Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Summer Ramblings...



7 December 2014 Whanahuia tops of the Ruahine ranges...
For the 14th summer in a row John and I are on the first night of our "Ruahine Summer Tour". Each one adds to our experience and knowledge of these ranges, teaches us a bit more about traveling amongst them, and most importantly, how to enjoy them to the fullest. In spite of the other worldly burdens we carry. Worries and concerns that seem to weigh heavy upon us in he world. I have learned it is best to set them down before I enter this place. They will be waiting when I return. After all these years of roaming with John I know he understands that as well. It is good to have such friends.
Tonight finds us camped high on the Whanahuia tops, nestled into a small gully out of the gusty nor'west winds and replete with tarns for water and soft moss to pitch our tent upon. To escape the heat wave far below feels liberating and I write this sitting upon a comfortable lean of hillside tussock wearing wool hat and my warm gear. We have 5 days ahead to be immersed in the mountains. To roam high on the tops and climb down to the rivers below. As invigorating as that will be, a small part deep in my soul wants to just fold this golden tussock over me and stay here for always. Kia ora!



27 December late evening.... I scribble these words by headlamp in the cozy confines of our wee tent. John and I climbed up and along the gully and crossed over to the lee side of this long spur. There we watched the sunset over the main Ruahine range, Te Hekenga and Taumataomekura sharp on the skyline, the headwaters of the Oroua valley catchment lie before us. A fantastic spot to enjoy this bit of Aotearoa, a wee dram of Glen Morangie, and the company of an old friend with whom I have shared many a moment in these beautiful mountains. We seem to fall into old rhythms quite easily. When to let John walk ahead with his faster pace, when to rest, or brew up the billy, and mostly the unspoken words which often say the most. When silence is not uncomfortable but rather seems appropriate. That is a special quality. Taking some time with my quiet friend...




"Layers"
Sorrow and tears
smiles and joy
Layered upon me
until the difference
is no more
How do I share a grey cloud
Drifting by?
Or the difference between
The whio and a blue duck?
The distant jagged blue peaks
the muted green ridges climb to them
The spurs lit like golden flame
Drop steeply to the unseen river
The mountain layers
and the sinew that connects
each essential piece
Lies as well within me..



The last rays of the day fall over the main Ruahine range. A fine place to sit and appreciate the ending of another day in our lives.



John enjoying an after dinner dram. I like this moment as it gives a good indication as to the the steepness near our campsite. He is sitting straight up in the tussock. A cozy spot.


“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.” ...W.B. Yeats

Back upon the Whanahuia from our campsite


The main Ruahine range as the light fades...




28 December, 2014 Triangle hut...evening...
 This is far from the first time John and I have arrived here at Triangle hut. In this, our 14th year of doing this summer journey at least three of those have included this lovely spot up near the headwaters of the Oroua river. Very few entries in the hut book are from those whom do more than merely pass by this place, a destination on the way to somewhere else. I do not write those words as a criticism. Years ago I too was in a hurry to see it all, to write I had been there and there as well. There was always this nagging feeling though as I packed up to move on that there was more here on offer, and eventually I learned to listen to the nagging. Now after 15 plus years I can sit here and observe the subtle changes in the river and landscape, and within myself. Boulders once there in the river and seemingly unmovable, now disappeared without trace. Pools I once swam in now gone moved else where. Or the little stone gorge a few hundred metres up river. You never notice these things passing by. You must sit here and observe.


28 December...I think also of the people I have been here with. Most heavy on my mind my oldest son. He has been here twice. The last time when 12. He is now going to be 22. A burden I left behind perhaps. Yet one whom never leaves my heart. It sometimes seems places like this are where I feel closest to him. Yet I remain very far away.....I cannot walk steps for him or anyone, but perhaps it is my fault in not teaching him how. After all I nearly lost him here once as well. Thoughts and more thoughts...even here deep in the mountains I cannot escape the painful part of love. Like the river flowing by that is easy to love on a fine day such as this when the water sparkles in the sun and calls to me, on a stormy day when the same water becomes turgid, muddy, and dangerous it becomes much harder to love. Or maybe I just love it differently..


