Monday, June 16, 2008

Charlie Meets the Ruahines



This past weekend Charlie, age 5, took his first real walk in the mountains. As with Taylor, whom first traversed in the Ruahines at age 7, I was filled with pride and love at being able to share this place I love so much with my sons. It was a beautiful winters day, and as can be seen from the above photo, The Rim of Fire, Ruapehu, Ngarahoe, and Tongariro, all active volcanoes, glistened under their blankets of ice and snow in the distance.

It was also a day for me to apply my experience and growth as both a father and a lover of mountains. With my older son Taylor I simply threw him in the deep end of the Ruahines. His first tramp ever was to Top Maropea for the night, a 5 hour trip, his second to Parks Peak even longer. He has been many places in the Ruahines I would suggest boys of 7 years on have not seen. Yet looking back I realize how hard I pushed him, my expectations more paramount than the capability of his little legs, to the point where honestly looking back it probably was not a lot of fun for either of us at times. Nothing that warm clothes, chocolate, and a warm fire at the hut did not fix, but over the years walking solo over those same routes I realize how hard it must have been for him. Which makes me feel both pride and guilt, not to mention love for Taylor.

So with Charlie my intention has always been a much slower paced and easier introduction to the mountains. My thinking is a series of day walks, just for fun, with no agenda or plan other than the dictates of his little legs. To let him be in that environment and truly see it, feel it, and enjoy it through the eyes of a child. It may sound simple, but that is a far easier scenario than carrying a heavy pack with a 4 or 5 hour walk through mountain terrain to arrive at a distant hut with a young boy. The tendency to watch every step, to look ahead at any possible danger, to try and hurry the pace a bit, looking at the time, gauging the distance to the hut, keeping him fed and warm, trying to distract his attention from the sheer distance ahead, can really build up to exhausting levels. And from a selfish point of view I still want to enjoy the mountains as well. I suspect those feelings will not go away with Charlie no matter how careful and sensitive I am with his introduction - he is my son, and the very instincts of my being a father will always come first. Perhaps by starting slower, and more relaxed, we can learn together.




Charlie's interaction with the Ruahines actually extends beyond his "first" actual tramp amongst them. Back in 2003, when he was born I "connected" him to the Ruahines through the Maori custom of Whenua, (fhen oo ahh). Whenua is a word meaning both land, and placenta. The placenta is returned to the earth, or buried, in the land from which it came, thereby connecting that person to the land. I realize Charlie did not come from the Ruahine, but in a large sense I experienced a re-birth there of sorts. So I carried Charlie's placenta up to Top Maropea and returned it to the earth beneath a small beech tree near the hut. I placed a small pile of rocks on top to mark it, and interestingly over the years that pile has grown into a fairly large pile known as Charlie's Cairn. So inside me the spiritual side I feel here, hopes that something inside Charlie is stirred a bit through the years, that he feels, and honours, the bond that lies waiting for him.








We went to the western side of the ranges, to an area called Rangiwahia. It is a track that sidles up the Mangahuia stream valley, to the open tops of the Whanahuia ranges, one of the 5 sub ranges comprising the Ruahine. When I first came this way in 1994 it was a very simple and fast way to the bottom of the open tops of the Whanahuia's and where is located Rangiwahia hut. While steep, it was an excellent track and when fit and carrying a large pack I have made it to Rangiwahia in a little over 90 minutes. Rangiwahia hut was a popular destination for large school groups and such, with the excellent track it offered little difficulty beyond the required upward exertion. 0ver the years gravity has come into play, and particularly around a certain section of the track. As it sidles high above the stream, and is very steep, the very nature of it dictates it being prone to slips. A period from 2001 to 2004 saw a series of massive slips, with the track being first rebuilt, then diverted higher and higher up the side of the valley. The last time I came through with John in early 2005 the track had been detoured and reopened only days before. And it was a nightmarish tangle of bush bashing, muddy pools, and a steep climb up from the detour and back down to the track. The detour covers perhaps 800 metres in total distance of the old track, maybe a 5-10 minute walk, but the detour adds over an hour onto the walk by the time it meets the old track. So what was a fairly easy 2 hour walk to the tops is now 3 plus hours with a fairly difficult 1 hour section included. Needless to say, the formerly popular Rangiwahia walk has dwindled to a small trickle. So my plan was to get Charlie up to the point of the detour, enjoy the day, have some lunch, and see what happened. And even in that first 30 minutes I thought when we reached the detour he was done, as he wanted nothing more than to sit and eat chocolate and rest. And that was actually fine with me. It was a beautiful day, and though the mountains were calling to me I was content to enjoy Charlie, the sun, the valley, and the sound of the stream below.






