Friday, August 21, 2009

Part 3: Forest Walk on a Wet Winter Day

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness"
John Muir

2 August 2009
Late Afternoon
Iron Gate hut

What a perfect day. To walk slowly through the dripping forest along and above the river unencumbered by heavy pack or need to get anywhere or do anything. Freedom to relish in, and the quiet smiles upon our faces all day reflected that reality. This was our world today, ours alone to absorb and simply be amongst. I have no words to write sitting here in the candle light, the warmth of our little mountain sanctuary deeper than the small fire which warms it. There is no place I would rather be. That is both beautiful and melancholic, it is also the Truth.
To sit by the river and be in the moment a Whio lands nearby and observe him stand there whistling his tune and preening himself, sharing some of his day with me! The most special moment of all really.

Then to walk in the mystic forest with John. The myriad shades of green, some luminescent and glowing, others muted and silent, but all adding to the brilliance and miracle of this place. Climbing above the river and hearing her song muted, then dropping back down to full volume, reminded of her moody loveliness.

A mountain forest wet with rain. A bit above the Oroua river listening to a symphony of Nature's music.

Another little beautiful seemingly innocuous stream on his way to the river come to life.

Down on the Oroua where yesterday would have been a raging muddy torrent. A good spot to climb down from the forest to the river and boil the billy.

Cup of tea coming right up!

"Stormy Forest Walk"

The wind plays a melody on each and every
branch, leaf, and twig, she misses not one
Every fibre of the forest part of the serenade
it is all dancing and swaying to the Enchanting Song
Water joins in with its own sweet chorous
the unrelenting droplets of rain
like huge shiny baubles from the sky
splattering, hissing, dripping
onto the forest floor
joined by the incessant quiet plops
of luminescent moisture
from the lush green bush
fluorescent and glowing
The crescendo of the raging river joins in,
brown, dirty, very angry
soon dominating like kettle drums
Booming and symbols crashing in unison
until I climb away from her again
till she is a muted presence
in this Dance of the Forest
I slake my thirst inside and out
The Symphony of a stormy forest walk
in the mountains wet with rain
overwhelms me with the wildness
remote responsibility for myself
The mountain hut lies ahead
Warmth, Dry Clothes
The Billy to Boil
and the Rain
still will fall and bounce
off the tin roof
outside the river will still roll by
I am here..........

Another timeless spot in the forest.

The Ruahines always means Up!!

The forest wet with rain, mosses and lichens on the side of a beech tree, dripping water and glowing.

2 August
Iron Gate hut

The sun sets on another interaction with these mountains, the Ruahine. John and I enjoy a last wee dram, the fire crackles in the wood stove, and the hut is illuminated by the flickering candle light. John and I laugh and smile as we recall memories of trips gone by, soon to be joined by the ones we have gathered here. An ever growing treasure trove. These ranges are part of me, my heart and soul, yet the day will come when I can no longer travel here. That really doesn't sadden me for all I will have to do is close my eyes, open my heart, and I will be here.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Part 2 Ruahine Winter: The Whio

2 August Early morning
Iron Gate hut

The Oroua has dropped somewhat dramatically overnight, though it is still overcast and drizzling slightly. It is pretty amazing to look at the river now, which has regained much of the clarity of normal flow, compared to the raging torrent of yesterday. The river is still high, and battling upstream, over the spur and then up river to Triangle hut does not seem an attractive option to either of us. Then there would also be the problematic possibility of the rain starting again and the river resuming her angry mood, and being stuck on the wrong side of the river is an interesting though perhaps not a very smart option. The safer play is to simply enjoy a day here, a walk in the forest, and enjoy our final full day in the mountains here whilst our wet and saturated gear gets a chance to dry. We are in no hurry to do anything at all, and have made no crucial decisions about what to do with the rest of our daylight hours. We can discuss it by the fire with a cup of tea.

