Monday, May 5, 2014

Pondering in the Pohangina

23 April..camped on the Ngamoko tops just below the high point at Toka.
I scribble in my notebook by headlamp as the tent gets buffeted by an occasional low reaching gale. Overhead they scream past with the sound of a freight train. Reaching the tops we were headed north along them to Toka Biv but the increasing gales caused us to pull the pin on that, and by luck we stumbled upon this spot below the lip of the main ridge. It is out of the gale, replete with fresh water from the tarn and a nice cushion of tussock to pitch our tent upon. I think we made a pretty wise decision to pull back from Toka Biv.  We will assess the situation in the morning as before crawling into the tent the cloud rolled in and the rain began. Cloud hidden indeed..

Campsite below Toka high point out of the wind...mostly.

Clagged in and drizzling just before we retire inside the tent for the evening...

24 April Leon Kingvig hut on the Pohangina river...

The wind howls over and occasional great gusts reach down here into the relative narrow confines of the valley and whip everything into a momentary frenzy. Even the water ripples and lifts against the flow of the river. Then all settles into the symphony of the wind overhead and the river passing by.

During the night camped up top the wind buffeted the tent and then steady rain began to fall. We emerged into cold drizzle and near white out conditions. With the wind still ripping over the thought of heading further in did not seem too appealing. An early morning coffee would have helped, but in these conditions it would have been far less enjoyable than where I write these words on the hut porch. Had I been on my own, and certainly if I had been with Charlie, I would have packed up and headed back down to the car to return another day. With John however I felt a bit more confident. That can be the crux of getting in trouble or not. Being with John does not make me any better at route finding, or dealing with unpleasant conditions, but it does give more reassurance in numbers. When people wonder about my safety as an often solo tramper, there are times I think I may actually BE safer on my own as I am so much more aware of my limitations.
John and I packed up and headed into the mist and wind and immediately became "lost". It took us 20 minutes and finally getting out the map and heading where we thought the route would be soon found the poled route down the ridge. A few times we had to hunker down and absorb the gales till they subsided a bit and then carried on. Further down the "track" becomes a bit more distinct but it was a great relief to finally get into the tupare corridor and down into the forest and out of the wind.
I arrived at the hut, wet, cold, and tired, to be greeted by John holding a large hot and strong cup of coffee, which I had been thinking of for several hours. To sit on the hut porch and sip that nectar brought a smile rising through my tiredness. Seconds later a pair of whio flew into the pool across from the hut, singing and frolicking as if greeting us and approving of our presence and efforts to arrive here. Suddenly not tired at all we went down to the river to watch them, the soul of these mountain rivers. I took their arrival as a sign.

Whio outside Leon Kingvig hut on the Pohangina river. Photo by Pohangina Pete..

24 April evening.. In the late afternoon  John and I were sitting down by the river as the wind continued overhead in waves of relentless gales, enjoying the fact we were here, safe and warm, and congratulating ourselves on having the hut to ourselves as no sane person would be out in conditions such as this. Suddenly I saw some movement across the river and high up on the steep track from the forest. Out popped Pohangina Pete who had traveled in through the inclement conditions to join us! He knows this area pretty intimately and judged, correctly, that he could make his away across the tops. What a pleasant and very cool development indeed. I am about to prepare a dinner of Moroccan couscous, with pistachio's, cashews, toasted sesame seeds, and green beans. More than enough for the three of us and a pleasure to cook for such fine mates. The wind continues to whip overhead. Inside this hut it is warm and peaceful. I am once again reminded of Emerson...

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Interesting that evening when Pete appeared the whio returned to greet him as well. They appeared again in the morning as well for an extended visit.

The Pohangina river just above the hut...

