Thursday, December 31, 2009

A few more.... and Happy New Year!!

I have not been able to get out on my annual summer journey this year. I have attempted to twice but both times quickly realized the pain in my hip was too much to bear and I turned back. That is pretty hard for me to do. So I thought I would share a few more photos of my time in the mountains which will have to sustain me. Hopefully I will get a taste of the mountains next week on a short camping trip with Charlie. But until I get this hip fixed the Ruahines will have to live within me. It is just the way it is. I am not even sure what relevance I have here if the mountains are not the cornerstone of my words. I thank you all for your telling of similar situations and the improvement which resulted in so many lives, for your encouragement and thoughts from so far away. Believe me, I feel it. And in a positive sense I think of what that moment will be like when I once again hoist a load upon shoulders and head into the mountains on a deep journey, it makes my heart sing. Happy New Year to all, may the gentle mountain breeze be with you.

The above scene was from this year on the way to Iron Gate hut along the Oroua, it can be seen back in my post in July as well. Suffice to say the mountains were wet, the rivers and creeks raging, the skies grey and hanging low, and the forest dripping and vibrant. To the right water can be seen dripping off the trees. It is probably the best image I have personally been able to experience of a moment in a New Zealand forest on a rainy day, and being a tiny part of the myriad of colours, aromas, and sensations in such a place. John and I had each walked in on our own and I could only smile later on at the hut over a cup of tea with the rain beating down on the roof, as John described the exact same spot and showed me on his camera almost the exact same image. Communicating without words. Such moments I shall greatly miss.

Snow covered leatherwood and beech just outside Top Maropea. I had spent 4 days on my own at Maropea Forks, and returned back up river on a beautiful sunny day. By the time I got to the side creek which then climbs back up to here, a blizzard had rolled in. I climbed up to the saddle but knew if I tried to get across I would have died. It just oozed danger and forboding. So I returned to Top Maropea wet and cold and inside the hut the temperature was minus 7 Celsius. I had to get a fire going, and had no paper and little to work with, but by venturing into the blizzard I found some leatherwood and chunks of dead beech. I shaved off slivers into my billy and dried them over my stove, then breaking up pieces of kindling and larger chunks, and using a candle stub, worked my little fire into a great roaring beast, drying my wet gear, warming my soul - if not exactly the hut, and occupying my mind with a necessary task. It was a very cold night at Top Maropea, and the hut shook and rattled in the gales. Just as I was going to try and venture to the outdoor dunny I saw the roof of it blow by! The next day it was not until late afternoon that the wind died down long enough for me to cross the saddle, and even then portions of it on hands and knees. But it was all so beautiful.

Gustav and I high in the clouds after climbing from Otukota hut to the Mokai Patea. Basically the culmination of our first multiple day crossing of the ranges. A self portrait aided by the first marker we had seen after getting a bit wayward climbing over a huge slip above the hut and losing the track. We then bush bashed through thick, steep forest up to the open tops on a compass bearing and this was soon after we found the track. The Waikamaka valley cloud hidden below and the territory we had traversed in the background. A very cool moment.

My favourite photo of what a Ruahine hut day in summer can be like. John, outside of Otukota in summer 2008. A 5 day trip with low rivers, sunny skies, hot days, cool nights. All day long to do nothing at all. I imagine this was late afternoon after a day of swimming in the pure mountain water, and not too long before a wee dram just might appear.

A hot day, a mountain river, and men letting out the inner child. John in the Waikamaka river.

When will I see you again? Perhaps contemplating such very thoughts on the main range, a cold windy early winter day.

And finally, the place I shall most miss - the back yard at Top Maropea. The portrait painted a new and unique way on each visit. This particular experience a blend of the majestic purple and blue hues with the perfect dab of the golden tops caught in the fading sunlight. I just happened to turn around after tending to Charlie's Cairn and this sight just stunned me. How long I sat there for I have no idea. Until the last light faded I hope. Isn't it beautiful? Thank you for indulging me once again. Hope you have enjoyed.
Kia kaha!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Yuletide