The first photo above is Charlie standing just beyond the detour and where the old benched track remnants can be clearly seen in the top portion of the photo. The drop from here to the stream is 100 metres or so, and pretty much straight down.

The second photo is a wider view of the slip area, some of which is regenerating but still very unstable. The detour climbs straight up to the top of the ridge, then undulates along it before dropping down near the sky line and meets up with the track once again.

As I sat in the sun enjoying the view, Charlie quickly regained his energy with the help of chocolate, cashews, and Pringle's chips. He was soon climbing up the start of the detour, and then decided he wanted to carry on. I thought okay, we can just see how far he gets, then turn around. The detour track has been much improved since 2005, though still very steep and with tricky footing in places. To my surprise, with him climbing ahead of me, and us chatting away practicing his spelling, stopping to look at the view and rest, we got to the top. Then with me descending in front with Charlie close behind we made our way down to the track. He fell a couple of times in the thick bush, but with me right in front preventing any major mishaps, he came right very quickly. Soon we were back on the track and made it to the distinctive wooden arch bridge which spans Mangahuia stream. The bridge spans the stream some 50 feet across and perhaps 150 straight down, and I must confess I felt a very sickly feeling in my stomach as Charlie looked over the edge, seemingly undaunted by the big drop. I was glad when we retreated back to the sun and a well deserved rest. Even though Rangiwahia hut was now only an hour away it was too far to go up to and return on this day. Plus we had still had to climb back up, over, and down the big slip. I knew though that if we rested long enough then pushed on to the hut to stay the night
Charlie would make it fine. Maybe one day this winter. He was quite keen to see some snow, and up there not too far away, in the right conditions, we would find a winter wonderland.






Charlie and I learned a lot this day. I learned my approach with him based on experience is the right one, to introduce him slowly to his Whenua and let it find him, and he it, on their own terms. Charlie learned that what he imagined the mountains to be in his mind is perhaps very different to what he found it to be, and in a very good way. I saw the way he carried himself, watched him observe his surroundings, finding beauty in the view, maybe even pondering a few deeper thoughts, maybe not. And he reminded me of the joy of seeing through the eyes of a child, of the vast difference between being a father and a parent, and how fortunate I am to share a place I love so much, with this child I love even more.

Aroha


25 comments:

Beth said...

What a beautiful post, and story. You are fortunate to have such a beautiful son and to be able to share what you love with him. I'd like to think the mountains are fortunate too.

Bob McKerrow said...

A heart warming story of taking your son in to the mountains. Well done Charlie !

I used to take my young daughters, 5 of them, into fairly wild places and I was very apprehensive about the weather turning bad, or some injuring themselves. But life is full of risks and it is important that we introduce children to risk management at a young age.

Good on ya mate. Soon Charlie will be taking you as you slow down.

Cheers

Bob

ophelia rising said...

I love your story of burying his placenta - and now, the mountain is a part of him, as he is part of the mountain.

I've been wanting so badly to take my children up to the top of a mountain, and I think I'll do it this summer. I miss the mountains so much, and spent many nights on them years ago, when I was able to visit them more frequently. It reminds me of a lyric, by Dougie MacLean:

Rescue me,
Rescue me,
On this mountain's the only place
I can see clearly

I often think that, if I have to make a momentous life decision, the best place to go to think it all through is on top of a mountain. They're a home for me, and I hope my children exprience this, as your boys are so obviously doing.

Thank you for reminding me of all of this.

young tramper said...

Hehe my father started me with a 5 day Tongariro Crossing at 6 and ve been tramping for 10-11 yrs. I myself have had much hard times and still do.
The boots on the other foot now, im shouting at my father now and walking him till 3 in the afternoon before lunch. Or 7 in the afternoon before we stop. My website is www.freewebs.com/hellmission/ if you want to look at some of my pictures and trip reports.

D'Arcy said...

Robb,
I love your words, your images, your love of the mountains your stories. Reading your blog these past few months helped me look at my mountains this past week with more appreciation and calm reflection. You saw the photos with my wee niece, she loves the word "Wow." She just kept looking and pointing and saying "Wow". It's so simple, but there is wonder in a wow, and like you, I saw nature through her young eyes and my appreciation deepened.

My sister and I also spent one afternoon pushing ourselves up to the top of a big mountain we've been meaning to climb for years. We didn't take the camera, but the view is clear in my mind. We hiked the mountain and found the most amazing wildflowers and the top, and a perfectly flat area that was calling to us to sit and reflect and breathe....and I have to confess, I did my best Maria VonTrap impersonation when I twirled and sang "The Hills are alive with the sound of music...."

