Monday, July 28, 2008

Pouriuri Paemaunga - Moody Mountain Range

John and I had just put on our boots after crossing the freezing but clear Makaroro river in our teva sandals, the reason for this is once the river is crossed there are no more streams or creeks on the high ridge we were about to traverse thus reasonably dry feet are the hope, though rarely the result. As we started up the forest road we were just outside the Ruahine boundary when the sun came out and before us the above rainbow. We took it as perhaps a powhiri, or welcome, from the Ruahine herself. I will confess here my slight trepidation at our change of plans, a far longer walk on the first day with a heavy pack than I had planned, and the weather blowing a gale, a cold nor'west wind changing to an even colder southerly - and far worse yet to come! Yet as we walked down that road both John and I knew we had made the correct decision, that the saddle across to Top Maropea would be uncrossable this day and perhaps many to come, the wind howling overhead told us that, and the clouds billowing past us rapidly confirmed it. So we chose instead to delay our departure till morning and head up Parks Peak ridge and the Makaroro valley. Mainly as it offers a more protected route from the gales and is only really exposed in a few spots in spite of climbing to over 1350 metres. Plus my young friend Phillip from the Hell Mission Tramping Club - see link below - had sent me a photo of a brand new hut at Parks Peak replacing the old freezing cold one I had come to know so well. So a 5 to 6 hour walk up that steep ridge with a heavy pack in cold windy weather made me swallow hard a few times. Then for this brief moment we seem welcomed and encouraged to enter and experience her wintry charms.

The first photo above is looking back down Parks Peak ridge and down into Makaroro valley and the second one across the valley to the main Ruahine range and the very prominent and steep Totara ridge. This is very rugged country and once the ridge to Parks Peak is gained it is a steady climb undulating along the ridge for a long while. In my case, this being my ninth trip along it, anywhere from the car from 5 to as many as 8 hours when with Taylor. A long day in the saddle by any measure and always glad to see the little hut appear. Though the little hut is now gone, replaced by the new modern one in the above photo. New wood stove, insulated walls, double glazed windows, front porch, even a sink connected to the water tank! The old hut is pictured below. It was a 4 bunk old original forest service hut, no insulation, a very cranky wood stove, damp, yet a place I loved and returned to many times. I felt a bit guilty settling into this flash new place, and John and I both came to the conclusion that what it lacked was ambiance, it almost smelled new. I am probably being picky but there was not so much as an old tea towel or billy, or candle wax dripped onto the cooking bench, and combined with my wounded feelings of loyalty to the old hut I felt a bit out of place. I also wondered what the real reason the Department of Conservation built this hut for, mainly being as a relatively cheap way for the control of the growing deer population. Once the choppers start dropping off parties here to stay and hunt for days at a time the hut will get some "ambiance" very quickly. My biggest concern there will be what people will use for fuel for the wood stove. It is located in an area not conducive to a readily large supply of good wood, it is high up and the area generally very boggy and damp. I guess a bit of collateral damage to native bush is acceptable. Well, that battle has to be saved for another day. Strolling around the area and enjoying the tupare - leatherwood and moss covered tawhairauriki - mountain beech - I felt welcomed as if by old friends and the joy of being amongst them, in this special place, to simply relish that was enough for this moment. My voice can speak for them later.

"Ruahine Forest Walk"

The high Ruahine forest
pulsates with energy
I feel it flow into me
filling me with calm and joy
the sunlight a rare presence today
at times filtering through and highlighting
the myriad
shades of green
the mosses before me
glow luminescent
the lichens brilliant in their
fluorescent shine
the ferns a more muted contrast
yet no less significant
pale beech leaves flutter
in the wind
These Enormous Sentinels of the Mountains
allowing brief glimpses through the forest window
twisted branches framing the views
of far off dark rich green ridges and golden tops
they seem to call out to me
I feel as if they greet me as I walk by
Reassuring my soul
and the hard reasons
I return to this place
hold true

written 24 July at Upper Makaroro

25 July 7:10 am
Upper Makaroro hut

It is minus 4 degrees Celsius outside, and most likely here in the hut as well. Though very cold the winds seemed to have died down and the valley is calm.

John is sleeping soundly, tightly wrapped in his down cocoon, as was I until a few minutes ago. This is a standard old cullers hut, 4 bunks and not insulated, meaning when the wood fire dies down the heat quickly dissipates. It pays to have a good sleeping bag in the winter.
The steam rolls off my breath as I write this, waiting for the billy to boil for a strong cup of coffee.

