Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts and Summer Tour 2009

Once again I ready myself for my annual summer holiday journey amongst the Ruahine ranges. The eighth such summer trip of reasonable duration done this time of year. I can recall so very well those prior trips, as I have always written a diary along the way, take photos to capture the moments, and savour them later like a fine wine. And of course, share them here as well, for those who care to read them, to view this place, and even get a glimpse of what they mean and have brought to my life.

This years trip will be a little different, a little bit of an interesting twist, and hopefully will come off as a success. Though commonly on these mountain trips it is not the memories of a trip coming off exactly as planned, but rather the patience, joy, and aroha with which we accept the Gifts we are given instead.

I am driving down to Wellington on New Year's Eve and picking up my friend Jeff early in the morning at the airport. He has been traveling in the south island with his lovely wife Sarah, and daughter Zoe visiting family he has living in Christchurch. He is joining me for a week and a five night adventure in the Ruahines. So we will celebrate New Year's eve here with my family and a few friends, then early on New Year's day drag our hopefully not too sore heads out to the mountains. Jeff is one of my oldest friends, dating back to 1980 when we met at Ripon College where he played basketball and I played football. We shared a love of music and more so a love of being outdoors, of wandering in Nature and just being amongst Her. Jeff's wonderment really impacted me and started me on my own journey which continues today. He was my first Nature mentor, someone who helped open this door inside me quite possibly never even knowing he did.

I would write the chances of Jeff returning to this part of the world are slim. This is really a once in a lifetime trip for him and his family. That is just reality. So the opportunity to share my love of the Ruahines with this friend literally brings tears to my eyes. I just want to savour the reconnection and create memories that will have to last the rest of our days. To be in a timeless place with this friend, where time has no meaning except light and dark, for five days, is a gift to treasure.

The other interesting aspect is that sometime on our second day we are meeting John Nash, my fine Kiwi friend and long time tramping companion well represented in this place. John has a few prior plans and will walk in and meet us at Maropea Forks and spend three nights with us as we roam around a bit. I have not seen John since our winter trip in July so I relish his presence as well, and the thought of these two very important people in my life meeting and breaking bread together brings a large smile to my face. Sometimes it is cool to just sit back, watch and Listen. I can't wait!!!

I dedicate this coming trip to all three of the people pictured above:
To Bob Mckerrow on the left for your unabashed acceptance, hospitality, experience, and friendship. I know you can't walk in the mountains just yet my friend, so let me walk for you. I take you with me in spirit, and have a fine wee dram to toast you with!
To my beautiful wife Tara for your aroha, for your refusal to accept mediocrity, and your understanding and acceptance of what this is to me, to us. I love you darlin'.
And to Ed Cotter, a man I have only once met, but was simply one of those of those people you do not forget. Ed is peer of Ed Hillary, a climber of legendary status. In our conversation he told me that on so many nights he shared high on mountains with Hillary or George Lowe, or any other climber of note, that the others would always break out their diaries and write about the day. Ed said he was never concerned with that then, that the climbs and experiences were fresh and he thought he would remember them vividly. He is now 82 years old and regrets a bit he did not write these things down. He remembers the climbs well enough, but what is gone are the moments of laughter, of the banter, of the real conversations now gone like a wisp of smoke up a hut chimney. So I dedicate this to Ed Cotter, for making me realize the "importance" of my own written words, even if they are just for me. So the aroma of the musty forest, or wood smoke is always upon me, so the sound of the clear mountain river is never gone, so the sight of a far off peak reveals itself through a break on a ridge, so the Ruahines are always with me and part of me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hononga (Connection)

I have often heard people not "into" the world of blogging comment on the potential negative aspects of using such a tool. That we can choose our persona, that we can put up an image of who we wish we really were rather than are, that it is simply ego based self gratification, that we are interacting not with people but rather with cerebral entities, and so on. I sometimes wondered myself what exactly I am getting out of this pursuit, perhaps these points are well taken. I cannot write for others what their experiences have been, I can only share mine. This is my truth, and I have always felt that if I write from my heart, honestly, and genuinely, that the connections I make here will reflect that, ( and possibly even improve my writing). Here is another truth. Since starting this place a little over a year ago I have connected with many people here, and I have actually met in person 4 individuals with whom I established a relationship with via this medium. Each one of those has been exactly the person reflected in their writings, each one has improved my life in some small way, or big way, and each one is as open, honest, and genuine as I strive to be. So I am four for four, 100% accurate in connecting with people I share with here in person. I have little doubt now, that the other people I frequently interact with would be exactly the same. I like the odds.

