Tuesday, January 22, 2008


My great friend Nigel has put his new scanner into operation and forwarded me photos taken on some of our earlier forays into the Ruahines. As Nigel now lives in South Korea some of these I have not seen in years and the emotions they invoke upon me are very strong. Much like Nigel's continuing presence is with me whenever I venture forth into the mountains. The memories of these trips linger in my mind like the smell of wood smoke still there upon some of my gear now stored in the garage, and as I look at these photos it releases once again powerful memories and reinforces this strange and beautiful hold on my soul the Ruahines maintain.

Above is another early morning at Sunrise hut, John gazing out upon the east coast plains. Judging by the ice and snow on the ground, this would have been October, 2000. Nigel, John and I walked up in the dark with headlamps, then on this morning to Maropea Forks. According to my notes we made it from Sunrise to Maropea Forks in less than 5 hours. Oh the good ol' days! It took me 7 to do the same walk this summer. Though having written that, in 2000 it was only a few months since I had crossed with Gustav, and I had no problems with my hip. And truth be told it is such an amazing walk it should take 7 hours.

It is hard to believe in the above series of photos that it is summer, though in the mountains it why we carry the gear we do. Yet indeed it was, Jan. 2003, and I recall it was very cold. We are along the eastern side of the ranges near Longview hut. Our original intention had been to cross Sawtooth ridge and proceed to Waterfall hut and beyond. We spent two days waiting at Howlett's hut for the weather to clear. It was a combination of wind, rain, cloud, and very cold. At the time it seemed somewhat disappointing, but now, with luxury of hindsight, I realize how much I learned and how fortunate I was to be weather bound in a high mountain hut with these two excellent men. The third day we retreated back down to Daphne hut, then climbed up to this ridge and over to Longview. Then we climbed down into the headwaters of the Pohangina river and down to Top Gorge hut the next day. It was a day of sunshine and blue sky, rivaling the weather we experienced this summer and we relished such a day on the beautiful and mysterious Pohangina river.

Entry from notebook, 13 Jan. 2003 : "Still at Howlett's hut. The weather has truly packed in after starting to rain and sleet when we hit the bush line yesterday afternoon. As we have some major open tops work crossing Sawtooth, and even more over to Waterfall, we know we cannot do it in these conditions. We had a long sleep in and are about to gear up to take a wander down the spur towards Tiraha. Hopefully the weather will come right, but I can think of worse places to wait it out.
4:45 p.m. : Walked up to Tiraha in the mist and cloud. It is a fairly long pull on its own, and truly spectacular scenery - even in the clouds, which simply add to the eerie remoteness. We saw a fleetingly brief glimpse of a portion of Sawtooth, enough to grasp the seriousness of the job required, climbed a very steep gut to a small saddle then up to Tiraha where it began to pour on us. Couldn't see anything beyond 10 metres. Then we we returned to the hut, happy to see it appear out of the mist. We just have to wait until morning to make any kind of call. This is not an area to be trifled with, some very serious country. If it is cloudy, or windy, or both!, well then I think Sawtooth will have to wait, it ain't going nowhere. We may have to develop a contingency plan. This is what teaches patience, and simply enjoying the gifts we are given."

It is always a pleasure to settle in at a cool spot along a Ruahine river after a long day, better yet to spend a few days in such places. Not that staying at the higher alpine huts is any sort of chore, Top Maropea, Mc Kinnon, Howletts, Parks Peak, all are special places in their own unique ways. But the rivers simply offer a bit more scope to wander about a bit more, perhaps spot a Whio if lucky, swim if conditions permit, and sometimes even if they do not! Mostly though is the symphony of water, crystal clear and pure, a sound for me that represents the Ruahines and the calmness that overwhelms when I am there.

I am not sure where the first photo above was taken. I suspect it is on the Tuki Tuki river near Daphne hut and spur, though it also just might be someplace up from Maropea Forks. These photos were all taken with my old Cannon 35mm self timer.