 " I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water, Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams, Look’d at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my head in the sun-lit water, Look’d on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward, ..." Walt Whitman


29 December, Triangle hut, evening...
  The sun has poked in and out all day. When it appears it grows hot very quickly, and when it becomes cloud hidden we are reminded equally as quickly as to where we are. The sunny moments have led to a few "swims" in a few of the handy pools and we walked up the Triangle stream for an hour climbing over increasingly huge boulders and log jams and an ever narrowing stream. We were hoping to spot any whio ostensibly. Mainly we were having fun. We then did the same on the main river, climbing up and over the gorge and beyond. Same result. No whio today. We did hear one early this morning  so once again I must content myself with that.
  Later in the afternoon, led by John's sterling efforts, we emptied the entire wood bin, cleaning out the refuse, sorting the wood and sawing it up into useful pieces. It is a wood box I would love to come upon after a long hard day and in need of a warm fire. Creating karma.
 Late last evening as the last of the afternoon light was fading we were joined by two trampers. Gentleman in their late 60's. One whom a few months ago had heart surgery. They were on a massive Ruahine tramp and had come that from Howlett's hut. A long hard day in any person's book in these ranges. They literally had their tea and collapsed into their bunks. This morning they awoke, had breakfast, packed up and left. We were talking to them and one in particular was asking what John and I were doing this day. We said nothing. He looked at us, looked around this amazing spot, and I could tell he understood. Yet he and his mate shouldered their loads and headed down river towards Iron Gates and beyond. John and I just smiled.
  I linger now, writing in the last of the sunlight on this porch. I reflect on my many visits here. Taylor again enters my thoughts. We are both roustabouts. It is just this is where I choose to be one.



 John saws up wood at Triangle. We always carry a small pruning saw on these trips and it comes in handy.



30 December, 2014.. Iron Gates hut. Ruahine
John and I left Triangle mid morning to make our way down the river here to Iron Gates. We are meeting Pohangina Pete here later this afternoon as he making his way up river from the road end many miles away. It seems appropriate to reunite with Pete here. The very place I met him over 15 years ago. A very fine friendship has resulted from that chance encounter at a remote Ruahine spot. Or maybe it was meant to happen...I like that thought as I scribble these words.
The route is pretty much in the river for a few hours, then up and over a very steep spur to avoid a section of gorge and deep pools. The river is fairly low, though we still waded in places waist deep. We debated tackling the gorge. Plenty of time and it was only the grey skies starting to spit a bit that put rest to those notions. I let John climb up first and followed a while later. Pretty much a vertical climb up into a side stream then out of it and onto and up the spur. Repeat after reaching the top except in reverse. Very steep. At one point I could look out below and see the river twisting around other spurs, the mist rising around them, and hear the thunderous sound of fast water rolling through. We made the right decision I thought.
When I finally reached the side stream on the other side I saw John sitting there waiting and smiling. I joined him and turned back to see just a stunning scene. A stream falling gently behind us, the green mosses and lichens shining brightly, the water then gaining strength right before our eyes and falling over a noisy fall just below us. It felt as if we were part of this living breathing thing. The essence of the whenua herself. We got up and made our way to the river and here. We still had not spoken a word...



Done with the river about to climb up over the gorge. Good time for a rest...


“I tramp a perpetual journey.”
― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The high mountain forest. Either way a fine place to be. Climbing up to see these windows and tops seemingly once so far away grow near. Climbing down into the forest and the cool earthiness of the high trees and the promise of a pristine river and the whio far below. I am neither coming nor going. I am simply here....Maungamahue on the Whanahuia...




John and Pete by the Oroua river outside Iron Gates hut.

This spot has always intrigued me. The precipitous drop, the rapid, the colour of the pool below. It reminds me of the pounemu, green stone, given to me by treasured friends which I wear around my neck.


The Oroua valley.



