The grey misty light fades over the valley below, and above to the south brings quiet dollops of rain upon the setting before me. It was only being inside the tiny hut waiting for a brew that brought awareness of the increasing rain. I could hear it bouncing upon the tin roof. A welcoming sound when here and secure. It has taken me 3 months and over two trips to arrive here once again, as twice prior my efforts to cross the open and exposed saddle have been in vain. So though today I walked up to Sunrise in the mist and greyness I did so with a smile, in spite of the inevitable steepness and heavy pack. For I knew I would eventually arrive here, which I have. In spite of the rain and the mist, it was still. Almost an ethereal silence, except the occasional explosion of a chubby kerereu lifting his bulk off a miro branch. And the plop of water on everything, including me. At Sunrise I stopped to boil the billy, rest up, and watch the gentle southerly roll in. Having crossed the exposed saddle now many times the cloud and mist welcomed me into the distance, to a route and a place I know well. Wind is a different connection, but not one I needed to worry of today. I still write the few hours between here and Sunrise is perhaps one of the most beautiful walks in the world. At least to me.
Upper tawhairauriki forest. The reward for the climb, and it only gets better.
Clear your head and climb out the clouds!
The contrast between the gentle rain and the place was in this moment. Why am I here?
Evening: 12/04/12 Top Maropea: I was last here almost a year ago, (25 May), with my oldest son Taylor. We stayed here on the first night of what was supposed to be 5 nights of he and I alone in the mountains. Little did I know of what was to come. Taylor lost and alone all night along a freezing Ruahine mountain river, and me in the fire warmed confines of Maropea Forks hut spending the loneliest and most terrified night of my life. The heartening call of the whio in the shadows of the night and the growing daylight I will never forget. So in the morning I will head to that very place. It is The Roar, or the time of year when the big red stag deer hold their ground, near maddened to mate. That means the huts will most likely be filled of choppered in hunters. So I have brought my tent to camp. I just want to be in the area and figure it all out.
The next morning dawned with blue skies and frost. Nothing for it but follow the sense of wander lust down through the forest to the sound of the rivers and streams and path they provide. The sun light upon the tawahairauriki pulls me along.
13/04/12: Morning tea on the Maropea river: I came here looking for something though I am not exactly sure what. Redemption? Reassurance? Something to do with my son I cannot quite grasp. The grey weather has given way to a cold southerly overnight, and my early morning journey to the Maropea a fine way to warm up to travel down river amongst the shadows and chill of the still sunless tight valley. I am, at least in the mountains, and early morning man and I love traveling until the sun peaks over the eastern ridges and shines down upon the river. Then it is time for a rest, boil the billy for a cup of tea, and let the sun's warmth soak into my very essence. The water sparkles and glimmers, coloured only by her stones or the beauty of her depths. Just before I stopped for morning tea a large rainbow trout leaped out of a large pool, and then disappeared into the depths of its refuge. Then almost as immediately a lone whio flew overhead just about making me tip over into the river as I craned my neck to make sure of what I was seeing. Soon I came around a bend to a side stream meeting the river and came upon a pair of whio, male and female, both singing loudly in their respective distinct calls. Either they were welcoming me, or laughing at my ungainly efforts to travel down river in comparison to their own, but they seemed pretty comfortable in allowing me to approach so either one is acceptable to me. A spectacular day to just enjoy a mountain river.
The waterfall a mere 20 minutes or so from the forks and the lovely confines of Maropea Forks hut. I sat here awhile and pondered why I did not tell Taylor to stop and wait for me here. I recalled thinking that after he walked off ahead of me. It was probably my one chance to avert a horrible afternoon and evening for us both and I missed it. And the river rolls on.....
Ataahua! A rapid on the lower Maropea. One to be carefully negotiated. The next day another pair of whio guided me back up river to here from the hut, disappearing into a quiet little spot on the far side of this fall. I said Kia Ora and carried on.
