Friday, June 8, 2018

Mana Heke Iho - Inherent Dignity

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

2 June 2018
Sunrise hut  Mid afternoon

I arrived here after a rather chilly walk up through the cloud and mist. It was drizzling when I left the car and shortly turned to rain and sleet as I trudged upwards to here.  While trying to be cognizant that I would be carrying a near 18 pound bench lashed to my pack, I also had to have gear and equipment for a 3 day winter tramp. Thus my load, both mentally and physically was very heavy. It has been over 5 months since I have spent any real quality time in the mountains, and combined with the duty of hauling this bench along to replace ones which had been at Top Maropea for 60 years, until being burnt, made it a tough effort. That someone chose to burn 60 year old seats in a mountain hut that is actually a Historical Site because they were cold still astounds me. The total disconnection, disrespect, and sheer self entitlement of such an act filled me with a melancholic gloom.
 I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts as I climbed slowly up here and reflect on my relationship with both Top Maropea and the Ruahine, perhaps find some inspirational insight that will soothe my soul. The truth is really I felt blank and simply felt the weight of that bench strapped on my back with each step. Maybe it was some type of penance and more sanguine and lucid thought will come as I sit by the fire with a cup of tea, or something stronger.
 In the morning I will head over the saddle to Top Maropea and be joined at some point by a few other lads hauling the other two benches. It is completely clagged in and grey with rain and sleet, though only a slight wisp of wind. It seems as if the mountains too feel the melancholy.

On the way up.
Late Afternoon..

 There was a wee break in the rain and I went out and sat amongst the tussock up where the track to the saddle begins. Though I could see no more than 10 metres in any direction I knew that Te Atuaoparapara loomed above to the southwest, and that Armstrong saddle was just to the north and the highpoint and start of Camelback spur directly to the west. The mere fact I knew they were there made their presence important and significant. Then as if the cloud lifted and those peaks and places suddenly appeared clear and vivid, the fog in my head lifted in the same momentary reflection. What came to mind was holistic model of Maori health and wellness developed by Sir Mason Durie, one I had learned the basics of in my Probation officer training and read more about on my own, that of Te Whare Tapa Wha. Simply explained meaning there are 4 dimensions to a person’s  well being, akin to the support of 4 legs of chair we might sit upon. If 1 or more of the legs is wobbly or broke it will not support us and we are out of balance. The 4 areas are:
1.    Taha Hinengaro – our mental health and well being
2.    Taha Tinana – our body and physical well being
3.    Taha Whanau – our family and relationship
4.    Taha Wairua – our Spiritual well being
 So sitting there all bundled up on a wee knoll of moss and tussock enjoying a wee dram with the tupare and stunted tawhairaunui as soothing, knowing, and wise companions, I realized the issue was with my own wairua.  The bruised and battering my own wairua, spirit, has taken was not so much related to the burning of the actual benches themselves.  They are simply representations of a place, and mountains, I love and have become connected to in so many ways. And perhaps it is simply being in these mountains again that has help lift my wairua. I suspect as well that the load I carried up here to begin restoring mana and karma to a place I love also has a role in my own spirts being lifted.

The rain has resumed in earnest and the temperature remains 0 degrees Celsius. Everything outside is still muted by the quiet mist. I am off to bed and in the morning I shall venture into the mist shrouded track over to Top Maropea. My Quiet Friend and I will travel together. A hint of breeze fluttering the waxy leaves of the tupare, greywacke rock falling down a slip like broken shards of glass, the rise and fall of my own breathing and heartbeat, and always on days like the one ahead the cacophony of water, plopping, dripping gathering and flowing into nearby waterfalls I will never see. It is hushed and quiet but never silent. Tihei Mauri Ora!

3 June 2018
Top Maropea hut

The rain and sleet picked up quite heavily during the night at Sunrise, joined by the odd blast of wind which had me nervously tossing and turning in my sleeping bag. Rain, cloud and sleet are not deal breakers on a route I know very well, but strong winds definitely can destroy the best laid plans. However when I awoke just before light it was fairly quiet and though it was drizzling steadily the winds were still with just an occasional gust. A few cups of coffee, some cabin bread and peanut butter, and I packed up and was on my way.

While I got very wet I was only hit by blasts of chilly wind when turned into the easterly cold wind and just plugged along through it. As I neared the middle section of Camel Back spur a small section of cloud cleared and across the valley a section of the snow covered tops emerged out of the mist for a few brief moments. (It was to be the only glimpse of any tops I would see all three days). Walking in the cold and mist was actually not uncomfortable travel given my heavy load. After the steep climb down through the forest I arrived at Top Maropea and unburdened myself of my heavy load. I said a Karakia for what was old and what is new and that Mana Heke Iho, or Inherent Dignity be restored to this mountain treasure. Then I just stood in silence and listened to the plopping drips of water all around me and thought of my connections to this place….

