Friday, October 24, 2008

Alone not Lonely

A foreboding feeling of trepidation accompanies me as of late. Collapsing financial markets and economic doom being shouted at us constantly, the rhetoric of elections, and even danger to the mountains I love so much. It seems everyone I know has some sort of nagging uncertainty in their lives, as if we are reaching some sort of turning point from that which we know.
It all mirrors how I feel shouldering my new pack for a 4 day solo journey in the Ruahines. I always feel a bit uncertain or nervous when undertaking a mountain trip, and more so when by myself. Everything is heightened when I take to the mountains on my own, the emotional and physical connection,which is good thing, and also the heightened insecurities of something going wrong, the weather, getting ill, or having an accident, which is not a good thing. Yet I can no more not pursue my love for these mountains as I could not breathe and still be alive. It is within me, and nagging feeling or no, off I head up to Rangiwahia hut late on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Ruahine ranges.

19 October 2008
Rangiwahia hut

It has been 4 years since I last interacted with this part of the Ruahines, the Whanahuias. Too long, and it is good to be back here, good to simply be in the mountains. A late afternoon walk up here. That detour around the slip is a real bruiser with a laden pack, and I knew it would be. Tick one nervous point off the list. I am in store for a sensational Ruahine sunset from up here at 1200 plus metres, and will be the only one in the world who will see it from here.

Except for the spirits I carry within me, in particular on this trip those of Ophelia and Robin, two lovely souls whom I have never met in person, yet have developed a deep and lasting bond with through their unseen love for these very mountains. Also Paterika, D'Arcy, and Vegetable Japan for their participation and encouragement, and Bob McKerrow for his inspiration and love of mountains every where. I raise my tin cup and toast you all with a fine wee dram. Do your spirits dance on the evening mountain breeze?

In the morning I will head over the Whanahuia's and then down into the head waters of the Oroua river and valley. It will be my 8th visit there, but my first since 2004 with John. It is a lovely spot. The sky is filled with stars, but the forecast is for a northerly to blow in sometime Monday, so I will start as soon as I can possibly see in the dawns light. The nature of these ranges is how the wind funnels through the steep valleys on either side of these very geologically young and unstable ranges, which can make a sudden turn in direction a real battle against wind that mere seconds ago was an ally, and though I know the route well, it is 3 hours of exposure I would rather not do in a gale.

20 October 3:25pm
Triangle hut

On the porch at Triangle hut, barefoot and in only shorts as the sun beats down. It was a very windy, cold, and sleet filled walk down so I am happy for the warmth. I can see the northerly still whipping over. I left Rangiwahia at 6:30am. I heard the wind come up and the rain on the tin roof during the night, so I was feeling quite anxious to get underway. It was not a day to linger and take photos, I just kept my head down and kept going. Every once in awhile you feel that wind gust get through and chill you, watch the dark clouds swirling and rolling and obscuring the route ahead , and though it is a sight I love, it keeps my feet moving. Even in the forest I encountered a lot of wind fall on the steep drop to the river, so was glad to finally hear the river muttering below me and see the little red roof come into view.

I arrived here at 10:30am and I just sat on the hut porch in the sun feeling rather done in and empty. As if these past months have simply drained me and I felt nothing except relief at being here. Exhausted. I simply lie down in the sun, wet sweaty gear still on, muddy boots and gaiters wet from the river still on, and promptly fell fast asleep.
I awoke a few hours later, hot and sweaty in the sun, and for a moment not quite knowing where I was. When I looked around at this amazing spot, the river chorous welcoming me the emotions welled up inside me. I felt recharged and filled with spirit. As if the Ruahines held me in Her bosom and refilled my soul, my spirit, my need to be here in the Ruahines, to cherish them, and be a voice for them.

What better way to wash away the taste of sleep, grime, and sweat than to be embraced by the cold mountain river? My joyous screams echoed off the steep valley walls. Fresh gear, a cup of tea, and full of vigour I headed up river to the beautiful stone gorge and in hopes of seeing Whio, then down river on the same unfruitful search. This river has changed much in 4 years since I was last here. Then again, so have I.

The view from the porch at Triangle hut and the Oroua river.

Stone gorge just up river from Triangle hut. In 2004 John and I were standing here and a Whio landed 10 metres away from us. Just magic.


