My great friend Nigel has put his new scanner into operation and forwarded me photos taken on some of our earlier forays into the Ruahines. As Nigel now lives in South Korea some of these I have not seen in years and the emotions they invoke upon me are very strong. Much like Nigel's continuing presence is with me whenever I venture forth into the mountains. The memories of these trips linger in my mind like the smell of wood smoke still there upon some of my gear now stored in the garage, and as I look at these photos it releases once again powerful memories and reinforces this strange and beautiful hold on my soul the Ruahines maintain.
Above is another early morning at Sunrise hut, John gazing out upon the east coast plains. Judging by the ice and snow on the ground, this would have been October, 2000. Nigel, John and I walked up in the dark with headlamps, then on this morning to Maropea Forks. According to my notes we made it from Sunrise to Maropea Forks in less than 5 hours. Oh the good ol' days! It took me 7 to do the same walk this summer. Though having written that, in 2000 it was only a few months since I had crossed with Gustav, and I had no problems with my hip. And truth be told it is such an amazing walk it should take 7 hours.
It is hard to believe in the above series of photos that it is summer, though in the mountains it why we carry the gear we do. Yet indeed it was, Jan. 2003, and I recall it was very cold. We are along the eastern side of the ranges near Longview hut. Our original intention had been to cross Sawtooth ridge and proceed to Waterfall hut and beyond. We spent two days waiting at Howlett's hut for the weather to clear. It was a combination of wind, rain, cloud, and very cold. At the time it seemed somewhat disappointing, but now, with luxury of hindsight, I realize how much I learned and how fortunate I was to be weather bound in a high mountain hut with these two excellent men. The third day we retreated back down to Daphne hut, then climbed up to this ridge and over to Longview. Then we climbed down into the headwaters of the Pohangina river and down to Top Gorge hut the next day. It was a day of sunshine and blue sky, rivaling the weather we experienced this summer and we relished such a day on the beautiful and mysterious Pohangina river.
Entry from notebook, 13 Jan. 2003 : "Still at Howlett's hut. The weather has truly packed in after starting to rain and sleet when we hit the bush line yesterday afternoon. As we have some major open tops work crossing Sawtooth, and even more over to Waterfall, we know we cannot do it in these conditions. We had a long sleep in and are about to gear up to take a wander down the spur towards Tiraha. Hopefully the weather will come right, but I can think of worse places to wait it out.
4:45 p.m. : Walked up to Tiraha in the mist and cloud. It is a fairly long pull on its own, and truly spectacular scenery - even in the clouds, which simply add to the eerie remoteness. We saw a fleetingly brief glimpse of a portion of Sawtooth, enough to grasp the seriousness of the job required, climbed a very steep gut to a small saddle then up to Tiraha where it began to pour on us. Couldn't see anything beyond 10 metres. Then we we returned to the hut, happy to see it appear out of the mist. We just have to wait until morning to make any kind of call. This is not an area to be trifled with, some very serious country. If it is cloudy, or windy, or both!, well then I think Sawtooth will have to wait, it ain't going nowhere. We may have to develop a contingency plan. This is what teaches patience, and simply enjoying the gifts we are given."
It is always a pleasure to settle in at a cool spot along a Ruahine river after a long day, better yet to spend a few days in such places. Not that staying at the higher alpine huts is any sort of chore, Top Maropea, Mc Kinnon, Howletts, Parks Peak, all are special places in their own unique ways. But the rivers simply offer a bit more scope to wander about a bit more, perhaps spot a Whio if lucky, swim if conditions permit, and sometimes even if they do not! Mostly though is the symphony of water, crystal clear and pure, a sound for me that represents the Ruahines and the calmness that overwhelms when I am there.
I am not sure where the first photo above was taken. I suspect it is on the Tuki Tuki river near Daphne hut and spur, though it also just might be someplace up from Maropea Forks. These photos were all taken with my old Cannon 35mm self timer.
The second photo I recall very well, and was taken after dinner along the Pohangina in front of Top Gorge hut. John got a lovely fire going and we boiled up the old hut billy over the fire for a last brew. That night we slept outside by the river, as Top Gorge hut, while in a beautiful spot is a bit run down and now scheduled to let fall into disrepair before being removed altogether in the next 10 years, which is a shame but indicative of its low user numbers and DOC budgets. In any case Nigel was well equipped with his gore tex bivvy sack while John and I simply plopped our therma-rests down with our sleeping bags. I woke up hours later with condensation running off my sleeping bag and trudged up to the hut, decrepit mattress or not. John soon followed.
This has been a very pleasant exercise, recalling these trips with Nigel and John. It has been 5 years since I have traveled in the mountains with Nigel and I await the next opportunity with much anticipation. When that will happen I do not know, but these photos really make me realize the quality of memories I have of our time there. These were days we traveled fast and long, days perhaps beyond me now, but then the reasons I enjoy and need the Ruahines do not require me to necessarily travel fast and long, rather just to enjoy the journey and being amongst such a place.
I particularly enjoy the first photo above, just coming off Daphne spur, and by the upward gaze tilt to my head a fair way yet to climb to the main range, very typical Ruahine terrain. The second photo is also high on Daphne ridge. I remember this one as well, as we carried extra water for the purpose of boiling up the billy in the high beech forest. A very memorable cup of tea.
The changes in me are obvious
aches and pains emerge
as I return again
to steep climbs
and precipitous descents
where the hut time signs
slip further from my reach
yet the call remains strong
The mountains change as well
though the changes
are often too subtle
unless one visits here
with relative frequency
there would be no notice
written at Top Maropea, Sept. 2006