I, and the bench have arrived. Haere Mai! Welcome. Always glad to be here.

The original hut. Things still swirl here.

The above photo, courtesy of the New Zealand Deer Stalkers Association, is Top Maropea in 1959. I came across it and just sat staring at it. It seemed to speak to me, almost as if waiting for me to discover it. How many nights, or hut bound afternoons waiting out a storm, or even fine ones lazing about doing not much at all, have I wondered about this place, the men whom have spent time here culling deer, the storms this hut has withstood, the changes in the mountains it has been witness to observe.
 A hut was first proposed for the area in 1956 with the site chosen by NZFS field officers Evan Meredith and Des Torrance. In early 1958 a tent site was set up and 14 loads of materials were parachuted in by fixed wing airplane. It was built in one week in Feb. 1958 by NZFS bush carpenters Jan van de Lagemaat, Des Torrance and Bob Norton. It was built before hut construction was standardised and as such this hut had its own special uniqueness.
 The hut was less than two years old when this photo above was observed. Though it has been refurbished, most of the structure today is the original hut seen above. The chimney, roof, guttering, interior lining, and fireplace all have been replaced, and the hut has been designated as an historical land mark, one of the original cullers huts in the North Island, and certainly the Ruahine.
It was not, apparently, the most popular place amongst the cullers to pull duty in. It is relatively high at 1242 meters, burnable wood for a fire hard to come by for a night, much less to cook on and warm one's self morning and night day after day. Also observing the above photo and noticeable lack of a water tank to capture rain off the roof, getting a drink or boiling the billy would have been the best part of an hours journey to and from the stream far below the hut. In winter, after the fire dies, it is like sleeping in a refrigerator.
 Still, this place calls to me and always will. I have seen it on the most sublime of days and nights.  On blue sky sunlit days when flies buzz lazily in the air, and cool clear nights when stars light up the skies. I have woken up and got my stuff packed and dressed at 3:00am when I thought the hut was going to be blown away. I have had to stay extra days and ration out my food supply because of raging blizzards. I have seen the snow glow translucent on the surrounding peaks on a full moon. I have just sat in the hut contemplating, looking out the fly specked window, the rain beating down on the tin roof. I have had many wee drams in my tin cup, a candle illuminated in the hut window with the smell of wood smoke in the air as I sit outside observing the scene. My sons Taylor and Charlie have both shared this place with me, and Charlie's placenta is buried here. Tara has been here with me at a time I needed her most. I have shared the charms of this place with many special friends, and spent many nights as well in the solitude of my own company.
 So this photo echoes strongly for me. As if I can sense men like Des, Evan, Jan and Bob still have their spirits swirling about the place and understand exactly why those bloody benches were indeed so important.

Taylor and I in 2001. On the way to Maropea Forks. 

Taylor at Top Maropea in 2011. Little did we know the trip ahead!

An absolutely awesome fire, well built and well earned.

Charlie at Top Maropea. One of my favourite moments in the Ruahine. His placenta is buried beneath that cairn the sunlight shines upon. I took it, and still do, as a sign from Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, that all was correct.

Charlie in front of a well built Top Maropea fire.

Charlie. On the way to Maropea Forks. Another good fire.

Tara. I would carry a bottle of red wine in for no else in the entire world. Enough said.

2008 and the celebration of the 25th night spent under this orange roof.

All three benches have arrived. A fine evening!

3 June Top Maropea
 I am now joined now by the other two benches hauled in by David Dodge and T.J, and Tyson. I met David at Upper Makaroro back in 2001 when he was a young lad. I was with an American friend and he was there with a mate fly fishing. One evening we shared a freshly caught rainbow trout that fed the four of us. Ten years ago or so I was spending a few days at Top Maropea and doing some day trips. I was down on the Maropea river on a lovely day strolling along when I saw two guys come around a bend staggering under heavy loads and large Red Stag head. It was David and he immediately recognized me from our time at Upper Makaroro. We climbed back up to Top Maropea and renewed our acquaintance over cups of tea. We have remained friends ever since. The person with him was Tyson. So the connections are very relevant and very strong. Tyson had a snow boarding accident a few years ago and broke his back. This is his first trip into the Ruahine since then. It seems significant he is here and representative of the healing process for all of us. Kia ora!
 It is still raining and we sit inside by the fire as these new seats become part of their new whare.  We sit in the ambiance of a job well done, laughing and telling Ruahine stories, sharing our food and several well earned drams of very nice whiskey.
 I am proud and honoured to be here with these gentlemen and share this moment. The new seats look and feel like they belong and with their long journey over the misty mountain terrain they have truly gained character. Mission accomplished.

