Early Jan. 2012
I sit here alone just above Sunrise hut, over looking the Waipawa valley, the Three Johns, and Te Atua Para Para. To the northwest lies Armstrong saddle and the route into my intended destination, the Maropea valley. But for now I am content to just sit here in the rare quiet stillness of this moment.
It is early evening and having climbed up and finding Sunrise hut empty, a luxury as it's 22 bunks and gas heater usually have someone, if not several people in residence. My preference is to add another hour or so to the day and cross over the saddle to Top Maropea, perhaps my favourite spot in all the Ruahine, but the lateness of the day, the empty hut, and being able to sit amongst this view when normally the wind dominates the scene, simply makes me pour myself a wee dram and relax, the days work done.
It feels somewhat as if the Ruahine are welcoming me, and understanding my reluctance and hesitation to even be here better than I do myself. A solo trip always brings out these feelings, but I also have a few lingering family issues which hang low over me like the onimous steely grey clouds descending upon this valley. I feel almost a sense of unease. To sit here in the quiet hazy silence of an early mountain evening is a rare and distinct pleasure. I have, literally, fought for my life out there. And there she lies before me. Calm. Temptress.
Evening: A breeze has picked up from the northwest, which is never a good sign. I may have missed my window to get across the saddle. But what will be will be. Why is it so easy to understand here that I can control what I can control, the weather not being one of those? Yet outside here I so often worry about what I cannot control in others, especially those I love dearly. There is a freedom in that which I struggle with. This evening my choice has been made, all the ramifications of that will be revealed soon enough.
Following Day: Still here! In the night I was awoken by a shaking of the hut by gusting wind and then the sound of torrential rain on the tin roof. All I could do was roll over and nestle deeper into my down sleeping bag. The wind has been howling all day long, and having crossed the exposed saddle some 40 times I KNOW when to simply stay put. These are gale force winds and there is nothing for it but to just put the billy on for another cup of tea.
I have been thinking about my son Taylor. One of the reasons I wanted to traverse this area is I feel a sense of unfinished business in the Maropea valley from our last trip here some 7 months ago. Taylor wandered ahead while I stopped to photograph and observe a pair of whio on the river. Somehow he wandered right past Maropea Forks and continued down the river. I could not find him, and I spent the loneliest night of my life in the warm hut while Taylor shivered some place on the wintry cold mountain river. The next day the mountains returned him to me, but this time it is not the mountains he is lost in. I love him.
Evening: The wind howls even fiercer. I have trouble standing even in the relative protected shelter of the hollow where the hut sits. I know I would stand no chance of standing, much less moving on the exposed open tops a few metres away. The hut shakes and moans frightfully, and all I can do is trust in the sturdy construction and the guy wires which lash it to the ground. It is quite a storm. I will wait till morning and see if by some chance the wind abates and I can move. If not I will retreat back down the mountain and live to try another day.
Morning : Still howling and raining, and I am retreating down the mountain and home. I am okay with that, as it is always these hills that hold the final say, and even if I was only here for a brief interlude and not what I expected, at least I was here at all. I will return.
I end this meandering post with a poem by Sam Hunt, one of my favourite New Zealand poets. He captures the essence of what I was feeling, and how I felt up there in that storm on my summer trip that never was.
A man can only
find himself when lost
Such country, this,
where all men are lonely
plateau, hawk, and rivermist
country where a man at last
might lose himself, an end of talk
find that gaunt faced other
man who stalks these ridges
plateau, rivermist, and hawk
no longer keeping eye
for crumbling edges
lovers or the weather
Listening, rather, to the river:
hawk and high plateau
Sam Hunt - Selected Poems