Thursday, January 20, 2011

Charlie meets Top Maropea and Tawhirimatea (God of Wind)

The sun begins to wane on a beautiful day at Top Maropea. The moon emerges over Remutopu and Oropu in the distance.

Charlie by the very shrunken tarn on Armstrong saddle.

13 Jan. 2011
Top Maropea - evening
Robb Kloss
Charlie Kloss

In the "backyard" at Top Maropea once again, and so soon back in the Ruahine after my last interaction. I like that. I am absorbing the last of the sun's warmth, crossing the saddle this afternoon the wind died, the clag lifted, and suddenly it was a glorious day.

And with me now lying stretched out in the sun yawning and napping is Charlie Kloss. To celebrate my 30th evening here at my favourite Ruahine spot with him makes my eyes brim as I write this. I can think of no other finer company to share this moment with me, aside from my other son Taylor. Introducing Charlie to this walk, this spot, Charlie's Cairn, to see him today and watch him endure a long walk and interact with these mountains, was, is, a Gift from the Ruahine. Such days are rare up there.

Taylor has been here many times, Tara has been here once, this is my 30th night here, and Charlie's first. This place has meaning for us. It is part of our story, part of our history. It is beautiful. This is a powerful place.

Charlie heading up "The Gut", climbing from the saddle to the top of Camel Back ridge the crux of the climb. Especially for young legs.

Charlie at the top of the ridge, tired and getting sore feet. Not too far to go now. Most of the problem with his feet we realized comes from the fact he rarely wears any shoes at all, much less for 5-6 hours climbing and dropping on such terrain. He may have been better off barefoot!

Camel Back ridge.

About to descend into Maropea valley.

Charlie sleeping in the afternoon sun like a little bear.

13 Jan. Top Maropea - evening

It is still light outside, but Charlie has now crawled into his sleeping bag and is fast asleep. I am going to have to rouse him for tea. It is a long day for 8 year old legs. I recall Taylor's 8 year old legs having been just as tired.

I watch my 30th sunset here. All are special, but some a little more so in the number they represent marking the passing of time, the people we are with, the moments I have shared here with these mountains, and still dreaming of heading down valley or up to those far off peaks in the morning. A spectacular crystal clear evening, the sky above a deep majestic blue, and the hues of light playing on the valley and peaks. After starting our day climbing into wind, cloud and mist the perfect stillness and colours seem all the more relevant. Nature's canvass about to be painted here for me once more. I can only smile and applaud.

Charlie got up for a feed of steak and broccoli, sat in front of the fire for a few minutes, then was soon back in his bag and fast asleep. He slept 11 hours.

The cairn Charlie is kneeling by marks the spot where I buried Charlie's placenta in the custom of whenua - connecting deeply to the land. At the time 8 years ago John Nash marked the moment by a moment of silence and putting a few small rocks to mark the spot after I had dug into the Ruahine earth with my bare hands and placed the connection between Charlie and his mother into the mountain earth. The pile of rocks has grown considerably since then, as has Charlie. It was a very emotional moment for me to connect the boy to the place.

This was late the next afternoon. I was observing with my camera the light begin to play on the valley and peaks while sitting on the ground, and I did not see Charlie slide next to me until I turned and saw him there. At the same instant the sunlight was just streaming down upon his cairn. As if the Ruahine had been observing him, and watching him over the past few days. There would be further tests ahead, but in this moment the mountains opened themselves to and welcomed Charlie. He is indeed connected here.

14 Jan. Top Maropea early morning

The steam rolls off my breath and it was a chilly evening. Top Maropea is a cold place at the best of times, in winter only very cold tolerant souls would stay here, and usually one never spends much time here idly on a winter morning. The coldest I ever experienced was -8 Celsius INSIDE the hut one July morning. And another time when a beautiful day turned into an all out blizzard by the time I got up from the creek 30 minutes below, and I spent an extra day and a half here. The water froze in the tank and I had to whittle wood chips into my billy, dry them over the stove, and slowly build a great fire, more to keep busy than to actually warm the hut. Ahh memories.... Still, as I sip my mug of strong coffee I smile at what this place represents to me - the real back country wilderness and the scope of what lies beyond here.

