Friday, August 29, 2008

Hut Days, Thoughts on Gear, Vicarious Longing

I was suppose to leave on a two night solo foray into the Oroua head waters and Triangle hut this afternoon. A late afternoon jaunt up to Rangiwahia hut for the night, then carry onto Triangle early Saturday morning. The stars seemed lined up, a near perfect weather forecast, excellent timing with our busy schedules, and a strong calling I have been feeling from this area I have not seen in almost two years now. Two things happened since Tuesday when I sat gazing at my pack loaded and ready to roll. The first is Charlie had been sick with a very chesty cold, and sure enough it exploded in me, and I am coughing and hacking and feeling rather crook. Tara would call it the Man Flu. And secondly a man I know died in a truck accident Tuesday afternoon. He was one of the first people I met when I moved here and began working in the trucking industry - a real adult portion of a way to cut one's teeth in a new and unfamiliar land. Let's just write I paid my dues. Ben, the man who was killed, was one of the managers of the firm. He made a point of coming over and talking to me each and every day as I made my way through this testing time. I will never forget that little act of kindness. I since came to know his sons as well and though I do not see them often, it is always with joy that I do. Ben was Maori, and held much mana, or esteem, within his tribe. His tangi, or funeral, is being held this weekend, and I think it more important I be there to pay my respects to someone who treated me with respect and simple kindness.

So the mountains will have to wait. As much as I long to be amongst them, and in terms of time I will be soon enough. And they really never leave me anyway, I just close my eyes and there they are......

Hut Days : One of the finest aspects of my interactions with the Ruahines was discovering and implementing into my trips hut days, or simply days spent at a place doing everything and nothing. When I first started traveling in this beautiful and rugged place I was in a frantic rush to see as much as possible, traveling long and hard each day, spending a relatively few hours at these amazing spots, sleeping, then packing up and moving on. It began to occur to me that perhaps I should slow down a bit, particularly when Nigel moved away and I was forced to begin my period of solo tramps. I recall waking up one morning at Maropea Forks and realizing for the first time I was staying there for this entire day and night, I walked out onto the porch of the hut, the river sleepily rolling by, and just being filled with joy and euphoric harmony and I knew this was the path for me to be on. What to do on a day with absolutely no restrictions, time is meaningless except for light and dark. Some are daunted by that, bored without those worldly constraints of being productive and efficient. Not me. And what is productive anyway? Is it being able to climb a ridge to open tops with only a small pack, or walk up an unexplored creek or river, create karma for the hut by cleaning and chopping wood, writing in my notebook, reading Walt Whitman, having another cup of tea, or just sitting in some quiet spot and absorbing the energy of all this life around me?

"Hut Day at Top Maropea"

Firewood chopped, sawed, stacked nice and neat

Warm dry socks upon my feet

What to do now - well let's see

I've had another few cups of tea

Checked all the straps on pack and gear

Kept myself full of good cheer

I've had a nap

took a crap

checked all the places on my map

We may think this is a realm of man's

Though the Ruahines care not

for my insignificant plans

In fact they do not give a damn

So I guess I'll just pour myself

a wee small dram

and raise a toast

To the next time I see ya

It has been a lovely day

hut bound here at Top Maropea

Written 31 September 2005. Hut bound and forced to stay an extra day and night due to inclement weather. A crude attempt at rhyming prose I know, but hey, with the wind howling over, and rain beating down on the tin roof, it sounded pretty good in that moment.

Gear: Above is my favourite photo of my pack. It was taken in a part of the forest on the spur that leads from Upper Makaroro to Parks Peak ridge. A relatively flat enjoyable stretch of an otherwise grueling climb. These beeches and forest literally pulsate with energy, and one thing that always amazes me about Ruahine forest is the very symmetrical pattern to the big trees, look how they line up to make the best use of the sun, of the meagre soil depth, each one unique and solid. So I stopped and took a photo, forgetting my pack was even there. It is a Mac Pac, at that time a New Zealand made product, made here and for, the interesting conditions our mountains present. All four seasons in one day would be an apt description. A model long since made redundant, it was the first pack I ever purchased in the modern era of "harness systems" and I paid top dollar for it. We became fine traveling companions over the last 11 years. It has carried for me many heavy loads and I in turn for it carried those loads upon my back. An even trade. The Ruahines are not kind to gear, even when the gear is cared for properly. I have gone through four pairs of boots, my poles are bent and one locked into place, my 10 year old Reflex rain jacket has a few spots rubbing through, and I won't even get into the state of my thermals and socks. I never even noticed until my last winter trip with John. My threadbare thermals seemed fine, my old gaiters still work, but all the sudden after a brief rest on Parks Peak ridge and I shouldered my old friend the Mac Pac, the whole side of the shoulder strap I always pick it up from tore loose. Not good. Thanks to the straps Nigel provided years ago to lash my Camel Bak to the pack I was able to improvise a repair and carry on for the next 4 days, but I knew this was a significant moment. The end had come.