Tara and I have just returned from a trip to the South Island. Our first real experience of any duration together, alone, in almost 15 years. So it was a reconnection of very important and renewing depth for ourselves as well. We were invited down south by the man pictured on the left, Bob Mckerrow, whom I met through the blog. Bob is back in Christchurch and had both knees replaced less than a month ago, and as is his nature and in spite of being in a lot of pain, took advantage of the time to bring people together. Bob runs the Red Cross in Indonesia, and has been involved with them and other humanitarian work since the early 1970's. A native Kiwi he has spent extensive time in India, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and too many places to list here, at the forefront of war, disaster, and famine. Long after the news media loses interest in places like Aceh, people like Bob remain behind. He has also spent time in Antarctica, been to the North Pole, is an accomplished climber and kayaker, and is also an author and poet. Blob's blog is at :

Bob invited Tara and I down, having never met us before, and on crutches met us at the airport along with his lovely daughter Aroha. That afternoon, and stretching long into the evening, he hosted a barbecue attended by a fairly amazing and accomplished group of people. In the photo above are Bob, Tara - my amazing wife, and to the right is Ed Cotter. Ed is a legendary mountaineer in the world of climbing. A contemporary of Ed Hillary, George Lowe, Norm Hardie, he climbed with Hillary in the Himalaya's and probably most of the high peaks in New Zealand and was also instrumental in the establishment of the Great Walks of the South Island. At age 82 he is still active in the hills. I was in awe of him, yet he had no ego whatsoever, just a genuine and calm presence, and put me completely at ease. He started to ask me about my travels in the Ruahines, saying he had heard good things about them, and then complimenting me when I told him I often venture out alone! A guy who has done what he has saying that to me. I felt 10 feet tall.

Pictured above to the left of Ed Cotter is Colin Monteath. Colin is one of the worlds leading Nature photographers, writer, and mountaineer. He has traveled the world and is particularly a leading expert on Antarctica, having spent summers there for over 27 years. He established a publishing company named Hedgehog Press, with the ideal of "increasing the awareness of the need to look after the polar and mountain regions of the world". His web site is at : .

Colin and his wife Betty were both lovely, friendly, and a joy to meet.

Enjoying a red wine with Bob is Robert (Bob) Headland. Bob came along with Colin and Betty and had just docked in Lyttleton after returning from Antarctica. A delightful man, I found out the next day he is considered the worlds leading authority on Antarctica. The information below was taken off the website for Quark Expeditions:

Robert Keith Headland
Bob Headland is a Senior Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. His principal interest is historical geography, specifically concerning human effects on polar regions. Bob is an adviser to several expeditionary organizations, departments of government, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a member of the Institute for Historical Research of the University of London. His published works include books and numerous articles on his specializations. In 1984, he was decorated with the Polar Medal and is a member of both the Arctic Club and the Antarctic Club.
Bob is the historian aboard the Northeast Passage and Arctic Islands expeditions in the boreal summer of 2008.

Robin Judkins, founder of the Speights Coast to Coast Race, one of the fathers of Adventure Racing, artist and raconteur. An old friend of Bob's.

Robb with Bob and Ed. Pretty heady company at this function for the likes of me, but I guess life is about learning, meeting new people, and finding new paths to pursue. It was really a lovely evening. Bob's daughters Ruia and Aroha, and Ruia's partner Gavin providing an array of nibbles and a fine cook up, chops cooked perfectly!

Another interesting person there, whom left a bit before I was brave enough to get out my camera was Jamie, another person connected with through the blog. Jamie had just returned from China and was finishing up a stint as the director at the Arthur's Pass Outdoor Recreation Centre. He invited Tara and I to drive up into the mountains and spend a day or two with him at Arthur's Pass, one of the famous and historic South Island mountain areas. How could we say no?