Leon Kingvig hut. Pohangina valley.
25 April...mid morning...I have a sense of unease that has come over me. A feeling related to a few things. John and I yesterday discussing the possibility of climbing to and crossing Sawtooth ridge here in the Ruahine this coming summer. We tried many years ago and ended up spending two days hut bound at Howlett's hut as the weather did not permit a crossing and we finally pulled the pin. It is the one major route we have not done in these ranges. With that came my own personal realization of the changes needed within myself to do that, to both mentally and physically have my ducks in a row. And from there I have come head on with the reality of how much I really do love being in these places, or are the words scribbled from my pen mere bullshit? Am I willing to pay the price to make the changes I need to keep traveling here? As I wrote yesterday, had I been on my own in that wind, mist and cloud in the morning I would have doubted myself in unfamiliar terrain, and probably would have turned back. Perhaps that would have been the smartest decision anyway. Yet as I gaze across the river to the start of the track back up and across the Ngamoko the thought of climbing up there into a gale does not fill me with the same sense of challenge I might have felt 10 years ago. It fills me instead with this unease.

I also understand as I grow older the difference between saying we love someone, or some place, and the reality required in actually doing that. Nothing with any of that is static and secure. It is often confronting, painful, and difficult. Sometimes it seems easier to just walk away. So I know the hard work that lies ahead.

The light of the early morning tawhairaunui forest.

26 April...below the Ngamoko tops of the Ruahine
We had spent yesterday close to the hut, going down to the river to greet the visiting whio a few times, and between the gales of wind blasting down from above to fill the billy from the river for another cup of tea or soup. Then early in the evening the rain began in earnest, and between the wind blasting on the tops, and the possibility of not even getting across the river looming with the incessant pounding on the tin roof, we began making nervous contingency plans. A few more moments of doubt...
I woke up before dawn to silence. No rain, and the constant roar of wind gone. Only the muttering song of the river could be heard. Stepping out on the porch I saw stars flickering up in the sky!
I left long before John and Pete who remain at the hut tidying up and no doubt enjoying a few brews before getting underway. Not only because I am far slower but also that I love being on my own in the dripping quiet but not silent forest in the early morning light on such a day as this...sitting here in the depths of the Ngamoko surrounded by blue sky and the myriads of green and shimmering gold I find myself feeling reassured and hopeful. That is love as well.

“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” - John Muir

John climbing up to the Ngamoko with Pete cruising up behind.

John just below Toka, with the ridge down to Leon Kinvig behind. Photo by Pohangina Pete...

Surly and bruised grey clouds roil and roll above
pushed on by blistering gales
fluorescent on the edges of the setting sun
glinting of yellow and reds
that lead to the dark heart of the matter
the measure of my own time
in a timeless place
what must I do for one more day?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Autumn Thoughts

27 March 2014..Top Maropea
I think back a few months ago, waiting over at Sunrise with Tara for the gales to subside and allow us to dash across the exposed tops to here and beyond. The gales never did, and we had to head home thwarted. It happens.

My experience today one of blissful blue skies, sunshine, and the slightest gentle breeze from the south. A crossing to relish, to move slowly and deliberately, to enjoy each moment in the knowledge of what it can be like up there on a bad day slightly unsure, even afraid. I wonder if how much I appreciate being here is also in direct proportion to the number of times, like with Tara, when I have not been here, or have been up there fighting fierce winds, rather than the pleasant stroll I experienced today.  Perhaps that also can apply to people in our lives as well. I have another handful of cashews while I ponder...

                                           Approaching Armstrong saddle just beyond Sunrise hut.

                                      Time to lie in the sun and enjoy. Even the flies were feeling lazy.

                                         Top Maropea just before sunset......

Late afternoon....I was last here in September of last year. John and I came through from Sunrise and stopped for a cup of tea before heading down to the valley and Maropea Forks for a few days, and on the way back Pohangina Pete met us along the way and joined us for a night here at Top Maropea. It was a fine evening, one of real contentment and camaraderie in the company of two men I hold in great esteem. It feels like if I close my eyes and listen deeply there is Pete's quiet chuckle and John's more cynically tinged laughter rolling by on the breeze. It's a nice thought anyway. There are a lot of such echoes for me here.

Evening...settled into the cozy confines of the hut for my 42nd evening. The fire is blazing away nicely as I had plenty of time to gather and saw up my wood supply. The warmth here is mostly illusion for as soon as I let the fire die down and climb into my sleeping bag this hut will turn into an ice box. I accept that. Right now with the glow of the candles, the crackling of the fire, a few wee drams, and dinner to prepare, I am as warm as I need to be....

