Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mountain Views

As I have alluded to in prior writings, there are two ways to view the mountains, macro, such as above, and micro, a much smaller and contained view of the mountain world. A wide view is obviously beholden to the weather, cloud and mist commonly swirl about the tops and ridges constantly changing the look of the landscape, or blocking it out entirely. In which case the view is now enclosed, limited to my immediate gaze. Yet limited is a rather poor word to describe what one can see when the eyes are opened to the infinite beauty contained within that small area. This has perhaps been the most hard earned and lingering lesson the mountains have revealed to me. From time to time I could not help but stop and look at something so beautiful as to literally stop me in my tracks. On one of my first crossings with Nigel, a day tramp over the ranges via Maharahara, I recall us gaining altitude in the forest, so much so we were in snow, and coming around a corner on the track where a fallen beech tree was leaning over the track, high enough for us to walk under it. And as we emerged on the other side of it we were stunned by a brilliant burst of sunlight, reflecting itself on the melting water droplets and the greens of the ferns all around. It was magical and alive. We tried to photograph it, but alas, that moment did not translate to film, still, it is alive within me.

Over the first years of my mountain travels the common method was to explore, discover, and move on, never spending more than one night in any particular place. And because schedules were tight we never had time to truly linger and enjoy - not that did not have fun but rather this is just what we did. Over time, and particularly solo, I began to change that approach, out of both necessity and enjoyment. Spending more time in any one place allows more time to enjoy getting there, or at least that is my theory, and I have noticed a learned ability to view my micro world with a vigour and appreciation I continue to develop.

The above photo is a sunset I took on a solo journey to Top Maropea, one of my favourite Ruahine places. I have watched this canvass being painted there 23 sunsets now, though not all I could actually see, and each one is special and unique. This one I had been watching the sun set on the western tops, and just turned at this moment back to the north east and saw this lovely sight. The rounded top is Orupu and the far classic mountain shaped peak is Remutopo, both part of the main Ruahine range, and both climbed over or upon on the high route to Maropea Forks.

Mosses, ferns, and podocarp trees predominate the lowland rain forests of the Ruahines. This particular stretch of forest is near Awatere hut on the Makaretu river, and very unique in its relative flat and easy walking to the hut after the obligatory steep climb and descent over a small saddle. We came across this forest after 6 days of steep climbs and drops, and along with naturally being in tune with our surroundings, I found it somewhat surreal to be walking on such flat ground.

Moving higher up in the forest, above 1100 meters or so, we begin to encounter first the big beech trees, as per below John in the above photo which also indicates how steep the spurs can be, and above this altitude arrives the stunted mountain beech and leatherwood. On a sunny day there are fewer nicer places to rest than on a beech spur after working hard to gain that altitude. The sound of a summer breeze gently stirring the beech leaves is like sweet music. Unfortunately there is, most often, much climbing yet to be done. There are some who say that trees in forests contain their own energy and life force and I am inclined to agree. Stunted beech and leatherwood are tough hearty customers, and dead give aways for the areas prevailing winds. In misty conditions, the high stunted beech forests can take on a very ethereal appearance, one very suited to Aotearoa's Lord of the Rings reputation - see my very first post for a look at what I mean. In particular I find the Parks Peak area to be sublime in this effect. A very long and up and down ridge, with areas of boggy flats, where the micro world, in my opinion, is second to none in the Ruahines, or anywhere. Pictured below is a macro view of Parks Peak ridge, or some of it, as it is possible to walk for over two days to cover its length. This photo was taken from the main Ruahine range just above Totara spur and the headwaters of the Makaroro river looking from west to east.

The second photo is the "backyard" of Parks Peak hut. It took me many visits to actually learn to "see" this area with slightly wizened eyes. It is, in reality, a wondrous garden of a broad array of sub alpine plant life. Someone such as John Muir or William Colenso would have delighted in this little paradise on discovering the place. I, however, am not in their league, so it took me many visits to finally realize what I was amongst. While Muir or Colenso would happily frolic in this wild alpine garden and know what they are looking at, there are very few I personally can identify amongst the myriad of tussock grasses, flowers, mosses and lichen. In the back of the photo can be seen the big round leatherwood bushes - indicating high altitude, as well as stunted beech in back of those. This is one my favourite spots, on a reasonably good day, as they are rare here, to enjoy a Ruahine 'libations hour", and tin cup in hand roam about here and the immediate forest. On my last visit with John, we stood perfectly still and silent in the forest on a misty afternoon. After a few minutes the forest began to settle back into its own rhythms, absorbing us into its flow. The birds resumed their songs, the winds blew over head and sent down breezes and gusts which sent the leaves of the beeches and leatherwood fluttering with their own particular melodies, the moss covered beech branches accompanying them as they rolled and swayed in the wind. I would like to spend an entire day being part of that scene, and I will.

The next two photos are examples of the dripping moss and lichens which occurs in the wetter boggier beech areas. These, again, were taken within minutes of Parks Peak hut. Unfortunately I am only equipped with my inadequate, but useful, digital camera, as the true magnificence and beauty must really be seen in person. It can be clearly seen though, that the mosses have a somewhat translucent quality to them, and I think to spend an evening in this forest during a full moon lit period would be sheer magic, granted it was clear over head. Worth a trip to find out.