Ok, did I just admit too much? Perhaps, but I do one mean Julie Andrews impersonation.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe Beth,
A few friends once suggested that perhaps the mountains do sense our presence in some way, particularly if we are there with love and respect, and I like that thought. I feel that I am at my best when in the presence of the mountains so what better place to spend time with my sons. Walking a fairly gentle walk with Charlie also reminds me that my interaction with them can also be enjoyed for a few hours just as much as for many days. Cheers Beth.
Ka kite ano,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I will pass on your congrats to Charlie. I agree about the risk management. I really felt frustrated recently with the young kids being killed at Tongariro. The back lash towards the centre was fairly fierce in the media and particularly towards Graham Dingle who set the place up years ago and basically came out and said what you just wrote.
As parents how can we not help but feel apprehensive with our kids in tow in those sorts of environments? Yet if we don't are we not just allowing ourselves and them to be crippled by fear and what ifs? I have had a few scary moments in the Ruahines, and I know you would have many more on higher peaks, but they do not stop me from gazing at my pack hanging there and letting myself wander away happily. Yes, soon it will be Taylor and Charlie lugging the big loads, waiting for the old man to catch up. Bring it on! Kia ora Bob.
Cheers,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Kia ora 0phelia Rising,
I like to think I have connected Charlie to the Ruahines through Whenua. 0f course it is a connection he will have to find within his own heart. I can only guide him there.
I hope you do get up a mountain with your kids and reaquaint yourself with them - the mountains I mean. Though I guess it is with our children as well in a good way.Sometimes the journey with them can be a bit rough, but the view from the top always seems to put things in proper perspective. And I agree, I can think of no place I would rather be to nut out tough decisions.
I love those lyrics, they suit me perfectly. I will have to track that song down. Kia ora 0phelia!
Rangimarie,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Young Tramper,
Cheers mate! My best to you and your dad for your efforts. It often isn't easy eh? The tough climbs, steep descents, cold, wind, and all the other "goodies". Yet when the trips are done we can't wait for the next one. I reckon your dad has a few years left in him yet mate! I had a quick look at your site, and he looks pretty fit to me. May just bump into in the Ruahines in July. Kia ora mate, I will be over to check out your site more often.
Ka kite ano,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Tena koe D'Arcy,
The thought of you singing The Hills are Alive brings a smile to my face. Good on you for getting up there and having the lung power left to burst into song! As your niece would say,"Wow".
Kia ora for your words D'Arcy. It warms me to read you find some value here. Maybe if more people would stop during their busy day and look at a mountain, or the sea, or the desert, lakes, or simply more deeply at ourselves and each other we could actually change the world a wee bit. Now I am probably writing too much! Cheers D'Arcy.
Rangimarie,
Robb

Gustav said...

Hello my fine friend

First of all, a huge congratulations to Charlie. He is a boy who is walking in the mountains with a big father, both in size and spirit.

I agree that your softer approach to introducing Charlie to the Mountains is probably better than the full on thrust that Taylor experienced.

Yet, I reckon its hard to know. I imagine Taylor will never forget those early hardy tramps that are now stamped into his soul.

Its the uphill struggles we remember, not the easy rides down the hill.

My Dad always treated me like an equal when I went hiking, canoeing and fishing with him, even though I was only five, he made me feel proud to be with him, to be a man even though I was still a boy.

Perhaps that is what Charlie and Taylor both felt. A yearning to be like their Dad, a man with huge footsteps, and a huge heart.

Pam said...

This is beautiful to read through and experience. It bought a lump to my throat however, as it reinforced what my younger brother missed out on with my father, who showed very little interest in him.A neighbour realized his potential and mentored him to become one of the top shooters in the state.My parents didn't go to any of his presentations.My mother also sent him to the YMCA mentoring program,my point being that your pride in your sons is wonderful.The last line"with a child I love even more"is hard to read for me.Thank you for the man you are.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Gustav,
Our fathers are such huge presences in our lives no matter if that is a good thing or a bad one. There can be no doubt it is the first thing that defines who we bocome as men. Sometimes that is a hugely positive thing, sometimes not. For most of us, I suggest, it is perhaps a combination of both good and bad. I loved my father crushingly so, yet at times I hated how he could treat us, and himself. My job as a father just may be to break some of those behaviours which lurk inside me. My dad was not a man of Nature, but he kept me close in other ways, athletics mainly. My way is nature, music, and changing who I am into the man that can love these beautiful boys and my wife, as best I can. That might be outside the realm of "preparing them for life", but what life? A life in the competition of the coporate cages or assembly lines, or one of wonderment, exploration, and helping to change the world. I may be an outsider, but I choose the latter. Kia ora brother. I love you.
Rangimarie,
Robb

Marja said...