What to do today? The luxury of a hut day lies before us. Meaning we can do as much or as little as we wish. We could climb back up to the other side of the valley via Totara spur and the main Ruahine range, but I feel a bit sore from two days winter exertions and I KNOW it will be cold up there. We could walk up river towards the head of the Makaroro river. Most likely we will attack the huge pile of beech outside the hut and render it to use able firewood, and John spotted another pile down by the river he had his eye upon. Many people drag wood up to the hut, but with a normally old and dull hut axe it is a much harder prospect to turn it into wood that will fit the firebox. We have learned to carry a small pruning type saw that will deal to the lot quite efficiently, though still hard work. It is very satisfying to look at the wood boxes full and ready to use. Create some karma.

Inside me I feel the urge to walk down river towards Barlow hut and see if I can spot any Whio. I have seen them here before and it has been some time since I have been blessed by their presence. I miss them. There are some large pools an hour or so down river and I can easily amble down to that point and turn back. That water will be cold though!

The Ruahine world today is our oyster. I want to relish and enjoy each second with joy and love, and wonderment in my heart and soul. For all too quickly this day shall pass like the winter sun over this narrow valley.

July 25th 6:45 pm
Upper Makaroro hut

Darkness comes early to this valley in winter. John and I are in the now warm hut. Our dinner of fresh cauliflower, broccoli, and green beans simmered in satay sauce with rice will soon be served. We enjoyed a cocktail hour down by the river, a few wee drams of Glen Morangie scotch. Just enough to put another notch in our smiles, another level to our glow. What a day this has been. The wood bins are full, the hut contains enough for our use and the next party or two. The bins enough to last for several months. Always leave more than you use being the proper bush mantra. John dragged up even more dead beech from the river flats and his efforts today were sterling.
After our first burst at the wood supply and morning tea I left on a solo walk down river. At every turn, in every pool I kept a sharp eye peeled for any sign of Whio, walking slowly and deliberately and enjoying the freedom of no heavy pack to haul. Alas, I saw none, so I have to console myself that by all accounts in the hut book the possibility remains they are there.

Though aside from my mate Phillip no one else has been through here for three months. This is surely still a place of great solitude. So as the energy from the forest yesterday fluttered down upon me like falling leaves, today the symphony of the river, its breath taking beauty, the focus I must bring to a river walk, sent its energy washing through me, cleansing, nourishing and restoring my mana heke iho.

And though I felt very much alone and grateful on my walk, how cool to turn the final bend of the icy river before the hut and have my nostrils filled with lovely aroma of wood smoke, to see a wisp of the fresh fire emerging from the chimney, to know a friend awaits inside with a billy of tea. These are moments of truly living simply and in possession of real wealth.

26 July 5:27pm
Parks Peak hut

Here we are at Parks Peak once again. Suddenly, after a nights stay previously, this hut HAS taken on some ambiance after all. Particularly when ensconced in the warm glow of its stove in the midst of a driving snow storm. I hesitate to name it a blizzard, as I am a Wisconsin boy, but here in Aotearoa, aside from the mountains, we are devoid of snow, though winters are very cold. Even in the mountains the forests remain green all year here, yet it still can snow at anytime in the mountains. The contrast between the white and green is fairly stunning and the visual effect is beyond words I can express, or my meagre cameras ability to capture.

That old hut was cool and I do miss it. I fear the solitude of this part of the ranges will certainly suffer as this place, and the growing deer population, therefore hunters and choppers, return. This is not my place, no man owns any mountain, but I have spent as much time here as well, Parks Peak, as anyone over the last 10 years certainly. It is very hard work to arrive at this place, at least 4 plus hours, and even many days - depending on your direction - if one is walking with the gear they need upon their backs. In a helicopter it could take 10 minutes.

No choppers will be landing here this evening. It is a a big storm, at least 6-8 inches of snow thus far, in a little more than 4 hours of heavy fall. I left Upper Makaroro on my own around 11am this morning. About 45 minutes climbing so very steeply out of this valley the steady mist and drizzle it began to rain in earnest, and within minutes snow lightly. I was laughing, yet still grimacing at the relentless pull upward, as I climbed the snow got heavier and steadier, no wind, no cold, just me climbing slowly through the snow. I arrived at the hut, the water tank had frozen, it was cold, and crawled into my bag and fell asleep. I woke a few hours later to a winter wonderland, got the stove stoked up, the billy on, and almost on cue came John around the corner looking like a snowman. It is still snowing.