One of the evenings that Gustav was here we lit a fire, put some tunes on, and at some point ended up going through the photo albums I have brought with me or put together from my life and time here in New Zealand. Interesting to hang out with an old friend from that far back and see the progression to now. There are quite a few photos of the Ruahine in there as one might imagine. Gustav asked me what my favourite 5 photos of those mountains are - a much tougher question, though a delightful conundrum, to consider. So now, a few weeks after my friend has left, I have the answer, which I am going to share below, and above and in no particular order. Mind you, I reserve the right, which I will no doubt exercise, to change my mind at anytime in accordance to my mood. But right now in this moment these 5 images of the Ruahine stand out amongst literally countless images, if not in those books, then inside my soul.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all those whom read here a very healthy, happy, and appreciative Yuletide season. Amongst all the hoopla and crassness of the days ahead may you find you Aroha and Nature. A long time ago a blogging friend pointed out to me that most blogs last far less than a year, then disappear. I have been writing here for a little over two years now and though I have no idea what the future will bring it has been a distinct pleasure to meet and connect with such wonderful people, you have all taught me, shared with me, and let me rave on. Kia ora and Kia kaha!

Above is a sunset I was fortunate enough to experience back in summer of 2005. It was taken from the river flats outside Waterfall hut up in the headwaters of the Kawhatau valley looking west up towards the Hikurangis, some pretty remote Ruahine country. I was with John. After a day of climbing from McKinnon hut to Mangaweka, the Ruahines highest point, then enduring about 3 hours of hard work and terror as we battled down the one creek we were not supposed to choose. Sheer waterfalls, climbing out onto and clinging to leatherwood as we dropped down from one shrub to the next like a ladder to the creek, only to soon encounter another waterfall. It was exhausting stuff, and not a place or time to make any mistakes. When we finally reached the confluence with the creek we SHOULD have been on, I flopped down next to John and we didn't say anything for a long time, we didn't have to. We knew we had made a big mistake, put ourselves into a very bad spot, and yet got out of it. We learned a lot and were very humbled. Later that evening after walking down to the river and to the hut, we took a wee dram down to the flats to toast the day - my 45th birthday. We looked up and saw the sunset above. It took our breath away.

Another birthday tramp from 2008. John and I were walking up the rather tedious approach to Parks Peak ridge after abandoning an attempt to cross Armstrong saddle due to the wind and weather. As we put on our boots on after crossing the Makaroro river we were both a bit nervous with big heavy 5 day packs and not much match fitness. Then we turned a bend and saw this! The Ruahine relaxing her angry mood to greet us and coax us along. We had a great trip, a couple sunny but short winter days at Upper Makaroro. Then a huge snowstorm at Parks Peak where John and I both walked solo through a gentle snow in the forest, to a blizzard up high on the ridge. The new hut at Parks Peak, and in particular the stove, earned a few stripes that evening.

Yet another birthday, 2004, John and I once again. John is sitting out of the ever increasinging wind on the lee side just below the flanks of Te Atua Mahuru and looking down into the head waters of the Mangatera valley along the main Ruahine range. We had spent the night at Sparrowhawk bivouac when on the way over the tops from Sunrise the wind came up and weather closed in, and the little biv was a fine place of refuge and comfort. The next day was beautiful, but still very windy and extremely cold, even for July. From here we carried along to where we could drop down to Maropea Forks and the familiar loveliness of a spot we love gotten to a new way.

Nigel and I on the main range above Top Gorge hut and the Pohangina valley, and below us on the far background the Oroua valley back in 2002. A fairly ordinary photo I acknowledge but my favourite of Nige and I as it was the last time we were together in these mountains and he is the man who brought me to them. I was at my best, no hip problems, no problems at all. We spent 2 days waiting at Howlett's hut for the weather to clear so we could cross Sawtooth ridge, and finally just changed our plans and kept moving. We were young (relatively), and as fit as we could be, at least I was. And to be with Nigel and John - who took the photo, we were pretty confident and capable.

Finally, right now, I present my eldest son and I overlooking the Maropea valley just above Top Maropea. Taylor was only 12, and I was bereft of teen age angst and fear, I mean mine for him. It is when I look at photos such as this that I know he has been exposed to other impulses that might help guide him along. Like negotiating a Ruahine ridge on an inclement day.

Happy Yuletide

Monday, November 30, 2009


26 November, 2009
Late Afternoon
Oroua river flats
Ruahine range

I sit in the sun next to the river, the emerald pool deep and vivid, the song a gentle murmur as it gathers before the crescendo of the rapid below. I watch my friend Gustav above me on a mossy boulder tying a fly to his line, about to cast into the pool and lure a wily trout to do battle. The sight of my friend enjoying this river in the Ruahine brings a lump to my throat. We have a very short, but relevant, reunion here in this place we have traveled together many times now. Only this one afternoon and evening. We must leave in the morning as we have a Thanksgiving celebration and Tara's 40th birthday to prepare for. In this moment I am most Thankful to be here.

