Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Swimmer's Lament

Charlie swimming blissfully like a little otter on a hot summer day. The Rangitikei not far from where it rolls out of the Ruahine.

Evening 25 Jan. 2012 - Charlie and I have just returned from the swimming pool at his school a few doors down from our house. We have a key over the summer holiday so after coming home from work on a very hot afternoon we headed down for a wee dip before dinner. As we swam and played I couldn't help but let my mind drift a bit to the mountains, and how on a long summers day, and sometimes even in the midst of winter if a staunch enough challenge is issued, the deep green tinted clear depths of a Ruahine mountain river pool prove so alluring. Perhaps I am spoiled by my time amongst the rivers, but the chilling embrace and the tingling of flesh and spirit afterwards are far more refreshing there than in the tepid waters of a city swimming pool.

Some days you get lucky enough to spend the whole day just meandering up and down the river, looking for the best pools to be embraced by. Above is the Pourangaki river, a ways down from the hut on a stretch with fast water and big pools. That, plus a hot day, adds up to loads of fun! We certainly do not have to worry about being thirsty.

John on the Kawhatau river on another brilliant summer day. Don't be fooled! Days like this are really very rare in the mountains, so when you get one it is best to grab onto it and relish each second. It is good to be reminded of such simple pleasures.

The Waikamaka river on possibly the finest summer day I have personally spent in the Ruahine in my near 20 years of being amongst them. The river was low, travel was easy, the sun was shining, and it was hot. Normally a dip into any mountain river is relatively chilly proposition and the stay in equally short. On this day the normally frosty reception negated by the heat and the days labour to arrive here. To sit in a mountain river in natures very own whirlpool was just simply a luxury. This is living!

A different scenario. A different time of year. But look at that pool just calling out. Nigel, well dressed to ward off the winter chill gazing into the lovely depths. Soon after I observed this scene I took off my clothes and crossed the river just down from the pool. I climbed onto that moss covered rock on the other side, braced myself, and jumped in. It was well over my head and like jumping into ice water. I emerged very quickly yelling and screaming and completely alive! I have no photo to verify this, well I do, but this was back in the age of film, and I did not convert that one to digital. You will have to trust me.

"I meet the Tukituki"
 No webbed feet or even talons
grip this moss covered greywacke
as I brace myself quite ungracefully
above the rivers song
I look to my mate for reassurance
none is forth coming except
anticipation of his own pleasure
Too late to back out now
I release myself of my clumsy perch
and for a brief exalting moment
hover above my doom
and plunge into the deep embrace
down into the clear darkening depths
familiar and welcoming
part of me wanting to remain
yet emerge I do bellowing
laughing and crying out for joy
My friend smiles and shakes his head
I dress and we go back down the river
I keep looking back
-written at Barlow hut 2004

Waterfall creek. No way out now!

John not long after me. It is an awesome pool.

Charlie carrying on the tradition of enjoying the rivers. Closer to home, and in the Tararua's but he has already done his share of Ruahine "swimming". Love the look on his face as he scrambles to get out of the late winter water.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Summer Tour that Never Was

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.

Waipawa valley, the Three Johns, dipping low in the middle is Waipawa Saddle which separates Waipawa valley from the headwaters of the Waikamaka valley. On the right is the flank of the centerpiece of the area Te Autoaparapara.

The sun sets on Armstrong saddle and Patiki to the far right.

The sun fades on Te Atuaoparapara.

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.

Looking to the east and the plains of Hawkes Bay in the evening light.

To the north east and the far off Parks Peak ridge, an old familiar Ruahine place as well.

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.

Tupare - or leatherwood. A hearty alpine shrub and tree which withstands the howling gales, rain, sleet, snow, and winter cold to thrive and grow, and even find beauty in such unforgiving terrain. Like the heart of any parent.

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.

Sunrise hut. When I first came here in 1993 it was a very small unimposing 6 bunk hut. Now it sleeps 22. It is anchored into the ground with a series of guy wires at the corners. I was thankful for that. It is hard to capture wind in a photo, but trust me, to walk from the hut to where I was standing was a struggle.

Aside from the near vertical mist and cloud rolling across, the indication of how strong the wind was can be seen by the tussock grass which is blown straight over. It too is a hearty rugged alpine plant well adapted to this environment. It just goes with the flow.

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.

Down into the forest and home.
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.

'Rangitikei Riversong"
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
rivermist below
                             Sam Hunt - Selected Poems

Mauri Ora!