I will never tire of seeing the sunset painted upon the far off ridges, peaks, and valley. Each one unique and new, some vivid and alive, some shrouded or hidden in mist and cloud. On a still quiet evening like this I can sit here quietly and observe the changes. The minutiae in each subtle moment.

                             "When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep."....W.B. Yeats

Early morning light on the the tawhairauriki. Steeply down the ridge to the stream, then river.

28 March late morning....Camped at the confluence of the stream and Maropea river on an open river flat where the sun beams down. I was going to head further down river but arriving here just felt right and soon the tent was up. I am going to explore up the west branch of the river where I have not been before. There is  a grove of beech across the stream where I once camped with Taylor and Nigel. Taylor was only 8 years old and the next day we headed down to Maropea Forks for a few days. The campsite was an old culler or hunters camp. The old dilapidated stone fireplace is still there with a few old blackened billies hanging from it, and the remnants of an old tarp still half buried covered with rocks. There are echoes here as well.

``28 March...late afternoon camped on the Maropea river.
"I had a nice long nap in my tent to escape the blazing afternoon sun. Then I had a strong cup of sweet tea before wandering down to the river and bathing in the icy river. I feel fresh, clean, and alive. As if the cold clear water not only washed away the dirt, sweat, and grime I have accumulated through the toils of getting here, but has also cleansed me inside as well. The unnecessary burdens in my very soul that have been washed away by the mountain river and carried down to the sea where they will be absorbed into it all. Baptized in the wild waters of the Ruahine..

The Maropea. A bit too far up I suspect to see any whio, but a very spectacular stretch of river I had not seen before.

Evening...inside my tent writing by headlamp. Once the sun disappeared over the valley it got cold very quickly. It is cozy in here, at least right now. I am using Charlie's small down bag more as a blanket than a bag, as my big but 15 year old MacPac fell apart at the seams after the last tramp. It is a little bit like trying to snuggle my large frame under a tea towel. Oh well...time for a new sleeping bag.

It was a lovely walk up the river. It is very tight and suddenly on bends opens into large flats with sheer cliffs and side streams heading up into easier forest. If I was still hunting deer it would be country where I would be hanging out a lot.

I'm feeling much lighter than a few short days past. At least of spirit. A busy period of work and stress over and behind me. And instead of deadlines, administration systems, emails, and phone calls, all I have had to focus upon is when it is day or night, tea or coffee, cashews or macadamia nuts, and the entire simplicity of just being here. And the ease of putting away my pen, turning off my light, snuggling somehow into my tiny nest and listen to the sound of the river outside lull me to sleep.

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!  ~John Muir

I melt into the decaying softness of the old tawhairaunui
What ancient flood and moody day brought her here?
Sitting upon the mosses which claim her I ponder this
as a wisp of breeze blows through
Like the forest around me I simply sway with it's passing
then settle into the old log once again
The river slides past
joyful murmurs today over the greywacke
mountains once far away
like the tawhairaunui
also on the way to sea
I came here to shed burdens
now trivial
for all around me is a dance to join
the old log, the greywacke, the river, and me....

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Footsteps...Summer Tour December 2013

19 December, 2013 Early evening....
Trying to light a fire in the newly installed wood stove here in Rangi hut. Proving to be hard work as the wood supplied is very damp and even wet due to a leaky shed. There is little hope in finding any wood at all up here above the tree line so I persist. A Ruahine fire built for those whom have taught me. I think I have cracked it finally, and have little better to focus upon right now, as the wind cranks over the hut and the rain pelts on the roof. I was going to proceed along the tops and camp further on, but finding the hut unoccupied and having walked up in a polite, but relentless rain all the way, I am happy to adjust to this alternative. Looking out upon the plains below the weather appears as if it may break. I must write that being dropped off by Tara far below earlier that I was far from eager to shoulder my heavy pack and begin climbing. Yet I did, and three hours later arrived here, wet, a bit chilled, and feeling good. It seems to get harder for me to be able put aside the pre-trip thoughts of nagging doubt, fear of the uncomfortable moments ahead, being alone for the next 5 days and what that represents. I used to only imagine blue skies, glistening rivers, and easy travel. Now it is thoughts of  bad weather, heavy loads, and  physical and mental hardship that seem to dominate my thoughts before a trip. I must be getting old....