This hut now is lit by candles, we have a line strung up holding our smelly polys, gloves, hats, and anything we can get near the fire to dry. There is wax on the bench now, a dirty tea towel hangs on the line, a billy of snow melts on the stove, and we are happy to be here out of the unpleasant conditions. We have now created ambiance at Parks Peak.

Conditions could still be described as unpleasant on the 27th of July 2008. Yet we made our way down the icy and slippery ridge. As I made my way down I began to consider the snow up high would be even more intense rain below. I could hear the Makaroro roaring as I came down upon it. It was muddy and angry. I found John on one of the braided islands, having ventured into the main stream at various points very unsuccessfully. We wandered down river, my car in view, and found a corner with a nice wash out. I told John to follow me, and set off. I finished a long way down river from where I set off. So did John. We stood there amazed, our final test passed.
Kia ora Ruahines once again. Your beauty, your inspiration, your impact, is beyond compare. Kia ora John. We have traveled together now in this place for many years. No words need to be written. You are a huge man.
To Tara, oh my. Cheers for accepting this part of me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pursuit and Acceptance

I leave in a few days for a 6 day sojourn to the place that has inspired what this interaction with all of you lovely people is based upon. Above is a fern covered glen on a high Ruahine ridge above Maropea Forks. A long tough climb from around 700 metres to 1300 plus metres brings one to this spot in the upper beech forest, the moss and lichen log rotting in front an old beech tree. I suspect this area was cleared out by a storm at some point and now is this perfect semi alpine clearing. Nigel and I have always contemplated a night camped amongst the flow and beauty emanating form this place. One day we will.

So I write my thanks to you all for tuning in, and hope I will return with something of interest to write and share. I leave with these images of my last evening. a day and night filled, once again with music and friendship in the company of Adam, my fiddle playing mate. We have developed a strong bond and tears come to my eyes as I write this knowing he leaves again very soon to return to Ireland. Last evening before Adam's gig with the band he is playing with on his short visit here, Parcel of Rogues, we had a session here at home with Davey, Tara's brother. Adam is a classically trained violinist, and Davey is a classically trained guitarist. Both love Irish and blue grass music. Adam ran Davey through some basic chords and patterns and off they went. it was so good my friend Chris, I , and Tara, were just laughing at the absurdity of listening to such music in our own living room. It was almost too much. Just as the mountains sometimes can be almost too much for me, these are moment to relish and appreciate.

Photos : 1. Adam showing Davey the chord patterns

2. Davey

3. Adam and Davey jamming
4. A bit of blue grass

5. Morrison offering his opinion

6. What an amazing session! Adam and Davey.

7. Photo below sent to me last week by Phillip, my young friend from over at Hell Mission Tramping Club, . Phillip is 16 and has with his father done a fair bit of bashing about in our lovely mountains and has just retruned from a winter visit to the Ruahines. This is Te Atua Mahuru from Parks Peak ridege. A wee bit of snow up there. I hope we run into one another one day! Cheers Phillip.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


It only seems as if moments ago I was going over photos of my annual summer trip, relishing the memories and that somewhat peculiar ability we seem to have in forgetting the hard bits, a sore hip, the sound of a helicopter arriving at a hut to drop off hunters, the relentless heat on steep climbs and descents with heavy packs, climbing over huge ancient log jams and boulders trying to find a route up a mountain river with sweat cascading from every pore. Instead I recall swimming in crystal clear pools, the beauty of the mountains throughout the day, the coolness of the evening when the sun moves beyond the valley, the sounds of laughter and discussion with a good mate, the crackle of the evening fire and a wee dram of whiskey in the tin cup. It is more soothing, and easier, to recall those aspects than the ones I know will still be there waiting for me once again.

Which is interesting, to me, as I am now busily planning and preparing for my annual birthday foray into the Ruahine ranges. Every year for the past 7 years now I will have spent a number of days in the mountains, sort of a mid year decompression I suppose. Mostly by myself, but accompanied on various trips with Gustav and twice with John. 0n all but one of those occasions I have gone into Maropea Forks via a number of different routes, and once to Triangle on my own, and another trip to Upper Makaroro on my own as well. John is flying in on the 22nd of July and we will head out that afternoon. Most likely to do our now familiar evening walk to Sunrise as it gives us an extra day, more or less, in the mountains. There is still a very strong pull inside my soul to the Maropea valley even though this will be my 15th trip down the river. We can then have 4 more nights based from Maropea Forks to wander around before heading back out on Sunday when John has to fly back to Auckland. In any case, I noticed in myself that planning a trip, or looking forward to one rapidly approaching of reasonable duration, that the slight feelings of trepidation, maybe even worry or fear begin to creep in. Even when traveling in an area I am intimately familiar with. I have gotten used to these feelings, and almost come to expect them, as if they did not appear I am either over confident, or have perhaps lost my passion and respect for the mountains in which I travel. I don't think this is the case, as I write this wondering if my fitness programme will pay benefits, wondering what the weather will bring, going over my gear and planning menus, the doubts swirl around me. Yet once the swag is hoisted and the feet start to move, those doubts always seem to slip away. The weather will be what it will be, the climbs tough even if I am fit, some forgotten item can be done with out, and I always take at least two more days food than I really need. Those worries melt away and I am just there, amongst this place that fills my soul.