David, TJ, and Tyson on Camel Back spur. Weather conditions not pleasant.

Nice job lads!

When it is wet, cold, and no firewood there is work to be done.

Home Sweet Home!

Meeting David Dodge at Upper Makaroro back in 2001. The trout was tasty.

David Dodge and I in 2018. Kia kaha e hoa!

Tyson and David Dodge hauling out that deer from Top Maropea way back when.

The view from the "backyard" at Top Maropea. To appreciate it most sitting on a nice bench and contemplation is required.

4 June: Sunrise Hut
Still raining but across the saddle. I have chosen to remain behind while the other fellahs walk ahead. Once here there is no more risk involved. Just a big walk down the mountain to my car. So I just wanted to stay behind and reflect a bit. To all the times I have been here doing just this. To all the times I have managed to cross the saddle and venture beyond. And those I have not.  To all those I have crossed that saddle with. Each equally important. And now, as I sit here alone with stean blowing off my breath, I know the efforts of many have added up to a meaningful experience. 

E hara taku toa
i te toa takitahi,
he toa takitini,

My strength is not
as an individual
but as a collective.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hei huarahi maa taatou e te rangi nei ( A Pathway for us all day.)

John on Parks Peak ridge. Main Ruaine range in background with Makaroro valley between

17 December 2017
Parks Peak hut
Early evening
Robb Kloss
John Nash

How many times now have I sat here at the table in this hut and stared across the high mountain meadow towards the Makaroro valley and the distant main Ruahine range? At the end of the meadow lies the location of the old Parks Peak hut, a miserable and leaking little hut with a cranky wood stove. Yet how I loved that place. In a few years now only those whom had been there will even know it was there at all. This “new hut” which I sit in now could hardly be considered any longer as new. It is coming up quickly on ten years old. And memories of many visits over that span make me realize I have spent as much time in this new hut as I did at the place I gaze wistfully across the meadow upon.
I am here with John on the first day of our week long summer roam in the Ruahine, the 17th such summer wander. It was a very hot day on a ridge the hut map describes as “very long, and very arduous.” John and I both agree that is a very apt description. Perhaps the word “gruelling” could be added for additional effect. I have never arrived in my many trips along it to not be tiredly thrilled to see this meadow come into view and with it the little orange roof of the old hut or the white one of this more spacious accommodation at the other end of the meadow. Yet the pain of walking and climbing up the ridge is always tempered by the sheer beauty of it. The rewards of the climb apparent in the emergence of the mosses and lichen, the stunted tawhairauriki, the far off views of the distant main Ruahine range and finally the tupare, leatherwood, and knowing the upper reaches are at hand and that hut roof and mountain meadow not too far away.

There is a shadow hanging over me. There is a lingering and familiar pain in my left hip, the one that wasn’t replaced. One that reminds me of perhaps what lies ahead, and also an incessant tapping on my shoulder of time and my ability to travel in these places. So in the dull pain I am also aware of being present and mindful of each moment I have in the mountains. It is not a combination I would choose but my companion none the less.

John naps peacefully as I scribble these words in between thoughts. Soon I will begin preparing our tea of green beans, mushroom, garlic and satay noodles. Even now the memories of a day on that “long and arduous” ridge fade into the sunset and comfort of arriving at such a place as this.   

Parks Peak hut at Sunrise

Cloud gathering over the main Ruahine range

18 December 2017
Upper Makaroro hut
Late morning

I arrived here an hour or so ago, and not long after came John. We enjoyed our descent from the upper ridge down to the river on our own. Yesterday was blazing hot and cloudless. Overnight the wind blew in in fierce gales shaking the hut, and it still blows hard overhead though we are relatively protected here on the bottom of the narrow valley. From the track head on Parks Peak ridge the main range, our goal for the day, was smothered in layers of fluorescent bruise coloured rolling cloud and mist. It did not look inviting. Even dropping into the magical glowing forest and big trees the wind still howled through with an ominous feel. John’s thoughts obviously mirrored mine on his walk as by the time we had boiled the billy and made our first cup of tea we had decided to stay in the lovely confines of Upper Makaroro hut and the river. The beauty, I guess, of our flexible travel plans and having time built in. Older legs combined with experience can indeed make good decisions.

