ft) and at this point in my climb I don’t even want to look at my watch to see my current elevation. I know I have some 1,000m (3000ft) to climb - most of it at a nearly 45% grade. The sun is starting to light up the horizon.
My run doesn’t last for more than a few minutes before I’m slowed by the steep angle and tephra (lava gravel). I switch into a lower gear, kick steps, but still seem to get one step for every two. My excitement gets the best of me and I have to stop for a quick breather. My heart’s racing. I take the chance to scroll through and find the VIRB widget on my fēnix. I click “start” and the camera on my head begins recording. I’ve only taken three deep breaths in this time and now I take a full look around. I’m above most of the crater lip and able to see clouds blanketing the entire North Island. Awe struck, I could easily stay here just soaking in the view.
Like the coach that knows everything my watch vibrates and shows me that I’ve hit my recovery heart rate. Time to get to the top. I get back to the hand-over-foot scramble. Two more times over the next 20 minutes I have to stop, only to be urged on again by my watch.
My wrist vibrates again. Alert – 10 minutes to sunrise.
“Ahhhhh” I scream. Each breath of the cold mountain air burns my lungs but they demand more oxygen. My feet ache; legs start to feel heavy with lactic acid. “I don’t have time for this pain,” I tell myself “its now or never!” I bundle the burning of my lungs, legs and feet together and toss them to the back of my mind. For the final 10 minutes my heart rate hovers around 178bpm. I race to the top and see the light as the sun illuminates the tip of the mountain. Just as it does I reach the summit. Out of breath, I lay back against a rock and smile. All I can hear is the wind screaming around me and the sound of my heart jumping out of my chest.
All around me clouds still cover the beautiful New Zealand countryside. The only visible features are Mt. Taranaki to the west and Mt. Ruapehu to the southeast. No longer gasping for breath, I stand up, and almost on cue my watch vibrates and tells me I’m back at my recovery rate. I spend the next two hours taking photos with the VIRB, and exploring the crater and nearby false peaks.
I have a lot of time to take in the view and think. I look down at my watch and stop the GPS. My fēnix is an extension of myself; it gives me ability to chase my adventures with the intelligence and safety needed to completely immerse myself in each moment. Without it, I would not only feel naked but ill-informed. It is my most valuable piece of equipment as I guide this TA expedition. When the team asks me questions, I look to my fēnix 3 for answers.