" A man could be a lover and defender of wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never get there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope: without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis."

Edward Abbey, Essays on the Journey Home

There are so many issues facing the world where I very quickly am out of my depth. World hunger, global warming, racism, religious fervor, intolerance, war. I can only offer vague opinions on such topics, more often over come by a feeling of helplessness at my lack of ability or knowledge to impact any of them, or wade through all the opposing views to get at the real truth.

Meanwhile, in the real world, there are people DOING things, really impacting the world in their own ways. Bob McKerrow, who has worked for the Red Cross for 30 plus years in some of the worlds most troubled areas. His blog at almost always leaves me feeling a bit humbled, yet grateful for the people who carry on working in areas like the Aceh province long after the news media lose interest. They have built over 40,000 homes, and provided fresh water sanitation for over 400,000 people, and yet the work still remaining is mind boggling. There are times when picking up a hammer has more impact than any politicians rhetoric, or religious pontificating, or self righteous indignation from comfortable vantage points. It gives me a bit of courage to perhaps impact the world in small ways.

More and more, like Abbey, I am coming to the conclusion that my passion, my focus, and my fight, is to be a voice for the Wild. Even if that voice only is heard by my own children then maybe that is a start. Even here in supposedly "clean and green" New Zealand the clamor for more and more ways to "sustain" our way of life presses forward. It may be pushing forth another rich fat cat developer project for a new marina in the Coromandel, in spite of it destroying traditional kai moana (sea food) grounds. As long as we have another marina for parking huge gas guzzling pleasure boats. Or worse, a proposal to dam another West Coast river, the Mokihinui. In spite of being the 7th ranked area in New Zealand for natural heritage value, including habitat for 12 native species of fish, two types of giant land snail, Whio or native Blue Duck, and numerous other threatened birds, our "green" spun power company, Meridian, is proposing an 85 metre high, 12 kilometre long dam in its pristine gorge by the river mouth and the Tasman sea.

Are saving a few wild creatures, land snails, and a river that Meridian tells us, "not all that many people really use", more important than expanding and maintaining the ever growing need for power? Or is it time that we begin to look at other ways of stopping this destruction and ruination of our wild areas, if not simply for the reason Abbey professes above, but also for the protection of something for our future generations? Because once we start knocking off the most highly ranked wilderness areas because of their potential hydro value, no hillside, mountain range, or river will be safe here in New Zealand. And if they get around to the Ruahine in my lifetime I will be there.

Grasping that perhaps it is the system itself we have created that needs to change as to protect the earth and humanity, is a pretty heavy concept to get a head around, much less agree might possibly be true. Even beyond that, surely the most hardened (God put man on the earth to use it, never been in the woods city dwelling, non nature lover, concrete worshipper) conservative HAS to somewhere inside them appreciate the possibility of wild places, if only for their own imaginations of escape to anywhere else but here. Something beyond parking lots, steel and glass overlooks, even groomed trails and friendly uniformed park guides. And if they don't get it, there are those of us out here who do, more numerous than might be thought and the rumblings of change get louder every day. Men like John Muir and Edward Abbey told us this years ago, we need to start listening.

"Now I'm living in the desert but the towns are closing in

Those cracker box developments Ed would call a sin

We stole this land from the Mexican

And now we'll sell it back

And they'll live like mortgaged prisoners

In those god damn housing tracks

Tell me who votes for the mountain lion

Tell me who votes for the fox

Who votes for the Spotted Owl

Who hides there in the rocks

I wish that Ed would come again

With a chainsaw in his hand

And carve on up those housing tracks

And take on back the land

Lord I wish Edward Abbey

were walking around today"

taken from the last two verses of the song, "The Ballad of Edward Abbey", written and performed by Tom Russell on the cd Modern Art.

1. Lake Colenso
2. Main Ruahine from Longview spur
3. Waikamaka valley, typical of pristine valleys that could be endangered.
4. Below are storm clouds gathering at sunset over the Kawhatau head waters.