Part of my somewhat maudlin mood is finding out yesterday afternoon, as I was preparing my gear, that a man Tony Gates had died. A Ruahine wanderer since long before I set foot in these ranges, his name appeared in virtually every hut book, and his love for the wilderness of Aotearoa and many other places very apparent in his entries. I have met many people who knew him, most notably my good friend Pohangina Pete, but our paths never did cross. He was only 53 years old, my age. This was an area in particular he roamed a fair bit. The grey day and rain seem a fitting tribute. As does the possibility of the sun that lies behind the storm.

To Tony:
Sheathed within the grey and mist
not revealing the faded footsteps
I will follow
perhaps only a mere wisp away
now not to be
and never will
Instead I shall carry that
furtive glimpse within
These mountains today it seems
weep for you

20 December, 2013...Triangle hut
The first puffy clouds begin to appear over the Whanahuia high above..I had flawless blue skies the whole day amongst the tops and tussock. I left before sunrise in order to be with those special early morning moments when on such days being born as this the alpenglow bathes all in the wonder. The bulks of Ruapehu and the volcano's to the west swathed in pink and purple hues, Maungahuia to the east shimmers in shafts of gold. A day ahead to roam slowly...

Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro under the muted pink hues of the dawn, the mist yet to be burned off by the new day's sun.

Early morning light as the day unfolds upon the open tops of the Whanahuia range

Tea time  mid morning...the tarns on the Whanahuia.
How many times have I passed this very spot with my head down battened up inside warm clothes and rain jacket buffeted by gales? Far more passing by quickly than a moment like this. One where I can unburden myself from my pack and dig within it to find my tin cup, billy and stove and brew up a hot drink while enjoying a bagel and salami. And more than that to sit shirtless in the sun and have time to scrawl these words in my little notebook! The main Ruahine range looms across the Oroua valley which drops off steeply below me and these lovely tarns, with the Ngamoko further south, and to the north the bulk of Maungamahoe and the Hikurangi beyond. Time to linger awhile in the foolishness of things...a rare enough occurrence here and one to be enjoyed. A perfect day.

Broken Ankle Spur, dropping off the open tussock tops of the Whanahuia and into the head waters of the Oroua valley and Triangle hut far below. It is a beautiful view, but one to be appreciated when stopped and feet firmly planted. The upper forest is in sight but getting there seems to take hours, sliding the feet along to find a stable step in the steep tussock terrain. Sweat pours into my eyes, and the occasional curse word is uttered as I hit a hole and stumble down, always down. At times it seems easier to descend on top of the vegetation rather than through it...hearty customers to survive in such elements. I think of the forest and the sweet cold water which awaits below. And carry on...

20 Dec. Evening Triangle hut....Sitting on the hut porch watching the last of the sun fade away over the tops above and enveloping the forest down here in the valley in heavy shafts of dying light. A few puffy clouds drift lazily overhead, the first I have seen all day. I arrived here hot, sweaty and tired, and not long after was embraced by the icy coolness of a lovely pool just above which left me cleansed, exhilerated and tingling. Not long ago a solo male whio landed in that same pool and drifted on past. I have had many such brilliant blue sky moments in the Ruahine, some even here in this very spot, yet I am still finding the finest moment always seems to be the last one. The apprehension and fear I felt while preparing, and then
yesterday in the rain are gone. Taking action has once again proven the most honourable course. I have pitched my tent down here by the river and will be serenaded by her lullaby. Time for a wee dram before dinner...

21 December - camped on the Oroua river..."a day of river wandering, the waters sparkling and shining like jewels in the sun, water coloured only by her stones. The whio seem to guide me along their unerring way, and the emerald deep pools call to me on such a day of blue skies and sunshine. Many already occupied by the lazy flickering of the rainbow trout. I rejoice in the knowledge of being in such a place with all day to do nothing but be here."