The second photo I recall very well, and was taken after dinner along the Pohangina in front of Top Gorge hut. John got a lovely fire going and we boiled up the old hut billy over the fire for a last brew. That night we slept outside by the river, as Top Gorge hut, while in a beautiful spot is a bit run down and now scheduled to let fall into disrepair before being removed altogether in the next 10 years, which is a shame but indicative of its low user numbers and DOC budgets. In any case Nigel was well equipped with his gore tex bivvy sack while John and I simply plopped our therma-rests down with our sleeping bags. I woke up hours later with condensation running off my sleeping bag and trudged up to the hut, decrepit mattress or not. John soon followed.

This has been a very pleasant exercise, recalling these trips with Nigel and John. It has been 5 years since I have traveled in the mountains with Nigel and I await the next opportunity with much anticipation. When that will happen I do not know, but these photos really make me realize the quality of memories I have of our time there. These were days we traveled fast and long, days perhaps beyond me now, but then the reasons I enjoy and need the Ruahines do not require me to necessarily travel fast and long, rather just to enjoy the journey and being amongst such a place.

I particularly enjoy the first photo above, just coming off Daphne spur, and by the upward gaze tilt to my head a fair way yet to climb to the main range, very typical Ruahine terrain. The second photo is also high on Daphne ridge. I remember this one as well, as we carried extra water for the purpose of boiling up the billy in the high beech forest. A very memorable cup of tea.

"Ruahine Realizations"

The changes in me are obvious
less hair
more weight
aches and pains emerge
as I return again
to steep climbs
and precipitous descents
where the hut time signs
slip further from my reach
yet the call remains strong
The mountains change as well
though the changes
are often too subtle
unless one visits here
with relative frequency
there would be no notice
and Timeless

written at Top Maropea, Sept. 2006

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Summer Wanderings 2008

3 Jan. 2008, 5:30 a.m. Sunrise hut : I sit on the porch of Sunrise hut, alone with my cup of tea. And though the spreading illumination of the rising sun will soon rouse others from their sleep, this moment is mine alone. It has been far too long since I have interacted with the Ruahine ranges, and though they do not miss my presence, I have missed them terribly. The walk up in the early evening yesterday was a good way to reacquaint myself, as well as John, or in Jonathan's case be introduced to them, and two hours just enough to start with heavy packs. We sat up late into the evening, in our excitement, and yet I still found it easy to be up and ready to get to work. I already feel the magic. What will the next six days bring?

The Maropea river is as low as I have ever seen it, and this is my 13th venture down the river. The route, though always subtly changing, seems to instinctively guide me and pull me to all the right places to cross, or climb up to a benched bank for easy walking. Johnathan seems amazed, the crossing of the saddle was a windy one, John was knocked over once, and he soon realized the Ruahines beyond Sunrise is a different proposition. I keep an eye out near the familiar spots where in the past I have seen Whio, but none are around today, or I have just walked past them. Perhaps they are up in a cooler side stream, as it is hot and steamy even up here in the mountains.

5:30 p.m. 3 Jan. 2008 : Maropea Forks hut. This is my 14th visit to this lovely integral place, arriving here sometimes with other special people, other times alone. This place holds for me the memories of so many journeys into the mountains. In my mind, away from here, this is a place I often wander to escape the daily toils of the world. Yet, in my 14 visits here, my 14 plus years of traveling in these ranges, I have just now experienced the most disconcerting and disturbing incident in all that time. We arrived here after a 7 hour day on the ridge and river from Sunrise, settled in and sat on the porch with a cup of tea, when we heard the god awful thumping and muttering of a helicopter flying up the valley and landing outside the hut. It sat there as the pilot obviously saw us on the porch, I suspect debating whether to fly to another hut, then disembarked and came over stating he had 4 hunters aboard in for 5 days and that was that. They unloaded and he took off. The 4 hunters stood there amongst the coolers, suitcases, and gun bags, then trudged over to the hut, no doubt as disappointed to see us, as we were them. It was very awkward as only one hunter, the leader, tried to make any conversation, and that mainly around where there might be any deer about. So we went from complete seclusion to 7 people in a 6 bunk hut - they had no provisions for camping, merely assumed the hut would be theirs for 4 nights. I have spent many more than 14 nights here, and suspect I was long due for a meeting with other trampers, or even walk in hunters, but I found the intrusion of a helicopter very disturbing. It took them 7 minutes to fly in, us 7 hours to walk, and the differences in which we viewed the Ruahines were astounding. They had no interest in any intrinsic value to the mountains, merely saw them as a game range for potential hunting, the helicopter simply a time saving device. 7 minutes and 7 hours and never the twain shall meet. Do they hear the breezes blowing through the beech, the music of the side creeks joining the symphony of the river, or even simply appreciate the view? I think this is a huge issue, and as I write in my notebook, and feel tears well in my eyes, I feel in my heart the time has come to be a voice outside here for the Ruahines as best I can. How can I protect the mana heke iho of this place?