There are times in a vast Ruahine forest that within it's vast canopy a tiny sliver can stop me in my tracks. Sunlit moss consuming an old tawhairauriki tree, the leaves of others scattered golden, red and brown amongst it as if placed there individually and carefully by the gentle Hand of Nature Herself. I stop and stare and a lump rises in my throat. I walk on slowly, misty eyed and content.


Afternoon tea by the Oroua river with John and Pete. An array of fine nibbles squirrled along for just such an occasion. Olives, Kapiti cheese, biltong, pistachios, and fig newtons. What a pleasure to spend these moments in such a place with such friends.

30 Jan. Evening.... this trip, just as this year draws to a close. 5 days spent in the Ruahine. Though I have a fine forest walk to look forward to in the morning I can't help but feel a sense of regret right now. Wishing that John, Pete, and I were heading on to someplace else in the morning. And another part of me that is ready to shoulder what I left back there at the Rangiwahia car park. I am especially looking forward to seeing Tara. And Charlie.
 As always with John Nash, my old companion, a time we truly enjoyed to it's fullest potential. It is good to write that and mean it. We have been traveling in these ranges together nearly 20 years now. You learn a lot about someone doing such things. The words we have not spoken just as important, and just as understood, as the words we have shared. To be joined by Pete, even for this brief day and night, whom has become a treasured friend and mentor in so many ways, at the very place I met him 15 years ago just adds to another special Ruahine experience. Kia ora!
Aroha,
Robb

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Travels with Charlie...



“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.” 
― John Steinbeck..Travels with Charley

14 October..evening Sunrise hut
 Here at Sunrise hut once again waiting as gales blow over. A difference is I am here with my youngest son Charlie. We are on a week long trip into the Ruahine to get into and return from Maropea Forks. I think Charlie is more excited by the fact he gets an extra week off school rather than the prospect of the crossing the windy saddle and then onto Maropea Forks. I think these mountains have as much to teach him in a week as does school. We shall see. First things first though and crossing the exposed saddle is our next endeavour after climbing up here. A few years ago Charlie and I had a very scary experience crossing back from Top Maropea to here. By the time we got to within a few hundred metres of here the winds were severe gales and we had to crawl on hands and knees, and I was finally able to get us into the lee side of the gales into the tupare and safety by dragging Charlie behind me. He was very brave and I was very relieved. I sense now a few years later that experience is playing a bit on his mind as the wind blows over. The wind is meant to drop a bit overnight, but I have played that waiting game many times in the past. In the meantime I get ready to prepare our evening meal of venison tenderloin and broccoli. And just enjoy being with with my son..



Charlie on the sunny but very windy tops.


A'int that the truth!


 Charlie returning to Sunrise hut after checking out conditions on the open saddle




 15 October Top Maropea morning tea....
  The winds did indeed die down a bit over night and we left not long after sunrise. By the time we reached the highest reaches just before Camel Back spur we started getting hit by a few gusty gales which unnerved Charlie a bit. I talked to him about how he was feeling and he said his tummy hurt. Then I got him down through the spur into the forest and down to here. We sat on the bench in the hut and I snuggled Charlie close to me and told him we could do one of two things, stay here and rest a bit then head down to the river and either camp or head all the way to the hut, or simply stay here. He went outside for a bit then came in to tell me he wanted to go on to Maropea Forks. I felt good about talking it through with him and letting him come to his decision. Then I felt bad for my older son Taylor. I would have just ignored his fear and been impatient with him. I owe him an apology and a hug....
  It is only early morning, the day is beautiful and we have all day to climb down to the river then down it to the Forks. We are in no hurry at all...



 The main Ruahine range


Charlie on the Maropea river. Out of the wind and in the sun. Makes a big difference.


 Crossing and recrossing the river down to Maropea Forks.


The old tawhairauriki flood log. A place, on a good day, I always stop and have a bite to eat and just a lovely spot. A perfect table and bench....and not a bad spot for tried boy to have a wee nap.