So I have new bought a new back. Something called a Deuter with an "Air Contact Harness System". Pretty flash sounding. I felt no loyalty towards any New Zealand product as they are all now made off shore, as are most of the worlds packs these days. So I bought the most comfortable pack I found, one with a bit more space, and one that felt reasonably comfortable on my hip. Still, no way to tell until I get a few trips under my belt. And just as I felt a bit guilty about staying in the new Parks Peak hut, I find myself feeling the same about looking at my new loaded shiny pack sitting here waiting. I am sure we will become good mates in due course, but saying good bye to my old Mac Pac is also a representation of my own time moving on in the hills. We climbed many a ridge, traversed many rivers, sometimes muddy and angry, sometimes calm and serene, we endured storms and sun lit days amongst the golden tussock, I sat with you during moments of doubt and indecision, and sometimes just to enjoy the moment. You were a good friend. I toast to your endurance and loyalty. Rangimarie and Aroha. Travel safely.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ode to Parks Peak Ridge

The recent journey along Parks Peak ridge is still fresh in my mind. I can still hear the wind rustled beech leaves, the crunch of my boots through the deep snow, I can picture easily in my mind the stunning beauty of the forest, the occasional far off view of the main range across the valley as it emerges from the cloud through the swirling storm (such as in above photo), the smell of wood smoke still seems to waft in the air. I want to go back.

A comment left on my last post by Tom S. really made me realize how fortunate I am to have this mountain range, the Ruahine, as my backyard. Tom has traveled this area many times, indeed his name appears still in the hut books, though he now lives in England. It is good to connect with those who understand, yet may be far away. So Tom, this one is for you, an ode to Parks Peak ridge and the Makaroro valley. It is there waiting for you, and in the meantime I am honoured to keep you connected. Kia ora brother!

Above are all photos from various trips along the ridge, from my first in 2000 till now. The ridge has changed little, I have changed greatly. The first photo is from a solo trip in winter in which it took me nearly 7 hours to get to the old orange hut, plugging steps, getting huge slabs of snow dropped on me from the trees, arriving at the hut tired and freezing. Never has a hut, even that old one, ever looked so good. The second is Taylor and I on the ridge perhaps a few hours from the hut. I recall the day before we walked to it in sleet and snow, then this day summery and fine. He was 8. Not many 8 year old children have been to Parks Peak. I need to reconnect with my oldest son out here, though now 15 the thought of 3-4 days in the mountains with his old man not the most pleasant of thoughts for him I suppose.

The third shot is Parks Peak ridge in the distance, or part of it as it actually carries on for 20 kilometres or so to meet Gold Crown ridge. This was taken from across Makaroro valley and the main range at the top of Totara spur. I love this one, as it contrasts the greenness of the lower ridge with the golden tussock tops at a higher elevation, as well as showing the mountain tarn in front. This whole area of the main range is dotted with these tarns, ranging in size from a bathtub to small lakes. Great for thirsty trampers to replenish empty water bottles from, or on a fine day just sit by and relax, boil up the billy and appreciate the moment being in such places.

Next we have a shot from my recent trip of the snow covered beeches on the track just outside the hut. Notice the branches drooping over, covered with snow ready to dump on taller unsuspecting trampers. Those beeches also serve to protect from howling gales and allow travel along the ridge in pretty much any weather.

Last in this series is John with map and compass just down from the hut looking across at the main range. This was from a summer trip a few years ago, and the first time John had been in this area for over thirty years and some of his first tramps. The connections to this place are deep.

Part II : Memories of the old Parks Peak hut.

3 June, 2000 4:50pm

It is raining and cold outside, it began to sleet as we trudged along and up this seemingly endless ridge. Here for the first time with Nigel, and our Irish friend Jeremy down from Auckland on his first ever New Zealand tramp. It took us 5 hours 30 minutes after crossing the river, and it is a very good haul to this hut which we were all glad to see appear out of the mist. Jeremy has spent two hours with a very wet and meagre supply of wood and a very temperamental Corker stove and to his credit we are now in a warm hut. We have marinated steak, garlic, mushrooms and blanched tomatoes for tea, and Nigel has carried in a steamed pudding and fresh cream and extra gas to steam it. Yum! I hope Jeremy was able to get beyond the hard labour and enjoy this marvelous ridge, certainly unique from any I have traversed thus far in these ranges. Nigel and I are starting to get a few under our belts now, and I feel this place and beyond calling strongly to me. A great day, turning into a great evening, these mountains just amaze me.

7 July, 2001 5:45pm

Parks Peak hut
Robb Kloss
Nigel Robson
Taylor Kloss

A long walk for a little boy of 8 years to arrive here. I am so proud of Taylor my eyes well up and my heart bursts thinking about his efforts today. He is wandering outside with Nigel in this beautiful and mysterious high ridge beech forest that surrounds us. After an 8 hour walk he arrived here nearly in tears, and there were a few along the way, as well as a lot of laughs and his incessant chatter to Nigel. Getting into warm dry gear, and some hot soup, cocoa and chocolate he was a new man with new found energy wanting to explore the area a bit. It is a long way, and I thought I may have misjudged things a bit, particularly when it started to snow. I had to give him a few cuddles along the way, but his feet got him here, and he deserves all the credit. Thank you Nigel, your presence in Taylor's life, and mine, is a great gift. The smile on Taylor's face when he saw that orange roof of the hut will stay with me always.