We were going to stay here for two days but will instead head over Puketaramea ridge and Otukota hut in the morning. The one advantage of their landing here and not flying off to another hut, is that we would then have known there would have been chopper hunters at either Otukota or Wakelings, and would have run into them at sometime. Might as well be now. I lost some of my naive Ruahine innocence today.

4 Jan. 2008 5:19p.m. : Otukota hut. Sitting in the shade outside the hut, the sun has been blasting at us all day long. Except for our initial grey sky, and in my case mood, ascent up to Puketaramea ridge from Maropea Forks. It drizzled on us and was very windy and cool as we worked our way up the spur, and once on the ridge we even were forced to don warmer gear and rain jackets for a bit. But after a wee bit of trouble finding the route through the open tops of Puketaramea, again as in 2000, the skies cleared, the sun shone, and my mind slowly gave itself to the beauty and energy of the forest ridge. I am forced to walk at a much slower pace due to my hip, yet this, aside from some pain, does not trouble me, the energy here is intense and I feel it flowing through me. The mosses and lichens literally glow in the sunlight, the ferns brush our legs with a gentle swhish, and the big beeches seem to pulsate in the sunlight. This is just what I need. Yesterday seems like a lifetime ago.

Taunga no te mauri (Inner Calm)

My path today was walked
as if in my own life
the search for inner calm always a battle
the words choke inside me
and I fight for air
the pain inside me which I own
the hurt inflicted upon me
perhaps deserved
the ups and downs of my own existence
mimic my thoughts on this ridge
Then there is the beauty
of seeing through enlightened eyes
if only briefly
moss and lichen illuminated by the sunlight
filtering through the forest
my sons being born
and You
Yet always I will wonder
in my dark moments
Are you through with me?

5 Jan. 2008 Otukota hut, 7:20 a.m. : I sit with my strong early morning coffee trying to drive the sleep from my eyes. I am sore and body is tired and I am very happy today will be a rest day. I can hear the Waikamaka river below the hut some 50 meters, and I suspect, as does the barometer, these few early morning clouds will burn away leaving us with another brilliant day. I can feel myself sinking into the connection I seek with this place, or myself?, and I want to remember this moment vividly so I can drink deeply from the memory of it later on. I feel like a child with the whole day ahead to do nothing but play.

5:50 p.m : What an incredible day this has been. I walked up river a few hours on my own and returned. It is a very big and lush river and will be much more of a challenge in the morning with a big pack. John and I spent hours in the afternoon roaming from pool to pool diving into the chilling embrace of the river. I have never experienced swimming like this in the Ruahines, when even in summer a quick and cold dive normally suffices. Today we were embraced by the river, swimming for hours, then drying in the hot sun, only to swim again. The bush around this valley is in very good shape, the spurs and ridges thick with trees and absent of the common feature slips for the most part. Even around the hut lie an abundance of flowers, mosses and lichens, perhaps the finest display of Lancewood, both juvenile and adult, I have seen, and even the cabbage trees are in flower, which I have never seen. I think we have all lost the sense of time and urgency pressed upon us in the world after 4 days here. We should all have the time to look at a flower in great detail.