A starry night filled with Promise
Yet the dawn brings grey mist
and the hurried gusts of wind
The way is known to me
still Trepidation taps my shoulder
I carry on
Steep muddy and wet
the cold chilling breath of the mountains
a constant reminder of all possibilities
footsteps unsure through the deep
and rutted tussock
down through the shimmering forest
to the rivers Embrace
Promise fulfilled

Triangle hut 7:15 pm
20 October

I sit quietly by the river, wee dram in hand, doing nothing more than to see if a Whio might fly by and simply enjoying this moment by a mountain river. The Whio is, for me, the heart and soul of the Ruahines, their eloquent beauty, their unerring flight, their harmony with this environment, the Ruahines. I have not seen one for over a year now and I miss them.

Photo of Whio family kindly given to me, and taken by Pohangina Pete and used with his permission.

21 October 9:00am

A morning coffee on the porch, a gentle yet persistent rain beats on the tin roof, contrasted by the symphony of the river. Very much like a steady saxophone riff by Stan Getz bouncing off an equally absorbing fault filled haunting trumpet solo by Chet Baker. The two very different, even clashing, yet the sound of both together both entrances and yet signals an unsettled beautiful truce amongst opposing forms of grace. But I have enjoyed a lovely sleep in till just a wee bit ago, and to be here right now, with absolutely nothing at all on my agenda today but the very moment in front of me, let the rain fall, let the river roll on.

It has well and truly packed in on the tops high above me now. Here in the mountains at 802 meters on the river my world is reduced to the steep valley forested spurs in their green symmetrical beauty. It has been raining steadily now for hours, which made it made very easy to roll over in the early dawn and snuggle deep inside my warm down sleeping bag.

There has been no one here, at least by the hut book, in almost 5 months. It moves me deeply to be in such a place of solitude. This hut book goes back to 2004, John and I are the second visit written in it, and it is only a third filled after 4 years. These are places we must relish, protect, and fight for. Too many are becoming disconnected from any sense of Nature, thus places only visited by very few people become superfluous, or in the way of progress. This is what I must fight against.

I have been here with Taylor, Gustav, Nigel, John, and Steve. I share this place today with those memories. And the hut book carries names I know as well. Tom S., to you brother! I know you love these ranges. And Pohangina Pete, here in 2005, and whom I first met down river at Iron Gates back in 2001, I am glad his spirit is here as well.

So while I am relishing my solitude I have never felt alone. My heart and spirit are filled by the mountains, by the pristine clear waters, by the call of the Whio, and by the people I love. Just Listen!

The porch on a rainy day, if you look to left side of the roof rain drops are dripping down.

7:30 pm Triangle hut

The rain is still falling, a persistent yet soothing serenade this day. The river has held well but is now losing the battle and slowly losing its clarity while gaining depth. My biggest problem in the morning will most likely be crossing the river. Oh well. I can think of worse places to NOT cross a river if it comes to that.

The hut is warmed by the stove for which I have chopped a huge pile of wood on this rainy day. My tea simmers on the stove, and I have had a wonderful hut day here at Triangle. You might wonder how you will fill the rainy day, and suddenly the day is gone. So I have have honestly enjoyed each second of this interaction, wandering around this area in the rain, sitting on the porch just pondering this place, firing up the billy, babbling away to myself and many others, waiting for a Whio to fly by. It has been a complete day. I would not change a thing.

"Triangle Hut Day"

I have used this hut day
to my fullest ability
Have run out through the rain
to use the facility
Except in the course of that little caper
I forgot to bring the toilet paper
I've chopped wood, sawed it, and stacked it quite high
more than enough for the next man by
Sat on this porch just sitting here thinking
I wonder how many cups of tea I've been drinking
Rivulets of water run off the roof
offering me total, complete, and final proof
That a day spent here all toasty and warm
beats the hell out of being cold and wet
out there in that storm.

The Ororua in flood and as it looked as I crossed early in the afternoon of the 22nd. Conditions up on the tops were not much different. Ah, the solo journey eh! During the night I could hear the river roaring with a markedly increased intensity, and at mornings light there was not a possibility of crossing the torrent. I simply had to wait it out until it stopped raining long enough for it to drop to a reasonably cross able level. Ruahine rivers are not to be trifled with. So I was not able to leave Triangle until early afternoon, and did so before the rain began again, which it did not long after I started climbing in the forest. And once again emerged onto the open tops to find wet, windy and white out conditions. A different world than the one I left below in the valley.

Clagged in tops of the Whanahuia's looking east down into the headwaters of the Oroua river and valley.

Looking north towards Mangamahue, which on a clear day would be easily visible. A mountain snow tarn in which I have often slaked my thirst.