15 October, late afternoon at Maropea Forks...
How does one explain the art of river walking to anyone, much less my own 11 year old son? On a day walk with a small pack, or no pack, it is easy. Just get wet and have fun. On a longer walk, for many hours with a bigger and heavier pack, and the destination far off, it is a slightly different proposition. The mountain river has many moods, at times slow and easy, the places to cross and walk apparent. In other places she bunches up into white water doing the timeless work of Nature and more care must taken in where and how to cross. My advice to Charlie was to try and empty himself, to Listen to the river and let it guide you. He looked at me a bit funny but I could see him chewing on that and watching me as I went along. We had a beautiful day, the river was in fine condition, and we just took our time. After a few hours I saw Charlie get it. He understood the rhythm. Just get wet and have fun...


Robb at the site of the old Maropea Forks hut

Evening Maropea Forks hut...
Charlie is nestled into his sleeping bag reading an old deer hunting magazine left behind from the old hut. The glow from my small lantern over head and a few candles provide the light. We can hear the river muttering by outside. I look upon these new walls of the new hut at Maropea Forks with mixed feelings. The old hut had great character, a great wood stove in The Corker, and of course, also a place I had so many memories. The gamut of emotions as it were. A quality I would use to describe myself would be loyal. So I find myself not entirely at home here in this new shiny hut. There are no scars here yet. Though setting my pen down and pondering a bit, having a wee sip of Glen Morangie, and looking again at my beautiful son lying in his bunk, I realise it is not about the timber and boards that make this place what it is. It is us, the people I have been here with, including my other beautiful son, and the mountains and river muttering by, and the effort it takes to get here that make this place so special. Those memories are not confined to the location of that old hut. They drift like wispy wood smoke from the fire all around me. Maybe I am home..



The new hut.


Embraced by the icy cold river!

Maropea Forks...Charlie and I had a fine hut day today. Chopping and sawing up ample wood for the hut bins and wood shed, then a "swim" in the river - which really means diving in and staying as long as the cold can be withstood, a few cups of tea and milo, lunch, a wee nap, another swim, and just hanging out and talking. For us to be disconnected from the outside world, from the devices and distractions, brings us a connection here I relish and enjoy as the slowness and timelessness of the day unfolds. I see Charlie in a different light. Through out our conversations today I felt his continued anxiety about having to cross the saddle in a few days time. I realized how much he is like me that way. My first years here learning about the mountains I would worry constantly about rain and rivers flooding, cloudy misty tops, wind and gales. Until I gained a connection and understanding of the mountains, and myself. And it still evolves. So I tried to share that with Charlie. That just as in life, most things we worry the most about never actually happen. That we are well equipped and provisioned, and that there is so much indeed we cannot control here we can only focus on what we can and simply enjoy the moments. It is natural to fear those uncontrollable variables, even harder to comes to terms with them. When we do accept them and understand them there comes a great sense of freedom. I can't write that the Chomper understood what I was trying to get at, but I could sense he was glad that at least I tried...



Whio on the river...



Charlie rests at the point where we leave the creek and climb back up to the hut at Top Maropea. Then climb from there to the open tops and saddle back Sunrise. That orange marker and sign above him is near vertical and so is the next 15 minutes or so as we climb up to the top of the spur leading to the hut. Tough going!



17 October Top Maropea...
We left Maropea Forks early this morning. The clouds looked swollen and a few times we walked in slight drizzle. I love the early morning hours in the mountains. It seems to me that is when the wairua, or soul, of the mountains is most apparent. The emerging ambiance of the day ahead still in the air, the quietness of the morning enhances the colours coming to life. Travel becomes light and easy, an obstacle ahead that may look like trouble is suddenly past and behind. I could have tried to explain all that to Charlie, but best to just experience it and let it unfold. A whio frolicked ahead of us for some time, a pair of fat trout cruised lazily in a pool, and a large shag flew slowly upriver, fresh deer sign was all around, and the river rolled on. It is alive...
Now we are ensconced in the cozy confines of Top Maropea hut. The sun beats down over head, our boots, socks and other wet gear scattered about drying in the warmth of the sun. Charlie and I have gathered, sawed and prepared our evenings fire for it will get chilly higher up here towards the tops. We gaze out upon the valley and the now far off peaks from where we came this morning. Charlie thinks it is pretty cool we have walked so far. It is cool...



