Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dweller on the Threshold*

Cloud and mist moving in the headwaters of Pourangaki valley

" I'm a dweller on the Threshold, and I'm waiting at the door, and I'm standing in the Darkness, I don't want to wait no more". - words written by Van Morrison from the song Dweller on the Threshold and the album Beautiful Vision.

I keep Listening to this song, to this album. It speaks to me. I have two more weeks of frenetic paced, high pressure results driven work until I can escape into the mountains to regroup and gather myself. In these times of economic stress the strain from both buyer and seller is not far beneath the surface. The importance of what I do is trivial in comparison with most, yet it is the bread and butter of our ticking world, something I am not entirely comfortable with, but that is a subject for another time. So right now when I crawl into bed at night I imagine myself in my tent, or a hut, a mountain river running close by, a Corker stove crackling as the embers die from the evening fire, and thoughts of a another day ahead in the mountains.....

Above: Nigel and John in the mist and cloud below Tiraha

All these thoughts bring to mind a nostalgic recollection of my earlier adventures into the Ruahines beginning way back in 1993 when I first arrived in New Zealand. That very first walk with John and Nigel climbing up the steep Gold Crown Ridge and arriving on these beautiful rolling tussock tops, seeing crystal clear water falls far below, I was entranced, captured, as if somehow I knew my life had changed that day, and it had. I hardly knew Nigel, and it was first time I met John. Both are to this day among the best friends I have.

These are the earliest photos I have of my time in the Ruahines, taken on my second outing with Nigel back in autumn of 1994. We did a crossing of the southern Ruahines over Maharahara. The ranges are relatively narrow at that point and it took us about 8 hours to cross over where Tara was waiting for us with food and cold beers. It was another eye opening experience into traveling in such country. I recall Nige and I heading up through farmland on the western side in a persistent drizzle looking up very concerned at the grey and forboding looking hills above. I was carrying a rubber pack I used for canoeing in the Boundary Waters, wearing a very sub standard pair of boots, and a heavy cotton sweat shirt! Nigel was wearing blue jeans. And check out that authentic Russian hat Nigel is wearing. We had a bit to learn yet we headed on up into the mist where it began to snow. As the snow fell the sun also poked out in places at times illuminating the droplets of moisture in a myriad of colours that simply took our breath away. Once again I knew I had entered a place that was never going to let me go. Nige and I probably got away with making a few mistakes back in those days, bad gear, wrong gear, dubious navigation skills, yet we always came through and we always were eager for more. The Ruahines had entered my soul.

In the winter of 1995 Nigel and I began to explore a bit deeper into the Ruahines, still doing day trips though we had done a camping trip or two into the Tararuas by then as well. Something about these ranges to the north kept calling us back. We did a thorough exploration of the Ngamoko tops around the Knights and Shorts track areas. Beautiful steep beech forest giving way to twisted and stunted Kaikawaka before emerging into Leatherwood and finally the golden tussock tops. On our first trip we were stopped short of tops by wind and completely cloud hidden tops. I recall finding it very mystical being up high in that cloud and wind, knowing I was in some fairly serious country. We were climbing up and suddenly ahead of me Nigel stopped and as I came up to him a bit up the track from him stood a great Red Deer stag, in full glory as it would have been just before the roar. I have seen more than a few white tail deer hunting in Wisconsin, but this was something else. We could see the steam on his breath, then he turned, walked up the track a bit then silently disappeared into the Kaikawaka.

Our second trip, with pictures above, was on my 35th birthday, and I have celebrated each birthday since in the Ruahines, back then just a walk for the day, now for 3-4 days. We stopped where the Kaikawaka merges into the leatherwood and filled Nigel's now well traveled billy with snow for a cup of tea. I can still put myself in that exact spot with that cup of tea warm in my hand, above us a wonderful mountain world of snow surrounded by a flawless blue sky. Our equipment and experience was slowly improving, we were starting to understand what traveling in these ranges was all about. Our enthusiasm continued to grow.

Nige standing above the Pohangina river and Leon Kingvig hut, a long steep climb up the Ngamokos awaits!

Robb, just outside Leon Kingvig hut after a very long day.

Nige by a tarn up on top of the Ngamokos, a quick task to refill the water bottles in a gale like wind.

In 1996 we upped the ante, having decided that while doing day trips was a rewarding experience, the buzz we got being amongst such places would be better served by venturing further into the mountains, to some of the many huts contained in this wonderful place, and staying for a night, or even longer.

The first trip we attempted I found out later was, is, called the Apiti track, and is another crossing of the ranges from a much wider point than Maharahara. We would go in from the east side of the ranges, climb up and down, up and down, and drop into Pohangina valley and Leon Kingvig hut. Then the next day climb up to the Ngamokos and out to the western side via the now familiar Knights track. Once again we had a steep learning curve. Our gear and food were mostly fine, but we badly under estimated how much water we might need, especially me. It was a brutally hot day, and a lot of up and down steep climbing and dropping, and hell, even then and pretty fit, it is just a long way from the road end to Leon Kingvig hut. I am sure I was quite dehydrated when I finally stumbled down to the hut, and straight into the river where I tried to drink it all! And as I have since come to relish, a change of clothes, a cup of tea and some salty chicken soup and the world comes right, a very simple recipe. There were hunters at the hut so Nigel and I set up his tent a ways down river, built a little fire and had a lovely time. I was just buzzing. I remember thinking how I wish we did not just have to pack up and go the next day, that we should have more time here to wander and explore, and enjoy this wonderful feeling that comes to me. The next day was beautiful, though very windy and we battled through it to meet up with Knights track and down to where the beautiful Tara, with 3 year old Taylor in tow, once again met us with cold beers at the road end. As we drove away I looked back at those Ngamokos looking golden and majestic, and I was more in love than ever.

Nigel and I at Lake Colenso, perhaps one of the remotest parts of the Ruahines. Once that Leon Kingvig trip was under our belts we came into our own really. we started covering some fairly extensive ground, going out for days at a time moving from place to place. I developed a very cool rhythm with Nige, we became true tramping partners, from planning, to gathering supplies, to navigation and decision making, and that silent unspoken but very prevalent communication that is developed in such places. It allowed me to develop not only a lasting and important relationship with this man, but also the silence between us allowed me to find the Spiritual place that Nature and these mountains fill in my life. And I never once ever felt like I was not talking with Nige, he was always there. He still is.

Perhaps the greatest gift of having such a person in my life was the confidence it gave me in bringing my son Taylor, now almost 16, but then 7, on his first mountain tramps. Nige had, has, his own bond with Taylor, and to have him along was again a silent blessing, another pair of experienced eyes, ears, and hands to help guide this precious boy. And man we took him on some trips! Places not many 7-8 year olds would normally go. Maropea Forks, Parks Peak, Triangle, Daphne to name a few. Taylor earned his stripes. Now Charlie awaits as well.

Taylor, age 7, on way to Top Maropea.

Taylor and Nigel above Armstrong saddle in inclement weather. This was on our return trip from Top Maropea on a decidedly unpleasant day. Another group of far more well attired trampers appeared not long after this photo, coming from Waikamaka and a different direction. They were very impressed by Taylor's efforts. It was a proud moment for me really, and for Nigel too, knowing we had come from such humble beginnings here in these ranges, to confidently taking others.

Taylor, age 12, and Robb, on Camel Back ridge.

The Journey Continues! Kia ora Nige!