6 Feb. 2003 Parks Peak hut

Robb Kloss
Taylor Kloss
Jacob Burn

Here on a 3 night trip with Taylor and Jake. A long hot walk today, and we ran out of water about an hour before the hut, which of course immediately made the boys very thirsty. I found a bit in the roots of a beech tree and even squeezed a bit from some moss to quench their thirsts. I should have put a damper on their early and frequent attacks on the water bottles, and carrying 4 litres myself, plus each their own thought ample supply. I did not think it would be so unrelentingly hot even high up, not a cloud in the sky and the sun blazing down. Beautiful, but perhaps not the best conditions for that long steep ridge and two 9 year old boys. Yet here we are. How cool to attack that old water tank, despite the heat, still fresh and cold and immediately made everything better. Simple pleasures, a very good lesson. Different dynamics with two boys, rather than just Taylor, or even just myself. Worrying about my own thirst, for instance, is one thing, worrying about the thirsts of two boys under my charge a whole other concept. Still, it has to be good to get them out here, out of their comfort zones and inactivity of life at home in most regards. I can't expect them to understand my reasons for connecting to this place, these ranges, and what I take from here, yet I hope they might at some stage get a small whiff of understanding that might emerge even years later. I must write that in spite of the pull up here, the ever climbing ridge, that this is becoming one of my favourite Ruahine places. It is so unique and beautiful, and the views on a day like today are simply stunning. I am excited to push beyond here in the morning to Upper Makaroro, another new place to be revealed.

"Stormy Walk on Parks Peak Ridge"

The ridge played no gentle songs
to greet me on this day
No blue skies above
to offer a blissful welcome
The forest booming a crescendo
of wind and the kettle drum gales
waiting their turn to accentuate the rhythm
A symphony of wet greens and greyness
dripping slowly her tears upon me
I accepted her terms
and in turn saw beauty revealed
I Listened
tasted her moods
observed and absorbed all around me
and in turn was touched
to my very soul

written at Parks Peak 15 April 2005

Part III : The Smaller World at Parks Peak

Parks Peak hut 15 April 2005


It is the roar, the stags roar in the creek heads. Coming through the mist it sounds lonely and frantic, adding to the remote solitude of this ridge. As I climbed through the melting ice and snow I saw the foot steps, I know at this time of year there might very well be hunters at the hut. Yet this time of year calls to me as well, even if I do not shoot animals anymore. Those roars of mating hungry stags still stir me.

Imagine my surprise to arrive at Parks Peak hut to find it in complete disarray. So much a mess I could not initially determine how many were staying there except by counting the number of sleeping bags. The prospect of a night here was pretty dim indeed. Yet I was too tired and had been in the saddle too long to care. I brewed some chicken soup and coffee, and feeling much better I retired outside to the lovely garden and contemplated my position with a wee dram. I really needed to accept my reality and make the best of it. That included sleeping outside in my bivvy bag. Though a night outside at Parks Peak in April would be very cold indeed. I decided to have another wee dram. Then the hunters arrive, Allister and Peter, whom are very apologetic about the state of the hut, and for three days had shared its humble confines with 3 other hunters who had been choppered in with apparently everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. They had flown out that morning. Allister has in tow the finest 10 point stag head I have seen in the Ruahines, and imagine my surprise when they not only began to clean up the hut, but pack their gear up as well. They were leaving now in the growing dusk, heading down the ridge north to Sentry Box hut then out to their car. Who am I to argue? I helped them shoulder their meat laden loads with a 10 point head on top of Allister's pack and watched them head to the track.
I thought I was dreaming. To go from that to this, was almost too much. How my prospects have changed! I have the solitude I sought . I have a fire in this shitty little Corker and I am warm inside and out. This place is wonderful. Now the night time sky reveals hidden stars and I relish in my wealth. I recall some lines from Wordsworth, a long ago English literature class taken at Ripon college, maybe I did learn something after all.

"Calm is the fragrant air, and loth to lose
Days grateful warmth, tho moist with
falling dews
Look for the stars, you'll say that there are none
Look up a second time, and, one by one
You mark them twinkling out with silvery light
And wonder
How could they elude the sight"

William Wordsworth

Photos 1 and 2 : The beech forest in summer. The lichens and mosses, or what ever they are, stun the senses.
Photos 3 and 4 : The same mosses and such this past snow storm. In spite of their seeming fragility they know hard times and how to survive.
Photo 5 : Leatherwood and Beech just outside the hut. Leather wood, or Tupare, is a diabolical sub alpine native shrub or tree when in abundance and trying to find a way through, but so beautiful and so resilient.
Photo 6. The contrasting summer garden just outside the hut.