Charlie does the dinner dishes at Top Maropea. The fire is lit. All is well. Or so it would seem...


Charlie soaked, wet, and tired back at the car...dry clothes and hot chips not far away!

8 October, morning Sunrise hut...
"When Charlie and I arrived at Top Maropea early yesterday afternoon the day had turned beautiful. Blue skies, a slight nor'west wind, and warm. Charlie kept hinting that perhaps we should climb and cross the saddle while the getting was good. Again, I could sense his nervousness about the wind and our experience with the gales a few years ago. A lesson learned from these mountains with my oldest son has been not to trivialize, not to acknowledge that anxiety. I owe Taylor a big hug and an apology for how I was then. Now, with Charlie, I gently discussed our options. That little inner voice kept whispering to stay here, that the unfolding of an intimate experience between just us was far more likely here than over at Sunrise. And so we stayed at Top Maropea.
During the night I awoke to the sound of a freight train. The wind howling over and shaking the hut in a noisy rattle. I heard Charlie's wee voice from the depths of his down bag shakily ask if the hut was going to blow away. I assured him the hut has been here for over 50 years and seen many a storm, and I myself had seen it much worse. That if we had to stay another day we would be just fine. And then mentally kicked myself for not heading over the saddle the prior afternoon. Then the rain began bouncing off the tin roof. I drifted back into an uneasy sleep.
When I awoke at sunrise, except for a persistent patter on the roof, all was quiet. The wind had died down. I had a coffee and packed my gear. Then woke up Charlie with a cup of milo and a bar while we packed up and cleaned the hut. Then we climbed up and crossed the exposed saddle in the rain and mist. Actually enjoyable conditions. Less than two hours later we arrived here at Sunrise. And found a group of 14 school girls and instructors whom had stayed last night as part of a school trip. Nice peeps to be sure, but Charlie would have been mortified sharing even the ample confines here in such company. I can only smile now writing this, and content I pay attention to that inner voice. So now, a cup of tea and the final few hours back down to the car and home. I love these mountains, I love this boy. Kia Ora!"


Robb and Charlie at Maropea Forks


Monday, August 25, 2014

Winter's Foil






Maybe the best journeys are the ones that are worth repeating, and are repeated.
— Rebecca Solnit



15 August Evening...Sunrise hut
 I wrote the quote above down in my little notebook long ago after reading it on a good friends blog. He was also in the Ruahine, on a track he has walked perhaps hundreds of times now and pondering the dichotomies of returning to our favourite wilderness places time and again...

 Does this represent a lack of imagination, a lack of curiosity about other places? Or, does it indicate a love for the place, the gradual building of a relationship with it so, finally, it becomes home?
...Pohangina Pete

This particular track I have walked up now perhaps nearing 100 times. Mostly heading slowly upwards, like today, with heavy pack and the intention of heading much further into the mountains for a number of days. Others on a simple day walk with nothing more than a small pack with a bit of extra gear and the makings for a cup of tea before heading down again. I must admit that at the end of a long trip and returning to the car the lower part of the track can seem monotonous, the zig zags that take the steepness out of the ridge tiring and my thoughts turning to home and a cold beer at the Onga Onga pub. Where as the start of such a trip is always filled with more excitement, even nervousness, and I can measure my progress not against time passing, but by a familiar tawhairauriki grove, a bend in the track, the appearance of the first tupare, or hearing the first gust of wind blow over the high open tops, ears tuned to if the music is gentle enough to allow the saddle to be crossed. Yet even with all those familiar and the emotions they invoke, neither this place nor I are ever the same. There is always something different about both this place and myself. Sometimes very subtle, sometimes not.

Today the difference was quite apparent as I approached the Ruahine and the car park. There was snow all the way down to 400 metres and I parked my car in 3-4 inches of the white stuff. Having had to open and close 3 farm gates on the way in I also knew it was intensely cold. Not a below freezing dry Wisconsin cold like I grew up in, but rather a bone marrow chilling damp below freezing cold of the lush North Island of Aotearoa. I have often seen snow on Sunrise track fairly often in winter high up above 800-900 metres in winter, but never down this low, and never this cold. Even the sheep which roamed the paddocks seem surprised as they huddled together. I shouldered my pack and headed off into the mist...