Charlie is still fast asleep, coming up on 11 hours now. His face poking out of his bag looks cherubic and beautiful.

There is not a cloud in the sky, nor a breath of wind. A great day to roam down to the creek and river and perhaps find a few pools to be embraced by.

Charlie and I spent some time in the morning gathering up tawharauriki for our evening fire, and more for the hut as well. It is good for him to learn how to give back to the ambiance of these places. Arriving at a hut after a long walk to find it clean, tidy, and well stocked with wood is such a nice feeling.

We then headed down through the lovely sunlit forest to the creek.

The waterfall just above the point where the "track" drops nearly vertical to the creek.

A simply gorgeous little waterfall.

Even at very low flow the pool is ice cold, crystal clear, and over my head in its depth near the fall.

One Kloss embraced by the mountain water.

And another as well. The look on Charlie's face pretty much says it all.

14 Jan. Early evening

Charlie has had a real taste of a Ruahine hut day today. Not doing really anything in particular at all, but suddenly the day has past. We did a few hut duties, had a wander in the forest to the creek, had a swim, threw rocks in a few pools, and just lie around in the sun talking. A different world than out there. Just these moments. No television, computers, video games or play stations. Just us and the mountains.

I hope he absorbs some of this, as I hope Taylor has as well, and somewhere along the path of his life remembers the simple pleasures on offer here, a gift for him to open when he is ready.

Now the fire crackles and hisses, dinner is done, and Charlie tries out MY sleeping bag for size.

It is good to see his body clock respond to the rhythms of the mountains, and even though it is still light out he is tired and yawning. Me, I am just going to sit here for awhile and stare into the fire, and smile at the bountiful memories these past few days have brought to me. That warms me more than this crackling little fire.

15 Jan. early morning

To have spent 10 plus days in the Ruahine over the past 2 plus weeks has put a shine upon my soul. I feel wild and connected, yet also somewhat melancholic as this time draws to a close.

The wind has come up over night and I am about to wake up Charlie and get over the saddle early before it gets up too much. I am just trying to linger in this quiet and relish each taste of these last moments. I miss this place already.

This photo was made by Charlie just after we had emerged from the forest onto the open Camel Back ridge before climbing it and dropping to the saddle. It made the hair on my arms stand up as in my experience that ethereal hue to the light and sky, and the wind blowing above meant danger. The wind picked up stronger, though in gusts and bursts, and I hurried Charlie along to The Gut, where I knew we would be sheltered and could see the whole route from the saddle to the protection of Buttercup Hollow and Sunrise hut. From the saddle to the hut is only 15 minutes or so, but also the most narrow, open, and exposed section. When the wind blows from the northwest, which it most often does here, it funnels through the valley above the mountains literally pulling down the high winds which have been rolling over the open sea and narrow island gathering strength. Often it makes the saddle uncrossable, and most often makes it windy. My concern observing the route from The Gut was just how much wind was on that final stretch. I have been knocked down there in the past, and while not so worried about me, I was about Charlie and I could see the anxiousness upon his face. This was wind already such as he had never before seen. The mountains had a final test indeed.