Upper Makaroro hut

Late Afternoon: The wind still swoops over the valley, occasionally reaching a probing gust down to our level, as if to remind us of its presence, and also validate our decision earlier today. John and I have gathered a bit of firewood and rendered it up not quite deciding yet on a fire thought the temperature is steadily dropping. We have spent today just being here in the moment. It has been good to catch up on what is going on in our lives, with our families, with our jobs, with each other. And always a pleasure to find that even though we have not seen each other in almost a year there is an easy comfort in each others presence. A friendship that has evolved with proper portions of recalling old memories mixed equally in always advancing the relationship through what is relevant now, be it an easy subject or a difficult one. We are also comfortable in silence or traveling alone and meeting up along the way out here in the mountains. So though today has mostly been a hut day I smile at the discovery the roots of our friendship have been watered and nourished…. Ma roto hoki kia ora! Ka pai te korero! - Let us refresh ourselves and the conversation will be good.

Stunted tawhairaunui forest on Totara spur

Now on main range looking back to Parks Peak ridge

Main Ruahine range turnoff. Windy and cold!

South on main range. Kylie spur is just above the tarn. We took shelter out of the wind by the tarn and changed our plans.

Tarns on the tops.

19 December 2017
Kylie biv on main Ruahine range

We are cosily ensconced in the modest confines of Kylie bivvy. There is pretty much room for the two of us and a bit of gear. However any negative reflections on our accommodation are eliminated by the fact we are out of the howling and near gale force winds – and the reason this little dog box hut is here. Being on the tops in this type of wind is not pleasant and possibly very dangerous. We climbed up Totara spur from Upper Makaroro and arriving to fierce winds on the open tops decided to battle along and trust conditions might improve. They did not. After battling and fighting the cold wind for almost two hours we were happy to drop down the spur off the tops to here and more thankful to find this little shelter. Every few minutes a gust finds its way down the spur and rattle and shakes this tiny box with ferocity. We will just have to re-assess and see if the winds die down and head back to the tops and camp. That was the plan. The Ruahine do not seem to care a lot for our plans so far. So this little box suits us just fine.

Looking north on main range and head waters of Makaroro valley.

Kylie bivvy. A steep drop down off the spur.

The loo.

Kylie biv.

Home sweet home. John reading the hut book.


Early Evening:
Our new tiny abode now feels lived in with a bit of our gear strewn about and a wee nap. The wind still howls over and from time to time the darkening clouds let loose with a brief rain shower. This is our home for the night and what it lacks in ambiance and comfort is made up for in its location and mere presence. Not to mention possibly the finest outdoor mountain loo in the Ruahine.

The hut book here goes back over 20 years and the book is less than half full. I was surprised and delighted to see my own name there from 2003. I was here with my American friend Mike (Gyro) for a day trip up from Upper Makaroro. I was much younger and far fitter. I can recall from looking at my entry that the pen left then had run out and all I was able to write were our names. So tonight, over 14 years later, I finished our entry and added a new one. It seems quite fitting. I ponder again how long these mountains will allow my presence. This lingering pain in my left hip continues to tap upon my shoulder. To see that entry in a seldom visited place makes me smile. My legs carried me here. I am indeed older, slower and not much wiser perhaps, but I am here. The little dog box has just taken on a wee bit more ambiance.

John emerging from Kylie spur back onto the tops. It was dark cloud and suddenly the sun just burst through.

Morning view from Kylie biv.

Back along the main range.

On the tops.

Back into the forest.

20 December 2017
Upper Makaroro
Late morning

Almost as soon as we pulled the door shut on our wee bivvy early last evening the rain began to patter in earnest on the tin roof. Then it began to rain, and when that was done it rained even harder, and then it rained again. For over 12 hours it rained. Occasionally the rain was overcome by the continuing gusts of wind that would howl over and shake the tiny bivvy to its core. It was not the best nights sleep I have had in the mountains. Just after dawn the rain slowed to a drizzle. Not too long after we got our gear organized and headed back up to the still windy tops. We found the tops covered in swirling cloud and wind. It was actually a fantastic scene as the view changed almost by the minute, engulfing us in her misty grey fingers one minute, the next finding us in sunshine. It was enough for us to call off a long day on the tops in uncertain weather and an unknown route. This was validated by our becoming “lost” by walking off towards the ridge leading towards Ruahine Corner until the mist lifted and we spotted our error. It was a very humbling moment to experience.  So we made our way back to Totara spur and climbed back down here to Upper Makaroro. It is what it is, and certainly a reminder that the mountains always hold the upper hand. I can’t even really write that I am disappointed. On a map the route we had planned today looks pretty simple, but once up on the open tops the scale of it becomes very real and in that type of weather, with the wind and cloud mistakes are never far off. It was not a hard call to make

Makaroro river above the hut.