Afternoon...along the Oroua river.  I have walked up the river, climbing up over the gorge not far from the hut. The day is clear, the skies are blue, and the sun is warm. The wind has picked up a fair bit, which might be a concern were I up high, but down here on the river is not. Tomorrow I travel down river, and  while rain might be a concern, gales are not. I am reminded of John Muir.." Beside the grand history of the glaciers and their own, the mountain streams sing the history of every avalanche or earthquake and of snow, all easily recognized by the human ear, and every word evoked by the falling leaf and drinking deer, beside a thousand other facts so small and spoken by the stream in so low a voice the human ear cannot hear them. Thus every event is written and spoken. The wing scars the sky, making a path inevitably as the deer in snow, and the winds all know it and tell it though we hear it not."... So the wind feels welcome and refreshing. I saw a pair of whio, frolicking about in the rapids, and while attempting to get closer for a photo opportunity dropped my camera in the river. It happened. It is just that. Any photo I would have observed I could obtain far superior images of from Pete. My little point and shoot camera no match for really good gear. Perhaps it is more the moment and the challenge than the result. Still, the near 300 bucks I paid for it nothing to sneeze at losing. Out there in the world,  this would have me really angry and upset. And what if it had been Tara, or Charlie whom had dropped the camera? Anger and rage that serves no purpose. I accept totally it was just me. I dropped the camera in the river. A mistake, an accident, but not really a tragedy. This is too rare a day to ruin with my anger. The Ruahine always offer me these subtle, and not so subtle, Lessons. I must keep working at Listening to them

Sitting down by the river and contemplating these thoughts of my day. The recognition of my own reaction to a circumstance here in the mountains as opposed to out there. I am reminded a bit of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on Nature. Perhaps I find a more transcendental connection here, yet I know it is not that simple, that the reaction is still emanating from within me, even if I feel more part of a whole something when I am in the mountains. I think of others  whom may have contemplated other such thoughts here, Tony Gate's name is here, so is Pete's. That seems to add to my remoteness here, not detract from it....

"Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in Nature, but in Man, or in a harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For, nature, is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colour of the spirit. To a man labouring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then, there is kind of a contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend.The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population." - Ralph Waldo Emerson - Nature 

22 Dec. Iron Gate hut.... as if reading my thoughts on Emerson last evening the clouds rolled in on the wind and it began raining and hammered down upon the tin roof all night and into the morning. The river held well but in the continued rain I thought it best to head down river while the getting was good. A pair of whio greeted me and escorted me down river while I found my water legs. Walking in the river with a heavy pack and slippery boulders is an acquired skill. There is a side stream an hour or so down river in which a track of sorts climbs up into it where it joins a spur and down the other side to avoid a nasty section of gorge in the river.  It is tough, vertical slippery climb up it before it veers away, and then another equally steep descent into a creek on the other side before rejoining  the Oroua. When I settled in with a cup of tea I grabbed the hut book and the first entry in the book is this...."5/1/2011 - Hi fellahs, wetter than the Tararua's here! Hut ticket WA4386...Wet, warm weather, river in flood. Back down valley to Heritage, misty wx..9:00am Blue skies! so exit via tops and Tunupo peak. Tony Gates."

It has been a pleasure to walk in the footsteps of such a good keen man. My own mortality and time left amongst these beautiful ranges has been heavy on my mind. I'm not getting any younger, my knee is sore and  I seem to find a new bump or bruise with every quiet cup of tea. Still, I am here! And I am still smiling. What else can I do?

In the river with the early morning light
driven by the relentless patter upon the tin roof
and restless sleep knowing my path was
along her quiddity
when the sun sparkles and glimmers upon her
it is convivial 
when yet to endow her charms
the near alpenglow leaves all enigmatic
I seek to be in tune to the river
yet slip and slide, furtive steps
then hear the literal trumpets call
the whio!
have come to show me the way...
Kia ora!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Heart Break

Upper Makaroro hut : near the headwaters of the Makaroro river. The focal point of the Ruataniwha dam. Steep rugged terrain. Not difficult to see far below this point on the river why technocrat money changers want to alter these places forever...

