Saturday, March 31, 2012


Back not too long before my 45th birthday, so almost 7 years ago anyway, I received a call from a staff member at DOC (Department of Conservation). The lady asked if I had recently lost an item of gear in the Ruahine. As I was planning my extended approaching birthday wander in the Ruahine I had already checked my gear and began gathering it around me. So I knew nothing major and of any real importance was missing, and told her no. Before I hung up I recalled my mate John had recently been in the Ruahine and so took her number and called John. He quickly verified he had lost his sleeping mat on his recent venture into the Ruahine. I rang back the DOC lady, described the item, and was then given the number of a man in Hawkes Bay, which lies very near the northern end of the Ruahine. I rang, and was answered by a man named Derek Pawson. Derek had found John's mat on the floor, under a bunk in Top Maropea hut. It is a small hut, and John was with other people, so not a hard mistake to make. In any case, Derek saw my name in the hut book just before John had arrived, and assumed it was either his or mine. Once we finished that business we had a grand chat about the Ruahine and mountains, music, and a few other easy subjects as well. He told me that the reason he rang and carried John's mat around in the Ruahine for 5 days was that he had seen my name in all the hut books so knew I was okay.  I recall hanging the phone up and thinking, "what a nice guy". I later found out Derek was a tramper extrodinaire in the Ruahine and Kaweka's and heavily involved in the Hawkes Bay Search and Rescue team.

A few weeks later John and I headed into the wintry and very cold Ruahine for the next 5 days in honour of my 45th mentioned above. We took the long way into Maropea Forks, over the tops in a bit of dodgy weather. So it took us 2 days to get there, and when we did, on my birthday, it was just wonderful. The experience, the place, and the company. Later in the evening I was in the hut preparing tea, and John quietly spoke from the porch that a couple of hunters were approaching from down the river. They turned out to be people we knew. Phil Hansen and his son, Nick, who had slowly hunted up the river that day. We had met them a few years prior when John and I during a storm took shelter in a hut, to find it occupied by two guys, Phil and his son. John and I were intending upon camping but the weather had us considering that option when I noticed John and Phil , who had been chatting, sort of had gone silent. It quickly turned out they knew one another. Phil had led groups of guys wanting to tramp into the hills way back in the 70's. Mostly in the Ruahine. Thirty some years ago. Turns out John was one of those kids. So after thirty years since they had seen one another John and Phil reconnect in the heart of the Ruahine. John is a master navigator, fire starter, solid presence in the mountains, and so I perked up to listen. We spent the afternoon drinking a few cups of tea and listening to John and Phil telling old stories of days now long gone. When the rain stopped John and I shouldered our swags and headed down river to camp. We always remembered that day, and it gave me a new healthy respect and appreciation of men who know more about mountains than I do. Most often I find it is best to just shut up and Listen.

My point is that once John called out from the same porch that it was Phil and Nick approaching, I just cracked up laughing, took our dinner off and put the billy on for a cuppa to welcome our guests. In the midst of the cup of tea, Phil started talking about a mate who had just been killed being hit on his push bike by a drunk driver. He said his name was Derek Pawson.

Once we all overcame our silence, and Phil and Nick understood that John and I also knew Derek, we all smiled and acknowledged the likelihood that somehow Derek was swirling about and understood it as well.

Below: Robb and John on that very day at Maropea Forks in July 2005. Winter and cold. Photo by Phil Hansen.