We walked into Heritage lodge, had a cup of tea, left our gear there, then walked the 45 minutes down here to the river. Gustav is roaming up and down the flats trout hunting. I am just enjoying the scene, gazing up further into the valley, Tunupo peak on the Ngamokos high above and the sun drenched golden tussock of the Whanahuias at the end of the valley. It is beautiful and while part me looks wistfully with wanderlust, the other part is content right here.

The boundary of the Ruahine with Tunupo peak and the Ngamoko range framing the Oroua valley.

Gustav photographing the sunlit beech leaves.

Above a creek on the way to Heritage lodge, a lovely stroll of less than an hour from the car park.

Gustav and I have been this way before. We came out via Triangle, Iron Gate and the old Heritage lodge back in 1998, the first multiple day trip I had done in the Ruahine at that point. A few years later he returned from the states and we did the first multiple day crossing of the ranges I ever did going via Top Maropea, Maropea Forks, Otukota, and out via the Mokai Patea where Nigel met us high in the mist with cold beers, the first person we had seen in 6 days. We spent one night of that trip camped on the Maropea in a one man bivvy as we ran into darkness and doubt. The next morning Gustav slipped on a rock slick with ice and broke his hand. It was only day 3 of a 6 day trip. That trip was a water shed moment for us both. For me, in realizing how much I loved this place and what it was doing to my soul, but how much I had to learn in order to travel safely here, understand conditions, and have the right gear. For Gustav, it was the whole direction of his life and what he was doing. Not long after he quit his job in San Francisco and moved to Tasmania where he still lives today.

Gustav returned again in winter 2005 and we went into the Maropea Forks area for another 4 day trip, a lovely one of full moon nights lighting up the surrounding snow covered hillsides in translucent purple light, and a raging snow storm witnessed from the warm and lovely confines of Maropea Forks hut, the Corker blazing and steak sizzling in the pan, wee dram in hand. We had learned a bit since the last trip.

So it has been almost five years since he has last interacted with the Ruahine, and indeed since I have last seen him. It is good to reconnect with old friends, to discover that even within the silence there is comfort and understanding and that at times there is no need for words. Judging by the contented smile on my friends face he understands that as well.

Above the Oroua river looking west.

A very likely spot for a nice brown or rainbow.

A man and the river.

A happy fisherman.

Gustav on the lovely veranda at Heritage lodge looking up the Oroua valley.

Joined by hut warden Jan.

The view from the veranda, in the far distance the Whanahuia range

26 November 2009
Heritage Lodge
Late evening

Really a perfect evening. One defining the meaning of friendship and Thanksgiving. We were joined on the early evening walk back up from the river by the hut warden, who was out deer hunting and fishing as well. Jan lives in the private quarters attached to the hut, and tends the hut and the trap lines put in for stoats and rats. He has a long relationship with the Tararuas in particular and is now in the Ruahine after a stint in Australia. He quickly noticed Gustav's high quality fly rod and they got into a animated conversation about trout and Jan set up Gustav with some gear to try in the morning. We had brought in a 6 pack of beer and a wee supply of fine whiskey and happily shared our bounty wth Jan, and the three of us sat on the veranda enjoying a beautiful evening, the colours delightful and alive, and the mood mellow and full of good cheer. Now the garlic and tarrogon enfused steak is ready to sizzle in the pan in the candle lit hut as the wood stove crackles. I think of the words of a Mose Allison song we listened to last evening.
"Mountain sheen, ocean shine
Miocene valentine
One such perfect moment
Never twice the same
Such a perfect moment
Will keep you in the game" - Perfect Moment, written by Mose Allison

The view from my bunk, the sun shining on the opposite face of the Oroua. Not a bad spot to wake up in.

A fine place for the first cup of tea of the morning.

From the hut to the river below.

27 November
Heritage Lodge

A stunning morning in the Ruahine. Brilliant blue sky, not a breath of wind, the far off Whanahuias glisten in the morning light. The lush green spurs running down into the valley perfect in their symmetry.

Gustav went down to the river early to get after some trout further upriver than yesterday - which Jan had spotted and showed us pictures of 3 hovering in the clear water. Gustav
indeed saw them but they were content and well fed, and just as they were not tempted by Jan they avoided Gustav's offerings as well. That is fishing. He did, however, spot a pair of whio that Jan had also seen and mentioned, and in my book that is by far a more successful result. They came to greet you and welcome you home Gustav!