22 October 7:00pm
Rangiwahia hut

Still here in the Ruahines, and spending an extra night as I did not arrive here until very late in the afternoon. I could easily walk the two hours down to my car but after ringing Tara she suggested I stay another night. Perhaps she knew better than I that the Ruahine wanderlust is still upon me, battles with raging rivers, and forcing routes across cloud obscured wind swept ridges still within me. At least I like to think she thought that. In any measure I have spent the afternoon just roaming the immediate area here on the lower Whanahuias, and it is indeed a lovely place. I look upon the plains below, the world I live in, but I keep one foot and a part of my soul firmly planted here in these mountains.

The view from just above Rangi hut looking south. Notice the stream in the lower left hand corner. This is where the leatherwood peters out to the open tussock tops, 1100 meters or so.

"Both Ways"

It is nice to recall in retrospect

the golden hues of the open tussock tops

on a sunny wind free day

the shimmering play of light in the high forest

pulsating with its own Soul

or the delights of exploring each new bend

of a mountain river

to listen to its unique song

and the wonderful sensation of wholeness

genuine interaction with the Ruahines

all recalled with such clarity

at home

in front of my fire

wee dram in hand

Much dimmer and less prominent

are the moments of doubt

even fear

the tough choices which must be made

of flooded rivers to cross or not

a route perhaps beyond me

the sound of gusting wind in the upper forest

knowing what awaits up top on a stormy day

the feeling of being tired and cold

with the hut a long ways off

Yet these memories are just as much part

of the mountain experience

maybe more so

For out of doubt and fear

and the action of moving beyond them

emerges clarity and knowledge

to appreciate the Journey

and now truly see

the view


Sunday, October 12, 2008

This is Why

It was a lovely day here in the Lower North Island, blue sky, a warm westerly breeze, hints of summer abound. I took a 20 minute drive from our house up into the foot hills of the Tararua ranges, which lie directly south of the Ruahines, separated only by the Manawatu river. I intended on going to a relatively new track, the Sledge track, which ambles along a lovely stream as it climbs into the Tararuas. I had with me Charlie, and my nephew Mac. The plan was to walk up the track an hour or so, and have a wee picnic by the stream at a cool spot I know. As sometimes typical on New Zealand twisty and unsealed mountain roads, we found it closed before the parking area due to slips. Having to walk another 20 minutes up the road before we got to the trail head, I decided we would just have a walk along the track for a bit then head back to the car for our picnic by the stream. Walking along a muddy road with two boys is very interesting, stopping at every mud puddle to test its depth, and there are many!, finding the waterfalls which course down from the steep spur above the river, finding cool sticks, getting them over thoughts of sore legs and being tired, and the thoughts of chocolate biscuits not far away.

I tried to put myself in their world, something I have gotten better at doing in my time with Charlie than I was with Taylor. To find a really excellent stick, to watch water spill off a cliff, chuck hunks of wood into the pool and watch them be taken down stream, and of course, just throw rocks into the water and see the splashes. It seems a hard place to get to sometimes these days, seeing through the eyes of a child, with economic melt downs, job losses, and greedy power companies rubbing their hands together coveting these places. Not to mention all the issues that existed prior to that, world hunger, racism, pollution of our world. Yet looking at these boys running free, free of computers and television, free to let their imaginations run wild, free to discover the joys of a river. So I allowed myself to be free, to just be in this moment, in this place, with these boys, and relish it completely. It was a pretty huge realization, maybe I am finally understanding what Abbey meant by keeping half of ourselves back to enjoy Nature. As I lie in the sun by the river bank, I became very in tune with the river's song, the hills and scrub shimmered in their green hues, and I could hear the voices of the boys clearly. I don't know how long I lie there, and it didn't matter, in these moments time means something very different.

As the boys and I drove away Charlie asked me to play him a song on the cd player. Charlie, in my opinion, is something of an old soul, and his taste in music is different from most 5 year olds I have come across. The song he asked for was by Ben Weaver, and called "Voice in the Wilderness", very much a cross between Johnny Cash, Kris Kristopherson, and John Prine. Part of the lyrics are as follows:

I'm not gonna give what you want to hear
I'm not gonna be with you in the end
It's as cold as the stars down inside of me
Hear the Voice that stands on the edge of the wilderness
Crying my god what'll I do with all this mess

Unless you aim right for my heart
you will always miss
You can hold a match to my love
it will always burn
In her arms I can make any two words rhyme
My god this a strange place
and these are strange times

words by Ben Weaver

I looked at Charlie singing along to these words, maybe not even understanding them, he just likes the song. These boys are living in strange times, and all the more reason to get them into Nature, and to fight to ensure that wild places remain for them to roam.

After all. little boys grow up fast.