When we got below the saddle the wind really began to howl relentlessly. I had Charlie hang on to my pack straps which I had looped together, and I was getting shoved around pretty good, and then I felt him go off his feet. I quickly pushed him into a bit of tupare and scrub on the lee side of the wind, just enough so that our heads were out of it as we lay on the ground. Charlie was scared and crying. I knew instinctively I had to let him rest and gather himself. I thought very clearly and calmly as I stroked his head, and after a few minutes he looked up at me. I told him what we had to do. I strapped my poles and his to my pack, and the second the wind howled a fraction less, we were on our feet and off. I had Charlie in a death grip by the arm and literally dragged and pulled him as I fought through the wind. A couple times I looked back and literally saw his feet off the ground. There is a little tunnel in the tupare and tawhairauriki which lean decidedly against the nor'west wind a few hundred metres before the actual track drops to the hut. Once I saw that approach my heart lifted, I knew we had made it. I pulled Charlie ahead of me and down into the tunnel. The wind stopped and we were in sudden calm, which is somewhat disorienting after being in a blowing gale. I yelled and whooped and screamed. We were alive and we were living! Charlie started staggering down the rough track the wrong way and I called him back. His eyes were wild and unfocused. I pulled him to me and hugged him and told him I loved him, how proud I was of him, how hard I know that was for him, and the courage it took. It may have been my proudest moment as a father. Since that moment Charlie and I know something more, about each other, about these mountains. He is indeed connected to the Ruahine. He met Tawhirimatea, he met the Ruahine.

Robb and the ever barefoot Charlie.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ruahine Summer Tour 2011

3 Jan. 2011 Parks Peak - late evening
Robb Kloss
John Nash
Pete McGregor

As I write this lying in my tent which is placed upon the lovely mountain meadow on which Parks Peak hut is located I feel content, relaxed, and relieved to be lying here. Pete has his bivvy bag located not far from me, and John is in the hut. I did not feel so content, relaxed, or relieved a few mere hours ago when climbing the ridge. It was a very hot summer day, very little wind, and very heavy packs. I would have thought my mountain foray last week would have held me in good stead, and expected it to do so. Alas, it did not. I struggled and plodded up the steep ridge, pausing for breath and rest, and it was not till just short of 8 hours from leaving the car that I staggered into this meadow.
It occurred to me that in this story I tell here of my love and travel in the mountains, I write most often from the hero's perspective. Travel is light and easy, the mountains speak and the rivers sing as I bound about. It is easy to forget the moments of doubt, or fear, or simply not wanting to climb or descend anymore, of running out of water on a hot day and feeling cramps coming on, or walking for years with a hip not fit for such activity. So today was a very honest day, a reminder that the mountains always hold the upper hand, a reminder of my real place here.
Yet upon arriving and getting into some fresh gear, being handed a cup of sweet tea, and then roaming out a few minutes to overlook the Makaroro valley and watch the colours of a Ruahine sunset with John and Pete. Those hard hours on the ridge seem like a long time ago.

John and Pete on Parks Peak ridge. A long series of climbs behind, a few more ahead. One of those days when I had to remind myself of the reasons I love these places, or perhaps it was the mountains reminding me.

My campsite, and Parks Peak hut with John on the porch behind. Pete was camped not far away.

Overlooking Makaroro valley and the main Ruahine range. Pete, a much finer and more astute photographer than myself, observing the play of light. ( Please visit his awesome photoblog Ruins of the Moment: , or Pohangina Pete: another great place to stop in. What a great spot to let the mountains wash over us after a hard days travel. Not a bad place for a wee dram as well!

A Miromiro (Tomtit) landed on a tawhairauriki right by us and began to sing. In the Maori world the Miromiro represents the light and life, as opposed to dark and death. After my day on the ridge seemingly facing the latter, having the representation of the former appear I took as a very good sign.

The sun begins to fade over the main range , Te Atua Mahuru, Ina Rocks, and Tupari. We took sly bets on how many minutes it would be till the sun sunk below the peaks. None of us won.

Another Ruahine masterpiece sunset painted just for us. How many have I seen in these mountains over the last 18 years? Never will I tire of such an honour.