While the above photos are all in the Arthur's Pass area and taken along the road, they were not taken by me. For two reasons, one being that the whole day was either raining steadily or torrential so our view was very narrow, and secondly after doing a walk in the rain with Jamie up to the Devil's Punchbowl, pictured above, my camera completely malfunctioned. So the above photos were all supplied by Bob, and certainly give a taste of what the area is like. My goodness, the possibilities in those mountains is only limited by the imagination, and skill level.

Tara and I drove to the village and met Jamie. Jamie's parents Chris and Debbie run the information centre for the Department of Conservation and live right in the middle of the small village Arthur's Pass, population 40. They kindly offered us a place to stay, lit the fire, and left us to enjoy the rain, the shimmering white water falls forming on the steep hill sides, and a fine library to browse through. Eventually I had to get amongst this place, rain or no rain, and Jamie and I walked up to the Devil's Punchbowl, and hours walk or so. Any time spent in Nature is valuable to me, and judging by the smile on Jamie's face, to him as well. How cool to walk in the rain and get to know someone I have become connected with via this way and feel completely comfortable doing so. These moments are ones we recognize and grab onto, or let them slip away, and I am getting better and more intuitive at knowing when they are here. This was one.

Later, joined by Tara, Chris, and Debbie, we retired to the local, and only, pub - The Wobbly Kea, for a few libations and then returned to the house for a lovely dinner prepared by Debbie. Afterwards we enjoyed a fine evening around the fire, a robust discussion, laughter and stories, and a few wee drams as well! Tara tried Stone's Ginger Wine for the first time, and judging by the small amount left in the bottle at the end of the evening seemed to enjoy it. Chris and Debbie on our next trip through we will bring another bottle. The hospitality of our hosts was exceptional and a day and evening Tara and I will recall fondly.

I returned to the Arthur's Pass highway on my own a day later. Leaving Bob's house early in the morning, again an overcast slightly drizzly day, but I had to get out and climb up something. I stopped at the Korowai / Torlesse Tussocklands and headed off. I was fairly limited as I had no pack, extra gear, compass, or water, but stuffing a few big juicy apples and some cashews in my pockets started climbing into the mist. I climbed about two hours up, to around 1100 metres or so judging by my map, and it started getting a bit windier, wetter, and colder. I could see the higher peaks above me emerge through the mist from time to time, the whole scene not unlike many experiences in the Ruahines. Had I been better equipped I would have gone on, but climbing into unknown terrain in cloudy, wet conditions alone and with no equipment is just not very smart, so I just enjoyed walking back down thinking, and being lost in the moment. I was surprised to see the the car suddenly appear in front of me. How the mountains call to me.

Kura Tawhiti is a large area of an ancient limestone sea bed now eroded into fantastic shapes and sizes. Not much further up the road to Arthur's Pass than Korowai/Torlesse area I drove up hoping to get a few photos we had missed in the rain a few days earlier. Just as I arrived there the sun came out and so I walked up amongst these amazing formations, and then spent a few hours just roaming around them. The sense of energy I felt here literally pulsated, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. At one point way in the back of them I felt the Earth gently calling me to lie down on this sun warmed limestone and connect to Her. I fell asleep amongst this mystical place, surrounded by mountains on a bed of warm smooth limestone. As I pulled out of the parking area onto the road it began to rain again.

Later when I returned to Bob's I was almost reluctant to tell him of my experience when he asked what I had done that day. So I simply said I had been to Kura Tawhiti, and that I sensed a lot of energy there. Bob just looked at me and told me it is a very spiritual place, his connection to it, and how the ancient Maori used its caves and local streams to shelter and gather food on their journeys across the island. I, too, somehow feel part of it, or at least cognizant of its pull.

Bob signing my copy of his book, Teichelmann, for me enjoying the afternoon sun with his brand new knees.

I would like thank Bob, his daughters Ruia and Aroha, Ruia's partner Gavin, for their unflinching hospitality. It was really a special experience and they are all wonderful people. Also to Jamie, and his parents Chris and Debbie, it was delightful, and Jamie we hope to see you up here! The South Island is a beautiful magical place, full of wonderful people, and I can't wait to get back to explore more of her charms.

Always good to get home to these two though! Happy Holidays to all, may you all be blessed with joy and happiness!