John and I decided on a leisurely stroll back down the track through the forest and river flats. Just enough to stretch the legs and enjoy the lushness of the bush and the calmer but still temperamental river. I stepped outside the hut and walked to the edge of the bank to have a look while waiting for John. The bank sits perhaps 10 metres or so above the river, and I was standing there looking at the clearing water and pondering the flood of yesterday when I heard the beautiful, familiar, and haunting call of the Whio. That sound always fills me with joy. I looked up and saw him fly gracefully up the river almost at eye level and carry on down the straight out of sight. I was speechless and stunned, and even more so when he flew back and landed on a rock on the opposite bank straight across from me and started singing. I quietly called John and we stood there for I don't know how long just looking at and observing him, just as he seemed to be looking at and observing us.

For some reason very strong thoughts of my son Taylor came to me, a somewhat wistful and forlorn feeling, as we are struggling with each other currently. I have stood here at Iron Gate with Taylor, but that was a long time ago now, and maybe it was the ghosts of who we were then that swirled around me, a little boy and his father living simply. Or maybe it was the Whio. Before my last trip to Upper Makaroro I had not seen, heard, or interacted with them for almost two years, and each trip I seemed more desperate to connect with them and did not. I believe they represent the soul of these ranges, the wildness and purity, so to not see them for so long was very distressing to me in many ways. At Upper Makaroro I was finally blessed by not one but three. And now this amazing interaction, by far the longest and most pleasurable observation I have had of this beautiful and incredible mountain traveler. Maybe his song is telling me to never give up on either them nor my son. Perhaps he is telling me that which takes us apart can also bring us back together. I choked out a little karakia of Thanks to the Whio and of Hope and Aroha for my son. I hope one day I can stand here again with him, living simply.

The Whio is in the middle of the photo standing a few feet into the river on the partly submerged rock. Over millions of years they have developed an uncanny likeness to the predominant grey wacke rock environment, and I wonder how many times in my period of absence from their graceful presence did I simply walk right by unaware. At one time in pre-colonial Aotearoa these unique fellows and ladies would have roamed far and wide beyond the mountains but have now been driven to these relatively pristine sanctuaries. They are the heart and soul of these mountains.

Just a reminder of what that very same stretch of river was like not long before. Where does the Whio go in such inclement weather?

My friend the Whio and I looking each other straight in the eye. He was in absolutely no hurry to fly off anywhere, or drift effortlessly back down river amongst the white water. I was in absolutely no hurry either. I like to think it may have been a moment of connection, in many ways.

Photo of Whio supplied by Pohangina Pete, a real photographer, and a pretty good writer as well, he can be found at .

" In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and the wounds heal ere we are aware."
John Muir

End of Part II. Thank you for bearing with me. Stay Tuned for the final episode.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wild Wonderful Ruahine Winter

30 July, 2009
Evening at Rangiwahia

Celebrating 49 years on this earth here high up in the Ruahine and the Whanahuia ranges with John Nash. My 9th birthday enjoyed here in the wintry mountains. The years seem to pass by more quickly, the guy in the mirror feels much the same as the younger version, except more weight, less hair, aches and pains emerge more frequently. The Ruahine remains pretty much the same.

It is minus 3 Celsius outside, the ranges remain unseen covered in cloud and mist, the wind gusts over, and there is deep snow all about. Our aim is to cross over the Whanahuias and drop down to Triangle hut in the morning, then head over to the Pourangaki catchment the following day. We shall see in the morning.

Right now I am content to enjoy just being back in the mountains and to enjoy a few celebratory wee drams of fine whiskey with an equally fine friend and just be amongst this place I love.

Foot bridge on track to Rangi hut

The slip which adds a considerable climb and time to the walk to Rangi hut

A fine way to enjoy a birthday.

Up the track with bridge now below.

John climbing up Rangi track. Now that the slip is past not long at all to the open tops of the Whanahuias.