I was content to linger here in the morning sun and enjoy the elixir of this day as long as I can. Just a wee taste of the mountains, and as I look up the valley again to the tops with longing eyes it is also fine to just sit here and linger in peace. Knowing what possibilities lie out there is enough for me in this moment.

A Happy belated Thanksgiving to one and all. Living in Aotearoa has made me appreciate the value of Thanksgiving even more. For no matter where we live we can find something to be Thankful for in our lives. Family, friends, and Wild Places to share.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tangaroa (Endless Wealth)

1 November 2009
Makieke Stream
below Knights track on Ngamoko range

I was intending to walk up to the open tops of the Ngamoko and camp under the full moon and stars, then proceed to Leon Kingvig hut in the Pohangina valley in the morning. Having not been this way since 2005 I ignored the change to the track after crossing the creek. It used to amble for some distance climbing through farmland before entering the Ruahine. The bright orange markers heading up the steep spur I ignored, the now wired shut gate just beyond it I climbed over and proceeded to walk 45 minutes until I realized how stupid I had been. So I turned back and walked 45 minutes back to that steep spur and climbed it, arriving here 45 minutes later. It took me two and a half hours to walk what should have taken me less than an hour. When I arrived at this lovely little flat just before the truly steep work to the tops begins I threw off my pack, lie down in the sun, and choked back tears. I could go no further. My hip is done. I can no longer carry big loads deep into these mountains, and the added weight of my tent enough to make walking unbearable. I knew this day was coming, and it is here.

So instead of trying to get up top I pitched my tent here by the stream, and to the lullaby of water I crawled in and fell into a troubled sleep. I awoke in the late afternoon, gathered wood and built a little fire to sit by and ponder my future with this place I cannot imagine being without. I decided in the morning I will leave my camp and most of my gear here and somehow get up there. I need to do that one more time. I have put into place the schedule to have my right hip replaced in April of 2010. All going well it will be a long while between drinks of the sweet mountain nectar running beside me, and of course the very slight but real possibility the operation comes with complications and prevents my ever returning here has to be acknowledged. That thought fills me with uncertainty and even fear, and it is why I need to go up top one more time. I need to be there.

My campsite on Makieke stream (Coal Creek).

A little side stream which joins Makieke and rolls through the northern end of the flat. The climb up Knights track sidles alongside of the stream for a bit until steeply climbing away. The flat itself is by no means huge but certainly a cool place to roam and explore a bit, an excellent place to camp and one I can certainly get to with Charlie or Tara.

A lovely little spot in the Ruahine, a campsite of realizations.

A wee dram, mossy log to sit upon, looking northwest as the stream turns.

An interesting day, an emotionally moving afternoon in the Ruahine at a very elegant spot.

Early evening:

Sitting by the stream Listening to sounds of water, beautiful crystal clear pure mountain water. If there is a defining sound track to these mountains, for me, it is this Symphony, this soul soothing chorous which washes over me here in the moment when I most need to hear the Music. It is the comforting embrace of Mother Earth as she accepts my tears. I need this place far more than it needs my presence. Right now, with the looming prospect of never being here again close at my shoulder, I feel the closest to the very soul of these mountains as I have ever felt.

I have been blessed and honoured to have roamed in this place for over 16 years now. I have come to know the Ruahine fairly well, certain areas even intimately as is possible. In my heart and soul this is the most beautiful place on earth.

The forested spurs and ridges green, lush and steep, the golden tussock tops so brilliant to watch light play upon at sunrise, at sunset, at anytime really. The high ridge beech forest where the ever appealing but tenacious leatherwood emerges, on a lovely day with the gentle whisper of wind through the gnarly branches, the mosses and lichens pulsating and glowing, a place where Time takes on a different meaning. On a stormy day, in its own way, even more beautiful and a sign to beware ahead. It is the stormy days and nights here that are the ones where I learn the most. And of course, the mountain rivers and streams, each with their own unique and sublime presence and some of the places I love most of all in the myriad of possibility on offer. It is where the Whio sings.