I frolicked in the river today
with exuberance
the emerald pools
embraced my soul
tingling and soothing
allowing me
to enjoy her touch
as opposed
to our more frequent
and brief icy dances
I lay upon her
sun warmed rocks
and I listened
it was good to know
I can still reach
the child within

6 Jan. 2008 11:50 a.m. : Along the Waikamaka river : Time for a cup of tea in Nigel's old billy. Those billies have done some traveling in these ranges and for all the new fangled contraptions and devices they still work as good as any, and there is something very comforting about pulling them from my pack to boil a brew, dented and dinged but still up to the job. The Waikamaka, at least down lower by Otukota hut, is a big river, and technically a harder river to negotiate with a big pack. It is very gorgy, with huge boulders and log jams to be climbed over, and must be crossed carefully. We are fortunate the day is lovely once again and the river is low. I suspect it would be a real brute with even normal flow and certainly not negotiable if it was high. In addition to the river is the fact we are also climbing, from around 560 meters at Otukota, to around 850 up at Wakelings. I am ready for a cup of tea.

6 Jan. 2008 4:50 p.m. : Wakelings hut : I must focus on the here and now as already the end of this experience draws ever closer. Jonathan has walked up river to try and spot the Whio family nearby. I see Pete's name in the hut book and no doubt close by is where he took those wonderful shots of the Whios and chicks. I think I would burst into tears if I saw them right now. John is cleaning up the hut, all the bits and pieces of food and rubbish left behind. I rather think John's pack ends up heavier coming out than going in as he collects debris from our stops without fail or hesitation. This is the third time I have been here, but the first time I have had time to relax and enjoy the area. Back in 2003 John and I called in for a cuppa and to get out of the rain before heading up river to camp, and 2001 with Rick and Steve it was pissing down with rain and we simply curled up in the hut with a fire. It is a beautiful area, a lovely river straight runs down from the back of the hut with Te Atuaoparapara looming over the valley, some excellent swimming holes lie about, and this is our reward for a long river bash.

7 Jan. 2008 10:15 a.m. : On the ridge dividing the Waikamaka and Maropea valleys. I am alone, having left Wakelings hut early this morning on my own. Both for a bit of solitude and practical reasons due to my slower pace. I am where the ridge begins to descend steeply to the Maropea and I will wait for John and Jonathan to catch me, and I suspect they are not far behind. I enjoy climbing through the forest, and even at a slow steady pace it always amazes me how quickly height is gained. There are no open tops on this ridge, but yet it offers excellent views at certain points, and the forest walk is wonderful. It is very dry here, the greens somewhat muted storing its moisture I suppose, and a very distinctive tarn I recall on my two prior walks here is completely dry, the colour of rust, yet still soft and spongy. If I could, and one day will, I would find a spot in the forest, pitch my tent, and just sit there all day and night listening to the sounds of the high forest, absorb the energy of the twisted and stunted beeches, and fall asleep amongst the trees. But not today, I would imagine we are another hour or so from Maropea Forks, and then after a rest there, we will head up river to Top Maropea for our final night.

7 Jan. 2008 6:30 p.m. Top Maropea hut : It has finally begun to rain, and the sound of rain beating on the tin roof of Top Maropea is one I know well. This will be my 24th night spent here. My 25th will have to be a special occasion, though aren't they all here in this first place I stayed in the Ruahine ranges? It is somewhat melancholic to be here ending a trip, rather than beginning one, and though there is a fine line between melancholy and darkness it is a feeling I am riding with and I am fine.
It has been a long day, 4 hours from Wakelings to Maropea Forks, then another 4.5 hours from the forks to here. I have been toting along a small amount of Jameson's 12 year old Irish whiskey, a slightly sweet and nutty nectar, and will surprise the boys with a final little treat soon. As I suspected, the helicopter hunters left no entry in the hut book, the hut was clean but smelled like a greasy meat factory. We found a smelly deer haunch turfed into the bush near the hut, and a dead carcass, minus said haunch lie further up the river. The helicopter still seemed to echoe for me there.
John prepares the fire, always a challenge here at Top Maropea. Yet it soon crackles and roars under his expert tutelage We have lived simply and honestly for the past week. These are things I always strive to take back out into the world with me, but somewhere amongst all the responsibilities, requirements, and consumerism, it always seems to get harder to apply these lessons elsewhere. Yet simplicity and honesty are the very things Tara and I are striving for out there so I need to keep focused on what I feel here. Perhaps I need to, much like arriving at a spot like this at the end of a long day, just appreciate each day for the small things, or at least try to.