A team of six volunteer firefighters from north Manawatū have turned to their own
backyard to create a challenge to raise funds for cancer this year.
The team are members of the Kimbolton, Āpiti and Rangiwahia Fire brigades, and they've created their own, instead of attending the well-known Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge in Auckland.
They will traverse the Ruahine Ranges - a gruelling 30km overnight journey – from Ashley Clinton in Hawke's Bay to Rangiwahia Hut carpark in Manawatū.
And if that is not tough enough, to add to the challenge, each of the firefighters will be carrying full breathing apparatus gear which weighs around 26kg, and includes a breathing mask, helmet, jacket, pants, boots and an oxygen tank.
They won't be carrying packs.
They are senior firefighter Dan Coleman and firefighter Andrew Morton from
Rangiwahia; qualified firefighter Tim Field of Āpiti, Kimbolton acting station officer
and senior firefighter Scott Wilson, Kimbolton fire chief Tony McIntyre and senior firefighter Daniel Stack.
"The brief is we can only take what we can carry in our pockets, so you can take
what you want, but we won't be having any fluffy pillows," says Coleman, who is
organising the mission.
Not wanting additional weight, their menu will consist of lightweight dehydrated smoothies, meals and porridge.
The Ruahine Range traverse will not be easy and is usually a two to three-day mission for advanced trampers.
The first day is a steep ascent up the ranges and a nine hour walk to Howlets Hut where they will stay the night.
The next day will be a 20.6km walk around the top of the giant Oroua River basin to the Rangiwahia Hut carpark.
The team are prepared with an in-depth safety plan that has been approved by Fire
and Emergency New Zealand and the Mountain Safety Council, and includes the
planned route, exit points and huts.
Each person will carry a bivvy bag, personal locator beacon, GPS and first aid kit.
They will attempt the crossing on Friday, November 27, or the following weekend if
the weather is inclement.
There is a narrow window of time for the crossing: any closer to summer and the weather will be too hot and in winter the route requires ice axes and crampons.
"This will be a hard walk but I love a challenge," says Coleman.
"It's good to have fun in the outdoors and push boundaries, but we've still got to be safe.
"It's my place, and I love it up there, but I wouldn't underestimate it.
"The windchill could be in the minuses," says Coleman, adding that the highest point is 1700m above sea level, and if fog or bad weather appears, there could be zero visibility.
At this time of the year there are no hut bookings in the Ruahine Forest Park, so it is first in, first served.
They're hoping the hut will be empty and if not, the trampers may be in for a surprise.
"I'm just looking forward to walking into a hut full of tourists and have them freak out saying who called 111," laughed Coleman.
Volunteering provides camaraderie and time off the farm.
Five of the team are farmers and the sixth is a contractor.
The men said taking time at a busy time of the year to travel to Auckland for the Sky Tower challenge wasn't possible.
That's when they began brainstorming the idea of their own challenge closer to home.
"This seemed like a good idea over a beer at the time," says McIntyre who's
been a volunteer for 24 years.
He says being a volunteer firefighter is a family tradition and he's following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
"The walk is going to be a mission; there will be moments along the way I'm sure, but we'll break it down into sections.
"It's not a race, when we get there, we get there."
Coleman says volunteering and training every week is an enjoyable way to spend
time off the farm, which is not always an easy thing to do.
He says when the service is required, it's good to be able to be there to support
members of the community.
Āpiti qualified firefighter Field agrees.
"When someone needs a hand, you want to be there. Someday it might be your family who needs a hand."
You can support the Firefighters' Ruahine Alpine Crossing by donating to: fundraise.leukaemia.org.nz/t/daniel-colemans-team