The second to last photo are of mountain butter cups in bloom, taken right outside the hut in early January. And the last photo is a close up of a leatherwood bush, also right by the hut. Personally, in the right place and particularly when in bloom, it is a lovely shrub, one perfectly adapted to its harsh environment. In the wrong place, and in its inevitable multitudes, it is the bane of the unwary tramper whom has wandered off a track or is in unmarked terrain. Virtually impossible to walk through, due to its resilient and unyielding nature, I have spent hours making little headway through it, and have found the easiest route, other than avoiding the battle completely, is to simply find an area thick enough with the stuff to just walk on top of it! With my bulk and a pack that would seem no easy task for the poor shrub, but leatherwood is tough and hearty stuff and I present little problem for its weight bearing capabilities.

While there are many areas of the Ruahines I find unique and stunning, the one I find most invigorating to my soul is around water, the rivers, streams, water falls, tarns, and the mysterious Lake Colenso. I do not why this is exactly, perhaps the answer lies in my roots as a Wisconsin native. predominantly farm land once flattened by massive glaciers. My familiarity with water ways was mostly brown muddy rivers, and of course the plethora of great glacial lakes left behind. My experience with clear running streams was limited to the far and few encounters I had with the odd one in the huge coniferous state forests while camping or hunting, and it always stirred something inside of me. To see clear water running over the rocks, to hear the sound of its burbling journey making its way to one or another of these huge lakes, most likely Superior or Michigan, always was a joyous moment. I also enjoyed a fine relationship with the Boundary Waters, the massive, again glacial, area of lakes and streams between Lake Superior, Minnesota, and Canada. Numberless lakes connected by streams or simply carrying one's canoe and gear to the next lake, it was a memorable way for me commune with nature. The ancient granite bones of the earth this country lies upon, and the black glacial lakes instilled in me a sense of awe and humility.

My first foray into the Ruahines was back in 1993, a climb up Gold Crown ridge with John and Nigel. A memorable day in that it taught me the true nature of mountains and how little I knew. It was a hot summer day and after a long steep climb to the ridge we quickly ran out of water and had little hope of finding any at our altitude. Retreating back down, very hot and thirsty, I distinctly recall John and I hearing the sound of rushing water, then seeing from high above a water fall with an amazingly clear pool beneath it. I stood transfixed, both by its beauty and also the potential quenching of my thirst, though we had little hope of climbing down to the stream and carried on still thirsty. My thirst was eventually quenched by an ice cold beer back at the car, but my thirst for these clear mountain rivers and streams still remains thus far unquenchable.

The sound of a river far below, muttering in the distance, is always a good sign after a long tramp, though also indicative of some hard downward slog yet remaining. And when it first comes into view, though no time to yet relax, generally means sanctuary lies not far away. I love the feeling of finally arriving down at a river, sweaty, tired and hot, and slaking my thirst with cold pure fresh mountain water. I have tramped in the Ruahines for almost 15 years now, always drinking straight from the rivers and streams with no ill effects as of yet. Being able to do that staggered my senses back then, and still does to this day. A moment of pure interaction with nature.

The first two photos above were taken on a perfect summer day on the Makaroro river this past year. A day John and I roamed up towards the head waters finding suitable pools to swim in, and there were many, and just enjoying the ambiance of a beautiful mountain river. See the clarity of the water in that second shot, hear it calling it out for you to dive into its chilly embrace!

Next we have a little stream which joins with the east branch of the Maropea river just across from Maropea Forks hut. Notice the slightly opaque tinge to the pool, indicating depth as well as clarity. Gustav and I have, at different times, dove into this pool when it was ice cold in July - winter here in New Zealand. We did not stay in very long. I have seen Blue Ducks land in this pool, and also have seen a trout cruising about looking for a feed before moving on to the bigger pools beyond the forks. The hut is on a fairly long river flat and I have roamed their often as well, just listening to the different sounds made by different parts of the river. From a gentle lullaby on the upper end of the flat, to a faster paced melody further on, and finally the crescendo as it rolls through this small pool , joined by the creek singing its own song in perfect harmony. Sorry for the over the top writing, but I love the sound of the river, everything about it, and this is one of my favourite spots to enjoy the constant symphony of water.

The Ruahines are also inundated with numerous water falls, not surprising given its steep and erosion prone nature. They, again, never fail to stop me from my toil and pause to absorb their energy, each one unique in some way. This particular fall Nigel and I are standing below is on the Pohangina river, located on a creek running into the main river, not far from the headwaters. We could see it from the tops the day prior and on our journey down the river shunned our packs at the confluence of what we thought was the creek running into the river, and climbed up the creek till we could climb no more. What an excellent day!

The last photo is Lake Colenso, which I have written about before in this forum. I love this photo for the remote calmness it portrays, the mist across the lake reminding us of the tempestuous nature of the surroundings, and mostly for the excellent display of the Lancewood tree, the branch with the leaves hanging down just to the rear of the foreground. A unique and gorgeous native Aotearoa tree. A very special place in the Ruahines.

On the Porch at Maropea Forks
The rain patters on the tin roof
Drumming its Song
along with the Endless Symphony
of the river
The Echoes
have called me Often
So I Listen
to the Music again
Yet Fulfilled
It is Intense
The Fear I felt
in my Solitude was Real
Knowing Your Path is filled
With Potential Woe
Yet I Come to You
I am in Your Bosom
I am Home

1 comment:

Gustav said...

I also recall vivid memories of snow falling on a tin roof.

Would we be snowed in for days?

Unforntunately we were not.

The Ruahines are magic.