The snow covered forest seems silent
the frozen coating settles upon the tawhairauriki branches
Bending but not breaking under the strain and weight
Of the unfamiliar burden
Even the crunching of my own footsteps in the snow
Seem muffled and hushed
The only awareness and connection is my own
Measured and laboured steamy breathing
Climbing slowly upwards with heavy pack
Then the forest accepts my presence and folds back around
The piwakawaka gather in noisy fluttering groups
As if excitedly chattering about the snowstorm
Or trying to keep warm
Snow laden branches dump their loads, like sugary sounding waterfalls
Most often upon me as I try and fail to avoid
the low drooping snow covered limbs
The sharp rifle like crack of a beech branch unable
to withstand it’s load
Life and death
Fat chubby kereruru burst from the branches
In explosions of icy white crystals
Their cooing and clumsy whoosh of wing
Die quickly
Muted by the frozen surrounds
The forest seems silent
But is not
It is only Quiet





15 August Evening....It is -8 Celsius outside. In spite of the wood fire being lit inside the hut it is only 2 Celsius outside the small radius of warmth around the stove. The snow continues to fall and the wind howls over. The storm adds a bit of remoteness to my solitude even here at Sunrise. Being the only person in the world to be up here in this storm makes the snowy slog worthwhile. Or maybe I am the only person in the world crazy to enough to have walked up here in this weather. Either perspective is fine with me.

I have my doubts as to being able to get across the saddle in the morning. The winds were supposed to be dying down this afternoon before rising again to gale force in the morning. A window that has never really opened. Plodding through the hip deep drifting snow out to the open tops was difficult enough when I went out for a look. Not being able to stand in the wind and being being pelted with shard like ice and snow crystals made the decision to stay here much easier. One of the positive aspects about repeating a journey many times is that the familiarity with it also means "experience", which hopefully translates to well informed judgement and decision making. I know that saddle very well, have fought a few battles out there so I feel quite calm and at ease with choosing not to fight this one. The glow of the fire and the 16 year old Bushmill's also helps.


16 August, Ruahine early morning. Sunrise hut
How many mornings have I have been here? How many sunrises have I been witness to here? Some with brilliant blue cloudless skies and nary a wisp of wind. The promise of the day ahead lies clear and true. Some cloud obscured, or like today blasted by gales with the view coming and going with the vagaries of the wind, and nothing for it but to either climb back into a warm sleeping bag or put the billy on for a cup of tea. The sun rising out there on the South Pacific Ocean is a constant. My bearing witness to it is not. So the nuances and subtle beauty of each one, no matter if I can see it or not, and my memories of them, bind me deeply to these mountains. I think I will go put on the billy for a cup of tea...



The wind was still relentless, the temperature still below zero, and snow continued to blow and drift. I packed up and decided to at least venture a bit out onto the saddle to see if the conditions improved enough to pass. Top Maropea would have been like a freezer, and with the snow likely all the way down to the Maropea river, walking in ice cold water and then snow for 3-4 hours held somewhat dubious appeal.


The moment I pulled the pin out on Armstrong saddle. Hip deep snow and gale force winds were one factor. The biggest is seeing the colours literally drained from the scene. When life becomes black and white, forward or back, and all the senses are tuned into the importance of what you choose in these next few moments. A glimpse into our very souls...


16 August...Late morning: Brewing a final cup of tea before heading back down. The wind has not abated, the cold is intense, and the feeling emanating from the quiet voice within whispers that this is not the time. Aside from having to walk down with an equally heavy pack I am at peace with that conclusion. The Ruahine will be here for some time yet. Certainly as a younger man I would have felt anger and rage at SOMETHING, perhaps even tried to force my way through for good or bad. Maybe I am just at a more peaceful place myself. Time to go home...





The forest......



Till next time....


Aroha,
Robb