Friday, May 27, 2011

Hokia ki nga maunga (Return to the Mountains)

23 May 2011
Top Maropea
Robb Kloss
Taylor Kloss

I am once again in the back yard of Top Maropea gazing down the valley and mist shrouded peaks above it. This time, however, I will be venturing further into those alluring views. The next five days will be spent roaming about with my oldest son, who returns here after almost a two year absence from the hills. And judging by the fact that he, like Charlie a few months back, immediately crawled into the very same down sleeping bag and fell fast asleep upon arrival, indicates a lack of bush fitness and carrying a large pack. At 17 Taylor no longer warrants my back bearing the entire load, and it is good to see him sleep out of physical tiredness and the mountain air rather that tiredness of his more hedonistic pursuits.
We both need this trip, for many reasons, some our own, some to find each other. I have no real expectations, nor fatherly advice to give, except to simply be together in the mountains for the next five days. I am leaving the past where it is out in the world, and resolve to simply be present and in each moment with my son. It feels real here in the Ruahine.
It was a cold windy crossing of the saddle and I was thinking of my last crossing with Charlie battling those gales. He did so well, and was so brave. And looking at Taylor walking ahead I drifted back the sliding years to him in this same place at age 8. It seems we have struggled a lot since then. But I love my son, and I want to see him here. It may be the last chance and the last time I get.

Taylor just above Armstrong saddle and The Gut, looking out towards the Hawkes Bay plains.

Taylor and I on Camel Back spur overlooking the Maropea valley back in 2005.

Taylor, on a decidedly inclement day, age 8, 2001, on his first trip to Top Maropea.

Taylor, not far from the same spot, age 17, 2011.

"Thoughts in late afternoon at Top Maropea"

Surly and bruised grey clouds
roll over my head
fluorescent on the edge
opaque and glinting
of yellow and red
A painting is never the same
in any different light
Nor is the backyard of Top Maropea
when day turns to night
I'm here with my son
my son is with me
we have 5 days more
to simply be we.

Early morning 24 May : Taylor still sleeps, and has been, aside from rising for dinner and sitting by the fire, again so much like Charlie on his first night, for over 14 hours now. I let him sleep and enjoy the quiet solitude.

The day still appears to be deciding what to wear and soon enough we will head down to the stream and then meet the river and Maropea Forks. I have not been there for over two years now, as my last trip with Jeff and John in 2009 was just too painful with my hip, and in the last year since having it replaced I have not gone that way. So I am looking forward to the reunion, and walking the river with focus and joy, rather than pain and wanting to just get there.

A pair of Whio on the Maropea. A beautiful sight that never fails to move me deeply.

A better photo of whio, courtesy of my friend, photographer and writer, Pohangina Pete, .

Lunchtime on the Maropea. In the late morning sun, bagels, salami and cheese. The river was in great condition, and we had perhaps a little more than an hour to go from this spot to the hut.

The last time I saw Taylor for the next 20 hours or so. A little blurry, but the last time I laid my eyes upon him this day. He wanted to walk ahead and I decided to get out my video camera and record some of the river scene, and see if I could go back and get the whio on film. There is a very distinct waterfall on the true left of the river not so far from where Taylor is above. From there it is less than 30 minutes to the hut, and a large orange marker indicates a track that cuts through the forks to the hut on the true right just before the forks. Taylor walked right by it.

The water fall.

Maropea Forks - late afternoon : Taylor is missing. He took off in front of me and when I arrived at the hut expecting he was here I found it empty. I dropped my gear and hurried down river towards Otukota twice now, the second time building cairns and leaving markers back to here. I also searched back up river to the falls thinking he may have slipped or been injured and I missed him but found nothing. I am having a short rest and will try to climb up to Point 1450 to ring out and notify search and rescue. I have to remain calm and think clearly, and hope if he is still walking down river he will realize his mistake. He knew it was only 30 minutes from the water fall. If he carries on down towards Otukota he is going to get himself into a very wicked gorge. This is real.