31 July Heritage Lodge
Oroua valley

John and I are now ensconced at Heritage Lodge, a 45 minute walk from the road end and just inside the Ruahine boundary and above the river. We retreated down from Rangi late in the afternoon back down to the car and drove to the road end. We sat in Rangi waiting to see if the weather might clear, which it didn't, and as the prospect of better weather tomorrow is even worse we came up with a new plan. Our attempt to cross in the morning failed.

I have crossed the Whanahuias from Rangi to Triangle over 10 times now. Many times alone and more than a few times in inclement weather, it is a route I know very well. On a fine day it is a walk to be relished, on a bad one you just put your head down and get over the tops into the forest and down to the river. Today was one of those days. It is a poled route most of the way, meaning stakes are driven into the ground every few hundred metres to mark the way across. Except for one section just beyond when the relatively distinct track peters out and the poled route picks up not far beyond. The snow was firm but deep and every few steps I would break through the surface up to my thighs, very tiring work. Worse, as we got higher the wind picked up to gales and our visibility was reduced to almost nothing. We failed to find the poled route in the mist, and roaming about on the tops trying to find a route in conditions like that simply is not a good idea. It was very beautiful actually, a very closed in world of white and tussock gold, but potentially a very deadly one as well. Even if we had found the poled route it would have been a very long and exposed three hours perhaps longer. I was very relieved when John sauntered up to me and quietly suggested today was not our day. We retreated back to Rangi, a bit subdued, a bit humbled. Late in the afternoon we decided on this new plan, as the mountain forecast looks WORSE for Saturday. And here we are.

We have just come in from the lovely porch of this very quaint, but new lodge. The old one burnt down a few years ago, and the new one rebuilt and owned by the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association. They have a large private quarters attached and this lovely 8 bunk affair open to the public. A very nice wood fire and it doesn't take much to warm this little gem. Below us the Oroua noisily rolls by, and my question to John was even if we had battled across the tops and dropped to the forest and river would the river have been cross able? It would have been a long cold night huddled in my 2 man bivouac sack with the river raging by, and the hut right in view across the river. I think we made the right decision.

Beautiful but starting to cause a bit of concern.

John in the lee of the wind where we discussed our prospects.

John heading into the featureless cloud hidden tops.

John ahead in middle of photo. Soon after the track fizzled out and the cloud closed in thicker and the wind was fierce. Today is not our day up here.

1 August 2009
Late Afternoon
Iron Gate hut

Once again John and I each walked on our own today. I left first and almost immediately it began to rain, a big steady rain, where anything and everything is wet, and the sound of water is prevalent with every whisper of wind, or stronger gales. Dripping and splashing through the forest. Stormy days seem to have more to say to me sometimes, and walking in rain I rarely find unpleasant as it seems to keep me moving. I waited for John at Tunupo creek, as it was quite discoloured and fast and wanted to make sure he would get across. Just as I started to feel a slight chill he appeared and I showed him where I crossed, we had a little chat and then I let him go ahead and we each continued our separate wild and wet nature experiences. The Oroua beside the track was just raging, a brown torrent incapable of crossing, and I thought how our decision to bale out of the tops was the right one. I am sure we would not have crossed the river yesterday, and surely not today, and then been faced with a possible trip back over the tops in even worse conditions. So this 5 hour amble along and above the river was the right choice, and the forest was vibrant and alive.
The river outside is still raging, getting higher and more angry. The rain continues to fall. The corker stove gently crackles and warms the hut. When I arrived here wet through and chilled John handed me a cup of hot tea. I am warm now.

Heading off up the Oroua valley to Iron Gate hut.

Tunupo creek in flood.

The sound of water is everywhere on these stormy days, another creek comes to life.

The Oroua in a raging flood just outside Iron gate hut, late afternoon 1 August.

John is almost the identical spot less about 14 hours later. Pretty humbling to see.

Arriving at Iron Gate, wet as can be and ready for a cup of tea.
I have to go out of town for a few days so will publish this as part one of my annual Ruahine winter trip. A different sort of trip, but learning to adapt and accept the gifts and opportunities we are blessed with in Nature is a lesson worth learning. Stay Tuned for Part Two.