The bile rises in my throat. My heart hurts. To read our Department of Conservation, the managers and overseers of all our conservation land and survival of our native and freshwater species are using semantics, a loophole, the vagaries of legal speak to allow the Ruahine to not only be compromised, but altered forever. Wilderness drowned in her own blood, the very water that sustains it, so that people out here can make more money and pollute more rivers. The rotten stench and slime coated feel of the entire Ruataniwha dam scheme has in the entire course of it's unfolding and subterfuge filled and suspect resource consent process boarders on criminal. Much like the rivers that will lie below this dam, all emerging from the Ruahine.  And to the Ruahine range upon which it's prostrate living corpse will rest, it is a crime. It makes me sick

Through the years I have met and interacted with many DOC workers. Coalface peeps who are certainly not there for the monetary riches on offer, but rather a love of the whenua, the mountains and rivers and the native fauna and creatures that dwell within such places. This government has slowly reduced their numbers, turning the rest into paper shuffling bureaucrats beholden to smiling assassins of our wilderness. One DOC employee had the guts to leak documentation that the original DOC submission in regards to the dam was 36 pages long, reduced upon direction from the top to reduce it to a few meagre mumbling paragraphs of neither support nor opposition. He, or she, is now being hunted like a criminal, the upper echelons of the department and government demanding a scalp for such insurrection in revealing the truth. That person is a hero!
"Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of Truth" - Edward Abbey

 Parks Peak hut under an emerging full moon...the entire access to this place via the southern ridge will be gone, much of the start of it underwater. And it is a long somewhat grueling ridge at that, up and down the undulating forest and occasional open top stretches. The stunted tawhairauriki, fighting their own battles in the thin soiled narrow ridge seem to smile knowingly as I pass by. There is no water to be had, there is no relief to the slight but relentless climb to here. It is a ridge I have climbed now many times, each one staggering into this little lovely mountain meadow under my load thirsty and tired and vowing never again. Yet I return again and again...till perhaps now.

The dead trees in the Ruahine speak the loudest. Their very essence being absorbed back into the meagre earth they themselves struggled upon their entire lives. The death poses grip me deeply. Most often like this one, all of our tipuna, ancestors. "Leave us be! Listen! You need us more than we need you. We love you, why cannot you love us in turn."

Earlier this year I was at Parks Peak on my own. The final evening it was clear but windy and gale like winds buffeted over the ridge. I went and stood in the forest amongst the living and dead trees and felt the very bones of the Ruahine herself swaying and rocking in the wind. Then I noticed the tears running down my cheeks, an overwhelming sense of love and grief that rolled through me like the winds through my very soul.. I thought it was about me, and it was. I know now it was also grief for the very whenua, the land, that I stood shakily upon. My heart aches.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Thoughts on the Maropea.....

17 September, 2013. Early evening outside Sunrise hut in the Ruahine.

The snow has been falling now for at least as long as it takes to boil the billy for several cups of tea. It is cold! Yet the wind is gentle, a quiet frigid southerly that bodes well for us passing over the exposed and most often windy saddle in the morning. We arrived late in the afternoon, and finding the relative luxury of Sunrise hut empty, and being the only car in the lot far below, are taking our chances of enjoying our solitude here. In particular the newly installed wood stove and choppered in wood supply replacing the problematic old gas heater. I am not sure what to make of that, but as John is inside the hut getting that fire going in this moment all is well.
  It is a pleasure to be back in these mountains with John. It has been well over a year since we have hoisted swags together, our lives busy and complicated with other matters. To find these moments means a great deal to me. And we have 5 days to just be here in the Ruahine. It was good to begin our climb and quickly regain the old camaraderie of old tramps. Heavy packs, legs and backs straining a bit under the unfamiliar loads. Yet we soon settle in to our old ways and pace. John much faster than I, yet waiting at key spots to make sure all is well. Words spoken, and words unspoken. It has already been a good mountain trip..