4 Jan. Upper Makaroro
Upon arriving here mid morning from Parks Peak, John and I dumped our gear in the empty hut and headed down to the pool running through the flat in front of the hut. To be consumed by the bracing coolness and refreshing thrill of the mountain river, and wash the sweat, dirt, grime, and even thoughts of my performance yesterday, to cleanse myself, I felt renewed. I have been baptized in many Ruahine pools.
After many cups of tea, lunch, and a brief siesta, the three of us walked up river. In a very solid moment of connection I wanted to find a waterfall David and Tyson mentioned to me last week in the Maropea. David said it was 2 kilometres or so to the fall, but on a twisting, turning, beautiful wild mountain river how does one tell when a kilometre or so has past? At one point we stopped and agreed a few more bends and we would turn around. Within a few bends we heard a new sound to the river, an urgency and booming beat to the music lie not far ahead.
The fall was spectacular. Not in height, or even the power of it in very low flow like today. Rather, for me, it was the sheer wildness of it, the beauty of seeing her flow, how she completely stopped any forward progress upriver (at least as far as we could read). I dove into the pool in fairly short time. Not as deep a pool as I would have expected, though it falls through the very tight gorge with alacrity. One that makes you realize how privileged we are to be in such a place on a fine day. On an unpleasant one you would not have stood where we did.

A very quiet pool on the Makaroro.

Pete and John, crossing the river. To walk in the summer Ruahine river on a fine day, without pack, and when thirsty simply reach down, grab a few handfuls and feel the extra droplets drip down my chin. Aaaahhh.......

4 Jan. Upper Makaroro - continued

About 5 or 10 minutes up river from the hut we began to spot in the clear aqua pools rainbow trout, their golden and red flashing hidden perfectly in the clear water and the golden red beech leaves on the bottom of the pools. About 20-30 minutes upriver, a whio just blasted out of the the greywacke ahead of us and jetted off up river. It happened so fast I could not get the words out, Pete was focused on something else, but John saw the whio take flight. Of which I was glad or I would not have been sure if it had actually happened. It did. We were with the whio, the Heart and Soul of the Ruahine. Even for the briefest of moments that makes me smile.

This pool was most likely 10-15 feet deep, the deepest on the quiet river, high up the head waters on a very quiet day. Up above it, where I enjoyed this moment, it looked up to my ankles. Notice the tawhairauriki leaves gathering on the bottom. The trout roam there.

Even at the times of quietest flow the watersheds of the Ruahine still are at work. We saw streams running into the river now dry, but then you come across places like this, still releasing some of the countless billions of gallons held in store, the natural surge tanks which must not be altered. When we destroy the tiny trickle above, we destroy ourselves.

The Waterfall. Such a place. The clear cool water, the roar of the river, the looking around and knowing this tight spot would not be nearly as pleasant on a bad day, or times of higher flow. It was wild.

A dip in the pool.

There was no way up from here, or just down below, as far as I could see. Pete and John debated hand and foot holds on the sheer smooth slippery rock. I had my doubts. The consensus seemed to be that it would require rope work and such. All I could think is never forget your party is only as strong as the weakest link. I was happy to swim in the bracing pool. Climbing it was another story.

5 Jan. 2011 Morning Upper Makaroro

John clears the overgrown path to the river, access for drinking water and doing dishes. He is down there with the hut axe and my saw doing hard yards. He is like that. I have no doubt any hut rubbish left previously will end up in his pack. It always ends up just as heavy, or heavier, than when we started. I love that about John.
We have decided to head down river to Barlow, a walk I will be doing now for the third time, but not since 2004 or so with Taylor and Jake, then myself. The river is low but it falls fairly fast from here, so is never "easy".
I could not stop smiling after yesterday seeing the whio on that walk up river. With like minded and gentle souls. I have never learned so much about the insects and birds of the Ruahine as now with Pete. And John who taught me so much early on about observation of the lie of the land, reading a map and compass. We traveled lots of places in the mountains on his expertise. I am lucky to have made such friends.
We sat down by the river before dinner last evening waiting to see if a whio might grace us with its presence. And we sat upon a huge old beech river log brought down by some ancient flood and left. So smooth it seems to be sanded and varnished. I seek it every time I am here.

Pete looking for a route through this narrow pool, John pretty much accepting a deep wade is ahead. It was. Chest deep at least, bracing and cool. On a higher flow day this river would present more problems.