This is the view above Maropea Forks from the spur leading to Puketaramea ridge. The top branch is the west branch of the Maropea leading down from Top Maropea, the bottom one is the east branch, and Maropea Forks hut lies about 200 metres up it. Taylor simply carried on down the top branch and missed the hut completely. I couldn't get up to 1450 as the day turned to dark and had to retreat to the hut. I usually appreciate being alone in the mountains, but in this case it was just lonely, and thus began the longest and loneliest night of my life. There is a lot of stuff from those hours I just have to keep for myself, but there were some very dark moments. Just before dawn I awoke, very discouraged and upset. Then I heard a whio calling from the pool just outside the hut. It filled me with the first hope I had in hours, that whio was saying to me "Keep hope, Keep hope". My eyes fill with tears as I write this and remember. Later on Taylor told me he had heard the whio as well.

I climbed the spur above, using my torch to keep on the track and spot the markers just going slowly and surely till it got light enough for me to see. Then I carried on climbing to the ridge and the open high point at Puketaramea (1358 metres), and rang Taylor's grandparents as I knew Tara was working. Then I just sat down exhausted and cried for my son.

Taylor and Nigel on the porch at Maropea Forks - 2001.

I returned to the hut, and was sitting resting before heading back down river to search for Taylor, when suddenly he walked around the corner and up towards the hut. I shouted out his name running to him and bawling and we hugged each other tightly. He had done exactly what I wrote, and just missed the sign, and in his 17 year old brain just didn't pay attention and kept going. He did end up in the gorge, and not till then did he realize his error, turned around but ran into darkness. The thing he did do right was to stop and rest, and found the best place he could to camp in the narrow river. He had plenty of food, dry clothes, a bivvy sack, sleeping bag, and made himself a little camp. He then spent a very cold, damp and wet night on the river, as lonely as I was back at the hut. At first light he packed up his sodden gear and headed up river towards the forks and soon found the signs and markers I had left indicating the distance and times to the hut. I had placed them at the river crossings and marked arrows all along the way in the sand as well. He said as soon as he saw those he knew he would be okay, and that I was looking for him. He thought the reason I hadn't found him was that I was hurt and he was going to have to find me.

Taylor was cold and shivering and had been vomiting a few times in the night, so I got him in front of the fire and then went and retrieved his pack which he had left at the forks by my last sign as he was too tired to carry it further, and could see the smoke from the fire. Then we waited 2 hours for the chopper to arrive. They were quite happy to find all was well, and quite keen to ferry us out. As the weather was due to get quite nasty, I wasn't going to argue. I don't mind bad weather, but after his experience Taylor was fairly done in. He still managed to enjoy the chopper ride over the ranges. My thanks and appreciation to great crew of the Hawkes Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Let me be very clear. This incident has not put any dent for my love of the Ruahine and any wild places. Taylor recovered well from making a few near fatal mistakes. He was not paying attention nor in tune with his environment. Out here in the world that can get us into trouble, in wild places it can kill you. He should have realized far sooner I was not behind him, and stopped and waited, then come back looking for me on the basis I might be hurt or need assistance. And thirdly, with his knowledge that the hut was very close to the water fall he should have deduced that far too much time had passed. He said to me later he just caught in the trap of going around "one more bend" thinking the hut must be there. It is not an uncommon occurrence. A steep ridge we think will end soon only leads up another steep point, or ground we think looks familiar is not. This is why being in focus and in tune is so vital. My mistake was not telling Taylor to wait for me. He did well when he did realize what he had to done to remain calm and then focus on getting a camp and planning for the morning, and staying as warm as he could. Fortunately the last good move he made overcame a few very big errors.

The mountains are very neutral to our presence, neither for us, nor against us. And though I feel a deep spiritual bond to the Ruahine, it does not mean I can ever take my eye off the ball, ever. I went back to the mountains with my son whom I have been struggling with. Taylor got himself into and out of a jam for many of the same reasons he struggles out here, and lying on the cold ground by a mountain river, damp and freezing, he had lots of time to ponder things, just as I did in the hut. What I found was this deep overwhelming enduring aroha for my child that I wasn't sure was within me. The Ruahine took my boy, and then she gently handed him back to me

Kia kaha!