Oh Robb what a great way to bond with your son and to share your love for the mountains. He looks adorable and surely is. i am happy you had a good time together. We always took our children tramping from an early age, short trips. My son always sat in the middle of the path when he was tired and wouldn't move a fin. We literally had to carry him. They are now teenagers and it is not cool anymore to walk but I hope it comes back

Sugar said...

It's funny what we learn from child to child. In retrospect, we can critique ourselves, but we really thought we were doing the right thing. In the end, they know we loved them as best we knew how.

I was thinking about the details of your retelling of the hike. I think it's awesome that your boys will have your memories when they are older and can appreciate how much their dad loved them. Taking the time to capture the moments we share with our loved ones is such an incredible act of love in itself. How lucky your boys are.

Thanks for sharing and congratulations, Charlie!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pam,
Haere mai, welcome. Thank you for sharing your memories and I am happy this post did that for you. Your comments sum up what I meant in the difference of being a father and a parent. Any male, more or less, can be a father, but not until we become or start to become a real man can we be a parent. As I wrote to Gustav, the impact our fathers have upon us is enormous no matter if that is a positive or a negative experience. I am glad your brother found guidance from a good man. That male presence is so important and I am proud to say my boys also are fortunate to have a strong presence from their grand father as well. Kia ora Pam.
Cheers,
Robb

Tena Koe Marja,
Happy to see you back on line! Hope all is well. It takes a ton of patience with kids and tramping and I was much harder on my older boy Taylor, as, well, basically I had no patience back then! So Charlie is getting the benefit of those hard learned lessons. Having written that, Taylor was also a tough trooper, and always completed every tramp we started. I think one day your children will come back to those memories. Kia ora Marja.
Cheers,
Robb

Kia ora Sugar,
Thank you, that is exactly what I meant about Charlie getting the best part of what I learned from Taylor.
Taylor sort of lost interest in the mountains a few years ago as he developed other interests and I let him have his space. Just recently he has started making noises about wanting to go out again, especially if he gets some time off school.
I agree about capturing the moments. Just the other day I was trying to recollect what the boys looked like as little babies, and I struggled until I got out the photo albums. Time goes so quickly.
Kia ora Sugar.
Rangimarie,
Robb

Gustav said...

Hey Brother

I may be mistaken, but did you add that photo of Lake Colenzo on the right or has it always been there?

It just now struck me again how beautiful it is. Will I ever see its shores?

Also the black and white picture of Charlie on the Bridge in your last post is tremendous! You must be so proud.

Ruahines said...

Tena Koe Brother,
No, that photo has been there the whole time. You have given me inspiration for a post though, one dedicated to Colenso, as it a very special, mysterious, and remote place.
As to your seeing it brother, your next trip here we shall sip nice whiskey by its protected shore! We just need a bit more time, at least 4 nights, as it is pretty tough to get to from any direction - as you know.
Yes I like the black and white as well - I just viewed D'Arcy's photos and commented I love the focus and imagination required with that type of photography. Cheers Gustav,
Arohanui,
Robb

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Robb, I love these photos - they are so serene and beautiful.

Can I ask you a question? Are the salutations you use in your comments from the Maori language? I'm assuming that is correct, but I'm not sure. Other than seeing the movie "Whale Rider" (which I loved), I know very little about the indigenous New Zealanders.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by my blog - see you soon.
:-)

-HWHL

MB said...

Kia ora Robb, Kura! Story and photos are both beautiful.

Ruahines said...

Tena koe HWHL,
Yes they are indeed the Maori salutations. I find it a beautiful and flowing language and I am endeavouring to undertake learning it in a more fluent way. There is a bit of information about the Maori relationship to the land in my first efforts at posting should you wish to check it out. Kia ora HWHL, have a great day.
Ka kite ano,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Kia ora MB,
Cheers for that. I was just by your place and saw your new post, and as usual it made me both ponder and smile.
Rangimarie,
Robb

PATERIKA HENGREAVES, Poet Laureate said...

Kia Ora Robb

Family excursions are always so much fun. Father and son episodes are always intriquing...and like father knows best. The parental instincts fully at play in this real-life muse...the eagle teaching the young how to fly. Most enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing your family experience. Charlie looks so very much like you as I see in the pictures. May the joys of your family never stop.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Paterika,
I see Charlie in me as well, but most seem to see Tara. It is amazing to observe the pesonalities of our lttle ones emerge. I think your observations are spot on!
Aroha,
Robb

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Paterika,
I see Charlie in me as well, but most seem to see Tara. It is amazing to observe the pesonalities of our lttle ones emerge. I think your observations are spot on!
Aroha,
Robb