In the world I can literally close my eyes and be here, Listen to this very sound. So I am never really far away from here. I have so many luxurious moments and memories of my interactions with these mountains, so the rich library I have accrued over the last 16 years, means that each day at some time I can simply reach inside me and recall, smell the woodsmoke upon me. I am Here. So should for some reason I never roam here again that is a sad and final thought, but one in this moment I can accept. I hope, of course, that is not the case, that within a year or so I am back here as good as new, but the possibility does exist. Perhaps it is just that this pain in my hip is also a reminder to breathe deep the fresh mountain air, to relish each sip of the cold clear water, to look sharply, deeply, and clearly at each detail with vivid clarity. To live this moment as if were my last. We should all live that way anyway. And if my last moment was to be here, I am okay with that.

Kaikawaka forest on Knights track. I always love the way trees of these forests seem to beseech the sky.

One of the rare relatively easy gradient patches on Knights track. It still is climbing but not as relentlessly so as in most stretches. As ever, the amazing tranquility of such spots in the forest reach out and stop in me in my tracks - and the opportunity to catch my breath as well.

If you accept it, there is so much energy flowing in these places.

2 November
Just below Tunupo peak
high on the Ngamoko range

Sitting in the tussock out of the blustery and cold wind. The tops just above me emerge for brief moments out of the swirling gathering cloud leaving only the creamy green flanks of the steep forest and the ribbons of brown slips below the grey veil. The sun pops out for brief periods and its warmth caresses me. When the golden tussock does reveal itself it takes on a rich golden lustre in the dimmed light.

I am overwhelmed to just be sitting here and part of it all. I have a little food, water, pen and paper and some extra warm gear. I could move up to Tunupo and get water at the tarns, even have a cup of tea or soup as I have brought my cooker and billy. But the gathering cloud and wind up there manage to keep that urge at bay. I am content to wait here and see. My little camp lies a few hours or so below me and I have all afternoon to return there.

My hip was still hurting but with much less weight and a few pills it was endurable. Never mind! I am here! Oh these rugged and wild tops! The tussock and leatherwood, the mosses and plants that cling to existence in this rugged sub alpine environment. I am seeing it all.

Looking north along the Ngamoko range, the tops cloud hidden.

Up towards Tunupo just starting to emerge out of the forest.

If you sit there long enough eventually a view will open up for brief moments. North again with the Whanahuia range on left, and the main Ruahine in the centre.

West towards the Rangitikei plains far below.

The little sheltered area I sat within teemed with sub alpine life, rich and lush and colourful, fragile yet capable of thriving in this unforgiving environment.

I am not sure what this mossy plant was or if I have ever encountered it before, but it was soft and silky and about a foot deep on a protected side of a boulder.

Symmetry, colour, Natures Gift. There was enough life and beauty in this small little area to keep me occupied for days.

Twisted and gnarled Kaikawaka with a large burl. The burl was completely soft and spongy.

A place I just had to stop and linger.

Back down to the stream and camp.

2 November
Early evening

I took my time dropping back down through the forest stopping often to just pause and absorb the energy, to gaze upon the glowing splendour of the mosses and lichens as they greeted me and encouraged me to rest from my toils. It was a timeless day and walk, and encouraging that without the weight on my back I was able to connect with the high country.

Still as I sit here now by the river tending my little camp fire and ponder a future possibly without these moments I am filled with emotion once again. That I was fortunate enough at all to roam here warms my soul, the memories I have will never leave me, and in a way I am part of this place, these mountains. Just knowing this place is here, and others like it, or even more remote, more wild, with towering snow covered peaks, and raging angry rivers, that stir the souls of others as this place stirs mine. But none, to me, more beautiful. We need these places to simply be here.

The wind has changed to a quiet southerly and it has begun to mist as the night time chill of the mountain evening settles in. My camp is tidy and buttoned up. The rain splatters and hisses on the fire. John Muir once wrote, "never hurry through the rain" and I am not quite ready to say goodbye to this day. I think I will just sit here for awhile.

This particular dead Kaikawaka just stopped me in my tracks. It encapsulated my own feelings on a personal level dealing with my hip and concerns about my future interactions here, and also how the very soul of the mountains, of this wild place seems to be looking up and beseeching as to why we would want to alter them, attack them, abuse them for our short term financial benefit. Yet as this mountain wiarua or spirit pleads to the heavens, it's left hand raises a distinct and defiant message to the skies and the folly of man. In the end Nature will be supreme. So to Gerry Brownlee and all the corporate greedy money grubbing bastards, the right wing human centric plunderers, LEAVE IT ALONE!! May the wrath of nature spite you down should you lay one greedy finger upon it.
Rave on!
Kia kaha!