John headed into another pool than from above. The only way through.

Pete making his way through as well.

Lunchtime on the Makaroro. A cup of tea on the sun drenched greywacke along the river. I fell on the river and sprained my ankle. Didn't quite realize the peril of that till it stiffened up at this point. I had a couple real top shelf mates to stir me through. I had a long couple hours ahead.

The river.

5 Jan. Late Afternoon Barlow hut - Makaroro river
I sit outside the hut while Pete and John have a short siesta. I couldn't sleep as my ankle hurts and has swollen up. It is going to be a long slow walk out of here in the morning. Another reminder of the wildness of these places, and the potential risk and danger we face when amongst them. I accept that and wouldn't have it any other way. This was such a beautiful day to be upon the mountain river. Traveling through darkened gorges and fast water with big boulders into calm clear straights where the sunlight hits the water making it sparkle and glimmer, and the sun warmed greywacke rocks seem to glow against the aqua pools. How can I not smile? Hard to write this trip is almost done. I wish we had arranged a few more days now. I am enjoying the place and the company very much.

Robb and Pete.

Robb and John.

* my ankle was very swollen, stiff, and sore. We wrapped it up and I hobbled off well ahead of John and Pete. The river eventually becomes a very wide and braided bed, much easier, if not a bit tedious, to walk down, and in about 4 hours I was at the car. Not too far a drive from there to the Onga Onga pub for a couple very cold beers. Kia ora John, Kia ora Pete, Kia ora Ruahine!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


29 December 2010 Top Maropea
After an almost two week wait for the weather to come right, my son Taylor decided he had better things to do with his girlfriend and mates. At 17 can't say I blame him. So I took off myself when the forecast looked promising. And at least today it was as I sit here now at Top Maropea. I must write that I do miss the company of my matamua tama (eldest child). Taylor was with me a little over a year ago when this was as far as I could get on a trip planning to go far deeper but stopped as my hip hurt too much. So it would have been cool to share the smile on my face today with him.
And I was starting to feel a bit nervous and anxious about why I just did not go anyway with Taylor, and bugger the forecast. I have done it before. I realized today on my own that is my choice but to put my tamariki (children) in harms way would simply be irresponsible. The mountains always clear my foggy head and bring clarity.
It is always a pleasure to cross Armstrong saddle on a relatively wind free day, particularly now when the high alpine tussock and plants are in flower, and the mountain world is lit up with the shimmering brilliance of the small and short lived mountain flowers as the more muted golden browns and greens burst into life. Wind free days are rare here. It is the weather itself which keeps this place wild and relatively unintruded upon. So days like today are to be enjoyed, and I met a man at Sunrise who had never been to the Ruahine so I walked with him out to the saddle and showed him the lie of land, and then carried on here.
This is my 28th night spent here. I have arrived here with some wonderful people. Tony, Nigel, John Nash, Taylor, Rick, Steve, Gustav, Adam, Tara, Jeff, John Streat, Scott, and Ethan.Some only once, some many times. All I toast now.
I love it here. Truly my most special place in the Ruahine - of many such special and unique places for me, each holding it's own charms, beauty, and nuance in my soul.
Yet this was my first. The first time looking out at the Maropea valley and the ranges beyond over 13 years ago, I was moved by the wildness and beauty. I now know those places well, have traveled to and from here in every direction. I am still moved by this view as if it were my first visit and I am laying my eyes upon all this for the first time.
I am now completely shrouded in by cloud and mist. The newly painted bright orange hut less than 10 metres away from me is enveloped in mist and glowing. I am truly Cloud Hidden. I am Home.

Looking over Camel Back spur and the Maropea valley beyond.

Armstrong saddle and headwaters of the creek leading to the Maropea river far below.

Dropping into the forest above Top Maropea. These colours just jumped out at me.

Top Maropea hut overlooking the Maropea valley.

After a tea of garlic infused sirloin steak, with mushrooms and broccoli steamed in tarragon what a great way to end the day.