Evening settles in over Te Atuaoparapara.....

18 Sept. - just before Sunrise.....
 I awoke to my own steaming breath, and going outside in the emerging light checked the thermometer to find it was -10 below Celsius! Had to forgo my normally very strong early morning solo coffee as the tap and water tank were frozen, and we had neglected to fill the billies before retiring for the evening. We will have to try and pry the top off the water tank, but that will keep for later. Going to wake up John to watch the soon to be revealed sunrise. It is frigid, but still and quiet, and the promise of a fine day to travel in the Ruahine lies ahead I sense. I tingle with anticipation - and thoughts of the sunrise ahead, and a cup of coffee soon after...

Te Atuaoparapara  at Sunrise...... We watched a stunning sunrise, quiet and still, the promise of the day ahead overcoming the sleepiness still left in our heads. The water problem was solved by climbing on top of the tank and removing the guttering pipe and tank top, dipping our billies and water bottles in the ice cold water. Strong coffee's indeed! How cool to pack up our swags and head out into the Ruahine on a day such as this...

Rime ice on the poles above Armstrong Saddle. Look at those colours!

     Morning tea at Top Maropea. The water tank was frozen here as well, but we soon had the billies full and sat in the warmth of the sun and enjoyed our cup of tea before heading down to the stream and river. It was far colder in the hut......

There is an old flood ravaged tawhairauriki log along the Maropea where, on good days like this, I have made it a habit to stop for lunch. It has become a marker for me, a sign of an earned rest and work done, and also a sign of work ahead. The log is smooth and worn, both seats and table, and the spot on the river a fine quiet straight. On not so nice days I pass by this place wistfully.....

Not a bad spot for a bit of a kip in the warm sun either! The cold river will be joined soon enough...

Evening: Maropea Forks
John stirs the wood stove, the momentary glow from the coals accentuates the candle lit hut with a golden glow. Though it was a flawless day on the river with not a cloud in the sky, and gentlest of breezes, the river was very cold and rocks slippery, so as always it is a pleasure to arrive here at the empty hut and change into dry warm clothes while the billy boils. There has been no one here since July, at least according to the hut book, a thought that also adds to the charms of the hut and the remoteness of this place. The reward for travel down the wild cold early spring river. We saw 4 whio on the way down, two pairs. One much higher up than I have observed before, hopefully meaning a new pair establishing a new territory. In any case it always moves me deeply to interact with the whio in their place, and I am still smiling. Soon I will put my pen down and pick up the tools to prepare our tea. Tonight we have fresh broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, stir fried with red onion, garlic and ginger, served over rice. To be followed by a few wee drams of Glen Morangie. Ultra light trampers we are not.....

Morning: Before sunrise - on the porch of Maropea Forks....
    John sleeps soundly in the hut. I crept out quietly with the cooker, billy, and the makings of my large early morning coffee. I am dressed warmly against the early morning chill, and there is frost all around the hut and river flat. I love these quiet moments of early morning mountain solitude...the day yet to unfold, and the whole day ahead to do as much or as little as we wish, to think, to dream, to just be part of these mountains. I am currently thinking of the very future of this hut. Over 16 years ago, when I first came here, the river was 25 metres away with a large shingle bed between the hut and the river, and another 10 metres of tawhairauriki between the hut and river. Now the river has changed course, has eaten away the entire shingle bed and 5 more metres of the tawahairauriki. I can look off the porch and see the river below me. The fallen trees like dead warriors lying in the water. Part of me wants a solution to this, the hut moved, a new hut, a cement barrier protecting the remaining land. The reality is our government has chosen to not value places like this for what they are. The other reality is the river has chosen her course and that is that. Claiming back what is her own. In here the river decides. And then my mind moves to what is happening to these very rivers when they leave the sanctuary of the Ruahine. Where man does decide where, and how she shall flow, where she becomes beholden to the needs of man rather than just being what she is on the way to the sea. The dam which will lie less than 8 kilometres from this very spot as the crow flies in particular gnaws at my guts. That we continue to "value" wilderness, our rivers, and the sea, only in terms of what they give us economically, instead of relishing the very wealth they offer our hearts and souls. So it is with a certain sense of irony I sip my coffee this morning.....