13 April evening: Camped on the Maropea river: What a lovely fortunate day on the river. Shadow to sun, foreboding to welcoming on the whim of a rivers bend. My thoughts could not help but be pulled back to Taylor a year ago in this very place. I guess some of my pondering and confusion in pinning down my thoughts is that out in the world he still seems a bit lost to me, and I am finding it difficult to figure out how to help him. Just as that night a year ago I knew I could not help him at all. He helped himself, but he also put himself in very bad spot. That is what worries me still.
As I suspected, there were choppered in hunters staying at the hut. Barak, Craig, and James, all young guys in their late 20's, and to be fair working the tough rugged country pretty hard. They had six stag heads lined up near the hut and looking for more. It was a macabre sort of display, but thus is the nature of The Roar, and the uncomfortable need to keep the introduced deer population down. They are here till early next week and have enough beer, food, and supplies to last a month. The luxury of a helicopter. They offered to make room in the hut, and even shared a few beers with me, a first from chopper hunters for me, but I felt a need to be on my own so politely declined.
At one point we were all sitting on the porch enjoying a river chilled beer. And the guys started talking about how the night prior they had been reading the hut book and were transfixed on an entry written by a guy in the hut who had lost his son, and what he must have been going through. I quietly told them I was that guy. It was another moment of silence shared at Maropea Forks hut, (please see prior post).
Another side stream joins the river. The symmetry of Nature never fails to amaze me.
There are two whio in this moment. Can you spot them?
Top Maropea 14/04 12: There is a new hut book here at Top Maropea. The prior one was the only one I have ever written in, started just before my very first visit the better part of 15 years ago. For a hut located a few hours away from Sunrise that speaks volumes. And why I love so much to cross that open saddle and arrive here in the wild back country. 38 times my name was entered in that old hut book, either alone or with other fine people, including Tara, Taylor and Charlie. There are some very cool stories and moments in that old book. So to open the new book and find the inscription above seems pretty apt, and very much an honour. This is indeed my favourite Ruahine spot of all, amongst many, but this one, this drafty cold hard to find wood and build an open fire freezing in the winter and especially the morning cold cold cold place never fails to warm my soul. It was and is the gateway to my Ruahine Dreams. Kia ora!
The trees of the Ruahine are, along with the whio, the essence and soul of these ranges. The expired tawahairauriki in particular always grab my attention as they beseech and cry to the heavens. This one is the Guardian of Top Maropea. It has been there long before I became a manuhiri, and will be here long after my ashes become one with the whenua at her feet.
A view of Top Maropea just emerging out the forest on the steep and grueling climb out of the side creek and up further to here. A view the legs and lungs are quite happy to see.
14-04-12 Top Maropea: It is never easy to enjoy a fire here in this cold damp hut surrounded by even colder, damper forest. At over 1200 metres finding any dry usable wood is difficult, much less rendering it into useable portions. And the open fire at this height poses its own problems. This was never a popular spot for the deer cullers, wet wood, hard to find, and difficult to get blazing.
Yet there are a few secrets to know, mostly involving time and preparation, and if done correctly one can create a fire to warm the soul, if not the hut, very briefly. It is always best to have a very warm sleeping bag to climb into here! Today, I had a bit of time, did the preparation, and I feel I have a fire I will enjoy. Every time I do here is a bonus. Some of my best fires ever lit have been right here.
Early next morning. A stunning day!
On the saddle looking down into the headwaters of the Waipawa valley. Not a good place to fall.
"An iridescent grey cloud looms over the valley head
ghostly shadows and mist over
Orupu and Te Atua Mahuru
hidden from view
bulky friends still there regardless
It lowers itself as a crown upon the distinct features of Puketaramea
a place I know well
climbing to in the emerging light of dawn
after the longest and loneliest hours of my life
my son gone
I climbed relentlessly and focused
then I sat upon her and wept
for my son, for me
The Ruahine took my boy for her own
then she gently handed him back to me
I am still not sure what it is I came looking for
but I have found something."