30 December, 2010 5:30 am
I am wide awake enjoying a cup of strong coffee. The day looks to be brilliant, very little wind and blue sky as far as I can see within my westerly confined view. I am putting a few items in my pack and heading back up the spur to climb Te Atuaoparapara (which is the far left peak above pictured from just where one emerges from the forest above Top Maropea). I have always wanted to do it, but have always been either coming or going, and so while I have looked upon from afar many many times I have never been introduced properly.

Looking down Maropea valley just approaching Te Atuaoparapara. A view I love from a new perspective.

Getting closer. The route takes a very steep desent down before starting to climb onto the flanks. Just as I got here, the cloud started swirling in from the north east.

Like another world amongst the shattered and battered greywacke.

Not a good place to fall.

The connecting spur between Camel Back ridge and the mountain.

Just getting onto the flanks, the top in view. About 20 minutes past here the cloud completely rolled over the mountain and just sat there. Being rather narrow and steep and thick with tupare I decided the top of Te Atuaoparapara could be left for another day. At least we met one another properly.

The cloud rolls in and the choice is made to retreat. Much easier to decide on my own.

Getting back to the hut at lunchtime I decided I had plenty of time to also drop down to the Maropea river, as on such a beautiful day conditions for a river walk were perfect. All I needed were my camera and poles. Above is just below the hut entering the cool forest, which after being in the high mountain blazing sun all morning was fantastic.

Heading down to the creek.

A good look at the steepness and ruggedness of this Ruahine country. This is dropping down to the creek and then river, on a final decent of near vertical proportions.

A favourite side creek about to meet the main river. The river was very low, I walked up the river proper for over an hour and hardly got my boots wet! Never experienced in my 20 plus trips here.

Still, the amazing clarity and brilliance of the beech leaves and pebbles flashing beneath the glass like surface makes my heart sing.

Normally this is a fairly sizeable pool. Today I just hopped along the very warm and true hard gripping river stones and only got wet feet when I wanted a drink from such a lovely pool and have a splash.

How cool to watch such a river in such a mellow moment, her song still loud, clear, and resonant. I have also seen this river very angry, dirty and roaring. So these moments are to be savoured.

As I continued down river I saw approaching two hunters. Strapped on the pack of one was a rather large stag head. The largest I have seen in the ranges. I thought my solitude and tranquility at the hut might be ended. But it is summer, and I am not the only one in these mountains. As I approached them, one of the hunters was looking at me and said "You're Robb Kloss - I read your blog, and I met you years back at Parks Peak." Indeed it was 2005 and I was with an American mate and we spent two nights with a then very young David (above) and his mate Mike, who were fly fishing for trout. A very enjoyable experience. David has since found my blog and has continued roaming the Ruahine as well. An excellent chap, as was his mate Tyson. They had spent 5 days crossing the Ruahine, fishing and hunting, and had shot this huge 10 point Red Stag, and were carrying out the huge head and rack and a large amount of meat.

Tyson and David, about to head up a now windy saddle and out to the car park - a major hike with these loads at night. Two young men finding out what carrying out a load of meat from such country is all about. They were pretty knackered already and had another major walk to where David's wife was picking them up at midnight. I talked to him today and they made it, very glad to get to the car. And the head has impressed many in the know - Ruahine racks generally do not get that sort of spread. Well done David and Tyson, on your first crossing of the Ruahine, enjoying its offerings, and appreciating what a special place it is. Well done!

30 December 2010 Evening
I have enjoyed one of my finest days ever in the Ruahine, and I enjoy them all. I climbed a mountain, I slaked my thirst and was embraced by the mountain river. I walked quietly in the coolness of the high forest. I met an old Ruahine friend and made a new one. I am no child, but today I found one still lurking inside me. It was good to hug him.
* I am off in a days time for another 4 days in the Ruahine with my old tramping mate John Nash and fellow Ruahine traveler Pohangina Pete. Looking forward to it. A Nature Filled and Peaceful New Year to all!