 Climbing up to the main Ruahine range and Pt. 1450. The snow covered peaks of the main range further south.

Out of the forest and up into the open tussock. Maropea Forks far below.
John nearing Pt. 1450 with Remutopo and Te Atua Mahuru behind...

In the forest above Maropea Forks and not far below the open tops of the main Ruahine range. I have climbed up here three times now in the last 5 years. Once with my friends John and Jeff, a day that should have been filled with light heart... and joy, except my damaged arthritic hip hurt so bad I was near tears. In this spot here on the way down the mountain I found my friend Jeff waiting for me, playing his harmonica. That meant more to me than words I can write. The second time was the afternoon my son Taylor became lost after not appearing at Maropea Forks far below. I could not be in tears as I had to focus. I climbed up high in the growing darkness trying to get phone reception which I did not and so spent a very lonely and sleepless night at the hut. The next day I found him. The third time was on this day, with John. We climbed unburdened by loads all the way to the tops and a place he and I had climbed down from many years before. The memories of the pain of my hip and heart still there, yet also a realization I could release that pain and these mountains would absorb that burden for me. My tears on the way down on this day were of thanks for the gifts brought through trial and tribulation. The mountains are not always about moments of joy and happiness. Sometimes that comes much later.

Evening Maropea Forks: We farewell our third evening here in the Ruahine.  A fine day trip up to the main range with one light pack containing a bit of extra gear, water and lunch for the day. Nice to travel light at times like this, when our home awaits below. It is still a gruelling climb up the steep spur to here, or any Ruahine spur for that matter. So finding a lasting connection to certain  places and staying for a few days, getting to know and understand the lie of the land around us rather than just traveling from point A to B has great appeal for me. Particularly with my 53 year old legs and new hip. And very rewarding as well to travel up there light of load with John, when we can walk and climb together, speaking or not speaking doesn't much matter. Rather it is the mate ship, the confident feeling of having shared so many Ruahine experiences together and the resulting trust that gives us. It is very special indeed, and though we have been tramping around these hills for many years it is always fresh and new when we return  here. John reads the letters of George Lowe, a Kiwi icon whom cut his teeth here in the Ruahine, maybe even this very place, while I scribble these words. The Corker crackles and hisses a bit with a bit of wet wood. Olives, salami, pita bread and cheese await. The rain begins to patter on the tin roof...

The Maropea river and a familiar old tawhairauriki. We saw 5 whio on the way back upriver - the same two pair and a solitary male even higher up the river.

Top Maropea hut: Evening...I was climbing up to the spur from the creek below Top Maropea. I turned one of the near vertical corners to a slight flat spot on the steep face and there stood Pohangina Pete! A good friend, and a Ruahine mentor in many ways. He had come in the night before to Top Maropea and was climbing to the creek and down river to meet John and I. What a cool development! Pete joined Tara and I for dinner a while back and I had mentioned the upcoming trip with John. His university teaching commitments kept him from joining us for the whole trip, but how splendid to see him here for our final evening. And I am quite sure Pete would have enjoyed the quiet mountain solitude on offer at Top Maropea. We had a fine afternoon sitting in the "backyard" of Top Maropea, gazing out to the head of the valley John and I had come from that day, and the distant peaks of the main range above it. John has worked hard to get a tidy fire going here in the tiny hut, dinner awaits, and not far off the pleasure of a final night in my down cocoon. I smell of wood smoke, sweat, and a wee bit of Jameson 12 Year Old. My thoughts are clear and strong. When John and I entered the Ruahine I stopped and said a little karakia. I asked the Ruahine for the strength to set my worldly burdens down here at her entrance. I'm ready to pick up them back up now. Just a bit lighter than they were 5 days ago

John and I the next day on Armstrong saddle. Kia Ora and Aroha to my family, to John, to Pete, and mostly to these beautiful ranges, the Ruahine, which keep calling me back.....................................