20 December

Late Afternoon

After a late morning siesta awoke to find the sun shining, and while the winds were still heard over head, in the cocoon of the valley all was well. We walked up river for an hour or so to stretch our legs and hoping to spot a whio. We had no luck with the whio but spotted quite a few big trout and found a beautiful little pool to dive into and carry on our summer tradition. The water was ice cold but highly invigorating. As always it is such a pleasure to just amble along a pristine mountain river and just enjoy each new bend, the sounds of its music, and the quality of such moments. How lovely to reflect upon my time here, the fact the proposed dam far down river where it leaves the mountains will not proceed. Places like this are taonga, treasures, and need to be treasured in turn. To quote Edward Abbey, “..We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there.”

As I sit here on the old smooth worn surface of the ancient tawhairanui log listening to the river, eating cashews, and having a wee dram of Glen Morangie I lift my tin cup to those wise words.

Swimming hole.

Upper Makaroro from Parks Peak spur. John outside hut.

21 December
Upper Makaroro
6:00 am
1 degree Celsius
It is dawn. Though it will be a long while yet before the Suns warmth reaches the narrow valley high above me. I have no real reason to be up so early. Our days travel up the grunty spur will take no more than 3 hours and we have all day. Yet as I sit here and sleepily come to life so it seems do the mountains. Even the endless flow and song of the river seems muted and hushed. And I smile knowing these are truly my favourite moments of all in the Ruahine. My cup of strong coffee, bundled up to ward off the damp cold, and my mind and body feel suddenly alert, aware, and in tune. The possibilities that lie ahead exciting and endless. 

The steam rolls off my breath and will until the sun appears and the chilly morning dew will rise and evaporate just like my own presence here. Yet this moment, right now, shall remain like a lingering wisp of that dew.
This is now our 5th day in the mountains. Aside from our own company we have yet to see another soul. Now truly operating on mountain time. Moving with a deliberate pace and action even when seemingly doing little at all. Any burdens exist only in our individual dark places. The mountains bring light and the promise of a new day.
Kia hora te marino
Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana
Hei huarahi maa taatou i te rangi nei
Aroha atu aroha mai
Taatou i a taatou katoa
Haumie hui e Taiki e!
May peace be widespread
May the sea be like greenstone
A pathway for us all day
Let us show respect for each other
For one another
Bind us together!

Afternoon tea on Parks Peak ridge.

Not bad. Not bad at all!

21 December 2017
Parks Peak hut...evening

A beautiful day has emerged. Walked up on my own through the mystical like forest. Although grueling and mostly relentless in its climb, there are some truly magic places, full of energy and wairua, (spirit), within it. A good place to check the measure of my own wairua. I arrived at the top of the spur tired but smiling so I take that as a good sign. I stare once again out the window at the mountain meadow. These past 5 days have unfolded on their own terms. John and I have merely reacted to the gifts we have been given.

We went out to the track head over looking the valley for our final afternoon tea. Olives, cheese, salami, and a wee final dram to toast the Ruahine, and each other. We have been traveling in these mountains together for over 20 years, and for 17 of them doing trips like this every summer. There is a very solid rightness to that. We must be doing something correct.

Kia Kaha, Kia Maia, Kia Manawanui - Be Strong, Be Steadfast, Be Willing

Misty days bring out the best on this ridge. Magical.

22 December 5:30 am

I am once again up early. John still sleeps soundly. The weather has turned once again to grey cloud and mist. I can hardly see the meadow outside the window in the early morning dawn. I look out with an equal degree of joy and melancholy. The joy is soon seeing Tara, my sons, my moko and his momma - my whanau, family. And also joy in that I get another 5-6 hours to wander down this Ruahine ridge knowing she is at her best on just such days as this. The melancholy comes from knowing the meander will carry me to the road end. Another trip finished. How many do I have left? My heart still sings with youthful vigour for these mountains, yet six days of travel tell my legs truths I also need to acknowledge. The coffee tastes good, and I am still smiling. Just enjoy the ridge and the moment Robb...just enjoy.

Kia ora John
Kia ora Tara
Kia ora Tony (Tara's dad who came to pick us up)
Kia ora Ruahine!


John on Parks Peak ridge. One of the less arduous parts. :)